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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