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May 24, 2015

8:23 PM

Part 15 Could Jesus have been divine?

The theory that no historical Jesus ever lived was still generally regarded as a fringe idea. Although a small minority of scholars had championed such a conclusion for almost two centuries, it had achieved little traction among the public or in New Testament scholarship.

Now a decade later, the idea is beginning to poke a tentative head out of parts of the mainstream scholarly landscape. Yet this has already been overtaken by a growing segment of the general public, especially among those plugged into the Internet, where presentation and debate on websites and discussion boards has increasingly intrigued and even won over many to the idea.

The advent of the Internet has introduced an unprecedented "lay" element of scholarship to the field. The vastly accelerated dissemination and exchange of ideas, the easy availability of ancient texts and works of modern scholarship only a click away, the absence of peer pressure and constraints of academic tenure, has meant that the study of Christian origins is undergoing a quantum leap in the

hands of a much wider constituency than traditional academia. While the latter has always been centered in university Religion departments, the field is now open to dedicated 'amateurs,' the latter being a technical term for those who undertake private study outside an official educational setting

Mainstream critical scholarship's ongoing quest for "the historical Jesus" is yet to arrive at any secure or consensus result. Agreement on what Jesus said and rid, on whether he was a Jewish wisdom teacher, an apocalyptic prophet, a revolutionary, a Cynic-style sage, or any of a number of other characterizations, is as far from being achieved as at any previous stage of the perennial attempt to separate the glorified Jesus of faith from the elusive Jesus of history. It remains to be seen how soon traditional academia will overcome its reluctance to take the

plunge into the New Testament's final, uncharted territory. It has become known on the Internet as "Jesus mysticism"—the theory that no historical Jesus worthy of the name existed, that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical identifiable person lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition.

There is one rebuke regularly leveled at the proponents of Jesus mysticism. This is the claim—a myth in itself—that mainstream scholarship (both the New Testament exegete and the general historian) has long since discredited the theory that Jesus never existed, and continues to do so. It is not more widely

supported, they maintain, because the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming, and this evidence has been presented time and time again. It is surprising how much currency this fantasy enjoys, considering that there is so little basis for it

In the early 20lh century there were a number of efforts to counter the strong current of Jesus mysticism at that time, but the works on both sides of that debate are long outdated. There has been in recent times no major published work from mainstream scholarship dedicated to disproving the mythical Jesus theory. This alone is critical, since significant advances have been made in New Testament research over the last quarter century, such as the new perception of the high midrash content of the Gospels, advances in Gnostic studies based on

the Nag Hammadi documents, new insights into the Q document's layering and evolution, and so on. The case for Jesus mythicism has kept pace with these developments and has strengthened itself accordingly, yet virtually none of this has been answered by today's historical Jesus defenders. When modern scholars have commented on Jesus mythicism (as a part of books or articles devoted to other aspects of New Testament study), it has generally been a superficial affair,

repeating old objections that have long been dealt with by mythicism's advocates and betraying an inadequate understanding of the depth and character of their case. It has been amateur Internet apologists, usually faith-driven, who have stepped into this vacuum and offered web-based articles attempting to refute the mythical Jesus position. These have attracted rebuttals by mythicists, including several by myself. The question remains to which I devote myself. Not that Jesus was an historical figure but can we prove beyond a reasonable doubt Did Jesus claim to be God. Or perhaps his followers did that for him. ...We shall see.

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April 29, 2015

7:39 PM

Some recent thoughts to consider

In the early 20lh century there were a number of efforts to counter the strong current of Jesus mythicism at that time, but the works on both sides of that debate are long outdated. There has been in recent times no major published work from mainstream scholarship dedicated to disproving the mythical Jesus theory. This alone is critical, since significant advances have been made in New Testament research over the last quarter century, such as the new perception of the high midrash content of the Gospels, advances in Gnostic studies based on the Nag Hammadi documents, new insights into the Q document's layering and evolution, and so on. The case for Jesus mythicism has kept pace with these developments and has strengthened itself accordingly, yet virtually none of this has been answered by today's historical Jesus defenders. When modern scholars

have commented on Jesus mythicism (as a part of books or articles devoted to other aspects of New Testament study), it has generally been a superficial affair, repeating old objections that have long been dealt with by mythicism's advocates

and betraying an inadequate understanding of the depth and character of their case. It has been amateur Internet apologists, usually faith-driven, who have stepped into this vacuum and offered web-based articles attempting to refute the mythical Jesus position.

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January 21, 2015

7:10 PM

What you thought you knew but ...

Eric Hoffer noted: "It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible."

There is an episode of Star Trek Voyager called Distant Origin where this topic is explored. A scientist of a race in the Delta Quadrant believes that genetic evidence indicated that their race originated on Earth. His thesis is challenged the doctrine of his species and he was accused of "heresy against Doctrine" for positing something different than his people believed. He ends up being persecuted and punished for his beliefs.

Now I want to be diplomatic about this. I am not someone who simply is contrary to established doctrines, be they theological, scientific or even military theories. That being said I think it is only right to question our presuppositions, as Anselm of Canterbury did through faith seeking understanding.

That understanding as a Christian is based on the totality of the message of the Christian faith. Hans Kung said it well:

"Christians are confident that there is a living God and that in the future of this God will also maintain their believing community in life and in truth. Their confidence is based on the promise given with Jesus of Nazareth: he himself is the promise in which God’s fidelity to his people can be read."

What we have to admit is that our belief is rooted in our faith, faith which is given to us through the witness of very imperfect people influenced by their own culture, history and traditions. Even scripture does not make the claim to be inerrant, and the Bible cannot be understood like the Koran or other texts which make the claim to be the infallible compendium of faith delivered by an angel or dictated by God himself. It is a Divine-human collaboration so symbolic of the relationship that God has with his people, often confusing and contradictory yet inspiring.

There is a certain sense of relationship between God and humanity within scripture and that relationship creates certain tensions between God and those people. The interesting thing is that Scripture is a collection of texts which record often in terrible honesty the lack of perfection of both the writers and their subjects. They likewise record the sometimes unpredictable and seemingly contradictory behavior of God toward humanity in the Old Testament. They bear witness to the weaknesses, limitations and lack of understanding of the people of God of the message of God but even in that those limitations and weaknesses that God is still faithful to humanity in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The real fact of the matter is that fixed doctrines are much more comfortable than difficult questions than honestly examining the contradictions that exist within Scripture, history and tradition. The fact is this makes many people uncomfortable and thus the retreat into the fortress of fixed and immutable doctrine found in the various incarnations of Fundamentalism.

The fact is the world is not a safe place, and our best knowledge is always being challenged by new discoveries many of which make people nervous and uncomfortable, especially people who need the safety of certitude. So in reaction the true believers become even more strident and sometimes, in the case of some forms of Islam and Hinduism violent.

Christianity cannot get away unscathed by such criticism. At various points in our history we have had individuals, churches and Church controlled governments persecute and kill those that have challenged their particular orthodoxy. Since Christian fundamentalists are human they like others have the capacity for violence if they feel threatened, or the cause is "holy" enough. Our history is full of sordid tales of the ignorance of some Christians masquerading as absolute truth and crushing any opposition. It is as Eric Hoffer wrote:

"A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self."

This is the magnetic attraction of fundamentalism in all of its forms, not just Christian fundamentalism.  Yet for me there is a comfort in knowing that no matter how hard and fast we want to be certain of our doctrines, that God has the last say in the matter in the beginning and the end. We live in the uncomfortable middle but I have hope in the faith that God was in the beginning. Besides as Bonhoeffer well noted "A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol"

But there some Christians who now faced with the eloquence of men like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye who make legitimate challenges respond in the most uncouth and ignorant manners. The sad thing is that their response reveals more about them and their uncertainty than it does the faith that they boldly proclaim. As Hoffer wrote: "We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand."

Our doctrines, the way we interpret Scripture and the way we understand God are limited by our humanity and the fact that no matter how clever we think we are that our doctrines are expressions of faith. This is because we were not in the beginning as was God and we will not be at the end, at least in this state. We live in the uncomfortable middle, faith is not science, nor is it proof, that is why it is called faith, even in our scriptures.

We are to always seek clarity and understanding but know that it is possible that such understanding and the seeking of truth, be it spiritual, historical, scientific or ethical could well upset our doctrines, but not God himself. As Henri Nouwen wrote: "Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God." Is that not the point of the various interactions of Jesus with the religious leaders of his day? Men who knew that they knew the truth and even punished people who had been healed by Jesus such as the man born blind in the 9th Chapter of John’s Gospel.

"You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from." The man answered and said to them, "This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything." They answered and said to him, "You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?" Then they threw him out."

The interchange between the religious leaders and the man is not an indictment on Judaism, but rather on religious certitude in any time or place. The fact is that the Pharisees are no different than those who ran the Inquisition, or those who conducted Witch Trials or those who attempt to crush anyone who questions their immutable doctrine no matter what their religion. They were and are true believers.

In the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead Captain Picard counsels Lieutenant Worf after their encounter with a special investigator who turned an investigation into a witch hunt on the Enterprise. Picard told Worf, who had initially been taken in by the investigator:

"But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay."

When Did Jesus Become the Son of God, the Lord,

and the Messiah?

The missionary speeches of Acts deal not only with issues of salvation; they also make bold statements about Christ and how God exalted him after his death. In Paul’s speech to potential converts in Antioch of Pisidia, he speaks of God’s raising of Jesus in fulfillment of Scripture:

What God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,

‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ (Acts 13:32–33)

In this text the "day" Jesus became begotten as God’s son was the day of the resurrection. But how does that square with what Luke says elsewhere? In Luke’s Gospel, the voice utters the same words, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you" (Luke 3:22), when Jesus is baptized.

 But even earlier, the angel Gabriel announced to Mary prior toJesus’ conception and birth that "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). In this instance it appears that Jesus is the Son of God because of

the virginal conception: he is physically God’s son. How can Luke say all three things? I’m not sure it’s possible to reconcile these accounts; it may be that Luke got these different traditions from different sources that disagreed with one another on the issue.

The same type of problem occurs with some of the other things Luke says about Jesus. For example, in Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost, he speaks of the death of Jesus and affirms that God raised him up and exalted him to heaven: "Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucifi ed" (Acts 2:36). Here, again, it

appears that Jesus receives this exalted status at the resurrection—that is when God "made him" Lord and Messiah. But what then is one to think of the birth narrative in Luke, where the angel informs the shepherds who are "watching over their flock by night" that "to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,

the Lord" (2:11). In this instance, Jesus is Messiah and Lord already at his birth. How did Jesus become both Messiah and Lord at both points in time? Here again there appears to be an internal discrepancy within Luke’s own writings, possibly because different sources were used to create his accounts.

To be continued...

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December 19, 2014

8:25 PM

Excursus

Every Christmas I use to share the story of the birth of the Christ child to my children. As they got older I shared the many different ways it effects we here in America. One time I shared the "Gift of the Magi" by O'Henry . One time I shared how the Star of Bethlehem could have been explained (for my son who is now working for NASA) , The last one that I called "The fourth wise guy" was my last attempt at reaching out to my kids (they're all grown now) You can find all my attempts on line somewhere if you want. In the tradition of Irish scéalaí. A seanchaí is a traditional Irish storyteller/historian.  And now a wee bit that you didn't know about me.

"Read to me Grandmother" I would say in my best Irish, drawing myself up to my imposing two and a half feet tall for I was only two years and a few days old when I had this conversation. And in her fluent German Ist das, wie Sie bitte sagen? "Is that how you say please?" Bitte Großmutter "Please Grandmother" GrandmotherCallaghan was one of those "old fashion" teagaisc teaching grandmothers the kind you loved and who could generate the best from even a stick of wood.

And so would begin my lessons in the classics from Don Quixote (1605) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Last Days of Pompeii (1834) by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Macbeth (1606) by William Shakespeare, Great Expectations (1861) by Charles Dickens, Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson, Faust (1808/1832) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Iliad (962 B.C.) Homer. And all of the best known Irish authors and writers such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, C.S. Lewis, Samuel Beckett. And her reading continued with the Latin authors for example Lucius Apuleius best known for The Metamorphoses often  referred to as The Golden Ass, is written in a Grecizing style, with fairly involved syntax, couched in a large vocabulary. These things make Apuleius slightly difficult reading to make my education well rounded Grandmother would read the classics in the original language, which I had to learn if I were to keep up.

Grandmother Callaghan would read until her voice broke and become raspy and hoarse. And Gentle reader, I grew up loving reading books, loving the histories of Ireland Lebor Gabála Érenn ( The book of takings ) Purporting to be a literal and accurate account of the history of the Irish, Lebor Gabála Érenn an attempt to provide the Irish with a written history comparable to that which the Israelites provided for themselves in the Old Testament. Drawing upon the pagan myths of Celtic Ireland — both Gaelic and pre-Gaelic — but reinterpreting them in the light of Judaeo-Christian theology and historiography, it described how the island was subjected to a succession of invasions, each one adding a new chapter to the nation's history. Biblical paradigms provided the mythologers with ready-made stories which could be adapted to their purpose. Thus we found the ancestors of the Irish enslaved in a foreign land, or fleeing into exile, or wandering in the wilderness, or sighting the "Promised Land" from afar.  Rome, the mythologies of Greece and others which for a small lad was quite exciting. And the Bible which was my favorite and of course the apostles, Paul being the foremost.

I was to find much later in life that I was considered a Wunderkind (from German: "wonder child") is sometimes used as a synonym for prodigy, particularly in media accounts, although this term is discouraged in scientific literature. Wunderkind also is used to recognize those who achieve success and acclaim early in their adult careers. I didn’t find it unusual to be teaching linguistics at the University at age fourteen until much later in life, with two earned Ph.D’s by the age of sixteen, I thought that this was the norm.   

My father was a University man would work all day and come home at night to tell us of the latest activities of the I.R.A. ( Irish Republican Army ( Poblachtach na hÉireann Arm) and to be perfectly frank to this day I do not know if he was a member or not he never said. But he was a solid Roman Catholic and never missed a chance to attend Mass and contribute the coffers of the church. I attended Catholic school taught by very strict nuns and priests who insisted that we learn several languages Latin being the foremost. The reason was so that the little boys would grow up to be priest and the girls to be nuns. We learned about guilt catholic style and let me assure you that the nuns put guilt and the "fear" of God into everyone, including the priest and Bishop in our little community of Mallow Ireland. My favorite priest was Father Dan who convinced me about God in our catechism class when he told us about how God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing and I told him "you can't make something out of nothin" much to the dismay of sister Consortia. Finely Father Dan told me that God was like Superman and He could make "somethin  outa nothin" that had me and I became to believe Father Dan was God's right hand man.

Those were the days in our little village that I look back on fondly and with a wee bit of regret now as I have grown older, a wee bit wiser and, would hope kinder and gentler.

I miss the soft days (rain so soft that it was like being kissed by a faery Daoine Sidhe (theena shee). A name for the faery people or as you would know them as wee folk) when we would walk the streets of Mallow looking for our special tea shop. And both my Grandfather and Grandmother would caution me if I would misbehave "Remember who you are!" Something I could never forget and was a sense of great pride in our family "descendent from the first Kings of Ireland" my father would say with a bit of pride swelling in his voice. "Remember who you are!"

Everyone has something in their history or family which brings to them a sense of Pride. We Irish pride ourselves on the education that we gain and now I have managed to accrue six or seven doctorates in various theological/ historical  disciplines. As I use to tell my students a diploma or a degree is just a piece of paper that tells others that your smart. What matters is what you have learned. Man’s mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.    



So from my family to yours Merry Christmas.
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December 2, 2014

11:25 PM

Part 12 But wait, there are two sides to a Pancake!

As most of my long time readers know I receive studies, books (for review) questions , comments etc. almost on a daily basis. It is not uncommon to receive 500+ emails a day. And I do try to answer each and every question. But today I received from professor Daniel Anderson (This I believe Ministry) a comment from Emily Ruppel, editor of the publication God and Nature, gave us a couple important reminders (1) Our understanding of the natural world doesn’t grow by "repeating the same experiments, running the same numbers, over and over again. And, (2) we don’t grow our faith by never moving from the same spot, never trying a new point of view, never questioning our creeds or the commitments that makes the most sense to us. The exercise in understanding may persuade changes for some. It may strengthen the place and position of others. And so as I continue to write based on a title " The mythological matrix paradigm" on my blog "Doc Notes". Remember we are looking at the beginning of our faith. And to examine what and to whom we hold allegiance   There are many responsible and reliable Historical theologians among these are the likes of Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan both esteemed collogues who hold that the New Testament  was written late which then fits into their thesis  

Every knowledgeable scholar agrees that the Epistles of Paul were the first to be written so with that in mind allow me to share oart of my latest book. 

But wait! There are two sides to every pancake!

 

 

 

Here then is the internal evidence as to the Epistles of Paul and the dates of their writing. Note that all are written in the 1st Century before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. [Note: Not all scholars agree that the New Testament books were all completed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem but this controversy will continue for years to come. However until satisfactory evidence is forthcoming on the side of late dating of the New Testament book, I personally would rather side on internal evidence that I have found. ]   

After believing for many years that 2 Timothy was Paul's last letter, I found myself dismissing my solid proof. My reason for 2 Timothy being the last letter was taken from chapter 4, verses 6 & 7: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." This seemed to be my rock-hard proof of the conclusion to his ministry. To me, this had to be his last epistle. My other reason for this conclusion was that in Acts 13:25 I read that Paul used similar word describing John the Baptist finishing his course or work up until that time.

My commanding problem was that in Acts 20:24, Paul speaks of finishing his course also, but unlike John, he still had a long way to go. Paul also spoke of "dying daily" or being appointed to death, etc. long before he wrote these words to Timothy of finishing his course. This made me look again at the order of Paul's epistles. Maybe 2nd Timothy was not the last.

No one I have read after has the final word on a chronological order of the Apostle Paul's Epistles. That is, because it is difficult to be precise about the order of the events during his last days after the Acts period. However, in comparing the Epistles with the historical book of Acts, we find somewhat of an order of his early Epistles. As we establish the epistles written during the Acts period, we have those later epistles selected for us.

Paul's 8 Epistles written during the Acts period (AD 30 - 62)

AD 52 & 53 - (1st & 2nd letters) -

First & Second Thessalonians

from Corinth

These first two epistles of Paul were written soon after the conversion of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:8,9). The news of their conversion was spreading (present tense verb) through Macedonia and Achaia. Paul was taken from them for a brief period (1 Thess. 2:17) and was recently at Athens (1 Thess. 3:1). He had already preached in Achaia (1 Thess. 1:7, 8 ) . Timotheus and Silas just returned (1 Thess. 3:6) from Macedonia, which happened (Acts 18:5) soon after Paul's first arrival at Corinth. Then about four years later he writes......

AD 57 - (3rd letter) -

First Corinthians from Ephesus

The date of this epistle is established more accurately than Paul's other epistles. Apollos had been working at Corinth, and was now with Paul in Ephesus (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4,22; 4:6; 16:12). During the writing of this epistle Paul resides at Ephesus (Acts 19:1), during the days of unleavened bread (1 Cor. 5:7) and intended on remaining at Ephesus until Pentecost (1 Cor. 16:8 ) . He met with a disturbance in the theatre. Aquila and Pricilla were with him at Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19) and had taken up their residence at Ephesus just before the visit of Paul (Acts 18:26). After leaving Ephesus, Paul arranged to go through Macedonia to Achaia (1 Cor. 16:5-7). Also, at that time, the Great Collection was going on in Achaia (1 Cor. 16:1-3). When he wrote to the Romans from Corinth during his three months' visit there (Acts 20:3), the collection was concluded in Macedonia and Achaia (Rom. 15:26). Now, Paul hopes to go by Corinth to Jerusalem, and then to Rome (1 Cor. 16:4 & 15:25-28 ) . The time he entertained this personal plan was at the close of his Ephesian residence (Acts 19:21).

AD 57 - (4th letter) -Second Corinthians from Macedonia

Paul was exposed to a great danger in Proconsular Asia, i.e. at Ephesus (2 Cor. 1:8 ) . This happened in Acts 19:23-41. Paul traveled from Troas after staying there for some time and then made his voyage to Macedonia (Acts 20:1). Paul was in Macedonia at the time of the writing (2 Cor. 9:2). The verb is in the present tense. He intended (2 Cor. 13:1) shortly to visit Corinth. This was the course of his journey in Acts 20:2.

AD 58 - (5th letter) -Galatians from Corinth

It is my understanding that this letter was not written before Paul's second visit to the Galatians. He spoke of their conversion as having occurred at his first visit (4:13). This hints of two visits. "Am I now become your enemy by speaking truth among you?" (4:16) implies a second visit in which he had offended them. He was welcome on his first visit. However, Paul marvels that they forsake his teaching so quickly (1:6). A comparison of the structure of the doctrine of Galatians and Romans indicate that they were written around the same time. However, there is nothing in this epistle to fix the date of it. Nor is there any external evidence of a conclusive nature supplied by other epistles. The content of this letter is my basis for believing that it was written within a few months of the Roman epistle.

AD 58 - (6th letter) -Romans from Corinth

Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote this epistle (1:11-15). He intended to go to Rome after visiting Jerusalem (15:23-28 ) . This was his purpose in Acts 19:21. This gives us a time setting. He was going to bear a collection of alms from Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem (15:26, 31). He carried the collection from Corinth to Jerusalem at the close of this three months' visit (Acts 24:17). When Paul wrote this epistle, Timotheus, Sosipater, Gaius and Erastus were with him (16:21-23). Out of these four, Luke mentions three in the Acts as being with him at Corinth during the three months' visit (Acts 20:4).

AD 59 - (7th letter) -Philippians from Caesar's prison

Paul drops his Apostleship from this Philippian letter and the letter to the Hebrews. This epistle was obviously written during his first imprisonment (AD 59) in a Roman prison (Acts 24:27). The success of the gospel among the praetorian guard (Phil. 1:13) relates to Paul preaching the kingdom of God in Acts 28:31. Paul has hope of soon sending Timothy to Philippi and also the hope of his release (Phil. 2:23, 24). Philippians must have a prior date because the new themes of Ephesians and Colossians do not appear in the epistle. This would place Philippians at a time long ghbefore Ephesians and Colossians and the late revelation of the mystery. The lack of internal evidence in Philippians of the new and all important theme of "the mystery" gives weight to an early writing, long before "the mystery" was revealed.

AD 59 - (8th letter) -Hebrews from prison in Italy (Heb. 13:24)

I am fully persuaded that the author of this critical epistle to Hebrew believers was the apostle Paul. Although he was distinctively and essentially the "apostle of the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13), his ministry was by no means confined to them, as the book of Acts clearly indicates. At the time of Paul's arrest, the Lord said, "He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). It is note worthy that our Lord mentions Israel last. This corresponds with the fact that Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews was written after most of his epistles to the Gentiles. It is clear from 2nd Peter 3:15 that this epistle was written by Paul. Peter wrote to the Hebrews as the opening verses of his first epistle indicates. Then in 2nd Peter 3:1, he says that this second epistle was also addressed to the same people as his first epistle. In verses 15, he declares that his beloved brother Paul "also...hath written unto you." If Hebrews is not that epistle, where is it? Although this Epistle was Paul's crowning connection with to the Jews, it was his last.

A great change is approaching. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul says to the leaders of the Jews (Acts 28:17), "The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet (Isa. 6: 9, 10): 'Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them'." (Acts 28: 26, 27). Then Paul declared to them, "Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen."

This is when the Jewish leaders walked out on Paul (28: 25) and then he turned his back on the nation that he had first gone to (Romans 2:10; 3:1-6). Now, he "welcomed all (Gentiles) who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" because he no longer ministered to the Jews first who had been a trouble to him.

This same passage from Isaiah was used by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 13: 10-17. After the Jews blasphemed (Matt. 12: 22-25) the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus told them that "the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.... in this age or in the age to come." (12: 31, 32). This is when Jesus turned His back on the Jews and started teaching the public (13: 1, 2). He severed all connections with His physical family (12: 46-49) and "went out of the house" (a picture of natural ties) "and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him..." THEN, Jesus changed the method of teaching. He started using parables. His disciples asked, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" (Matt. 13: 10) and Jesus explained that He did not want the Jews to understand (13: 11-17). So, he took the disciples aside and explained the parables to them. He wanted them to understand. The prophecy of parables is seen in Matthew 13: 34, 35.

So, what we have here is... two men, Jesus and Paul, turning their backs on the Jews and going to the multitudes AFTER they quote the passage from Isaiah 6: 9, 10. The Jews had forfeited everything in Matthew 12 and as the apparent second chance was given to them during the Acts period, Paul saw that there was no use in prolonging what was apparently dead and over, he turned his back on them also. These next epistles Epistles that follow are under the new administration of Paul, based on his second commission . (Quotes here are from the ESV.) Which we will pick up next time.

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November 7, 2014

11:33 PM

Did Jesus claim to be God? (Part 11)

The following is Professor Bart Ehrman’s perspective on this issue. Sorry that it is so long , but worth the read.

What can we say about how Jesus most likely understood himself? Did he call himself the messiah? If so, what did he mean by it? And did he call himself God? Here I want to stake out a clear position: messiah, yes; God, no.

I think there are excellent reasons for thinking that Jesus imagined himself as the messiah, in a very specific and particular sense. The messiah was thought to be the future ruler of the people of Israel. But as an apocalypticist, Jesus did not think that the future kingdom was going to be won by a political struggle or a military engagement per se. It was going to be brought by the Son of Man, who came in judgment against everyone and everything opposed to God. Then the kingdom would arrive. And I think Jesus believed he himself would be the king in that kingdom.

I have several reasons for thinking so. First let me go back to my earlier point about the disciples. They clearly thought and talked about Jesus as the messiah during his earthly life. But in fact he did nothing to make a person think that he was the messiah.

He may well have been a pacifist ("love your enemy," "turn the other cheek," "blessed are the peacemakers," etc.), which would not exactly make him a leading candidate to be general over the Jewish armed forces. He did not preach the violent overthrow of the Roman armies. And he talked about someone else, rather than himself, as the coming Son of Man. So if nothing in what Jesus was actively doing would make anyone suspect that he had messianic pretensions, why would his followers almost certainly have been thinking about him and calling him the messiah during his public ministry? The easiest explanation is that Jesus told them that he was the messiah.

But what he meant by "messiah" has to be understood within the broader context of his apocalyptic proclamation. This is where one of the sayings of Jesus that I earlier established as almost certainly authentic comes into play. As we have seen, Jesus told his disciples—Judas Iscariot included—that they would be seated on twelve thrones ruling the twelve tribes of Israel in the future kingdom. Well enough. But who would be the ultimate king? Jesus was their master (= lord) now. Would he not be their master (= Lord) then? He is the one who called them, instructed them, commissioned them, and promised them thrones in the kingdom. It is almost unthinkable that he did not imagine that he too would have a role to play in that kingdom, and if he was the leader of the disciples now, he certainly would be the leader of the disciples then. Jesus must have thought that he would be the king of the kingdom of God soon to be brought by the Son of Man. And what is the typical designation for the future king of Israel? Messiah. It is in this sense that Jesus must have taught his disciples that he was the messiah.

Two other considerations render this judgment even more certain. The first has again to do with Judas Iscariot, the Jewish bad guy in the stories of the Gospels; the second involves Pontius Pilate, the Roman bad guy. First, about Judas. There has been endless speculation about who Judas Iscariot was—to the extent of wondering what Iscariot is supposed to mean—and about why he betrayed Jesus. As I pointed out, there is no doubt that Judas did betray Jesus (the betrayal passes all our criteria), but why did he do it? There are lots of theories about this, but they are not germane to the point I want to make here. Rather, I want to reflect on what it was that Judas actually betrayed.

According to the Gospels, it was very simple. When Jesus had come to Jerusalem during the last week of his life to celebrate the annual Passover meal in the capital city, he caused a disturbance in the temple—predicting in good apocalyptic fashion that it would be destroyed in the coming judgment. This made the local authorities sit up and take notice. The Jewish leaders who were in charge of the temple and of civil life within Jerusalem were known as the Sadducees. These were aristocratic Jews, many of them priests who ran the temple and its sacrifices; among their number was the chief official, the high priest. The priests were invested in maintaining order among the people, in no small measure because the Romans who were in charge allowed local aristocrats to run their own affairs and to do things as they wanted as long as there were no local disturbances. But Passover was an incendiary time; the festival itself was known to stir up nationalistic sentiment and thoughts of rebellion.1

That’s because the Passover feast commemorated that episode from the Hebrew Bible when God delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Every year the exodus event was celebrated as Jews from around the world remembered that God had intervened on their behalf in order to save them from foreign domination. The festival, climaxing with the special meal—the Passover seder, as it came to be called—was not simply celebrated out of antiquarian interests. Many Jews hoped and even anticipated that what God had done before, long ago, under Moses, he would do again, in their own day, under one of their own leaders. Everyone knew that uprisings could occur when nationalistic passions reached a fevered pitch. So this was one time of the year when the Roman governor of Judea, who normally lived in the coastal city of Caesarea, would come to Jerusalem with troops, to quell any possible riots. The Sadducees, who were willing to cooperate with the Romans in exchange for being able to maintain the worship of God in the temple as God had instructed in the Torah, were equally invested in keeping the peace.

So what were they to think when this outsider from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, appeared in town, preaching his fiery apocalyptic message of the coming destruction of the armed forces and predicting that their own beloved temple would be destroyed in the violent overthrow of everything that was opposed to God? They surely did not take kindly to the message or the messenger, and they kept a steady eye on him.

According to all our accounts, Jesus spent the week leading up to the Passover feast in Jerusalem preaching his apocalyptic message of coming destruction (see Mark 13; Matt. 24–25). It appears that he was gathering more and more crowds. People were listening to him. Some were accepting his message. The movement was growing. So the leaders decided to act.

This is where Judas Iscariot comes in. In the Gospels, Judas appears to have been hired to lead the authorities to Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds were not around. I’ve always been suspicious of these accounts. If the authorities wanted to arrest Jesus quietly, why not just have him followed? Why did they need an insider?

There are reasons for thinking that in fact Judas betrayed something else. Here there are two facts to bear in mind. The first is to reaffirm that we have no record of Jesus ever proclaiming himself to be the future king of the Jews, the messiah, in a public context. This is never his message. His message is about the coming kingdom to be brought by the Son of Man. He always keeps himself out of it. The second fact is that when the authorities arrested Jesus and handed him over to Pontius Pilate, the consistent report is that the charge leveled against him at his trial was that he called himself the king of the Jews. If Jesus never preached in public that he was the future king, but this was the charge that was leveled against him at his trial, how did outsiders come to know of it? The simplest answer is that this is what Judas betrayed.

Judas was one of the insiders to whom Jesus disclosed his vision of the future. Judas and the eleven others would all be rulers in the future kingdom. And Jesus would be the king. For some reason—we’ll never know why—Judas became a turncoat and betrayed both the cause and his master. He told the Jewish authorities what Jesus was actually teaching in private, and it was all they needed. They had him arrested and turned him over to the governor. Here was someone who was declaring himself to be king.

And now a word about Pontius Pilate. As governor of Judea, Pilate had the power of life and death. The Roman empire did not have anything like federal criminal law, such as can be found in many countries today. Governors were appointed to rule the various provinces and had two major tasks: to collect taxes for Rome and to keep the peace. They could achieve these two goals by any means necessary. So, for instance, anyone who was considered to be a troublemaker could be dealt with ruthlessly and swiftly. The governor could order his death, and the order would be immediately carried out. There was no such thing as due process, trial by jury, or the possibility of appeal. Problematic people in problematic times were dealt with by means of swift and decisive "justice," usually violent justice.

According to our accounts, the trial of Jesus before Pilate was short and to the point. Pilate asked him whether it was true that he was the king of the Jews. Almost certainly, this was the actual charge leveled against Jesus. It is multiply attested in numerous independent witnesses, both at the trial itself and as the charge written on the placard that hung with him on his cross (e.g., Mark 15:2, 26). Moreover, it is not a charge that Christians would have invented for Jesus—for a possibly unexpected reason. Even though Christians came to understand Jesus to be the messiah, they never ever, from what we can tell, applied to him the title "king of the Jews." If Christians were to invent a charge to put on Pilate’s lips, it would be, "Are you the messiah?" But that’s not how it works in the Gospels. The charge is specifically that he called himself "king of the Jews."

Evidence that Jesus really did think that he was the king of the Jews is the very fact that he was killed for it. If Pilate asked him whether he were in fact calling himself this, Jesus could have simply denied it, and indicated that he meant no trouble and that he had no kingly expectations, hopes, or intentions. And that would have been that. The charge was that he was calling himself the king of the Jews, and either he flat-out admitted it or he refused to deny it. Pilate did what governors typically did in such cases. He ordered him executed as a troublemaker and political pretender. Jesus was charged with insurgency, and political insurgents were crucified.

The reason Jesus could not have denied that he called himself the king of the Jews was precisely that he did call himself the king of the Jews. He meant that, of course, in a purely apocalyptic sense: when the kingdom arrived, he would be made the king. But Pilate was not interested in theological niceties. Only the Romans could appoint someone to be king, and anyone else who wanted to be king had to rebel against the state.

And so Pilate ordered Jesus crucified on the spot. According to our records, which are completely believable at this point, the soldiers roughed him up, mocked him, flogged him, and then led him off to be crucified. Evidently, two similar cases were decided that morning. Maybe a couple more the day after that and the day after that. In this instance, they took Jesus and the two others to a public place of execution and fixed them all to crosses. According to our earliest account, Jesus was dead in six hours.

Did Jesus Claim to Be God?

This, then, in a nutshell is what I think we can say about the historical Jesus and his understanding of himself. He thought he was a prophet predicting the end of the current evil age and the future king of Israel in the age to come. But did he call himself God?

It is true that Jesus claims to be divine in the last of our canonical Gospels to be written, the Gospel of John. Here it is enough to note that in that Gospel Jesus does make remarkable claims about himself. In speaking of the father of the Jews, Abraham (who lived eighteen hundred years earlier), Jesus tells his opponents, "Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am" (8:58). This particular phrase, "I am," rings a familiar chord to anyone acquainted with the Hebrew Bible. In the book of Exodus, in the story of the burning bush, Moses asks God what his name is, and God tells him that his name is "I am." Jesus appears to be claiming not only to have existed before Abraham, but to have been given the name of God himself. His Jewish opponents know exactly what he is saying. They immediately take up stones to stone him.

Later in the Gospel, Jesus is even more explicit, as he proclaims "I and the Father are one" ( John 10:30). Once again, the Jewish listeners break out the stones. Still later, when Jesus is talking to his disciples at his last meal with them, his follower Philip asks him to show them who God the Father is; Jesus replies, "The one who has seen me has seen the Father" (14:9). And again later, during the same meal, Jesus prays to God and speaks about how God had "sent him" into the world and refers to "my glory that you gave me . . . before the foundation of the world" (17:24).

Jesus is not claiming to be God the Father here, obviously (since when he’s praying, he is not talking to himself ). So he is not saying that he is identical with God. But he is saying that he is equal with God and has been that way from before the world was created. These are amazingly exalted claims.

But looked at from a historical perspective, they simply cannot be ascribed to the historical Jesus. They don’t pass any of our criteria. They are not multiply attested in our sources; they appear only in John, our latest and most theologically oriented Gospel. They certainly do not pass the criterion of dissimilarity since they express the very view of Jesus that the author of the Gospel of John happens to hold. And they are not at all contextually credible. We have no record of any Palestinian Jew ever saying any such things about himself. These divine self-claims in John are part of John’s distinctive theology; they are not part of the historical record of what Jesus actually said.

Look at the matter in a different light. As I pointed out, we have numerous earlier sources for the historical Jesus: a few comments in Paul (including several quotations from Jesus’s teachings), Mark, Q, M, and L, not to mention the finished Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In none of them do we find exalted claims of this sort. If Jesus went around Galilee proclaiming himself to be a divine being sent from God—one who existed before the creation of the world, who was in fact equal with God—could anything else that he might say be so breathtaking and thunderously important? And yet none of these earlier sources says any such thing about him. Did they (all of them!) just decide not to mention the one thing that was most significant about Jesus?

Almost certainly the divine self-claims in John are not historical. But is it possible that Jesus considered himself divine in some other sense? I have already argued that he did not consider himself to be the Son of Man, and so he did not consider himself to be the heavenly angelic being who would be the judge of the earth. But he did think of himself as the future king of the kingdom, the messiah. And we saw that in some passages of scripture the king is talked about as a divine being, not a mere mortal. Isn’t it possible that Jesus understood himself as divine in that sense?

It is of course possible, but I think it is highly unlikely for the following reason. In the Hebrew Bible, and indeed in the entire Jewish tradition, we do have instances in which mortals—for example, a king, or Moses, or Enoch—were considered to be divine beings in some sense. But that was always what someone else said about them; it was never what they were recorded as saying about themselves. This is quite different from the situation that we find in, say, Egypt, where the pharaohs claimed direct divine lineage; or with Alexander the Great, who accepted cultic veneration; or with some of the Roman emperors, who actively propagated the idea that they were gods. This never happens in Judaism that we know of. The idea that a king could be divine may have occurred to his followers later, as they began to think more about his eminence and significance. But we have no known instance of a living Jewish king proclaiming himself to be divine.

Could Jesus be the exception? Yes, of course; there are always exceptions to everything. But to think that Jesus is the exception in this case, one would need a good deal of persuasive evidence. And it just doesn’t exist. The evidence for Jesus’s claims to be divine comes only from the last of the New Testament Gospels, not from any earlier sources.

Someone may argue that there are other reasons, apart from explicit divine self-claims, to suspect that Jesus saw himself as divine. For example, he does amazing miracles that surely only a divine figure could do; and he forgives people’s sins, which surely is a prerogative of God alone; and he receives worship, as people bow down before him, which surely indicates that he welcomes divine honors.

There are two points to stress about such things. The first is that all of them are compatible with human, not just divine, authority. In the Hebrew Bible the prophets Elijah and Elisha did fantastic miracles—including healing the sick and raising the dead—through the power of God, and in the New Testament so did the Apostles Peter and Paul; but that did not make any of them divine. When Jesus forgives sins, he never says "I forgive you," as God might say, but "your sins are forgiven," which means that God has forgiven the sins. This prerogative for pronouncing sins forgiven was otherwise reserved for Jewish priests in honor of sacrifices that worshipers made at the temple. Jesus may be claiming a priestly prerogative, but not a divine one. And kings were worshiped—even in the Bible (Matt. 18:26)—by veneration and obeisance, just as God was. Here, Jesus may be accepting the worship due to him as the future king. None of these things is, in and of itself, a clear indication that Jesus is divine.

But even more important, these activities may not even go back to the historical Jesus. Instead, they may be traditions assigned to Jesus by later storytellers in order to heighten his eminence and significance. Recall one of the main points of this chapter: many traditions in the Gospels do not derive from the life of the historical Jesus but represent embellishments made by storytellers who were trying to convert people by convincing them of Jesus’s superiority and to instruct those who were converted. These traditions of Jesus’s eminence cannot pass the criterion of dissimilarity and are very likely later pious expansions of the stories told about him—told by people who, after his resurrection, did come to understand that he was, in some sense, divine.

What we can know with relative certainty about Jesus is that his public ministry and proclamation were not focused on his divinity; in fact, they were not about his divinity at all. They were about God. And about the kingdom that God was going to bring. And about the Son of Man who was soon to bring judgment upon the earth. When this happened the wicked would be destroyed and the righteous would be brought into the kingdom—a kingdom in which there would be no more pain, misery, or suffering. The twelve disciples of Jesus would be rulers of this future kingdom, and Jesus would rule over them. Jesus did not declare himself to be God. He believed and taught that he was the future king of the coming kingdom of God, the messiah of God yet to be revealed. This was the message he delivered to his disciples, and in the end, it was the message that got him crucified. It was only afterward, once the disciples believed that their crucified master had been raised from the dead, that they began to think that he must, in some sense, be God.

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October 11, 2014

2:01 AM

Part 10 Who was Jesus?

Gentle Readers,

Now lets look once again at what was taking place all around this issue of "Who was Jesus Christ?"

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Monarchianism

 

Within the Catholic (Universal) Church men continued to wrestle with the problem of the relation of Christ to God. They endeavored to preserve a belief in the unity of God and yet to find a place for the unique role of Jesus of Nazareth.

Some called Monarchians put forward a variety of views. Dynamistic Monarchians held that Jesus was a man born of the Virgin Mary and that in Him an impersonal power resided which issued from God. A view widely held among them was that this power came upon Jesus at his baptism or, some said, at his resurrection. This was called Adoptionism. Others, Modalistic Monarchians, maintained that the Father was born as Jesus Christ and that He died and raised Himself from the dead. This view was also called Patripassianism, for it taught that the Father suffered. Monarchianism was condemned by the Catholic Church and its proponents were excommunicated.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Tertullian

 

Tertullian (c. 155-c. 222), a North African of Latin stock and a lawyer by profession, in his maturity was converted while in Rome. A pioneer Latin theologian, he brought to his writing a legal mind. His view of the Trinity proved highly influential in Catholic thought. He believed that God is one in His substantia, or substance, but that in God are three personae (a Latin legal term), Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He held that in Jesus Christ, one of the personae, the Word (Greek Logos) was incarnate, that Jesus Christ was both divine and human, but that the two natures did not fuse.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Clement and Origen

 

Contemporary with Tertullian, who did his writing in Carthage, were Clement (his precise dates are uncertain) and Origen (c.185-c.254), younger than Clement but like him reared in Hellenistic thought and succeeding him as head of the catechetical school in Alexandria. Clement was a convert; Origen was born of Christian parents. In his teens Origen wished to follow his father in martyrdom but was deterred by his mother. Clement taught that God is one and that the Word, or Logos, always existed -- as the "face" of God -- and in Jesus was made flesh and shed His blood to save humanity. Origen, devout, a first-class mind, an indefatigable student, and an inspiring teacher, spent much of his life in exile in Caesarea in Palestine. Origen held that God is one, and is the Father, that Jesus Christ is the Logos become flesh, is co-eternal with the Father but subordinate to Him, and that the Holy Spirit is uncreated and is associated in honor and dignity with the Son.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: The Struggle over Arianism

 

A view which led to a sharp division in the Catholic Church was associated with Arius, a presbyter in the Church of Alexandria. Arianism, which took its name from him, taught that God is without beginning but that the Son had a beginning and is not a part of God. Arian views were influential in the eastern part of the Empire.

The controversy became so severe that the newly converted Emperor Constantine, fearing that it might divide the realm which he had so painfully united, called a council of the Catholic Church to deal with the issue. It was the first of what are known as Ecumenical Councils. It met in Nicaea, not far from Constantinople, in 325, and Constantine presided. Feelings ran high. As in many ecclesiastical assemblies, the love which Christ had enjoined on His disciples seemed conspicuous by its absence. In the end a creed was adopted and in its main features has been perpetuated as the Nicene Creed. It rejected the Arian position. As framed at Nicaea it read:

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance (ousias) of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance (homoousion) with the Father, through Whom all things were made, those things which are in the heaven and those things which are on earth, Who for us men and our salvation came down and was made flesh, suffered, rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead."

Essential in countering Arianism were the affirmations that Christ was "true God from true God, begotten, not made" and that He "was made flesh" (the phrase was later altered to read "was made man"). The Arian contention was emphatically denied that Christ was a lesser being than the Father and had been created. Homoousion ("of one substance") with the Father further stressed that He was "true God from true God" and was equal with the Father. "Was made man" sought to make clear the belief that Christ was "true man" as well as "true God."

The Council of Nicaea did not heal the doctrinal rift in the Catholic Church. Although the council anathematized -- cursed -- those who held to the Arian position, and Constantine banished Arius, ordered the death penalty for those who did not conform, and commanded the burning of the books composed by Arius, Arianism persisted and for a time appeared about to prevail. Within a few years Arius was permitted to return from exile and before his death was restored to communion. The animus of the Arians was directed chiefly against Athanasius. Like Arius, Athanasius was prominent in the Church of Alexandria. In time he became its bishop. He had been carefully trained in Greek philosophy as well as Christian theology. Still young and a deacon, he was present at Nicaea but, not being a bishop, could not engage in the public debates. As bishop in the see of Alexandria, the most important in Egypt and in a city prominent as a commercial and intellectual center, Athanasius attracted attention because of his firmness against the Arians and another group which made common cause with the Arians. In general, the Arians were influential in the eastern part of the Empire and the Nicene views prevailed in the West, with the Bishop of Rome as their chief protagonist. In an attempt to settle the issue, several councils were held, not recognized as speaking for the entire Catholic Church. Constantius, a son of Constantine, who for a time was sole ruler of the Empire, gave his support to the Arians. An effort to bring the two wings together took place through the adoption of the term homoiousion (of "similar substance") not homoousion (the "same substance") in describing the relation of the Son to the Father. Athanasius would not agree. In the ebb and flow of the controversy he was five times exiled from his see and each time, after longer or shorter periods, was permitted to return. He died in office (373). His firmness was due in part to his insistence on what he regarded as at the heart of the Gospel and in part to his conviction that the state should not be allowed to dictate to the Church.

Arianism eventually died out. It persisted for several centuries, but chiefly among Germanic peoples who had been won to that form of the faith when it was prominent in the Empire and who in the fourth and fifth centuries were invading the Empire and establishing themselves within its borders. Its Adherents regarded themselves as the true Catholic Church, but the overwhelming majority of the Roman citizens eventually rejected it. In the course of time the Germanic peoples conformed.

The triumph of the Nicene views was aided by the contributions of three men known as the great Cappadocians: Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory of Nazianzus, the son of a bishop, was familiar with Greek philosophy and the thought of Origen. He was a pioneer in the monastic movement and for a brief time was Bishop of Constantinople. Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa were brothers. Basil, a jurist and an eager student of philosophy, had joined with Gregory Nazianzus in compiling a selection of the writings of Origen. In middle life he was ordained a priest and in time became Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Gregory of Nyssa, somewhat younger, was Bishop of Nyssa, a small town near Caesarea. He, too, was greatly influenced by Origen. The three Cappadocians helped to call attention to the distinction between ousia (equivalent to the Latin substantia, put into English as "substance") and hypostasis (translated into Latin as persona, put into English as "person"). They held that in God is only one ousia, in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share, but there are three hypostases -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Emperor Theodosius, born in Spain and reared by parents who were attached to the Nicene convictions prevailing in the West, was vigorously anti-Arian. He called a gathering which met in Constantinople in 381 and is commonly regarded as the Second Ecumenical Council. Although not adopted by it, what is generally called the Nicene Creed has usually been associated with it. That creed was based on a fourth-century creed in use in Jerusalem and influenced by the one adopted at Nicaea. The major change from the latter were additions at the end in words made familiar by the translation in the Book of Common Prayer: "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father [‘and the Son,’ a later Western addition] Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified: Who spake by the prophets. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." In this creed the majority of Christians have concurred.

The Divine and Human in Jesus

 

The Nicene Creed left an important problem unsolved. What was the relation of the divine and human in Jesus? Prolonged controversies arose on this issue; indeed, they have continued to the present day. They were often punctuated, as were those over the relation of the Father and the Son, by recriminations and lack of brotherliness which were in sharp contrast with the love enjoined by Jesus. In them, too, political factors entered. On the one hand were human pride and sin. On the other hand were an earnest search into the mystery entailed by the incarnation and a desire to preserve both the unity of love and the integrity of the Gospel.

In the debates over the relation of the divine and human in Jesus most of the participants held to the Nicene formula. They agreed that "the only begotten Son of God . . . very God of very God . . . being of one substance with the Father . . . came down from heaven . . . and was made flesh." But in what fashion were the Son of God and the human found in Jesus of Nazareth? Apollinaris, a younger friend of Athanasius, held that in Jesus the Logos was the rational element. That position left the divine nature complete but made Christ less than human, for a human being, it was held, had body, soul, and reason. The Cappadocians declared that Apollinaris was in error and that in Jesus both the divine and the human natures were complete. The general trend in Antioch, a major city and important in the life of the Catholic Church agreed with them. Several synods, including the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381) condemned the views of Apollinaris.

The debate continued. In it were involved Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, and Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, and rivalries over the relative dignity of the sees of Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Cyril rejected the views of Apollinaris. He maintained that in Christ the divine and human elements were both complete and that in the human element reason was present. But he held that, while the Logos became incarnate in Christ, the humanity of Christ was that of mankind in general and so belittled the historical character and individuality of Christ. This view was in contrast with that in Antioch, where the full historical character of Jesus Christ was upheld. Nestorius tended to agree with Antioch and preferred for Mary the title of Christotokos ("Christ-bearing" or "Mother of Christ") to the term Theotokos ("Mother of God"), employed by Cyril. Both men appealed to Rome. The Bishop of Rome opposed Nestorius.

The controversy developed unseemly features. In 431 a council, usually called the third in the succession of Ecumenical Councils, assembled in Ephesus. Chaired by Cyril, it condemned and deposed Nestorius before the latter’s friends appeared. After a few days the supporters of Nestorius arrived. Headed by the Bishop of Antioch, they declared themselves to be the true council and condemned and deposed Cyril. However, they were outnumbered by the other faction. When the representatives of the Bishop of Rome arrived, the majority reconvened and excommunicated the Bishop of Antioch and his adherents. Both parties appealed to the Emperor, who confirmed the deposition of both Cyril and Nestorius and commanded the latter to live in a monastery. The Bishop of Antioch sent a creed to Cyril declaring Christ to be "true God and true man, consisting of a reasonable soul and body" and spoke of Mary as Theotokos. To this Cyril assented and was restored to office. Nestorius remained in the monastery to which he had been confined.

Some clergy, including bishops, who sided with Nestorius were exiled and took refuge in Nisibis, a trading center near the border between the Roman and the Persian empires but within the latter’s domains. There some of them taught in the school in which clergy were trained for the Church in the Persian Empire. How far they adhered to the views ascribed to Nestorius is not clear. Rightly or wrongly, eventually the Church in the Persian realms was known as Nestorian.

Within the Roman Empire the discussion continued. A monk, Eutyches, declared that the two natures in Christ were so blended that there was only one, and that was fully divine. The bishop who succeeded Cyril in the see of Alexandria sided with Eutyches, but a council convened in Constantinople in 448 by the bishop of that city condemned Eutyches. The following year a council called by the Emperor met in Ephesus. The Bishop of Alexandria presided. By a large majority it restored Eutyches to communion and deposed the Bishop of Constantinople.

In 451 a council summoned by the Emperor met in Chalcedon, across the Bosporus from Constantinople. It adopted a creed which was based upon the tome of Leo, a document prepared by the then Bishop of Rome. Leo, usually referred to as Leo the Great, was one of the strongest pontiffs ever to hold that post. The creed of Chalcedon declared Christ to be "perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, of rational soul and body, homoousion with the Father according to the Godhead, and homoousion with us according to the manhood, like us in all respects, without sin, begotten of the Father before all time according to the Godhead, in these latter days, for us men and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, Theotokos according to the manhood, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, in two natures, inconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparately, the distinction of natures by no means taken away by the union, but rather the peculiarity of each nature being preserved and concurring in one persona and one hypostasis, not parted or separated into two persons." Thus the distinctive views associated with Apollonaris, Eutyches, and those ascribed to Nestorius were condemned.

By another act of the Council of Chalcedon the Bishop of Rome was recognized as having priority in the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Constantinople was placed second to him. Thus the latter had precedence over the Bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.

The creed of Chalcedon remained the Catholic Church’s official statement of the relation of the divine and human in Christ. It has been followed by the Roman Catholic Church, by most of the bodies emerging from that Church from the Protestant Reformation onward, and by the Orthodox Churches. The position accorded the Bishop of Constantinople, later called the Ecumenical Patriarch, has remained that in the family of Orthodox Churches.

The struggles over the relation of the human and divine in Christ, and those concerning the relation of Christ with the Father were associated with striking disharmony. Some have seen in them the victory of Greek philosophy over the Gospel. However, while Greek and Latin terms were employed, they did not necessarily distort or negate the Gospel. Christians were groping towards an understanding of something quite new in human experience. They were under the necessity of employing terms which were available and which approximated as nearly as possible to what they were striving to put into words. They gave to these terms meanings derived from what they had seen in Christ but alien to the contexts from which they were drawn. Christians were dealing with profound and unique mysteries presented by God’s act in Christ. The large majority of thoughtful Christians who have since wrestled with the issues have been convinced that the creed of Chalcedon comes as near to an elucidation of the mysteries as the possible for creatures limited by the use of words.

Enough for now .... Watch this space

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October 11, 2014

1:59 AM

Part 10 Who was Jesus?

Gentle Readers,

Now lets look once again at what was taking place all around this issue of "Who was Jesus Christ?"

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Monarchianism

 

Within the Catholic Universal Church men continued to wrestle with the problem of the relation of Christ to God. They endeavored to preserve a belief in the unity of God and yet to find a place for the unique role of Jesus of Nazareth.

Some called Monarchians put forward a variety of views. Dynamistic Monarchians held that Jesus was a man born of the Virgin Mary and that in Him an impersonal power resided which issued from God. A view widely held among them was that this power came upon Jesus at his baptism or, some said, at his resurrection. This was called Adoptionism. Others, Modalistic Monarchians, maintained that the Father was born as Jesus Christ and that He died and raised Himself from the dead. This view was also called Patripassianism, for it taught that the Father suffered. Monarchianism was condemned by the Catholic Church and its proponents were excommunicated.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Tertullian

 

Tertullian (c. 155-c. 222), a North African of Latin stock and a lawyer by profession, in his maturity was converted while in Rome. A pioneer Latin theologian, he brought to his writing a legal mind. His view of the Trinity proved highly influential in Catholic thought. He believed that God is one in His substantia, or substance, but that in God are three personae (a Latin legal term), Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He held that in Jesus Christ, one of the personae, the Word (Greek Logos) was incarnate, that Jesus Christ was both divine and human, but that the two natures did not fuse.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Clement and Origen

 

Contemporary with Tertullian, who did his writing in Carthage, were Clement (his precise dates are uncertain) and Origen (c.185-c.254), younger than Clement but like him reared in Hellenistic thought and succeeding him as head of the catechetical school in Alexandria. Clement was a convert; Origen was born of Christian parents. In his teens Origen wished to follow his father in martyrdom but was deterred by his mother. Clement taught that God is one and that the Word, or Logos, always existed -- as the "face" of God -- and in Jesus was made flesh and shed His blood to save humanity. Origen, devout, a first-class mind, an indefatigable student, and an inspiring teacher, spent much of his life in exile in Caesarea in Palestine. Origen held that God is one, and is the Father, that Jesus Christ is the Logos become flesh, is co-eternal with the Father but subordinate to Him, and that the Holy Spirit is uncreated and is associated in honor and dignity with the Son.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: The Struggle over Arianism

 

A view which led to a sharp division in the Catholic Church was associated with Arius, a presbyter in the Church of Alexandria. Arianism, which took its name from him, taught that God is without beginning but that the Son had a beginning and is not a part of God. Arian views were influential in the eastern part of the Empire.

The controversy became so severe that the newly converted Emperor Constantine, fearing that it might divide the realm which he had so painfully united, called a council of the Catholic Church to deal with the issue. It was the first of what are known as Ecumenical Councils. It met in Nicaea, not far from Constantinople, in 325, and Constantine presided. Feelings ran high. As in many ecclesiastical assemblies, the love which Christ had enjoined on His disciples seemed conspicuous by its absence. In the end a creed was adopted and in its main features has been perpetuated as the Nicene Creed. It rejected the Arian position. As framed at Nicaea it read:

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance (ousias) of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance (homoousion) with the Father, through Whom all things were made, those things which are in the heaven and those things which are on earth, Who for us men and our salvation came down and was made flesh, suffered, rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead."

Essential in countering Arianism were the affirmations that Christ was "true God from true God, begotten, not made" and that He "was made flesh" (the phrase was later altered to read "was made man"). The Arian contention was emphatically denied that Christ was a lesser being than the Father and had been created. Homoousion ("of one substance") with the Father further stressed that He was "true God from true God" and was equal with the Father. "Was made man" sought to make clear the belief that Christ was "true man" as well as "true God."

The Council of Nicaea did not heal the doctrinal rift in the Catholic Church. Although the council anathematized -- cursed -- those who held to the Arian position, and Constantine banished Arius, ordered the death penalty for those who did not conform, and commanded the burning of the books composed by Arius, Arianism persisted and for a time appeared about to prevail. Within a few years Arius was permitted to return from exile and before his death was restored to communion. The animus of the Arians was directed chiefly against Athanasius. Like Arius, Athanasius was prominent in the Church of Alexandria. In time he became its bishop. He had been carefully trained in Greek philosophy as well as Christian theology. Still young and a deacon, he was present at Nicaea but, not being a bishop, could not engage in the public debates. As bishop in the see of Alexandria, the most important in Egypt and in a city prominent as a commercial and intellectual center, Athanasius attracted attention because of his firmness against the Arians and another group which made common cause with the Arians. In general, the Arians were influential in the eastern part of the Empire and the Nicene views prevailed in the West, with the Bishop of Rome as their chief protagonist. In an attempt to settle the issue, several councils were held, not recognized as speaking for the entire Catholic Church. Constantius, a son of Constantine, who for a time was sole ruler of the Empire, gave his support to the Arians. An effort to bring the two wings together took place through the adoption of the term homoiousion (of "similar substance") not homoousion (the "same substance") in describing the relation of the Son to the Father. Athanasius would not agree. In the ebb and flow of the controversy he was five times exiled from his see and each time, after longer or shorter periods, was permitted to return. He died in office (373). His firmness was due in part to his insistence on what he regarded as at the heart of the Gospel and in part to his conviction that the state should not be allowed to dictate to the Church.

Arianism eventually died out. It persisted for several centuries, but chiefly among Germanic peoples who had been won to that form of the faith when it was prominent in the Empire and who in the fourth and fifth centuries were invading the Empire and establishing themselves within its borders. Its Adherents regarded themselves as the true Catholic Church, but the overwhelming majority of the Roman citizens eventually rejected it. In the course of time the Germanic peoples conformed.

The triumph of the Nicene views was aided by the contributions of three men known as the great Cappadocians: Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory of Nazianzus, the son of a bishop, was familiar with Greek philosophy and the thought of Origen. He was a pioneer in the monastic movement and for a brief time was Bishop of Constantinople. Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa were brothers. Basil, a jurist and an eager student of philosophy, had joined with Gregory Nazianzus in compiling a selection of the writings of Origen. In middle life he was ordained a priest and in time became Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Gregory of Nyssa, somewhat younger, was Bishop of Nyssa, a small town near Caesarea. He, too, was greatly influenced by Origen. The three Cappadocians helped to call attention to the distinction between ousia (equivalent to the Latin substantia, put into English as "substance") and hypostasis (translated into Latin as persona, put into English as "person"). They held that in God is only one ousia, in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share, but there are three hypostases -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Emperor Theodosius, born in Spain and reared by parents who were attached to the Nicene convictions prevailing in the West, was vigorously anti-Arian. He called a gathering which met in Constantinople in 381 and is commonly regarded as the Second Ecumenical Council. Although not adopted by it, what is generally called the Nicene Creed has usually been associated with it. That creed was based on a fourth-century creed in use in Jerusalem and influenced by the one adopted at Nicaea. The major change from the latter were additions at the end in words made familiar by the translation in the Book of Common Prayer: "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father [‘and the Son,’ a later Western addition] Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified: Who spake by the prophets. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." In this creed the majority of Christians have concurred.

The Divine and Human in Jesus

 

The Nicene Creed left an important problem unsolved. What was the relation of the divine and human in Jesus? Prolonged controversies arose on this issue; indeed, they have continued to the present day. They were often punctuated, as were those over the relation of the Father and the Son, by recriminations and lack of brotherliness which were in sharp contrast with the love enjoined by Jesus. In them, too, political factors entered. On the one hand were human pride and sin. On the other hand were an earnest search into the mystery entailed by the incarnation and a desire to preserve both the unity of love and the integrity of the Gospel.

In the debates over the relation of the divine and human in Jesus most of the participants held to the Nicene formula. They agreed that "the only begotten Son of God . . . very God of very God . . . being of one substance with the Father . . . came down from heaven . . . and was made flesh." But in what fashion were the Son of God and the human found in Jesus of Nazareth? Apollinaris, a younger friend of Athanasius, held that in Jesus the Logos was the rational element. That position left the divine nature complete but made Christ less than human, for a human being, it was held, had body, soul, and reason. The Cappadocians declared that Apollinaris was in error and that in Jesus both the divine and the human natures were complete. The general trend in Antioch, a major city and important in the life of the Catholic Church agreed with them. Several synods, including the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381) condemned the views of Apollinaris.

The debate continued. In it were involved Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, and Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, and rivalries over the relative dignity of the sees of Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Cyril rejected the views of Apollinaris. He maintained that in Christ the divine and human elements were both complete and that in the human element reason was present. But he held that, while the Logos became incarnate in Christ, the humanity of Christ was that of mankind in general and so belittled the historical character and individuality of Christ. This view was in contrast with that in Antioch, where the full historical character of Jesus Christ was upheld. Nestorius tended to agree with Antioch and preferred for Mary the title of Christotokos ("Christ-bearing" or "Mother of Christ") to the term Theotokos ("Mother of God"), employed by Cyril. Both men appealed to Rome. The Bishop of Rome opposed Nestorius.

The controversy developed unseemly features. In 431 a council, usually called the third in the succession of Ecumenical Councils, assembled in Ephesus. Chaired by Cyril, it condemned and deposed Nestorius before the latter’s friends appeared. After a few days the supporters of Nestorius arrived. Headed by the Bishop of Antioch, they declared themselves to be the true council and condemned and deposed Cyril. However, they were outnumbered by the other faction. When the representatives of the Bishop of Rome arrived, the majority reconvened and excommunicated the Bishop of Antioch and his adherents. Both parties appealed to the Emperor, who confirmed the deposition of both Cyril and Nestorius and commanded the latter to live in a monastery. The Bishop of Antioch sent a creed to Cyril declaring Christ to be "true God and true man, consisting of a reasonable soul and body" and spoke of Mary as Theotokos. To this Cyril assented and was restored to office. Nestorius remained in the monastery to which he had been confined.

Some clergy, including bishops, who sided with Nestorius were exiled and took refuge in Nisibis, a trading center near the border between the Roman and the Persian empires but within the latter’s domains. There some of them taught in the school in which clergy were trained for the Church in the Persian Empire. How far they adhered to the views ascribed to Nestorius is not clear. Rightly or wrongly, eventually the Church in the Persian realms was known as Nestorian.

Within the Roman Empire the discussion continued. A monk, Eutyches, declared that the two natures in Christ were so blended that there was only one, and that was fully divine. The bishop who succeeded Cyril in the see of Alexandria sided with Eutyches, but a council convened in Constantinople in 448 by the bishop of that city condemned Eutyches. The following year a council called by the Emperor met in Ephesus. The Bishop of Alexandria presided. By a large majority it restored Eutyches to communion and deposed the Bishop of Constantinople.

In 451 a council summoned by the Emperor met in Chalcedon, across the Bosporus from Constantinople. It adopted a creed which was based upon the tome of Leo, a document prepared by the then Bishop of Rome. Leo, usually referred to as Leo the Great, was one of the strongest pontiffs ever to hold that post. The creed of Chalcedon declared Christ to be "perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, of rational soul and body, homoousion with the Father according to the Godhead, and homoousion with us according to the manhood, like us in all respects, without sin, begotten of the Father before all time according to the Godhead, in these latter days, for us men and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, Theotokos according to the manhood, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, in two natures, inconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparately, the distinction of natures by no means taken away by the union, but rather the peculiarity of each nature being preserved and concurring in one persona and one hypostasis, not parted or separated into two persons." Thus the distinctive views associated with Apollonaris, Eutyches, and those ascribed to Nestorius were condemned.

By another act of the Council of Chalcedon the Bishop of Rome was recognized as having priority in the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Constantinople was placed second to him. Thus the latter had precedence over the Bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.

The creed of Chalcedon remained the Catholic Church’s official statement of the relation of the divine and human in Christ. It has been followed by the Roman Catholic Church, by most of the bodies emerging from that Church from the Protestant Reformation onward, and by the Orthodox Churches. The position accorded the Bishop of Constantinople, later called the Ecumenical Patriarch, has remained that in the family of Orthodox Churches.

The struggles over the relation of the human and divine in Christ, and those concerning the relation of Christ with the Father were associated with striking disharmony. Some have seen in them the victory of Greek philosophy over the Gospel. However, while Greek and Latin terms were employed, they did not necessarily distort or negate the Gospel. Christians were groping towards an understanding of something quite new in human experience. They were under the necessity of employing terms which were available and which approximated as nearly as possible to what they were striving to put into words. They gave to these terms meanings derived from what they had seen in Christ but alien to the contexts from which they were drawn. Christians were dealing with profound and unique mysteries presented by God’s act in Christ. The large majority of thoughtful Christians who have since wrestled with the issues have been convinced that the creed of Chalcedon comes as near to an elucidation of the mysteries as the possible for creatures limited by the use of words.

Enough for now .... Watch this space

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October 3, 2014

12:51 AM

Part 10 CAESAR’S MESSIAH

Gentle Reader,

We’re still looking at the background of Jesus and how people in the first century came to understand who Jesus was and their relationship to him. Along with that we are looking at how we have been influenced by the past until this very day. But as you well know me by now I like to stop along the way to look at interesting facts , sometimes fiction to see if there is a cognitive dissonance. In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the excessive mental stress and discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. We have such a one in a book called Caesar’s Messiah by Joseph Atwill . Atwill's new study will be both highly stimulating and enormously controversial. It will entertain, inspire, provoke, and enrage various learned scholars and informed lay readers.

Atwill approaches his subject with the plainly announced assumption that "the question of how Christianity began" is "an open one." This claim is grounded in the facts that numerous messianic sects and mystery religions were percolating through Roman and Jewish cultures in the first century, all of which have proven to be fictitious, if not hilarious, and all of which have come to nothing, except Christianity. Moreover, we have no objective evidence today that a person named Jesus of Nazareth ever existed at that time.

So the author of this innovative volume has proposed a new and radically unconventional approach to the "Jesus question," and then carries his thesis through consistently to formulate an alternative model for understanding the narratives of the New Testament and the works of Jesus' contemporary, Flavius Josephus.

Noting that events in the narratives of Jesus' ministry, reported in the gospels, parallel episodes in Josephus' reports of Titus Flavius' military campaigns, Atwill explores the possibility that "a Roman imperial family, the Flavians, created Christianity, and even more incredibly, ... placed a literary satire within the Gospels and War of the Jews to inform posterity of this fact."

Vespasian and his sons, Titus and Domitian, maintained the Flavian Dynasty from 69 - 96 CE, just the period of Josephus' tenure as their court historian, and the rise of the Christian Movement. Atwill contends that the Christian ideology and ritual practice built upon the model of Mithraism, was generated by the Flavians to offer a persuasive alternative to the numerous contentious and rebellious Jewish messianic sects constantly troublesome in Roman Palestine.

The author adduces a remarkable spate of data from the New Testament, the Works of Josephus, and the history of the Roman Empire of the last half of the first century, to weave a coherent, solid, and internally consistent tapestry. He tells a story never before attempted, sounds a trumpet never previously heard, and explores a world of potential truth until now thoroughly obscured from our vision. "Once Jesus was universally established as a historical individual, any other possibility became, evidentially, invisible. The more we believed in Jesus as a world historical figure, the less we were able to understand him in any other way." After being driven from Palestine by the revolutionary Sicarii in 66 CE, the Roman army under Titus reentered the Israelite domain and destroyed the revolutionaries. Atwill contends that Christian Messianism was then created by the Flavians to fill the vacuum so created. The experiment succeeded with enormous effect, marginalizing Judaism and the emperor cult, and moving the new religion toward a dominant role in the empire.

According to Atwill, the Gospels are not accounts of the ministry of a historical Jewish Jesus compiled by his followers sixty years after his death. They are texts deliberately created to trick Messianic Jews into worshipping the Roman Emperor 'in disguise'.

The essence of Atwill's discovery is that the majority of the key events in the life of Jesus are in fact satirical: each is an elegant literary play on a military battle in which the Jewish armies had been defeated by the Romans. This is an extraordinary claim-but supported by all the necessary evidence.

Why would the Romans go to the trouble of writing and disseminating such a text?

The Jewish War, culminating in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, had devastated the Mediterranean economy, and the Romans were anxious to prevent another messianic outbreak. In order to make any reconstruction of the country lasting, the Romans needed to offer the Jews alternative stories that would distract them from the messianic messages inherent in the Torah, and persuade them to accept Roman values.

Now understand Atwill’s book make interesting reading from the view point that many may have been persuaded the Jesus didn’t even exist. However for most of us this is another example of seeing what we want to see. Similar to Dan Browns "The Da Vinci Code" Some will believe Atwill who received a Jesuit education, is an expert at dating the Dead Sea Scrolls. He worked with Dr. Robert Eisenman in the1990’s, and the results of their work were published in the Dead Sea Scrolls Journal in 2004.

But those of us who have spent a lifetime searching the Gospels will have to examine his myth as well. Something for you to think about, till next time.

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September 22, 2014

12:15 AM

Part 8 Jesus of Nazareth

 Gentle Reader,  It is difficult to conceive (perhaps not how many versions there were in the first century about Jesus of Nazareth ) Within the Catholic (universal) Church men continued to wrestle with the problem of the relation of Christ to God. They endeavored to preserve a belief in the unity of God and yet to find a place for the unique role of Jesus of Nazareth.

Some called Monarchians put forward a variety of views. Dynamistic Monarchians held that Jesus was a man born of the Virgin Mary and that in Him an impersonal power resided which issued from God. A view widely held among them was that this power came upon Jesus at his baptism or, some said, at his resurrection. This was called Adoptionism. Others, Modalistic Monarchians, maintained that the Father was born as Jesus Christ and that He died and raised Himself from the dead. This view was also called Patripassianism, for it taught that the Father suffered. Monarchianism was condemned by the Catholic Church and its proponents were excommunicated.

Tertullian (c. 155-c. 222), a North African of Latin stock and a lawyer by profession, in his maturity was converted while in Rome. A pioneer Latin theologian, he brought to his writing a legal mind. His view of the Trinity proved highly influential in Catholic thought. He believed that God is one in His substantia, or substance, but that in God are three personae (a Latin legal term), Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He held that in Jesus Christ, one of the personae, the Word (Greek Logos) was incarnate, that Jesus Christ was both divine and human, but that the two natures did not fuse.

Contemporary with Tertullian, who did his writing in Carthage, were Clement (his precise dates are uncertain) and Origen (c.185-c.254), younger than Clement but like him reared in Hellenistic thought and succeeding him as head of the catechetical school in Alexandria. Clement was a convert; Origen was born of Christian parents. In his teens Origen wished to follow his father in martyrdom but was deterred by his mother. Clement taught that God is one and that the Word, or Logos, always existed -- as the "face" of God -- and in Jesus was made flesh and shed His blood to save humanity. Origen, devout, a first-class mind, an indefatigable student, and an inspiring teacher, spent much of his life in exile in Caesarea in Palestine. Origen held that God is one, and is the Father, that Jesus Christ is the Logos become flesh, is co-eternal with the Father but subordinate to Him, and that the Holy Spirit is uncreated and is associated in honor and dignity with the Son.

A view which led to a sharp division in the Catholic Church was associated with Arius, a presbyter in the Church of Alexandria. Arianism, which took its name from him, taught that God is without beginning but that the Son had a beginning and is not a part of God. Arian views were influential in the eastern part of the Empire.

The controversy became so severe that the newly converted Emperor Constantine, fearing that it might divide the realm which he had so painfully united, called a council of the Catholic Church to deal with the issue. It was the first of what are known as Ecumenical Councils. It met in Nicaea, not far from Constantinople, in 325, and Constantine presided. Feelings ran high. As in many ecclesiastical assemblies, the love which Christ had enjoined on His disciples seemed conspicuous by its absence. In the end a creed was adopted and in its main features has been perpetuated as the Nicene Creed. It rejected the Arian position. As framed at Nicaea it read:

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance (ousias) of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance (homoousion) with the Father, through Whom all things were made, those things which are in the heaven and those things which are on earth, Who for us men and our salvation came down and was made flesh, suffered, rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead."

Essential in countering Arianism were the affirmations that Christ was "true God from true God, begotten, not made" and that He "was made flesh" (the phrase was later altered to read "was made man"). The Arian contention was emphatically denied that Christ was a lesser being than the Father and had been created. Homoousion ("of one substance") with the Father further stressed that He was "true God from true God" and was equal with the Father. "Was made man" sought to make clear the belief that Christ was "true man" as well as "true God."

 

To be continued . . . .

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