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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label church history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label church history. Show all posts

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Why Isn't the Church a Sanctuary for Black Lives?



I'm aghast at the news. Within a 24 hour period, two police shootings have left two men dead and cell phone videos showing the aftermath. Both victims were black men who seem to be in non-threatening positions and their deaths add evidence to the charge that there is a serious problem in our country with racial engagement.

Were these shooting racially motivated? Uncovering internal motivation is a pretty tricky business. The details are still being investigated in these cases so it would be premature to pronounce guilt or innocence. But what we can judge is there is a natural reaction to such incidents. Is it any surprise that blacks are scared for their lives when they see law enforcement? Is it a shock that these people have cause to be concerned about their welfare being threatened by the very people who have sworn to protect them?

The Church Must Do Better

There is a judgment I can make and it is the evangelical church is failing these people. We are failing. Those who are scared don't see the church as a sanctuary where they will receive support, empathy and protection. They don't see evangelicals as advocates for them like they are for the unborn. Mika Edmondson said it well when he addressed the council members of the Gospel Coalition in May of this year:
Refusal to address racialized sin has undermined our capacity to fulfill our Romans 12:15 calling to "mourn with those who mourn." The unique calling of the church (as opposed to the institutions of the world) is not simply to tolerate one another, or even simply to understand one another, but to mourn with one another and bear one another's burdens. To deliberately devote ourselves to listen to one another for understanding, and then to empathize with one another to the point of shedding tears with one another. That's certainly not what so many of the talking heads on cable TV and talk radio are advocating. They're not talking about mourning with those who mourn.

But in the church, white suburban men are called to cry tears with the black inner-city woman scared to death her husband is going to be the next Eric Garner, or that her teenage son is going to be the next Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice. And if you are so entrenched in your socio-political camp that you can't shed some tears with Tanisha, something is deeply wrong. Because that's who the church is called to be. That's the kind of thing that makes our unity in Christ really conspicuous and causes people to see that there is a unique power at work in the church unlike anything in this world.1
Realize that Dr. Edmondson is not claiming that all police are hunting down black people. He isn't assigning guilt in any shooting incident. Rather, he's talking about ministering to hurting people in a time of tragedy. That is clearly what Jesus taught his followers to do.

The Model of Ambrose

We need to work harder so blacks feel that evangelical churches are places they can go for sanctuary. We talk about sanctuary, but do we really understand what that term means? It means coming under the cover of an entity that will provide comfort and stand for what is right

We have a model in the early church. Theodosius I was emperor of Rome in 390 AD. He was a Christian and began aggressively banning pagan activities. "The Law" began oppressing pagans, which lead to a riot in Thessalonica where some of the citizens killed Theodosius's representative in protest. The slaying angered the emperor so much he gave his soldiers carte blanche to punish the citizens. They in turn devised a scheme and slaughtered a large number of men, women, and children of the city.

Theodosius was the most powerful man in the world, yet his actions were rebuked by Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who excommunicated him for eight months until he repented of his actions. In one famous retelling, Ambrose stood outside his church and forbade Theodosius' entrance. William Stearns Davis recounts the story:
When Ambrose heard of this deplorable catastrophe, he went out to meet the Emperor, who—on his return to Milan—desired as usual to enter the holy church, but Ambrose prohibited his entrance, saying "You do not reflect, it seems, O Emperor, on the guilt you have incurred by that great massacre; but now that your fury is appeased, do you not perceive the enormity of your crime? You must not be dazzled by the splendor of the purple you wear, and be led to forget the weakness of the body which it clothes. Your subjects, O Emperor, are of the same nature as yourself, and not only so, but are likewise your fellow servants; for there is one Lord and Ruler of all, and He is the maker of all creatures, whether princes or people. How would you look upon the temple of the one Lord of all? How could you lift up in prayer hands steeped in the blood of so unjust a massacre? Depart then, and do not by a second crime add to the guilt of the first.2
Alvin J. Schmidt notes the event is pivotal in history since it is "the first instance of applying the principle that no one, not even an emperor or king, is above the law."3 Ambrose's bravery tuned the culture, establishing the rule of Law above the rule of power in the West.

Calling out sin, promoting justice for the oppressed, and standing strong for the Gospel have always been a part of the Christian legacy. We need to comfort those who mourn and stand beside the fearful. Non-Christians who wish to uphold natural marriage or protection for the unborn feel confident the church stands with them in their fight for justice. We need to work harder so those in the black community hold similar feelings.

References

1. Edmondson, Mika. "Is Black Lives Matter the New Civil Rights Movement?" The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition, Inc., 24 June 2016. Web. 07 July 2016. .
2. From: Davis, William Stearns, ed. Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, 298-300. Reproduced online at https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/theodoret-ambrose1.asp
3. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print. 250.



Tuesday, April 26, 2016

We Don't Need to Recreate the First Century Church



The world in which we live is loud, distracting, and difficult. Attention spans are decreasing and the influence of secular society seems to loom ever larger in our lives. Many believers feel it is becoming harder and harder to honestly live out their Christian faith properly.

Moreover, the Christian church as an institution isn't immune from the influence of the culture. Churches today struggle with balancing a proper worship time with congregational participation. Pastors worry about how much theology they can present in their sermons before it becomes too "heady" and a "turn-off" for the congregant. They also want to figure out just which ministries they should be offering and how much technology should play a part in the worship service.

Given these stresses, it shouldn't be surprising that a common refrain heard in Bible-believing churches is the church needs to simplify. It needs to go back to its roots and look a little bit more like the first century churches. After all, those churches were started by the apostles, making them somehow more pure than the rather complicated practices the modern church adopts in the 21st century.

In fact, there was a big push to return and do church "the way the apostles did it" in the early 19th century, a movement known as Restorationism. It spawned several denominations such as the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ1. More recently, the Jesus People movement in the 1960s sought in some way to do the same thing, and the very recent house church trend claims to be "a return to first-century Christianity in its simplest form."2

The Problem of Purity

Perhaps you have heard someone say something like "we need to return our church experience to the way the first Christians did it." I've heard the statement from both pastors and congregants. But, I think there's an awful lot being assumed in such a statement. In fact, the first century churches were no more pure than those of today.

Let's begin by looking at what we know about the first century churches from the Bible itself. Several of our New Testament books are letters written to Christian churches of the first century and they give precise details on the real world problems those churches wrestled with. The church at Corinth, which was founded by the Apostle Paul himself, seems to be an absolute mess. There was a scandal rocking the assembly since one of its members had begun sleeping with his father's wife (1 Cor. 5:1). Further, because different members thought the pastor they liked best was the one who should be authoritative, Paul said this caused "jealousy and strife" among the congregation (3:3). Doesn't that sound pretty familiar?

The Corinthians had other struggles, such as the more "mature" members believing they were somehow better than their newer brethren on the matter of what they could or couldn't eat (8:1). Pride and selfishness had even crept into even the celebration of the Lord's Supper (11:21-22). They had already reduced communion to something it was never meant to be, even getting drunk during the service.

Problems Throughout the Churches

Lest we believe that Corinth was some singular exception to the rule in the early church, the Bible gives us ample evidence of other churches wrestling with various problems of their own. The Galatians were teaching some bad doctrine and thought only those who followed certain Old Testament precepts would be considered true Christians. The letters that Jesus dictates to John in the book of Revelation outline a slew of problems facing the churches in the first century, including wooden doctrinal adherence without love, accepting false teaching without discernment, allowing the cultural heresies to infect the church, operating on only dead works, and even being completely spiritually dead, holding on the only the name of Christian. James rebukes the church for quarreling, gossiping, and showing partiality. Even in the book of Acts, the church continually wrestled with what to do about the divisions between those who were Jewish converts and those who were Gentiles.

Main Thing Stays the Same

All of these examples serve to show that the first century church wasn't a panacea. Christians of the first century had as many struggles, complications, personality battles, and confusion as the church does today.They battled issues of sexual sin within their ranks as well as without. They had problems with pride. They mixed up what was cultural convention with what was essential doctrine. The first century church was very much like the 21st century church. Their problems were simply couched in the milieu of their time.

This shouldn't be a surprise to us. The Christian church of the first century was comprised of people and people are very, very fallible. I recently heard one non-believer say one of the reasons he isn't a Christian is because there are so many divergent opinions and practices within Christian denominations and secondly, there are many examples of injustice done by Christians on their fellow man. I cannot argue with either of these points; both are true.

However, as Christians we understand that it isn't the practices of the church we hold as the standard for life, but the example of Christ. It is our love and devotion to the one who sacrificed himself for our salvation that knits us together as a community. In that aspect, Christians of the first century and Christians of the 21st century are identical. We both worship the Son of Man who alone became the propitiation for our sins and who rose again on the third day. We recognize that we are sinners deserving to die but we have been reconciled to God. In that, we are as close to the apostles' teaching as the first century church was, and we can walk confidently forward in our faith knowing that is the model one must follow to be authentic.

References

1. Mallett, Robert. "Restoration Movement." The Christian Restoration Association. The Christian Restoration Association, 2003. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
2. Henning, Jefferey. "The Growing House-Church Movement." Ministry Today Magazine. Charisma Media, 31 Oct. 2000. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mark Feb 24 as a Key Date in the Battle for Religious Freedom


Today is a significant date in Christian history, for it was on February 24, 303 AD that the edict was issued by Roman Emperor Diocletian that began the first empire-wide and most bloody persecution of Christians. Prior to 303, Christians had been persecuted in various provinces of the Roman Empire, but this was different. It was systemic and all-encompassing.

The Diocletian Persecution is important partially because of how it began. Historian W.H.C. Frend explains the crafting of the laws that launched the persecution:
The persecution resembled Valerian's more than Decius's. It had been carefully planned and the consequences had been weighed. Diocletian recognized the danger of making Christians martyrs. No blood, he insisted, must be shed. The aim was to recall the Christians to their duty of recognizing the majesty of the Roman Gods. The edict he promulgated on 24 February ordered throughout the empire churches were to be destroyed, and the sacred books of the Christians handed over to be burned. Christians in public offices were to be removed from them. In private life Christians in the upper classes (honestiores) were to lose their privileges. In particular, they could not act as plaintiffs in cases of injury, adultery, or theft. Christian slaves might not be freed. But there was no requirement for universal sacrifice. The attack was concentrated on the organization of the church, its life as represented by the Scriptures and buildings, and on its influential members. (Emphasis added.)1
Notice the thought process by Emperor Diocletian who had to initially be convinced to issue the edict. We're not going to force people to worship Roman Gods. It's simply the duty of those who enjoy the benefits of Rome's governance to recognize there is a social standard to which they must adhere. Thus, Christians should be removed from public offices since their Christian beliefs run counter to the beliefs the state wishes to promote. Wealthy Christian businessmen should lose any protections they hold, especially those that would protect them legally. The church as an organization should be attacked as a wrong-thinking institution. But no blood should be shed and Christians can believe what they will in the privacy of their own homes.

The Loss of Freedom Today

Of course, we are not in Diocletian's Rome. Frend spends several pages discussing why conditions in the Empire at that time made the persecution more likely than before. Those conditions do not exist today and I'm not arguing that we are heading for another Diocletian Persecution. However, the trend to weaken religious freedom is increasing, and many of the justifications used sound eerily familiar. If you're a Christian court clerk in Kentucky who refuses to sign a marriage certificate, people demand you be removed from public office. If you are a baker or wedding photographer, your beliefs and your conscience are secondary to what the state feels is moral. Here's how the Harvard Law Review summarized the judgment against one such photographer:
Justice Bosson concluded that "[i]n the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. . . . [I]t is the price of citizenship."2
The freedom of religion is often referred to as the "First Freedom." In the United States, it is the first freedom to be recognized in the Constitution's Bill of Rights, but it is the first freedom in more ways than that. Without the freedom to not simply "do whatever we want in the privacy of our homes," but to incorporate our beliefs into our broader lives, we are not truly worshiping freely. It is the state that is setting the rubric of what counts as true beliefs verses what counts as inconsequential beliefs. How much can you belief something if it never affects the way in which you live? The short answer is: you can't. By dictating which beliefs must be sacrificed for the price of citizenship is effectively setting a state religious litmus test.

Escalating from Legislation to Volience

The second reason why we should remember the Diocletian persecution is how quickly it elevated from a calculated, no-blood political move to an all-out blood bath against Christians. The Christian History Institute sums it up nicely:
Before the end of the year, Diocletian issued two more proclamations against Christians and Maximian issued a fourth the following year. One ordered the imprisonment of Christian teachers, filling the prisons with bishops and clergy. The next ordered that these prisoners either sacrifice to the pagan gods or be tortured. The third directed that all Christians should be required to sacrifice on pain of torture.

Christians suffered terribly, especially in the eastern empire. Some were thrown to wild beasts, others burned alive or roasted on griddles. Some were skinned or had their flesh scraped from their bones. Others were crucified. A few were tied between trees that were bent so as to meet and, when the branches were released, the force ripped these victims limb from limb. Eventually the Romans wearied of this and set the remaining Christians to work in mines or gave them menial jobs. In many instances, they gouged out an eye or maimed a hand or foot before sending the workers off. From this period come many notable martyrs, including the young girl, Agnes of Rome.3
While the powers that be began in limiting their scope of the edicts, it quickly grew out of control. The tortures were fierce and had gone beyond what the designers had imagined. Even those Christians who had adopted Roman customs were not immune. Frend writes, "For some, the Persecution must have come as a great shock. Even in towns where they were most numerous, we find Christians sharing fully in the Greco-Roman culture, taking part in city life as councilors, and not adverse to references to Hades and the Muses on their tombstones."4 To have assumed those who just "go with the program" or one who agrees with the state and capitulate to its edicts means they will not be targeted was mistaken. Just the name "Christian" was enough to condemn one to death or to slave labor.

AS we mark the anniversary of the Diocletian Persecution, we should consider these things and think about what we risk in our own society. People are people and they tend to repeat themselves. What lessons should we learn before we allow our religious freedom to be adjudicated into something less than an irrevocable right held by all mankind?

References

1. Frend, W. H. C. The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984. Print. 457.
2. "Constitutional Law — First Amendment — New Mexico Supreme Court Holds That Application Of Public Accommodations Law To Wedding Photography Company Does Not Violate First Amendment Speech Protections. Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 309 P.3d 53 (N.M. 2013)." Harvard Law Review 127.5 (2014): 1485. Web.
[. "Start of Diocletian's Great Persecution | It Happened Today." Christian History Institute. Christian History Institute, 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/it-happened-today/2/24/
4. Frend, 1984. 445.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Book Review: The Fate of the Apostles by Sean McDowell


Since Christianity's inception, it has been common for Christian faith-defenders to offer evidence supporting their belief in the risen Jesus. From Paul's testimony in 1 Corinthians 15, the claim of eyewitnesses to support the resurrection of Christ has been integral to Christianity. Many people point to the fact that Jesus's apostles died without ever recanting their belief in him as evidence of the truthfulness of their testimony.

But is this as strong a piece of evidence as we've been led to believe? How do we know the apostles were actually martyred, and does dying for one's faith prove anything other than loyalty to a belief system? These are the questions Dr. Sean McDowell takes up in his new book The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus (Ashgate, 2015). In The Fate of the Apostles, McDowell traces the historical evidence for the deaths of each of the Twelve and offers an objective rubric for weighing the probability of their martyrdoms.

Clarifying What They Died For

Martyrdom is a heady concept. Across the theological spectrum, there are many people who give up their comfort for their beliefs. There are fewer who may subject themselves to pain or abuse because of their faith, and fewer still who die for a religious belief. But all religious traditions can probably point to someone who qualifies as a martyr for their particular faith. So, how to approach the apostles' martyrdom, if they truly were martyred, encompasses the first four chapters of the book. McDowell keenly clarifies his goal is not to show the apostles were steadfast unto death not simply in their refusal to give up Christianity, but they very specifically refused to deny seeing the risen Christ.

This is a key point and one that must be emphasized again and again to detractors who would liken the apostles' fate to suicide bombers or some other modern contrivance. There would be a difference between sincerely holding to the faith in which one was raised and groomed versus the threat of death for testifying you've seen an executed enemy of your childhood faith (and Rome) walking around. McDowell makes the point right off in his book by underscoring the distinction:
The deaths of others for their religious causes in no way undermines the evidential significance of the fate of the apostles. Second, the apostles' willingness to die for their beliefs does not demonstrate the inherent truth of the Christian message, but that the apostles really believed that Jesus had risen from the grave. The apostles could have been mistaken, but their willingness to die as martyrs establishes their unmistakable sincerity.1

Outlining the Fate of Each Apostle

In the book, McDowell spends the first four chapters outlining the nature and understanding of what martyrdom is, how it would have been understood to the first generation of Christians, and how it would fit within their newly forming belief system. He then devotes a chapter to each of the apostles, including Paul and Jesus's brother James. As would be expected, the historical evidence shrinks when lesser-known apostles such as Simon the Zealot or Matthias are considered. Still, McDowell does a great job showing that even with some apostles' fate in question, there is ample evidence of apostles who did in fact die for their testimony of the risen Jesus and there exists not a shred of evidence that any apostle recanted their belief. Given each would have been considered an eyewitness testifying on first-hand knowledge, this is impressive and does the heavy lifting in setting up the historical bedrock that the disciples did have some kind of experience that needs explaining.

Readability

While the book is written and priced for an academic audience (Amazon is offering the hardback at a pricey $118), McDowell's style is open and easily enough read to be handled by a sophisticated high school student. The footnotes throughout offer good support for his claims within the text and his openings and conclusions of each chapter gives the reader a nice, concise guide to the evidence more fully developed between them.

The Fate of the Apostles takes on a historical question that no one else to my knowledge has done in such a complete manner. McDowell has truly done us a favor in his research and publishing, investigating claims that were assumed but not demonstrated in a systematic way. We now have a go-to source that should advance the discussion for the evidence of the resurrection. For anyone interested in church history, apologetics, or the origin of Christianity, I highly recommend this book.

References

1. McDowell, Sean. The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015. Print. 4.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas, the Solstice, and December 25th



Over the last two posts, I've explained how historical research is showing the date for celebrating Christmas was not chosen because of a Roman holiday like Saturnalia, but how the early church linked the date of Jesus's birth to the date of Jesus's crucifixion. That means Christmas is not a response to a pagan celebration such as Saturnalia but it has Christian roots.

However, Saturnalia is not the only candidate offered by critics as why December 25th was the focus of the coming of the Son of God. There is another holiday that actually occurred on December 25 mentioned in antiquity. This was the Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, translated as is the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun." It was celebrated on December 25 in 354 AD according to the calendar of Philocalus.1

The Sol Invictus cult followers worshipped the sun. Thomas Talley reports that while Emperor Aurelian did not first introduce Rome to the cult, he popularized it and the celebration day. Previously, local celebrations of Sol revolved around the dedication of the god's temples in August and/or November. In fact, the word Natalis can mean more than simply birthday, but it may also be used for the concept of an anniversary, as Roger Pearse notes:
There is also the question of what "natalis" means. It could mean birthday; but also it can mean "anniversary of the dedication of a temple". This seems to be the meaning for other "natalis" in the calendar. We know that Aurelian dedicated the temple of Sol Invictus. Thus we would get a festival on the anniversary of the dedication of the temple, and thus the idea that the festival was created at the same time by Aurelian.2
Tally tells us the "indigenous Sun cult at Rome does not seem to have been especially sensitive to the winter solstice or any other quarter days."3 Also, Steven Hijmans declares that while Aurelian set the feast, it may not have been set in December until much later:
there is no evidence that Aurelian instituted a celebration of Sol on that day [December 25]. A feast day for Sol on December 25th is not mentioned until eighty years later, in the Calendar of 354 and, subsequently, in 362 by Julian in his Oration to King Helios.4

The Roman Solstice and Who's Borrowing from Whom?

One mistake we must be careful of is placing too much emphasis on the similar sounding words "sun" and "Son." This is a common misstep for English speakers. While the Latin word for sun is "sol, the word translated son is "filius," breaking any ties to a play on words. Yet, Romans did hold to the idea that December 25 was the "birth of the Sun as the days began to noticeably get longer. Schmidt quotes Macrobius who states it was the Egyptians of the 4th or 5th century that developed the metaphor of the sun coming on the solstice as an infant and growing until the summer, where it would then shrink again as an aging man.5

Of course, all of this is well after the 202 to 211 AD mark where Hippolytus ties December 25 to Jesus's birth. If the Natalis was originally celebrated in August or October or November, why was it changed to December? One possibility is that Aurelian dedicated a new temple on that day and thus they celebrated that dedication as a feast day. Thomas Talley gives us an even more interesting possibility:
Halsberghe, without suggesting that there already was a Christian festival on December 25, presents the probability that one item in Aurelian's religious agenda was the provision of an authentically Roman alternative to the increasingly successful Christian mission.6
Of course, there's much much more, but I think you can see that the charge of Christians chose December 25 in order to "Christianize" or even just appease a pagan populous is weak at best. If you want to dig into more of the history, T.C. Schmidt's series is a great place to start, although it is only available via the internet Archive now. He summarized his findings thus:
  • Saturnalia did not occur on December 25 and had nothing to do with the birth of any god or anyone else.
  • A feast to Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) did occur on December 25, but the earliest evidence for it dates from the mid to late 4th century. There is no evidence that Emperor Aurelian established a Festival of Sol Invictus (or anyone or anything else) on December 25.
  • Egyptians apparently presented an infant as a representation of the newborn Sun on the winter solstice, but this evidence also dates from the fourth and fifth centuries.
  • Hippolytus in 202-211 AD set the date for the birth of Jesus on December 25, because he thought Jesus was conceived 9 months earlier on the Passover, the day in which he also thought the world was created (5500 years earlier), the Vernal Equinox March 25.

    Clement of Alexandria (193-215 AD) quoted various anonymous sources about the birth of Jesus and roughly agrees with Hippolytus, claiming that Jesus was born in late fall to early winter. Clement's sources clearly seem to believe that Jesus was conceived on the Passover and was born roughly 9 months later; in fact the only difference between them and Hippolytus is that they differed on when the Passover actually occurred. However there is a significant possibility that one of Clement's sources was Hippolytus himself because of the preponderance of possible dates he gives that fall on the 25th of a month (He gives 4 of them and then another date on the 24th) which corresponds with Hippolytus' belief that Jesus was both conceived, born, and executed on the 25th of a month.
7

References

1. "Part 6: The Calendar of Philocalus. Inscriptiones Latinae Antiquissimae, Berlin (1893) Pp.256-278." The Chronography of 354 AD. Trans. Roger Pearce. The Tertullian Project, 2006. Web. 18 Dec. 2015. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/chronography_of_354_06_calendar.htm.
2. Schmidt, T.C., "Antiochus of Athens and the Birth of the Sun-update." Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 28 Dec 2010. Web. https://web.archive.org/web/20140717194947/http:/chronicon.net/blog/christmas/antiochus-of-athens-and-the-birth-of-the-sun/
3. Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. New York: Pueblo Pub, 1986. Print. 88-89.
4. Hijmans, S. E. Sol: the sun in the art and religions of Rome. 2009 Groningen: s.n. 588 quoted from T.C. Schmidt. "Sol Invictus evidently not a precursor to Christmas." Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 21 Dec 2010. Web. https://web.archive.org/web/20140717194947/http:/chronicon.net/blog/christmas/sol-invictus-evidently-not-a-precursor-to-christmas/
5. Schmidt, T.C., "Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and the birth of the Sun." Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 19 Dec 2010. Web. https://web.archive.org/web/20140717194947/http:/chronicon.net/blog/christmas/christmas-the-winter-solstice-and-the-birth-of-the-sun/
6. Talley, 1986. 89.
7. Schmidt, T.C. "Sol Invictus evidently not a precursor to Christmas." Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 21 Dec 2010. Web. https://web.archive.org/web/20140717194947/http:/chronicon.net/blog/christmas/sol-invictus-evidently-not-a-precursor-to-christmas/

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Date of Saturnalia Doesn't Line Up with Christmas


There is a widespread conjecture that the early Christians began celebrating Christmas on December 25 as a response to pagan Roman holidays, such as Saturnalia or the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus. Given that the Gospels do not record any date for the Nativity, choosing one would have been left to a conjecture by the early church fathers, much like an adopted orphan would have a birth date assigned to her when the actual date is unknown.

Yesterday, I demonstrated how it is more plausible to believe the church fathers chose December 25 not in response to pagan celebrations, but because of its tie in to the date of Jesus's crucifixion, which is the pivotal date of all human history in their eyes. Today, I want to look at what we know about the Roman celebrations to see if they were actually celebrated on December 25th. If they weren't, does it make sense to believe that Christmas was meant to replace them?

Roman Time and Saturnalia

Before we get into the texts discussing timing, it is important to understand how Romans referenced time. Unlike modern times, whereby we number every day, the Romans divided a month into three parts: the first of a month, known as the Kalends, the middle or Ides of a month (as in "Beware the Ides of March" from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar), and the space in between them known as the Nones. Other dates were referenced as before these three points, so the 25th of December would be eight days before the Kalends of January.1

When studying the ancient reference to Saturnalia, a primary source we have is written by the Roman Macrobius , who lived in the fifth century. His work Saturnalia provides much of the details of the origin stories of the celebration as well as its customs. Ancient texts scholar T.C. Schmidt highlighted this passage from Saturnalia Book 1, chapter 10 giving the dates of the celebration:
Our ancestors restricted the Saturnalia to a single day, the fourteenth before the Kalends of January, but, after Gaius Caesar had added two days to December, the day on which the festival was held became the sixteenth before the Kalends of January, with the result that, since the exact day was not commonly known—some observing the addition which Caesar had made to the calendar and others following the old usage —the festival came to be regarded as lasting for more days than one.

And yet in fact among the men of old time there were some who supposed that the Saturnalia lasted for seven days…

[But] one can infer, then, from all that has been said, that the Saturnalia lasted but one day and was held only on the fourteenth day before the Kalends of January; it was on this day alone that the shout of "Io Saturnalia" would be raised, in the temple of Saturn, at a riotous feast. Now, however, during the celebration of the Saturnalia, this day is allotted to the festival of the Opalia, although the day was first assigned to Saturn and Ops in common.2

The Addition of Sigillaria

So Saturnalia was a three-day long feast that began sixteen days before January 1st. Their December was 31 days long as is ours, so that places Saturnalia on December 17, far too early to be mistaken for December 25. However, that isn't the end of the story. Macrobius then notes that another celebration, Sigillaria was celebrated after these three days:
I think that we have now given abundant proof that the festival of the Saturnalia used to be celebrated on only one day, the fourteenth before the Kalends of January, but that it was afterward prolonged to last three days: first, in consequence of the days which Caesar added to the month of December, and then in pursuance of an edict of Augustus which prescribed a series of three rest days for the Saturnalia. The festival therefore begins on the sixteenth day before the Kalends of January and ends on the fourteenth, which used to be the only day of its celebration. However, the addition of the feast of the Sigillaria has extended the time of general excitement and religious rejoicing to seven days.
Schmidt in his article provided a translation of chapter ten in its entirety, as dates are referenced throughout. He then concludes:
Macrobius does an excellent job summarizing authorities that were available to him, most of which I think have been lost. His conclusion is quite clear, Saturnalia originally was one day and occurred on the 14th day before the Kalends January, but when Caesar altered the calendar it was extended to three days and started on the 16th, later a new Festival of Sigillaria extended the celebrations to complete seven days, meaning that the Festival ended on either the 10th or ninth day before the Kalends of January depending on how we count. Of course neither of these days fall on the eighth day before the Kalends of January, that is December 25.3

The Dates Don't Fit

Remember, Macrobius was writing in the fifth century AD and we have Christmas sermons from John Chrysostom preached on December 25th from a century earlier. Yet the dates don't correspond. If Christmas was create to supplant Saturnalia, the Christians would have chosen December 17th. Add to that the references I noted yesterday about the December 25th date stretching all the way back to A.D. 200 and you have a very real dating problem with Saturnalia being the origin date for Christmas.

Imagine a modern church seeking to replace Halloween celebrations by having a Harvest festival on November 8. It wouldn't work! People could celebrate one and then attend the other. The concept of substitution would be fairly ineffective.

I haven't yet discussed the one Roman holiday that actually does land on December 25, which is the Sol Invitus or "The Birth of the Unconquerable Sun." I address that particular claim in this post.

References

1. Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace. "Table of Roman and Macedonian Months." A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: Second Series. Vol. 1. New York: Christian Literature, 1890. 403. eBook.
2. Schmidt, T.C., "The dates of Saturnalia (and Sigillaria!) and Christmas". Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 18 Dec 2010. Web. https://web.archive.org/web/20140721073230/http:/chronicon.net/blog/christmas/the-dates-of-saturnalia-and-sigillaria-and-christmas/
3. Schmidt, 18 Dec 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

No, Christmas Is Not Based on a Pagan Holiday



Christmas is a much-beloved holiday, celebrated by billions of people across the globe. In the U.S. Alone, the Pew Center reports that nearly 96% of the population celebrates Christmas, including eight out of ten non-Christians, including atheists, agnostics, and those who have no faith commitment.1 However, Christmas is also a uniquely Christian holiday; its core message is about a personal God taking humanity upon Himself and stepping into the world to redeem sinful human beings who could never redeem themselves. The Christian message is inescapable.

I believe the love of Christmas coupled with the loathing of Christianity is one reason why atheists continue to repeat the claim that Christmas is a repurposing of a pagan Roman holiday. Two of the most popular pagan holidays put forth are the celebration of Saturnalia, which honored the Roman god Saturn, or the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, that is the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun." Both of these celebrations were held in the second half of December, making them somewhat close to Christmas.

Looking at the History of Christmas

The claim that the roots of Christmas are pagan is one I hear over and over again, especially in December. The idea isn't even new. The New England Puritans, who valued work more than celebration, taught such.2 Puritan preacher Increase Mather preached that "the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that 'Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian.'"3

When one digs into the actual history however, a much different picture arises. There are two ways to approach the question: one is to see how December 25 became associated with the Nativity, which is how the early church would have referred to the day of Christ's birth. The other one is to look at the celebrations of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Either approach shows the dubious nature of the claim that Christmas has pagan roots.

Much of the thrust of the "pagan Christmas" claim rests on the idea of a Christianized Rome trying to convert a populace that wouldn't want to give up its feast traditions, akin to the practice of churches celebrating a "Harvest Festival" instead of Halloween. Yet, scholars like Yale University's T.C. Schmidt are finding the marking of December 25 to go much earlier in the Christian history.

When translating Hippolytus' Commentary on Daniel, written just after AD 200, Schmidt notes that five of the seven manuscripts contain December 25 as the date for Jesus' birth and another offers the 25th of either December or March.4 Clement of Alexandria in this same time offers the date of March 25 as the date of the incarnation, that is the conception of Jesus, in his Stromata (1.21.145-146).5 Both works tie the idea that Jesus's death would have happened on the same day as his conception.

Christmas and Easter are Linked

This is the key to the December 25th date. As Thomas Tulley works out in his book The Origins of the Liturgical Year, there was a belief within the early church that the date of the death of Jesus would also reflect either his birth or his conception.6 Augustine wrote of this, saying "For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before nor since. But He was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th."7

St. John Chrysostom in his writings goes ever further by noting that the Angel Gabriel's announcement of Mary's conception happened while Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John the Baptist (Luke 1:26). Chrysostom argues that Zechariah's service was the Day of Atonement, thus making the conception of John the Baptist happen in the fall. Add six months and Jesus's conception lands in the spring, e.g March 25. I don't know that this calculation is historically accurate, but it does show how much the early church tied the events together. The idea of randomly choosing a pagan date seems a pretty big stretch.

Here's the thing. If Christians were recognizing the birth of Christ by the beginning of the third century, does it make sense to think that this was a fourth century invention to sway the Roman populous over to Christianity? Christianity was gaining ground in the time of Clement, but it was by no means out from under the shadow of persecution. It also wasn't borrowing much from pagan customs at the time. So why believe they would do so for this date?

In order to get a fuller picture, we must look at the Roman holidays and their histories. You can read  that post here and part three is here.

References

1. Mohammed, Besheer. "Christmas Also Celebrated by Many Non-Christians." Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 23 Dec. 2013. Web. 14 Dec. 2015. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/12/23/christmas-also-celebrated-by-many-non-christians/.
2. Schnepper, Rachel N. "Yuletide's Outlaws." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Dec. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/opinion/the-puritan-war-on-christmas.html?_r=0
3. Nissenbaum, Stephen. The Battle for Christmas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. Print. 4.
4. Schmidt, T.C. "Hippolytus and the Original Date of Christmas" Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 21 Nov 2010. Web. http://web.archive.org/web/20130303163053/http://chronicon.net/blog/chronology/hippolytus-and-the-original-date-of-christmas 16 Dec 2015.
5. Schmmidt, T.C. "Clement of Alexandria and the Original date of Christmas as December 25th." Chrinicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 17 Dec 2010. Web. http://web.archive.org/web/20120822053409/http://chronicon.net/blog/hippolytus/clement-of-alexandria-and-the-original-date-of-christmas-as-december-25th/ 16 Dec 2015.
6. Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. New York: Pueblo Pub, 1986. Print. 91ff.
7. Augustine of Hippo. On the Trinity, IV, 5. Logos Virtual Library. Trans. Arthur West Haddan. Darren L. Slider, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2015. http://www.logoslibrary.org/augustine/trinity/0405.html.
Image Courtesy Adam Clark and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Christian View of Halloween (podcast)


Halloween is rapidly approaching and once again Christians are faced with the most overtly pagan holiday on the calendar. What are the origins of Halloween and should we allow our kids to Trick or Treat? In this podcast series, Lenny looks at the history of the Christian tradition of All Hallow's Eve and shows that you may be wrong in your assumptions on this very American holiday.

Monday, August 17, 2015

What Makes the Persons of the Godhead Different from One Another?



Some claim the concept of three persons in a single being we call God is somehow contradictory. I've shown previously this isn't so. But how can we understand the difference within the Trinity? The first piece is to distinguish between personhood and being, as this article clarifies. Once that difference is understood, then one can begin to appreciate the persons within the Triune being of God. Yet, while there are three separate persons in the Father, Son, and Spirit, they share all the attributes and qualities of God while still remaining one.

In his wonderful book The History of Christian Thought, Jonathan Hill describes how the Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century (Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus) understood and clarified the doctrine of the Trinity. Their explanation shows that there is no distinction between any of the members, except for their relation to one another:
Basil invites us to consider the difference between, on the one hand, the word human and, on the other, the names Peter, Paul and Timothy. Human is a general term; it refers to a class of beings; the names pick out particular members of that class. In the same way, when we talk about "God," or the divine substance, we are using a general term. The three Persons are three separate manifestations of that substance, just as Peter, Paul and Timothy are three separate manifestations of human nature.

This seems pretty strange. If the three Persons of the Trinity are three in the same way that three people are three, then there are three Gods! It looks as if we have drifted away from monotheism altogether. But the situation is more complex than this. Gregory of Nyssa helps to explain it. He points out that when we have several different members of one class, there are usually certain ways to tell them apart: they may be different sizes, shapes or colors; and most fundamentally they must all be in different locations in space. But none of these things apply to the divine nature. God is incorporeal, a fact that Gregory, like Origen, is quite insistent on. So although the three Persons are different members of the one class, they cannot be distinguished from each other in the normal way.

In fact, there is only one difference between them: their mutual relations. This central idea was first articulated by Gregory of Nazianzus, in his famous Theological Orations. The Father has no characteristic that the Son lacks, and vice versa-because otherwise they would not be equally God. The only thing that is true of the Father but not the Son is that he is the Father of the Son; and similarly the Son is the Son of the Father. And the Spirit is the only one that proceeds from the Father. In every other respect except their mutual relations, the three are identical.

Gregory of Nyssa repeats the same idea and also points out that it is impossible to think of anyone Person without also thinking of the others. To talk of the Spirit is to think of the Son who sends him, and to talk of the Son is to think of the Father who begets him. Gregory likens the process to a chain: pull one end and the rest follows.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

You Can No Longer Separate Apologetics and Evangelism



Yesterday I was interviewed by Mike Spaulding for an upcoming episode of Soaring Eagle radio. During our talk, he asked me about the growing need to incorporate apologetics into our evangelism efforts. Of course, Christians are commanded to study and be prepared to defend the Christian faith. There are many verses in the Bible commanding us to defend our faith. Therefore, we should be ready to do so.

The idea of apologetics as a necessary part of one's faithful walk is new to most Christians. They understand the need to worship God, to live a set apart life, and even the command to evangelize given by Jesus in the Great Commission. However, learning apologetics isn't something preached from most pulpits today. Yet, in the first few centuries, apologetics and evangelism were inter-reliant. In fact, when you look at the writings of the early church fathers, you see how big a role apologetics played in their interaction with the outside world. Here are just a few examples:

Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr lived in the second century AD, just after the apostles. Seeking to be a philosopher by training, he began to look for a satisfying understanding of the world. After seeing Christians bravely stand up to martyrdom, Justin converted and "he acted as an evangelist, taking every opportunity to proclaim the Gospel as the only safe and certain philosophy."1] In his Dialogue with Trypho he explains how Christianity makes sense as a worldview, drawing upon Platonic ideas popular in his day. His First Apology and Second Apology he takes on many false charges circulating about Christians at the time, such as they were offering child sacrifices or cannibals. Part of Justin's goal was to allow Christians to live peacefully instead of being persecuted around the Empire. However, he also knew that evangelism was made more difficult by those lies.

Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus lived in the second century and turned his attention towards the Gnostics, a group that claimed to have secret knowledge about Jesus and the world. In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus argues for God's unity and the reality of his creation, which the Gnostics denied. He reaches out to his reader, telling them "If then, you shall deliver up to Him what is yours, that is, faith towards Him and subjection, you shall receive His handiwork, and shall be a perfect work of God. If, however, you will not believe in Him, and will flee from His hands, the cause of imperfection shall be in you who did not obey, but not in Him who called [you]."2]

Tertullian

Tertullian wrote his Apology to address the injustices and death sentences Christians were facing in Carthage and other areas of the Roman Empire. This famous defense of Christians ends with a bang, as he tells the unjust magistrates that Christians are suffering martyrdom because they are morally upright and that continuing to kill them will only make evangelism efforts grow:
In condemning a Christian woman to the leno rather than to the leo You made confession that a taint on our purity is considered among us something more terrible than any punishment and any death. Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed .3]

Apologetics in Today's Post-Christian Culture

Just as the Christians in the second century faces a culture hostile to the teachings of Christ, so Christians today find themselves in a post-Christian (and post-pagan) culture. Apologetics is therefore necessary to fulfill our faithfulness to The Great Commission. We see it in the examples of the Church Fathers. We would do well to follow them.

References

1. "Justin Martyr." Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, A. Cleveland Coxe, and Allan Menzies. Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994. Print. 160.
2. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.39.2-3. Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103439.htm.
3. Tertullian. Apology 50. Translated by S. Thelwall. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0301.htm

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Importance of Learning Church History



If I were to ask most Americans questions about the history of their country, like who was it that crossed the Delaware or why was the Civil War fought, they could answer with ease. If I were to ask a European what the French Revolution meant to Europe or when was the Renaissance they could certainly tell me. However, most Christians are woefully ignorant  when it comes to questions such as who crossed the Milvian Bridge or what caused the Great Schism.

We do ourselves a disservice by ignoring our Christian history. It makes us poorer both historically and doctrinally. In the introduction to his book The Story of Christianity, Justo González explains just how much the past impacts our present understanding of the Bible:
Without understanding that past, we are unable to understand ourselves, for in a sense the past still lives in us and influences who we are and how we understand the Christian message. When we read, for instance, that "the just shall live by faith," Martin Luther is whispering at our ear how we are to interpret those words—and this is true even for those of us who have never even heard of Martin Luther. When we hear that "Christ died for our sins," Anselm of Canterbury sits in the pew with us, even though we may not have the slightest idea who Anselm was. When we stand, sit, or kneel in church; when we sing a hymn, recite a creed (or refuse to recite one); when we build a church or preach a sermon, a past of which we may not be aware is one of the factors influencing our actions. The notion that we read the New Testament exactly as the early Christians did, without any weight of tradition coloring our interpretation, is an illusion. It is also a dangerous illusion, for it tends to absolutize our interpre­tation, confusing it with the Word of God.

One way we can avoid this danger is to know the past that colors our vision. A person wearing tinted glasses can avoid the conclusion that the entire world is tinted only by being conscious of the glasses themselves. Likewise, if we are to break free from an undue bondage to tradition, we must begin by understanding what that tradition is, how we came to be where we are, and how particular elements in our past color our view of the present. It is then that we are free to choose which elements in the past—and in the present—we wish to reject, and which we will affirm.1

References

1. González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Vol. 1. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print. 3.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Why Those "Lost Books" of the Bible Don't Cut It

What is it that separates those sixty-six ancient texts that we call collectively The Bible from the many other ancient texts which have existed over the centuries? How did the early church decide to follow only certain books and not others? Is there something that unifies all the biblical texts that is missing from, say, the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas?



The answer is yes, there is. I've begun t look at three specific attributes that all biblical texts share that are not true of any so-called "lost books" of the Bible. Yesterday, I discussed how all of the biblical books shared a specific authority, both in their claim to speak on God's behalf and in their recognition as authoritative voices given their proximity to the apostles. Today, I'd like to look at the second common attribute of scripture: its acceptance throughout the early Christian Church.

Christianity has always been a faith that claims a certain kind of unity. When the disciples tried to stop a man who wasn't part of their group from casting out a demon using his name, Jesus rebuked them, saying "He who is not against you is for you" (Luke 9:50). The Christian church is one church, one body of Christ with many members (1 Cor. 12:12-13). The early church held this concept of unity highly, even incorporating it into their statement of faith, the Nicene Creed, which states "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church." Protestants today may be thrown by the world "catholic;" it doesn't refer to the Roman Catholic Church (Capital "C"), but it simply means "universal."

The Universal Acceptance of the Biblical Books

Because Christianity is both apostolic and catholic, it shouldn't surprise many that the writings we recognize as scripture are also apostolic and catholic. The Hebrew Old Testament was seen as authoritative and called scripture by both Jesus and the apostles. The early church fathers would also cite OT books as authoritative. When a man born just one generation after the Apostles named Marcion sought to throw out the Old Testament, he was condemned as a heretic. The Old Testament was accepted and understood as being the word of God and proclaiming the coming of Jesus as Messiah.

The twenty-seven books of the New Testament were also universal in their acceptance, but not quite as neatly. While the Old Testament had been established as a single corpus, the New Testament was still being formed as the Church was being formed. Also, because early Christianity was spread across parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe, distributing the apostles' writings became more challenging. Still, most of the texts were accepted by a wide majority of the church very, very quickly, normally within the 20 to 40 years of their actual writing.

The sharing of authoritative texts began very early within the church. Paul sets this model in his letter to the Colossians, where he writes, "And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea" (Col, 4:16). It is because letters were shared and copies were made so other churches could refer back to them that we have as many New Testament manuscripts as we do. While Paul's letters might be addressed to a certain church or person, other apostles would write to the church as a whole. Peter begins his first epistle addressing it to "those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion" (1 Pet. 1:1). James uses the same language. Jude addressed his to "those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ" while John writings make the distinction between those in the faith ("us") and those not of the faith ("them) in 1 John 2:19. Clearly, he was offering instruction to the church as a whole.

Disputed Books of the New Testament

Because of the time it could take for books to be copied and passed along to other areas of the world, not every church had recognized every book immediately. Others would be wary of books that they saw as suspect, such as 2 Peter or Jude. Eusebius named five books as being controversial (James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude.) Yet these books were quoted by various church fathers prior to this and some were included in lists of scripture such as the Muratorian Canon.1 By 367, Athanasius lists all the books of the New Testament as authoritative and it reflects the exact twenty-seven books we have today.

The contrast between the accepted New Testament books and those claiming to be "lost books" is staggering. Various church fathers like Origen, Irenaeus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Clement of Alexandria and others would write of them and condemn them. No gospel other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were ever supported by anyone for inclusion in the canon.2 A couple of epistles were, such as the Shepherd of Hermas or the Epistle of Barnabas. These were ultimately rejected as not being connected to the apostles and not being universally recognized within the church as scripture.

References

1. Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody, 1968. Print. 288-294.
2. Geisler and Nix, 301-316
Image courtesy Malcolm Lidbury  [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 10, 2015

Did Jesus Go to Hell on Holy Saturday?

When I was young, the word salon was only used by old women who would go for their weekly rinse and set. I accompanied my grandmother on one of these trips and I still remember her sitting under one of those huge hot air dryers reading an old magazine while waiting for her sponge-rolled hair to dry. While there were a ton of magazines available, they were mostly old issues filled with stuff that would never interest me.



Given the ubiquity of digital media today, one would think that stale old magazines are no longer a threat. But if they are reading Salon, the digital magazine, they'd be proven wrong. Borrowing a headline that would be more apt in the Weekly World News, Salon published the article "Jesus went to hell: The Christian history churches would rather not acknowledge" where author Ed Simon unveils the shocking—shocking I say!—discovery that the Apostles creed states Jesus descended into hell. Simon writes:
The fourth century Apostle's Creed tells us that following his crucifixion, but before his resurrection, Jesus "descended to the dead." The Athanasian Creed of at least a century later is more explicit, Christ "descended into hell." Depending on context and translation Jesus either journeyed to Sheol, Hades, or Hell. 1
Um, yeah.

If you were raised Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or in one of the more traditional Protestant faiths such as Lutheran or Anglican/Episcopalian you have said the Apostles Creed many times in your life. It is a weekly recitation in many churches. Yet, Simon takes the phrase "descended into hell" and applies it in a way to mean "Holy Saturday was a day in which God was not in His heaven, but rather in his Hell."2 But that's insane. The phrase originates from the passage found in Ephesians 4:7-9, which reads:
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,

"When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men."

(In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)3
The Greek for "hell" in the creeds is the same as the one translated "lower parts" in Ephesians 4:9: katōteros (κατώτατα). A quick look up in Kittel tells us:
This word might refer to the realm of the dead (the underworld as the lowest part) or simply the earth itself. The reference to "above all heavens" in v. 10 suggests that "under the earth" is in view here, and Christ's death rather than his incarnation offers a better antithesis to his resurrection and ascension… The idea of leading captives is not so much that he liberates the dead in Hades as that he subdues the spirits that kept us captive I1:21, 2:1 ff).4

#SalonChristianitySecrets

Well, opening one book before writing this article wasn't too hard for me, so I'm kind of stumped on how Ed Simon couldn't accomplish it. Of course, scholastic theology books may be a bit much for Simon, but he could have always used, I don't know, perhaps a professional research tool like Google to find this article on the subject at Christianity Today.

It seems that the word Salon still invokes the idea of hot air, but maybe not in the way that the digital publication's authors had imagined. That's why shortly after the article was posted, Twitter users decided to have some fun at Salon's expense. Creating a new trending hashtag #SalonChristianitySecrets, Twitter users began to imagine some of the other headlines that Salon may come up with concerning Christian beliefs. A few of my favorites are below:





References

1. Simon, Ed. "Jesus Went to Hell: The Christian History Churches Would Rather Not Acknowledge." Salon.com. Salon Media Group, 9 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. http://www.salon.com/2015/04/09/jesus_went_to_hell_the_christian_history_churches_would_rather_not_acknowledge_partner/.
2. Simon, 2015.
3. Ephesians 4:7-9. English Standard Version, Crossway Pub. Web. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+4&version=ESV
4. Buchel, F., III. "Kato, Katotero, Katoteros." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdsmans, 1985. 422-23. Print.

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