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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