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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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, IV

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

Still in Book III…don’t worry it picks up as we go…

About 96 to 99 AD, there is a story of Yochanon, the talmid whom Yeshua loved—

—an aside, where do we get the idea that favoritism is wrong? Yeshua had a favorite disciple. Elohim has a favorite nation. He loved Ya’akov and hated Esav before either of them had done anything right or wrong, that is pure favoritism. I’m not saying that there isn’t a wrong favoritism, but I don’t think we can say all favoritism is bad—

Yochanon after being freed from Patmos, went about appointing bishops and establishing congregations. After appointing one bishop, he points out a young man for discipleship. The bishop undertakes the task, and trains him up. Eventually, he baptizes the lad—notice baptism did not proceed training—but the lad falls in with wicked fellows and becomes the chief of a band and renounces his salvation.

I’ll note more on the topic of salvation, elsewhere, but eventually Yochanon returns, to require the young talmid. Finding what had happened to the lad, and that the bishop had given him up for spiritually dead, he exclaims, “I left a fine keeper of a brother’s soul!” Yochanon (probably in his 90’s) saddles a mount and goes after the youth. Yochanon is caught by the band, telling them that’s the reason he came and to take him to their captain. What happens next is beautiful:

[The former talmid] stood waiting, armed as he was. But as he recognized John advancing towards him, overcome with shame he turned about to flee. The apostle, however, pursued him with all his might, forgetful of his age, and crying out, ‘Why dost thou fly, my son, from me, thy father; thy defenseless, aged father? Have compassion on me, my son; fear not. Thou still hast hope of life. I will intercede with Christ for thee. Should it be necessary, I will cheerfully suffer death for thee, as Christ for us. I will give my life for thine. Stay; believe Christ hath sent me.’

The lad stops, disarms, and weeping embraces Yochanon, “as if baptized a second time with his own tears.” Yochanon prays for him, tells him he has found pardon, and takes him back to the congregation, not leaving until he is restored.

I was moved to tears myself reading this. Imagine, the sense of brotherhood that Yochanon had to so hotly pursue for this boy’s soul? How weakly do we pursue those who fall away? And notice, he does not pursue with condemnation (at least when faced with shame), but tells him, there is still a way back.

Salvation though, as I read from these ancient authors is not seen as the absolutely assured thing that most American churches proclaim. There are two truths seemingly held in tension: on the one side, no sin is so great that it cannot be overcome by repentance. On the other hand, that salvation held with a loose hand can be lost. The idea that salvation can be lost is disturbing. I don’t like it—even though, I have had no problem with reward or loss of reward due to disobedience. I haven’t believed salvation could be lost. But after reading this history, and then re-reading the gospels as the gospel message (instead of the Epistles), I find the once and done idea of grace and salvation seems weak. You can point to the prodigal son, ahh, but the Father received him when he repented, not when he was still astray. What about the publicans and sinners? Yeshua said they repented. Where in the gospels, do you find the formula that a simple prayer seals your fate, regardless of how you choose to live afterwards?

To me, it’s not really a big deal. If your love Elohim, then you’re going to cleave to Him and also be able to trust His mercies outweigh your incidental sins, so long as you keep turning back to Him. The only reason to be concerned about losing salvation is if you’ve decided to live in sin (in which case, you don’t love Him, anyway), or that you don’t really trust His goodness and are afraid that you might have a moment of weakness and wake up in eternal fire.

But this is a blog about what they believed more than what I believe, so the historical view seems to be that salvation is unlimitedly strong, but must be worked out with fear and trembling. There should be enough fear that you take your fate seriously, and don’t be lazy. But not so much fear that you lose sight of love.

The Books of the Gospels

Eusebius tells us that only Mattityahu (Matthew) and Yochanon (John) left written record of Yeshua’s ministry, and even they ‘of necessity’. Mark and Luke were not part of the first disciples. So the Shellachim originally felt oral tradition was sufficient, and writing was almost an afterthought. That’s a very Jewish way of thinking, mind you. The teacher being integral to the teaching: merely transmitting textual data was not sufficient.

For my Protestant brothers, I must point out how this implies the necessity of tradition. If proper doctrine and understanding was sol scriptura as Luther insisted, then how was the Basar spread when there was no scriptura regarding the ministry of Yeshua? Yeshua’s ministry would have been tradition/oral instruction, were His words then of less value through the Shellachim than if they were printed in a book? We’ve already seen that at this time, there is no settled ‘canon’, thus we see that the Bible was a result of a process of the Ruach HaKadosh through men . . . a.k.a. we got the inspired word through tradition. Which means you have a balance of tradition and scripture. Tradition cannot violate scripture because it has already declared it authoritative. But neither is scripture without tradition. And this makes logical sense. The Bible alludes to many other acts that it does not contain, but if you had a book that had all the acts it would be unusable, so they are passed in tradition.

  • Interesting, Eusebius tells us as a matter of public knowledge that Matthew proclaimed and wrote his gospel in Hebrew. However, other sources will tell us that the language of the Hebrews at this time was Aramaic, so Eusebius may be referring to a gospel written in Aramaic.
  • As I’ve heard it, Yochanon’s Basar is considered to be primarily about the end of Yeshua’s ministry, but tradition in Eusebius’ time relays that Yochanon wrote to fill the gap of the beginning of Yeshua’s ministry. So most of what he writes is before Yochanon the immerser (John the Baptist) has been put in prison.
  • Yochanon is also written after the other three accepted accounts, therefore it is supposed that many acts are omitted or details such as geneology because Yochanon assumed his readers had already read the others.
  • The other details being established, Yochanon wrote to highlight Yeshua as being Elohim. I admit that Yochanon can be difficult to comprehend because the book takes such a different flavor, so that it doesn’t even sound like Yeshua’s words. However, understanding that what we’re seeing is settings others than those in the other three—notice how much of the discourses is in private as opposed to the public teachings in the other three? Notice how the ‘mysticality’ shows up more with only the close disciples or with the religious elite? Understanding different setting and audience explains much of why Yeshua sounds so different.

The Brit Chadasha in Eusebius’ Time 

At the end of chapter twenty-four of book III, Eusebius states that the Basar of Yochanon and the first epistle are considered genuine, so then he devotes chapter twenty-five to listing the accepted books, apparently in his own time. Which interestingly shows that the ‘canon’ has not been settled for the first three hundred years.

Skeptics will object to the long span of formation and the human machinations, but that assumes a god with a mind of metal. If God wanted robots, then simply emailing a PDF of perfect instructions would be ideal, and there’d be no good reason for God not to have done so. However, if God is a Father, then his desire is to raise up children like himself. He wants his imprint: like Father like son. Well, God chooses to do right because right is better, therefore his children likewise. God is also a teacher and doer of good for perfectly good motives, hence his children.

So if God is like a Father, He will leave some things undone—that He could easily do himself—so that we will do them and be like him. Famine comes to mind. People complain that God would standby while there is famine in poor countries, and yet America alone throws out more food than sub-sahara Africa produces. God has given the world the ability to feed all the starving, and it should be obvious that He is giving us the opportunity to be like him and feed them ourselves! Therefore, it would make perfect sense that the transmission of his word would be in part through his children. I as a father, do not teach each of my children the exact same lessons because they are different—yet, I’ve noticed that when I teach my eldest something and he does what I have commanded, his younger sister will learn from his example, and even from his instruction. Likewise, I use her to teach him. I teach them both individually and collectively, and they in turn teach each other.

So the real question isn’t whether humans ‘wrote’ the Bible, but whether the writing was of divine origin? That is a discussion outside the scope of this blog, but maybe later. But in short:

  • If God is a good Father, he has been teaching from the beginning: The texts we have today are nearly identical to texts from thousands of years ago (thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls and others).
  • The texts have been preserved by an unpopular and generally impotent nation (Israel). We have more texts of scripture from little, scattered, hated Israel than we do from the Homer’s Iliyad which came from Greece and was quite popular in the Roman empire that ruled the world.
  • The faith of these scriptures has influenced more people across history than any other. Where is the influence of the ancient Egyptians cults? Where is Zeus’, Apollo’s, Aphrodite’s? Where is Shintaoism? Or the Hindu religion? Sure, they have some influence in one culture, but the faith of the Bible spread from a persecuted tiny people to having missionaries in every country, even where they are raped and killed. Hospitals, universities, charities, the end of the western slave trade, all find their roots in people who were influenced by scripture.
  • Scripture contains prophecies that can be verified to have been written before the events took place: the easiest example being that Israel was destroyed for 2000 years and came back. Technological advancements reflected in prophecy have come to pass (the ability for everyone in the world to see something happening at the same time, the ability to destroy the world, the acceleration of travel). Even concern over climate change is predicted in scripture. Or the sacking of Jerusalem, and the record of Yeshua’s followers avoiding the destruction because they believed his words.
  • In short, there’s plenty of reasons to agree the Bible has had a more than human origin—even if you believe that Elohim allowed human error to be present in a manuscript or in a translation.

So what was the generally accepted Brit Chadasha around 324? (those in bold are those that were generally accepted in the earlier record from 54):

    • Mattiyahu (Matthew) in Hebrew
    • Mark
    • Luke
    • Yochanon
    • Acts
  • 13 epistles of Paul (unclear if he includes Hebrews as a 14th)

 

    • 1 Yochanon (1 John)
  • 1 Kefa (1 Peter)

 

The following were disputed, but still believed inspired by many:

  • Ya’akov (James)
  • Y’hudah (Jude)
  • 2 Kefa (2 Peter)
  • 2 & 3 Yochanon ( 2 & 3 John)

A third rank of books, called spurious includes:

  • Acts of Paul
  • Pastor
  • The Revelation of Peter
  • Epistle of Barnabas
  • The Institutions of the Apostles
  • Revelation of Yochanon (Revelation)
  • The Gospel according to the Hebrews (apparently very popular with actual Hebrews…)

Apparently there were still more books that by consensus were altogether rejected (more than the spurious words which were partially accepted). Those includes gospels of Peter, Thomas, a gospel of another Matthew, acts of the apostles by Andrew, and others.

I won’t lie that considering the anti-Semitism that strongly shows up by the close of Eusebius’ history, I wonder at some of the ‘spurious’ rejections, the Gospel of the Hebrews in particular. We already have the author’s admission that Mathew was originally written in ‘Hebrew’ and that version has been lost to us at present (though it might be the origin of the ‘Shem Tov’ version or the Peshitta’s Mattityahu). So we see from the above list that all of the disputed eventually became accepted, and at least one of the spurious. The fact that that the book of Hebrews, the fairly Hebrew oriented book of Revelation, and the Gospel according to the Hebrews were resisted more than all the epistles of Paul is troubling, especially combined with the loss of the original Mattityahu and the anti-semitism of post Nicea. Especially when you factor in that many of the disputed works and Revelation which ended up in the final product—are also the ones that appear to be in strongest contrast to Paul. Is it a coincidence that those that seem least friendly to Paul are ‘disputed’ or ‘spurious’?

So while I accept the Brit Chadasha as is, the history suggests to me that valid books may also have been rejected. But in the end, if we trust Elohim, then we can trust that any needful truth has not been entirely lost—but it may be harder to find, left only for those who diligently seek Him.

If this seems a scandalous thought, just consider in our own day how many versions of the Bible there are and that there are many scholars from many different angles who would call this or that translation as spurious. If it is possible for a counterfeit translation to arise, why would it be so troubling to think that a counterfeit text or counterfeit canon could arise?

To be continued…

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, III

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

Book III

54 AD, Peter and Paul have been martyred, passing the bishopry/episcopate to Linus (who is mentioned in 2 Tim 4:21). Eusebius does provide a nearly complete lineage of bishops in the major congregations of the first three centuries, which is valuable info. Also, the general areas of work of the various Shellachim.

  • Thomas to Parthia (area of Iran)
  • Andrew to Scythia (near Iran to Russia)
  • Yochanon to ‘Asia’ (eastern asia, area of Turkey it seems, hanging around Ephesus, where he ‘allegedly’ died)
  • Kefa/Peter to Asia (westward)

An important thing to understand is that the Bible did not arrive in a complete form. Not all books were accepted by everyone at the same time; and some books that were accepted by many were disqualified by the majority—even some that were deemed useful. What came to be the Canon were those books that were deemed most sure by the widest consensus. These were the books that ‘we could all agree on’. Elohim did not define the Canon, explicitly. It was the work of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) through Elohim’s people. So it is possible that there are useful and inspired books that are not in the Canon, you just have to test them against those that are canonized. But when someone in the Brit Chadashah is talking about scripture, they are talking about the Tanahk because that was ‘settled’ first. As far as the BC goes, around 54 AD, the generally accepted apostolic writings were:

  • 1 Peter (2 Peter, Acts of Peter, Gospel of Peter, The Preaching, and the Revelation were not known to be handed down from the Shellachim)
  • 13 epistles of Paul
  • Hebrews was believed of Paul, but disputed by some

Note that, excepting Peter and Hebrews, most of the BC accepted at this time is gentile centered. Is that the writers saying to ignore the Jews? Heaven forbid, Paul says the Basar is to the “Jew first.” But to the Greek mindset, written was superior communication to oral. However to the Jew, it’s reversed. The testimonies of Torah were not written down until Moshe; the Mishnah wasn’t written for a couple hundred years, some even believe it was a sin to write it down. The Talmud seems to have marked an increased writing phase, brought on, along with the Mishnah, by the destruction of the Temple and the diaspora.

So we would expect there to be more writing to the gentiles, however if Torah was to be done away with, then the people who most need to be taught this would have been the Jews, yet instead of any written argument to them or written record of an oral argument, instead we find that Ya’akov was the bishop of Yerushalayim, full of Jews, who were believers and zealous of Torah.

In fairness though, it is troubling that Paul doesn’t make a more explicit call for the gentiles to seek to learn Torah from their Jewish brethren. But as I stated in my theory, I believe this was a mistake. And I’m not alone in recognizing that the Shellachim may have been chosen, but still made a mistake or two.

The Destruction of Yerushalayim

68-70 AD, Nero dies and is replaced by a series of short-reigned emperors followed by Titus who eventually destroys Yerushalayim. This to me should be part of any apologetics argument with a Jew because the Jews don’t have any famous accepted prophets after Yeshua (that I’m aware of). Yet, Yeshua who at least some like rabbi Shmuley Boteach, accept as an a righteous teacher, did miracles and prophecied the destruction of Yerushalayim—that makes him a prophet whose word came true, any Jew should be able to acknowledge that means Yeshua’s word should be taken seriously (even if they debate what was actually His word). One might argue that this prediction was added later, but Josephus acknowledges it as existing, but unbelieved—along with divine signs in the heaven as well.

Eusebius’ anti-semitism may be showing in how he describes what follows as “divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and his apostles, finally overtook the Jews…divine vengeance did not long delay to visit them for their iniquity against the Christ of God.” Having said that, even the Rabbis believe Yerushalayim was sacked because of sin. Rabbi Akiva (or was it Jonathan?) wouldn’t even ask for Yerushalayim to be saved, when given the chance, but instead asked for a smaller town with more righteous Jews in it. So it isn’t anti-semitic per se to say that the Holy City was destroyed because of sin.

Yet, Eusebius seems to have little compassion in his words. Matt 23:37-39 has Yeshua speaking the destruction with sorrow, and predicting a return. Being aware of Eusebius possible anti-semitism (which is odd, since he lived in Israel) may have something to do with how you never see in his history any of the ‘saints’ stand up for compassion on Israel, even when the ‘pious’ emperor Constantine is persecuting them. It does speak to how you should view his perspective and also the ‘consensus’ of the Church which survives him. After all, Yeshua says that by the fruits you shall know the tree. So what can you say of a historian and church that does not love the people that Yeshua loved?

This turn of events (the destruction) will shape the relationship between the followers of Yeshua and the Jews for centuries. Why were the early talmidim making huge conversions of Jews, but now the Jews have dug in their heels? Well, the talmidim being warned by Yeshua did not suffer the fate of those caught in the siege. Remembering His words, they fled as He said. Now, that’s not their fault for believing their Master, but if Eusebius’ generation had no compassion about it, one can see that that would drive a considerable national wedge.

Further, Eusebius sees what happens as a result of crimes against Mashiach and his Shellachim, but was everything else in Yerushalayim fine? Were the corrupted priests only doing evil to Yeshua? Akiva (or Jonathan) show sin was terrible. I’m not downplaying the evil of killing the ultimate righteous man sent from Elohim—heaven forbid!—but the way Eusebius writes it, it sounds like they were punished because they simply held the wrong creed. They could be doing everything else right (according to Torah), but they were wrong on only this one very important point. But a wider picture shows that the failure with Mashiach was simply the climax of other failures.

So if you haven’t, you might want to read what actually happened to Yerushalayim—Josephus goes on for pages of atrocity—to understand how deep a wound that event is, and to understand how inappropriate has been the Christian response. And how this fueled the divergence between Judaism and the followers of Mashiach.

Book III: other highlights

After the destruction of Yerushalayim, the relatives of Yeshua, (because apparently the Bishopry was semi-heridetery) got together to appoint a new bishop. This is interesting because the Catholic teaching is that we have an unbroken succession, ultimately going back to Peter having the head authority over the Congregation (the universal church) because he was given the keys. I think there is some evidence that Kefa was the chief of the Shellachim, but:

  • When Paul goes to check his doctrine, he doesn’t go to Kefa alone, but to a council of which Kefa was a part.
  • Kefa/Peter is rebuked/challenged by others
  • No where do we see another of the Shellachim going to him to approve their doctrine
  • All of the Shellachim appoint bishop’s in whatever place they establish without going back to consult Kefa. Which of course would be impractical.

And in the wake of Ya’akov’s death as bishop of Yerushalayim, it is not one person who lays hands and appoints the successor, but a vote of those who were recognized as being near to Yeshua. Throughout, Eusebius’ history you will see councils deciding matters, showing that final overriding authority was not vested in Kefa alone, and that therefore the ‘succession’ was not only from one-to-one, but sometimes many-to-one. As such when you get to schisms from the then Catholic church, you have no one person, which if you disagree with is found worthy of excommunication. The future ‘popes’ have no authority on which to decide that everyone else’s authority is illegitimate. Even the ‘seat of Peter’ will not always be decided one-to-one. Consider that even in modern times, the popes do not lay hands and appoint their successors while alive, but a ‘college of cardinals’ assembles to do so.

Quoting Hegesippus, it is encouraging to note that relatives of Yeshua were accused (and confessed) to being descendants of David. If Hegesippus is reliable, then it would mean that Yeshua was known to be of the house of David, which should give a Jew pause when ignoring Yeshua, because how many candidates for Mashiach can be determined to be the seed of David, since the destruction of the Temple?

To be continued…

 

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, II

Continuing my survey of Eusebius’ landmark work, Ecclesiastical History. Perhaps, a dull topic to some, but for those who are trying to get back to the roots of the faith, it is very useful.

So how, when, and why did the Congregation (the Church) go astray?

My theory is that the problem began in Acts 15. This is an unfinished theory, not trying to build a huge doctrine, just offering a possible explanation. In Acts 10-11, gentiles begin to come into the congregations. Not everyone is sure how to deal with them. The traditionalists are probably afraid that the ‘brand’ will be diluted. Not an unfounded fear. Jews have had lots of experience with the contagious affect of pagans and their practices. Unbelieving Jews take the problem one way by calling them ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26), beginning the distinction between the followers of ‘Judaism’ and this ‘new religion.’ The believing traditionalists go another way, by saying the gentiles must keep all Torah (from a traditional interpretation) to be saved. The council is held and the Shellachim (apostles) determine that full Torah observance isn’t a pre-requisite for salvation.

Determined to not burden the gentiles, the council trusts that the gentile will learn the rest of Torah because Moshe is taught every week in the synagogues, where the new believers already worship (15:21). However, recall that Yeshua (the only begotton Son of Elohim) told them to make disciples, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matt 28:20). That would include things like, “whosoever breaks Torah and teaches others to do so, will be least in the kingdom…” (Matt 5:19), and “All therefore whatsoever [the Pharisees and scribes sitting in Moshe’s seat] bid you observe, that observe and do…” (Matt 23).

So some of talmidim were, perhaps, negligent in properly instructing the incoming gentiles. You can see this difference in Acts 20, when you find the congregation at Jerusalem is “zealous of the Torah”, but hear that the gentiles are being taught to forsake Moshe by Paul. The better grounded Jews (who also convert in larger numbers in the beginning) are continuing both in faith in Mashiach and also practice of Torah because they are one and the same, and they are living in a culture where Torah is the way of life. Meanwhile, the gentiles are deluged with the Basar (Yay!), but perhaps not given the proper life instruction from Torah (frown).

Persecution around 70 AD devastates the Jews, making it unpopular to associate with Jews, shattering the world’s most Torah-centric community, thus leaving those less acculturated gentiles cut off from a tangible example. The balance shifts more in favor of the gentiles, and the basic grounding is lost, then distance and growing anti-semitism turn the “church” antithetical to its origin. As Paul warned, “And if some of the branches [natural Israel] be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them [Israel], and with them partakest of the root and the fatness of the olive tree [natural Israel]; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” (Romans 11:17-18).

The increasingly gentile church, clearly has boasted (and continues to boast) against natural Israel, and thus denying the ‘fatness’ of the olive tree, basically from mid-200’s on, has produced lower grade fruit. But 11:25 tells us that the partial blindness of Israel will continue until the fullness of the gentiles (or the full fruit). Thus, one could conclude that restoration of Israel and the gentiles are tied together. Thus, one could infer that the low grade fruit of the worldwide church will come to perfection as we and natural Israel return as one.

That’s perhaps a tall theory for many, and since the Brit Chadasha (the renewed covenant scriptures) doesn’t give us this history, it’s admittedly speculative. But, how about we look at Eusebius’ history and see if maybe this theory isn’t borne out . . . I’ll give you a hint, I’m writing this after having finished his book . . .

Matthew and Luke’s genealogies

Not everything in the history pertains to the question of what went wrong with the church. There’s also a lot of neat historical insights and traditions that have been lost to many modern Christians. For example, there are several theories floated around about reconciling Matthew and Luke’s genealogies because they obviously don’t match.

The prevalent theory is that Matthew is Yosef’s line and Luke is Miryam (Mary’s). The main problem with this is that Miryam isn’t mentioned in either one, and isn’t clear why her geneology would be there since, you don’t inherit the title or king or priest from who your mother is. Eusebius provides a better tradition. Matthew is the legal descendancy of Yeshua through Yosef, but Luke’s is the natural. Eusebius quotes an earlier tradition through Africanus, saying “this writer adds the following: “Matthan, whose descent is traced to Solomon, begat Jacob, Matthan dying, Melchi, whose lineage is from Nathan, by marrying the widow of the former, had Eli. Hence, Eli and Jacob were brothers by the same mother. Eli dying childless, Jacob raised up seed to him, having Joseph, according to nature belonging to himself, but by law to Eli. Thus, Joseph was the son of both.”

So we would have it that the genealogical dispute is solved by a son of David (and therefore Judah) raising up seed to another son of David (and Judah), fulfilling a mitzvah (Devarim 25:5-6).

Bad Priests

Churches often condemn the chief priests, scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees, as if they were universally and homogenously bad. And worse, that these bad guys represented the keeping of Torah, thus condemning Torah. Eusebius tells us via Josephus “The rites, indeed, of the law, having been already abolished since that period [when Yeshua was ministering]…of continuing [the office of the priesthood] for life and of hereditary descent. Under the Roman governors, however, different persons at different times were appointed as high priests…” Thus, the priests you are seeing were not chosen according to Torah, but the will of Rome. They were essentially acting as an extension of Roman rule. I have read elsewhere, that the scribes and the Sadducees were closer to the priests. When you read the gospels in this light, you’ll begin to notice that it is the chief priests and scribes who actually have Yeshua killed, not the Pharisees. This is important because it suggests that the priest wasn’t acting out of pure motives.

The appointed priests were essentially acting like subordinate kings under Rome, as such Yeshua being from the house of David (which they never denied) had the right to rule, if he was the Mashiach it meant the end of their fiefdom. Its easy then to see why the chief priests would bend over backwards to have him convicted and killed, and thus their condemnation was not a function of Torah, but a sin against Torah.

Book II

In 43 AD, Philo tells us of the ascetics of Alexandria. Philo “extolled and revered the apostolic men of his day who were sprung probably from the Hebrews, and hence, still continuing to observe their most ancient customs after the Jewish manner.” The ascetics had sanctuaries in each house, where they only brought in the Torah, prophets, and hymns for study.

Interesting, also in 43, Philo tells us that “Christian” was not the universal term for followers of Yeshua. In fact, no universal title seems to be used in the first ten years. Why does that matter? Because if Yeshua meant to establish a ‘new religion’, why is it no single name to rally around has appeared? This would have been really important because we know from Acts that they shared synagogues, so you would want some way to distinguish them from the Jewish, right? Unless of course, the early believers were not trying to distinguish themselves and in fact saw themselves as a continuation of the faith of Israel. Remember that in “Avraham” will all the nations be blessed. One would expect that the religion of Yeshua would be tied to Avraham, not a new Greco word. In fact, Acts 11 is historically read that the gentile converts were called Christians by others, not by themselves. Christian was at first a disparagement from adversaries, not a self-designation to create distance from the Jews.

However, we also see something of a black cloud forming. These ascetics live very austere lives. That’s not bad; ministry can be austere. But they sound like monks, studying and studying, but not going out to do much. And neglecting the needs of the body. I point this out, because no where in scripture do we see Elohim institute austerity for its own sake. There is one day of fasting in the year, but not a week, and not weekly. The actual Cohenim (priests) ate regularly, slept regularly, married, had sex, had children. They had some lands, houses, animals. The Torah does not teach an escape from life, but truly, living life to the fullest, the way Elohim intended. Not in worldly fullness, and not in worldly self-desolation—in fact, Paul in Colossians condemns this.

I note that these ascetics, would search the Torah for “they consider the verbal interpretation as signs indicative of a secret sense communicated in obscure intimations…the whole law appears to these persons like an animal, of which the literal expressions are the body, but the invisible sense that lies enveloped in expressions, the soul.

Good study of Torah will render that there is indeed, hints and mysticism in the text. The Rabbis teach this, and you can see Yeshua use the same thinking, and even a normal reading will suggest things in your spirit. But combined with this devaluing of the body (contrary to Torah), I think we see the ascetic/monastic tends to a pursuit of knowledge detached from the creation, and thus askew. Which would be very in keeping with Greek philosophers like Plato (427-347 BC), whose influence probably reached to Antioch. We all know someone who seems to read way too far into the Bible and comes up with truly strange notions. I think this denial of body, distance from Torah, and seeking secret knowledge are all factors leading to error.

Eusebius adds his more catholic commentary on Philo’s ascetics saying, “All these the above-mentioned author has accurately described . . . are the same customs that are observed by us alone at the present day, particularly the vigils of the great festivals . . . ” He goes on to claim that these were the practices of the apostles, yet he had already quoted Philo as saying that what was handed down to the ascetics were after the custom of the Hebrews. Hence, Eusebius is telling us that the church practices of his day appear to have come in kind with these mystical-seeking ascetics, who did things like fasting on Pesach (which the Hebrews don’t and is never commanded in scripture) and deny themselves meat and value perpetual virginity over marriage which both the Tanahk and the Paul treat as aberrant. Hence, Eusebius tells us, backhandedly that the church of his day had inherited unbiblical traditions.

Philo (the earlier historian), goes on to produce books on very Torah centered thoughts like, On Agriculture, and commentaries on Genesis, and the Ten Commandments. Eusebius suggests these might tend towards mystical allegories (and they may), but it underscores that in the early congregation, Torah was still in high esteem.

Eusebius also records the martyrdom of Ya’akov HaTzaddik (‘James’ the Just). As it regards Catholicism, Eusebius clearly sees Ya’akov as a brother of Yeshua so it would seem that Eusebius seems to have believed that Miryam was not a ‘perpetual virgin’.

As Ya’akov’s death concerns, a Messianic perspective…he was the ‘just’. We know from Acts 20 that he was the leader of the Jerusalem congregation which was full of those zealous of Torah. In fact, Hegesippus goes onto elevate him to such justice that he was allowed to enter the sanctuary of the temple…

Yeah…about that…

But then Ya’akov was pretty righteous, abstaining from wine and meat and bathing… Yeah, so Hegesippus may need to be taken with some skepticism…

Josephus on the other hand, a seemingly more believable historian, does say that the siege of Yerushalayim was caused by the murder of Ya’akov because he was so just. It should be obvious, but could the Jews have considered Ya’akov so just, if he didn’t uphold Torah?

Side note, Eusebius states the opinion that the epistile of Ya’akov (James) was considered ‘spurious’ at his time, yet paradoxically was used in most congregations.

To be continued…

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, I

Along with being almost halfway through War and Peace (a heartwarming tale about a variety of people all highlighting tomfoolery in different ways…or as most people call it: life!), I am also now the proud completionist of Eusebius’ most notable work.

Who is Eusebius? Eusebius (Yoo-se-vius) was a church historian (ecclesiastical is a fancy word for “concerning church”) and the Bishop of Caesarea in the land of Israel about the time of Constantine’s ascension. His history concludes one year prior to the Nicean Council, but the translator from the 1850’s, C.F. Cruise provides other records to cover the council.

I made it a goal to delve into this 430 page work of 1,700 year-old history because Eusebius lived within striking distance of the Shellachim (Apostles). As a Messianic, I believe the original church practiced a Messiah-restored Judaism. The early talmidim (disciples) could freely worship in the Temple and synagogues, because they practiced most of the same things, but from the heart of the Brit Chadasha (Renewed Covenant). Naturally then, I have believed that if you look back into history prior to the Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox, you would find records to this effect.

And I did find, I believe, quite a bit of support for this view, but being wary of my own presuppositions, I also have enough honesty, to say I also found a great deal of very catholic flavored history. There can be little doubt that the roots of Catholicism go back very far, and frankly deeper than Protestantism. But I would also add that it definitely was not the Catholicism of today, and Catholicism of today was in many ways repudiated in those first three centuries.

Eusebius for his part is the most catholic of all the contributors, and you can see that in much of his recording and theology, however most of his history is compiled from the writings of early historians who were farther from what we would recognize as catholic.

But let’s get to those highlights (literally taken from what I highlighted)…

Eusebius and the Basar 

Book One (of ten) is Eusebius’ mission statement, includes a laying out of the orthodox understanding of the faith, which being from him is a more catholic version, being recorded from somewhere near 324 AD. So it’s less useful for understanding the first couple centuries, but it does tell you what was considered the consensus of his time:

  • Mashiach was pre-existant, with Elohim at creation and agent of creation.
  • The way in which he is ‘begotton’ is pure mystery.
  • Mashiach is separate from the Father because the unchanging God can’t ‘become’ human.
  • Mashiach is self-existant because people like Moshe saw Elohim in the form of a human.

I might take issue with the attempt to distill Elohim’s infinitude down to so certain a creed, so don’t mistake me for agreeing with that entire consensus, but also don’t take me for denying it. I can see all those statements as true, but also incorrect or lacking. For example, self-existing and ‘begotten’ are opposites. The fact that ‘self-existent’ is never in scripture describing Mashiach, while ‘begotten’, ‘firstborn of creation’, ‘HaShem created me’ are all through scripture. So I would argue that there is a mystical nuance that is not captured by self-existent (though again, paradoxically, I would say it’s also true).

Eusebius goes on to make interesting observations about the Basar (Good News):

  • Man wasn’t ready for the revelation of Mashiach until the Torah had elevated/prepared men
  • The Basar was foretold, not alien and unexpected. It was supported by the prophets.
  • Mashiach’s doctrine would not be alien.
  • The name Yeshua was prefigured as the name of Mashiach because Moshe changed Oshea’s name to Yehoshua (a longer form of Yeshua) in Numbers 13:16
  • Mashiach would be a unifying of priestly and kingly function because Yehoshua was from Y’hudah (David’s tribe), yet the priest was called ‘anointed’, the word for which is Mashiach.

Concerning the subject of Torah, the historian further says:

  • Torah was a “fragrant odor . . . spread abroad among all men…” by which “the dispositions of men, even among most of the Gentiles, were improved [by teachers], who softened their wild and savage ferocity so as to enjoy settled peace, friendship, and mutual intercourse.” Apparently, the Torah as rigid, cruel, and impossible was not known in the beginning of the 4th century.
  • The Hebrews were well-known for honor, “excelling in piety, righteousness, and every virtue.” To Eusebius, the accepted church position, was not that the Hebrews were cruel, theological cave-men, but that they were actually righteous. A statement impossible to say, unless the Torah they kept encouraged such things

Eusebius’ recap of the Basar and of Yeshua’s ministry includes one very interesting omission. Miryam (Mary) doesn’t hit the radar. That might be an oversight on Eusebius’ part, because she was obviously important. But his omission demonstrates that ‘Mary’s immaculate ascension is not an original catholic thought. Catholic apologists will of course explain that the vocabulary of doctrine was ‘evolving’ and so ‘Mary’s’ emaculate conception and work of co-redemptrix was ‘present’ but not clearly articulated. However, Eusebius doesn’t articulate her, at all.

What went sideways?

Let me admit that I am still a novice at church history. I probably know a lot more than the average church-goer, but I’m not fluent in any ancient language, and my reading of translated works is fairly thin. So my main credentials as an interpreter of theological history or biblical interpretation is ‘laymen’s’. I don’t think that’s a problem or that I am then subject to anyone with a degree, but I acknowledge my weakness.

Yet, I’m going to present theory. If you are Messianic like me, then you believe the first century believers were very Hebraic. They kept Torah, they interpreted from a Hebraic/Jewish mindset, and they were not averse to Judaism. Obviously, the modern worldwide church does not keep this as a whole, so the question has to be asked, when did it go wrong, or are the Messianics wrong?

Or since they are messed up in so many ways, maybe I should ask, are they wrong about this?

HAHAHA!

But, lest you jump on the “this weird, fringe denomination is wrong” bandwagon, let me remind the protestants that you are a minority against the catholics. Your doctrine is only five hundred years old, and the more-evangelical/less-‘stuffy’ congregations hold to major doctrines in conflict with most catholic and non-catholic believers worldwide. So the Protestants would also have to believe that the first century believers believed one way, and then somewhere along the line devolved into error. So again, when did things go wrong? At what point did the church fall away? Where was the remnant? And most importantly, why did it happen?

If you’re catholic, then you’ll probably argue that your church is the remnant, and argue the line of apostolic succession for authority. To you, things went wrong when the Protestant’s fell away. You don’t need to reform back; others to reform/repent to the full expression of grace. However, as we go through the history, you’ll find they did not teach all of the things that catholics now teach, and in fact repudiate some of the things now taught as established doctrine. Further, if you believe the succession doctrine (and not saying it’s all wrong), then you have to ask why the reformers broke away?

Yochanon 17:23 says that a proof that Yeshua was sent by the Father is that his talmidim will be one. Catholics will point therefore to the continued unity of the catholic church as evidence that it is the true church, especially because of the claim to having unbroken succession back to the apostles. But if this is true, the break works both way. If the Protestants broke unity, then the Catholics failed to keep unity: either way the talmidim are not one. And before the Protestants, recall that the Orthodox broke away. Before that was the Eastern Schism.

So whichever of these camps you come from, you have to see that somewhere a glitch entered the church. So the question remains: when did it start and why?

To be continued . . .

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Understanding Peters vision of the middle eastern barbeque

A sister responded with interest to the previous edition, The Problem with the Moral LawShe then went on to wonder about Peter’so vision in Acts 10, because there is a common teaching that Peter was given the ‘ok’ to do as the Chinese.  [If it has four legs and it’s not a table, swims but isn’t a submarine, or flies but isn’t an airplane–eat it! ]

So, let’s take a quick look at this often misunderstood passage.

Pre-View

In verses one through eight, we are given the prologue about a gentile man who feared God. Now, fearing God in scripture is synonymous with obedience. So this is a gentile who follows as much of the Torah as he can get away with. Not someone like Nero.

To a devout Jew, a gentile was like a dog, a source of uncleanness. You can see this when Yeshua refers to the Phoenician woman as a dog. Also, in how theasy scribes and priests would not enter the judgment hall of Pirates, lest they become unclean. In short, a good jew wouldn’t hang out with a gentile.

Now, there are reasons behind this Tradition, but it is a tradition, and I believe a wrong one as Avraham, Yaakov, Moshe and Aharon all ate with gentiles.

Interesting, Acts tells us in v6 that Peter is staying with a jew, who is. tanner…important because the tanning profession would have often risked uncleanness. So Peter is willing to stay with actual uncleanness with a Jew, but probably, assuming he adheres to tradition, would be unwilling to visit Cornelius.

Vision, say what?

Peter has his vision of unclean beasts and told to eat. How does Peter respond? V14, by refusing.

Think about that. Peters has a vision FROM HEAVEN and refuses, three times  (v16). Now, if God tells you to jump, most of us say “How high? ” Where does Peter get the…um…guts to say, no?

What should be obvious is that he is operating from a Torah mindset, so it would be like God telling a Baptist to hit a bar and smoke a joint. It’s unthinkable.

This can’t be glossed over: Peter is assuming Torah is still in effect. Why? The obvious answer is that Yeshua never told him different. If Yeshua had taught that after his death the Torah was a nulled, then Peter makes no sense because he’s already been taught this.

And the inverse, says the idea of life without Torah was never taught by His Master.

V17, Peter doubtake what the vision means. This is me hammering home the previous point. Peter refuses to accept the eat pork chops instruction FROM HEAVEN and even afterward doesn’t know what the message meant. Why? because he knows that whatever it means, it can’t mean break the everlasting commandments of God.

Deciding

The Spirit knows Pete is confused. V19, so the Spirit tells him “three men seek thee.” How many times did the sheet come down? 3. How many gentile men are there? 3. What do we suppose was the message of the sheet…?

So, Pete goes doubting nothing because the Spirit says they were sent by God. No mention of stopping at the local barbeque pit. Fast forward to v28, where Peter tells us exactly what HE learned from the vision. “You know how that it is an unfit thing for a jew to keep company with a gentile…but God has shown me that I should call no man common or unclean…

So… Peter tells us plainly that the vision had nothing to do with pork chops. Weird.

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The Problem with the Moral Law

When discussing Torah with someone from many a church, a dilemma will arise in that the believer will believe their sins are done away with and the Torah, too (like a bonus!), but then asked if it’s okay to cheat on your spouse or whether children should give a hoot about what their parents say, the same person will say of course, it’s not okay. They might elaborate in one of two ways:

  1. They’ll say, “Well, not all the law is done away with. We still keep the moral law, but not the civil or ceremonial. [This is usually the mark of someone who’s studied church doctrine in some degree]
  2. They’ll say, “We don’t have to, but we do out of love.” Of course, the followup would be, “Why would God do away with something that’s an act of love?” Or, “So you don’t have to show God love, but you do. So does that include not eating pork?” Then they’ll say, “That’s old Testament.” An unending circle might ensue, but beneath you’ll find they don’t have the words, but they actually are trying to express #1.

However, to someone who studies and practices Torah, this doctrine is difficult to understand.

Where do we find ceremonial, civil, and moral catagories?

Uusually, something like adultery is dubbed a moral commandment–no one wants to say they think that’s okay to cheat on their spouse! Whereas something like not working the Shabbat is ‘ceremonial.’ But how do we know which is which? The Torah or the Bible in general never calls one versus the other. One could argue that some commands are simply called commands, mitzvot (which literally means something you put in your nature). That sounds like a ‘moral’ standard, but the problem is every command is a mitzvah. If Elohim says to do something, it’s a mitzvah, so you’d have to conclude (kind of like me) that all commands are moral.

But if you get past that hurdle, there are also mishpatim, which means rulings so you could argue that’s civil. And chukkim, which means customs, so that’s kind of ceremonial right?

That’s well and good, but you have the ten commandments (which the Bible doesn’t even call commandments, it calls them wordsaserot haDibroyt. But in this set of commandments are ceremonial (keep the Shabbat), moral (don’t murder), along with some that could be either or both. Is taking the name moral or ceremonial, since you’d have to say the Name at some point? Is adultery moral (for some reason…?) or is it ceremonial since it involves ceremonies like weddings and divorces, offerings, and vows? Is it civil since it involves punishment for wrong doing?

That’s Old Testament

You quickly realize that mitzvot, mishpatim, and chukim have very blurry and overlapping lines. Some will solve this problem by saying essentially that the moral law is what’s repeated in the Brit Chadeshah (New Covenant). That kind of makes sense because a lot of the BC is written to gentile audiences who are distant from the temple, hence a lot less ceremony, and not under a Sanhedrin’s jurisdiction. What you see, does look like a lot less related to ceremonies and civil ordinances (at least if you don’t think about how Paul actually did sacrifice like the entire congregation in Jerusalem, or how even the gentiles still met on the Shabbat in synagoges and studied Moshe, not Paul…).

But let me ask you this, Paul deals with a runaway slave and then sends him back. What was the moral law he was following? The Torah has a lot to say on the subject, but the BC says very little. How was the master supposed to receive this servant ‘as a brother’, what does that mean when you’re talking about a slave?

Paul uses the term ‘fornication’ quite a bit, which means immoral sexual activity…well…without referencing the Torah, what is immoral sexual activity? You could derive some incest, but not beastiality. You can’t even clearly show premarital sex counts (even though the Torah doesn’t forbid it, per se, only failing to marry afterwards). The BC says nothing about forgiving financial debts or how to treat an employee, the Torah covers that. The BC doesn’t say how to keep Pesach (Passover), even though Yeshua said “As often as you do this“, ‘this’ being the Pesach meal.

So how do we break up the Torah, so nice and neat?

Didn’t we just leave this party?

Now, we’re told that Yeshua’s death ended the law. Why would it do that? As I’ve said before, that belief only makes sense if you believe the law was actually arbitrary, odious, burdensome, and cruel. If it was good, why would you cheer for it to end? But we’re told this happened because our sins were no longer counted against us. So why then would even the moral law remain? If our debt is paid, and the law wasn’t good anyway, then why are we doing any part of it?

And it gets even stranger. Okay, you want to keep the moral law. Is baptism moral law or ceremonial? Can you be baptized in your heart, but not with your body? Is communion ceremonial law or is it moral? What about tithing? When the epistles talk about delivering one unto Satan for the destruction of the body after a mortal sin, is that people sitting in judgment of someone’s morality? Is that a civil proceedure? When Peter oversaw the divine execution of Ananias and Saphira, was the civil? Because I’m told it’s cruel to stone a woman for adultery, but no one has a problem with someone lying in church and getting killed on the spot?

I’m not disparaging, I’m just saying, those sound like civil and ceremonial and moral all strangely blurring and overlapping.

How can we be moral without being ceremonial or civil?

The above point seems to lead to this one. How can one be moral without these other divisions? Can I be moral before Elohim, but not keep his ordinance, his ceremonies of baptism or communion? Or the same Shabbat that Yeshua and all the apostles did?

Can I be morally faithful to my wife, if I am not physically faithful? Can I ‘defraud not’ a brother morally, while exacting usury (which the Torah forbids, generally, and the BC is strangely silent on) or forgiving his debts or paying him a timely wage or not being overly burdensome in exacting of his debts still current? Can I show hospitality in my moral spirit, while denying food and water and clothing and shelter as the Torah commands? Can I ‘provide’ for my house, so that I’m not worse than an infidel, without providing for my estate’s proper division to my children and financial provision for my wife?

When I look at the Torah, considering a mitzvah, that says for example, don’t barge into a person’s house to collect collateral, how can one violate the mitzvah’s civil ordinance (don’t go in and get his stuff) while keeping it morally? If I get in a scuffle with someone and break their nose, the Torah says that I should pay for him to be healed: how do I do that morally, without also doing it civilly?

The Problem is not a Moral vs. Civil or Ceremonial

The Christian often thinks he’s reaching for a ‘higher standard’ than the Torah when he seeks to a moral law. But doesn’t this only show hard heartedness? Christian, do you think your loving, all knowing God, who set the standard that sin misses the mark as the Torah (1 John 3:34?)…do you believe that God gave a bad law? Do you believe his law that is “holy, just, good” according to Paul lacks the moral element?

To avoid blasphemy, you must conclude the moral law is already embedded in the Torah. And the argument for keeping the ‘moral law’ admits it anyway. The Moral law is already there. So do you think God just imposed the ‘civil’ and the ‘ceremonial’ because he thought people had too much time on their hands? Or do you look at the mitzvot covered above and say, “How could you be moral without keeping the civil?”

Isn’t it obvious, that the moral must work itself out into a civil or ceremonial expression? How do you sanctify a woman to be your particular wife, without a ceremony? How do you keep the Sabbath day, even if you think it’s become sunday, without ceremonial trappings? Didn’t Yeshua sing hymns? Didn’t he teach his talmidim to pray, instead of leaving it up to them to ‘figure it out’? Isn’t it obvious that not defrauding your brother will have to have entail actual transactions of goods and worth? The not defrauding would insist upon a just measure and weight (as the Torah insists)?

I think if you’re honest, you realize the moral law has to find expression in both the ceremonial and civil. It cannot exist any other way.

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Our Unbelief Makes a Lie of Our Confession

Reading through Ecclesiastical History by Eusbias (a full “review ” will be forthcoming), and one thing keeps coming to the surface, the early congregation was largely populated by believers who were ready, even cheerful to be martyred.

Those who were became celebrities with those who survived. Their deaths and preceeding tortures were hailed the way professional athletes are.

In contrast, I have an elder brother in HaShem that suffered a stroke, and all of us around are praying for his recovery and there is a sense of dread surrounding the whole affair as we wait to see how permanent the damage could be. Or how many days left he has in this world?

We were singing hymns and suddenly they took on different meaning. “Take me life?” Faith of our Father, anyone?

Don’t get me wrong, but odds are every talmid, every disciple, reading this is going to die. The point of the Glad Tidings or Gospel is not that we don’t die. It’s not that we die comfortably in our sleep. It’s certainly not that we have a cushy life with a yacht, six figures, and a cruise control family. If anything, Yeshua promises us affliction, trial, being hated, being divided from your family, to be figuratively, if not literally, crucified.

The Glad Tidings is that the promises of HaShem overcome these. That his riches outweigh the suffering of this life. Properly understood we should see death as the finish line where an Olympian crosses to receive his medal. It should be like the Price Is Right where everything behind the door is a better prize. It should be like coming home.

So what does it say when we dread death? I’m not talking about mourning. We must mourn because we are human. We should weep, but we don’t weep for our brothers who have left victorious (though we certainly should weep for those who leave defeated). We weep for those left behind. We weep for the world that is a little darker without them. We weep for all our missed opportunities to love someone the Father loves.

But for them? And for ourselves staring into our own mortality? And for those in conversation with us about a future death? Shouldn’t we be saying to each other, “Don’t worry. Your turn will come.”

Instead of praying for recovery, perhaps we should pray first that we each overcome? That our death be worthy? Not to avoid suffering but for strength to laugh in it’s face.

I wonder if that’s why the body is so sick? Or one of the reasons. We get hung up on how the world sees us as inviting or judgmental. The Early believers were willing to die rather than sacrifice to the gods of Rome, you think that was less judgmental than refusing to bake a cake?

“I’m gay and I know there’s a ton of other bakeries that would do this, but I went into the one I knew would have a moral problem. Will you make me a gay wedding cake? ”

“I’d rather be eaten by wild animals along with my children, while people cheer.”

The early believers weren’t concerned about being inviting, but their opponents often became converts on the basis of what they were willing to gladly sacrifice.

Let’s get back to our roots. If the thought of your death doesn’t put a smile on your face, it’s time to ask why.

 

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Racism: the unwinnable argument

The other day I reconnected with my brother, Jordan. His wedding was coming up, and I missed that I hadn’t seen him in awhile. Adding him on Facebook however, I soon found race related posts surfacing. I groaned because I hoped he was “above that”. I put that in there for honesty, but I understand now how that will read to my brother, but also trust he can understand what I mean.

For me, I have held the belief that the cultural obsession with race is divisive, even if you believe we are different races. Which I don’t. It just doesn’t help, and takes the eyes off of the real problem of sin. And the real solution of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ). Plus, If you take away this form of hate, it will just transform into another. Or more likely go stealth.
I tried to make this known, but then Jordan shared with me a recent story from his life in “Not forgetting, just moving on” https://obsessedwiththeoppressed.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/not-forgetting-just-moving-on/.

The story portion is of unfair, angering, and tragic racial abuses. The largest of which being at the hands of law enforcement. That these things happened to someone I know is infuriating.

Yet, as I read, I had problems, some small, some big, with the lessons learned. Most of which came down to, yes, the perspective, the interpretations of events.

I know that questioning touches on one of things my brother wrote not to do. We should approach a story of abuse, especially from someone we know, from the default of credibility.

However, the perspective of the oppressed, is not the only valid perspective. I won’t go farther in that, but it must be said that just because someone perceives insult, does not mean they were insulted. For example, some black people take offense if a white man makes a “black” joke, it is assumed insulting even though if a many a black did it, it would be fine. No one hazards to guess that maybe the white is trying to bond like he’s seen blacks do.

So, while I read, counter arguments began to form. I thought of a dozen different openings and styles for this blog, to show how it was just as racist and unjust to accuse all whites, as it was to mistreat all blacks. Just as wrong to ignore that there is economic and judicial inequality, as it was to ignore the hundreds of thousands of whites who died to free the south?
But every time I thought I had a good flow, I felt the Spirit teaching me… this will only lead to argument. Is that what Jordan or a thousand blacks need to hear?

So I kept reading.

As I did, I felt I could really hear Jordan a little better. He admits that his campaign against racism, his making his voice heard isn’t a solution. That set some of my mind at ease, because that’s where I was, and I think where many of those not directly touched by racism live. What good does all this talk about racism do? The racists on both sides aren’t listening, and the reasonable just get tired of being shamed (to use the new lingo).

When I say stop the race talk it’s only making things worse, the black people hear “the racism doesn’t affect me, so you blacks need to suck it up, stop whining, and get your act together.” So they lump the whites together with the racists, and won’t listen to whites because they don’t trust them.

When he says there’s a racist system, enforced by racist cops, and if you don’t protest with us, then you’re an undercover racist, the whites hear “I don’t care that your blood was spilled to free blacks, don’t care that 99% of you never burned a cross or supported a lynching. If you’re white I see no difference. And all those cops and all that good effort that you’ve done isn’t good. You’re all evil bastards.”

Unable to communicate, because each side views the other as evil or barbaric, what can either side do to help? If either side says anything, the opposite runs it through a filter that says white equals oppressor, or black equals ungrateful rabble. Is there any possibility that actual harmony can occur with this?

No matter what the white cop does (just for an example; the cop is just the extreme version of any citizen), his actions will be seen as suspect. The black will treat him as such, always being guarded and defensive. Because the black looks like he’s hiding something, and viewing the black through his own experience (or inexperience) the white cop will deal with the black as if he is already guilty.

Thus, each sides distrust reinforces the others. Conclusion there is no natural means of actually promoting harmony.
What then, do we give up? Merely tolerate either the status quo or the rioting of protest?

May I humbly suggest, as I work this out myself, that the problem is we’re looking for a logical solution, to a problem that is emotional. What we need is a desperate and sacrificial one. We need a supernatural solution.

Am I saying just pray? No.

“The blacks” will never naturally trust me because I naturally refuse to be slandered as a racist. I’m not guilty and I won’t accept white guilt.

Especially because I’m only half white (whatever that means. Who decides who is really black or really white?). And the black will not naturally accept that full reparation is not even possible.

When Yeshua (Jesus) came and died for our sins, he was being punished for sins that were not his own. He was willing to be called guilty of every single crime, so that there could be peace between sinners and their holy creator. What about his disciples?

What did Paul mean, to be poured out as a drink offering?

Can it be that, not because every white is guilty or indebted, that the white who follows Yeshua accept a responsibility (as much as he can) for a sin that is not his own for the sake of the brothers and sisters?

Yeshua talks about taking on his yoke. A yoke binds one laborer to another. The strength of one, steadied the weakness of the other. Paul talks about bearing one another’s burdens. Is it possible, or is not probable, that we are called to carry the burden of racism to alleviate the burden from those racists that won’t repent? And also the victim who has no relief?
As Paul says, wouldn’t you rather be wronged than to make a scene out of disputing between brothers?

Go ahead and call me a racist. I will be the racist, if that will bring peace. And I repent of it. Forgive me, Jordan, Jonathan, any other black for the sins of racism. While I’m at it, if you’re native American forgive me for taking your land, too.

But, there is also a burden for the other one in the yoke. The black must forgive, because there are whites (most whites) that have desired to repent. And Yeshua says to forgive.
And since, I am part Mexican, which means I probably have native American, Mayan, Aztec, a little African probably too, along with my Spanish, I’ll forgive my whiter brothers.

Is this kumbaya nonesense? Like I said, it’s an answer that relies on God. No natural solution is possible between two fundamentally distrusting races. There simply has to be forgiveness on both sides. What would my blacker brothers say to Yeshua, a middle brown jew, whose entire country was strewn with Jews crucified by lighter skinned Romans, who then pronounced faith for a Roman centurion and healed his servant?

There has to be personal repentance on both sides.

Does it stop there? I can hear my darker brothers say forgiveness is not enough, there has to be change. There has to be real boots on the ground help for this burden.

That help may not come in the form of protest and signs, but yet help. But that’s not systematic. I in Adams County do not have the ability to fix Cincinnati or the state of Indiana. That’s why forgiveness is needed, because we can’t keep holding the entire problem against everyone. I am responsible for my circle. The area God had given to me. So my help, cannot be judged by what I’m not doing somewhere else.

If you need help enter my circle and I’ll do what I can. And that’s what we each need to do, where we are. We can’t keep waging war against whole groups of people because they don’t join the war in your way.

In summary. If you need to blame someone, I’ll be guilty. If you need help, I’ll give. If you need forgiveness, I’ll do that too. Hope to see you there.

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