Thursday, August 4, 2016

Terebinth in the Fall

Continuing in this series about first century fulfillment of prophecy, Eusebius of Caesarea comments on passages in Isaiah and their usage according to St. Paul in the book of Romans. Eusebius writes: 

…the Divine Promises did not extend to the whole Jewish Nation, but only to a few of them. [Passage quoted Isa. 1:7–9.] 
This great and wonderful prophet at the opening of his own book here tells us that the whole scheme of his prophecy includes a vision and a revelation against Judæa and Jerusalem, then he attacks the whole race of the Jews, first saying: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s manger, but Israel doth not know, my people doth not understand.”* 
And then he laments the whole race, and adds: “Woe, race of sinners, a people full of iniquity, an evil seed, unrighteous children.” 
Having brought these charges against them in the beginning of his book, and shewn beforehand the reasons for the later predictions that he is to bring against them, he goes on to say, “Your land is desolate,” though it was not desolate at the time when he prophesied: “Your cities are burnt with fire.” Nor had this yet taken place, and strangers had not devoured their land. And yet he says, “Your land, strangers devour it before your eyes,” and that which follows. But if you came down to the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of those He sent, and to the present time, you would find all the sayings fulfilled. For the daughter of Zion (by whom was meant the worship celebrated on Mount Zion) from the time of the coming of our Saviour has been left as a tent in a vineyard, as a hut in a garden of cucumbers, or as anything that is more desolate than these. And strangers devour the land before their eyes, now exacting tax and tribute,1 and now appropriating for themselves the land which belonged of old to Jews. Yea, and the beauteous Temple of their mother-city was laid low, being cast down by alien peoples, and their cities were burnt with fire, and Jerusalem became truly a besieged city. But since, when all this happened, the choir of the Apostles, and those of the Hebrews who believed in Christ, were preserved from among them as a fruitful seed, and going through every race of men in the whole world, filled every city and place and country with the seed of Christianity and Israel, so that like corn springing from it, the churches which are founded in our Saviour’s name have come into being, the divine prophet naturally adds to his previous threats against them: “We should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.” Which the holy Apostle in the Epistle to the Romans more clearly defines and interprets. [Passages quoted Rom. 9:17–29 and 11:1–5] 
And to shew that the prophecy can only refer to the time of our Saviour’s coming, the words that follow the text—“unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah,” naming the whole people of the Jews as the people of Gomorrah, and their rulers as the princes of Sodom—imply a rejection of the Mosaic worship, and introduce in the prediction about them the characteristics of the covenant announced to all men by our Saviour. …what could this be but the plot against our Saviour Jesus Christ, through which2 and after which all the things aforesaid overtook them?3 
…It will be clear to you, if you run through the whole course of this section, what that day is, in which it is said God will glorify and exalt the remnant of Israel and those who are called holy and to be written in (the book of) life. For in the beginning of his complete book the prophet (Isaiah) having seen the vision against Judah and Jerusalem, and numbered in many words the sins of the whole people of the Jews, and uttered threats and spoken about their ruin and the complete desolation of Jerusalem, brings his vision about them to an end with the words: 
“For they shall be as a terebinth that has cast her leaves, and as a garden without water.* And their strength shall be as a thread of tow, and their works as sparks of fire, and the transgressors and the sinners shall be burnt together, and there shall be none to quench them.”4

* Isa. 1:3.
1 δασμοὺς καὶ φόρους.
2 Paris text has διʼ ὄν—ὃν—αὐτοὺς.
3 Eusebius of Cæsarea. (1920). The Proof of the Gospel: Being the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius of Cæsarea. (W. J. Sparrow-Simpson & W. K. L. Clarke, Eds., W. J. Ferrar, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 77–79). London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; The Macmillan Company.
* Isa. 1:30.

4 Ibid. (Vol. 1, p. 79)

What the Hebrew Oracles Foretell Distinctly

Continuing our series about the fulfillment of prophecy in the first century, Eusebius discusses in what ways the Scriptures teach that Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, was intended to be the salvation not only of the Jews, but of all nations as well. Taking into consideration that he is one of the greatest historians of the Christian Church, notice especially what his consistent focus is upon—how the Hebrew oracles foretell distinctly the fall and ruin of the Jewish race through their disbelief in Christ”, which culminated in 70 a.d. 

Eusebius first compiles a list of “Hebrew oracles” for his audience, before making that comment:
  Of the Plotting against Christ, and He1 that is called the Son of God, receiving His Portion and the Gentiles from the Father. [Passages quoted, Ps. 2:1, 2, and 7, 8.]

  Of Christ’s Kingdom, and the Call of the Gentiles, and the Blessing of all the Tribes of the Earth. [Passages quoted, Ps. 71:1, 2, 8, 11, 17, 19.]
  Of the new Song, and of the Arm of the Lord, and of the Shewing of His Salvation to all Nations; the Salvation of the Son is shewn by the Name in the Hebrew. [Passages quoted, Ps. 97]
  How after the Cessation of the Kingdom of the Jews, the Christ Himself coming will be the Expectation of the Gentiles. “There shall not fail a prince from Juda, nor a governor from his loins, until he come in whom it is laid up,2 and he is the expectation of the Gentiles.”* [From Genesis]
  A Shewing forth of the Appearing of Christ, and of the Destruction of Idolatry, and of the Piety of the Nations towards God. [Passage quoted, Zeph. 2:11.]
  A Shewing forth of the Day of Christ’s Resurrection, and the Gathering of Nations, and of all Men knowing God, and Turning to Holiness, and how the Ethiopians will bring Sacrifices to him. [Passage quoted, Zeph. 3:8.]
  A Shewing forth of the Appearing of Christ, and of the Fleeing of many Nations to Him, and how the Peoples of the Nations shall be established in the Lord. [Passage quoted, Zech. 2:10.]
  A Shewing forth of the Birth of Christ coming from the Root of David, and the Call by Him of all the Nations. [Passages quoted, Isa. 11:1, 10.]
  A Shewing forth of the Appearing of Christ, and of the Benefits brought by him to all the Nations. [Passages quoted, Isa. 42:1–4 and 6–9.]
  A Shewing forth of Christ and his Birth, and the Call of the Gentiles. [Passage quoted, Isa. 49:1.]
  The Shewing forth of the Coming of Christ and of the Call of the Gentiles. [Passage quoted, Isa. 49:7.]
  A Shewing forth of Christ, and the Call of the Gentiles. [Passage quoted, Isa. 55:3–5.] 

Then Eusebius adds:

  And now that we have learned from these passages that the presence of Christ was intended to be the salvation not only of the Jews, but of all nations as well, let me prove my third point, that prophecies not only foretold that good things for the nations would be associated with the date of His appearance, but also the reverse for the Jews. Yes, the Hebrew oracles foretell distinctly the fall and ruin of the Jewish race through their disbelief in Christ, so that we should no longer appear equal to them, but better than they. And I will now present the bare quotations from the prophets without any comment on them, because they are quite clear, and because I intend at my leisure to examine them thoroughly. 

  Shewing forth the Refusal of the Jewish Race, and the Substitution of the Gentiles in their Place. [Passage quoted, Jer. 6:16.]
  Shewing forth of the Piety of the Nations, and Accusation of the Impiety of the Jewish Race. Prediction of the Evils to overtake them after the Coming of Christ. [Passage quoted, Jer. 16:19–17:5.]3
  Concerning the Dispersion of the Jewish Race among all the Nations, and the Renewing of Christ’s Coming and Kingdom, and the Call of all the Nations consequent upon it. [Passage quoted, Amos 9:9.]
  Accusation of the Rulers of the Jewish People, and a Shewing forth of the Desolation of their Mother-city, and the Appearance of Christ and of the House of God His Church, the Entrance of His Word and His Law, and its Shewing to all Nations.4 [Passages quoted, Mic. 3:9–4:2.]
  Shewing forth of Christ’s Appearing, and the Destruction of the warlike Preparation of the Jews, and the Peace of the Nations, and the Kingdom of the Lord unto the Ends of the World. [Passage quoted, Zech. 9:9–10.]
  Rebuke of the Jewish Race, and Refusal of the Mosaic outward Worship, and of the spiritual Worship delivered by Christ to all Nations. [Passage quoted, Mal. 1:10–12.]
  The Apostasy of the Jewish Race and the Revelation of the Word of God, and of the new Law, and of His House, and the Shewing forth of the Piety of all the Nations. [Passages quoted, Isa. 1:8, 21, 30; 2:2–4.]
  The Destruction of the Glory of the People of the Jews, and the Turning of the Nations from Idolatry to the God of the Universe, and the Prophecy of the Desolation of the Jewish Cities, and of their Unfaithfulness to their God. [Passage quoted, Isa. 17:5–11.]
  Shewing forth of the destruction of the Jewish cities, and of the joy of the Gentiles in God. [Passage quoted, Isa. 25:1–8.]
  The Message of good News to the Church of the Nations desolate of old, and the Rejection of the Jewish Nation, and Accusation of their Sins, and the Call of all the Gentiles. [Passages quoted, Isa. 43:18–25; 45:22–25.]
  Shewing forth of the Coming of Christ to Men. And Reproof of the Jewish Race, and Promise of good Things to all Nations. [Passages quoted, Isa. 50:1, 2, 10; 51:4, 5.]
  Reproof of the Sins of the Jewish People, and their Fall from Piety, and the Shewing forth of the Call of all the Gentiles. [Passages quoted, Isa. 59:1–11, 19.] 

  But although there are a number of prophecies on this subject, I will be content with the evidence I have produced, and I will return to them again and explain5 them at the proper time, as I consider that by the use of these numerous texts and of their evidence I have given adequate proof that the Jews hold no privilege beyond other nations. For if they say that they alone partake of the blessing of Abraham, the friend of God, by reason of their descent from him, it can be answered that God promised to the Gentiles that He would give them an equal share of the blessing not only of Abraham but of Isaac and Jacob also, since He expressly predicted that all nations would be blessed like them, and summoned the rest of the nations under one and the same (rule of) joy as the blessed and the godly, in saying: “Rejoice ye Gentiles with his people,” and: “The princes of the peoples were gathered together with the God of Abraham.”*6

1 Nominative.
2 See note, p. 21.
* Gen. 49:10.
3 Jer. 17:5 is wanting from LX, but given in some codices with asterisks. See also 484 c.
4 τῶν ἐθνῶν ἁπάντων.
5 ἐξομαλίσομεν.
* Deut. 32:43; Ps. 47:9.

6 Eusebius of Cæsarea. (1920). The Proof of the Gospel: Being the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius of Cæsarea. (W. J. Sparrow-Simpson & W. K. L. Clarke, Eds., W. J. Ferrar, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 68–73). London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; The Macmillan Company.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"Prophecies Exactly Fulfilled"

This is the second post in a series which covers the early Christian views pertaining to the interpretation of biblical prophecy as being “fulfilled” within the first century. Of particular interest to this discussion are key words and phrases used to describe the Lord's "appearance" or "coming" and the especially the events of the Jewish wars, the fall of Jerusalem, and the destruction of its temple in 70 a.d. 

Continuing where we left off in the previous post, the church historian and Bishop, Eusebius of Caesarea, comments further about these events, only this time it’s regarding the first century Israelites who rejected Jesus in favor of what the corrupt religious authorities had been advocating. Referring to the consequences stated in Torah, Eusebius says that they had: 
   …fallen under Moses’ curse, attempting to keep it in part, but breaking it in the whole, as Moses makes absolutely clear: “Accursed is he, who does not continue in all the things written in this law, to do them.”*

   And they have come to this impasse, although Moses himself foresaw by the Holy Spirit, that, when the new covenant was revived by Christ and preached to all nations, his own legislation would become superfluous, he rightly confined its influence to one place, so that if they were ever deprived of it, and shut out of their national freedom, it might not be possible for them to carry out the ordinances of his law in a foreign country, and as of necessity they would have to receive the new covenant announced by Christ. 
   Moses had foretold this very thing, and in due course Christ sojourned in this life, and the teaching of the new covenant was borne to all nations, and at once1 the Romans besieged Jerusalem, and destroyed it and the Temple there.  At once the whole of the Mosaic law was abolished, with all that remained of the old covenant, and the curse passed over to those who became lawbreakers, because they obeyed Moses’ law, when its time had gone by, and still clung ardently to it, for at that very moment the perfect teaching of the new Law was introduced in its place. And, therefore, our Lord and Saviour rightly says to those who suppose that God ought only to be worshipped in Jerusalem, or in certain mountains, or some definite places: 
 “The hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father. For God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”* 
   So He said, and presently, not long after, Jerusalem was besieged, the holy place and the altar by it and the worship conducted according to Moses’ ordinances were destroyed, and the archetypal holiness of the pre-Mosaic men of God reappeared. And the blessing assured-thereby to all nations came, to lead those who came to it from the first step and from the first elements of the Mosaic worship to a better and more perfect life.2 Yes, the religion of those blessed and godly men, who did not worship in any one place exclusively, neither by symbols nor types, but as our Lord and Saviour requires “in spirit and in truth,” by our Saviour’s appearance became the possession of all the nations, as the prophets of old foresaw. For Zephaniah says the very same thing: 
 The Lord shall appear against them, and shall utterly destroy all the gods of the nations of the earth. And they shall worship him each one from his own place.”* 
   Malachi as well contends against those of the circumcision, and speaks on behalf of the Gentiles, when he says: 
“I have no pleasure (in you),3 saith the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun even to the setting4 my name has been glorified among the Gentiles; and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering.”5* 
   By “the incense and offering to be offered to God in every place,” what else can he mean, but that no longer in Jerusalem nor exclusively in that (sacred) place, but in every land and among all nations they will offer to the Supreme God the incense of prayer and the sacrifice called “pure,” because it is not a sacrifice of blood but of good works? And Isaiah literally shouts and cries his prophecy to the same effect: 
“There shall be an altar to the Lord in the land of Egypt.6 … And the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians …. And he shall send to them a man who shall save them, …, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall offer sacrifice, and vow vows to the Lord and pay (them).7 And they shall be turned to the Lord, and he shall hear them and heal them.”* 
   Do we not say truly then that the prophets were inspired to foretell a change of the Mosaic Law, nay its end and conclusion? Moses lays down that the altar and the sacrifices should be nowhere else on earth but in Judæa, and there only in one city. But this prophecy says that an altar to the Lord shall be set up in Egypt, and that Egyptians shall celebrate8 their sacrifices to the Lord of the prophets and no longer to their ancestral gods. It foretells that Moses shall not be the medium of their knowledge of God, nor any other of the prophets, but a man fresh and new sent from God. Now if the altar is changed contrary to the commandment of Moses, it is beyond doubt necessary that the Law of Moses should be changed also. Then, too, the Egyptians, if they “sacrifice to the Supreme God,” must be admittedly worthy of the priesthood. And if the Egyptians are priests Moses’ enactments about the Levites and the Aaronic succession would be useless to the Egyptians. The time, therefore, will have come when a new legislation will be needed for their support. What follows? Have I spoken at random? Or have I proved my contention?  
   Behold how to day, yes in our own times, our eyes see not only Egyptians, but every race of men who used to be idolaters, whom the prophet meant when he said “Egyptians,” released from the errors of polytheism and the dæmons, and calling on the God of the prophets!  They pray no longer to lords many, but to one Lord according to the sacred oracle; they have raised to Him an altar of unbloody and reasonable sacrifices according to the new mysteries of the fresh and new covenant throughout the whole of the inhabited world, and in Egypt itself and among the other nations, Egyptian9 in their superstitious errors. Yes, in our own time the knowledge of the Omnipotent God shines forth, and sets a seal of certainty on the forecasts of the prophets.  You see this actually going on, you no longer only expect to hear of it, and if you ask the moment when the change began, for all your inquiry you will receive no other answer but the moment of the appearance of the Saviour. For He it was, of Whom the prophet spoke, when he said that the Supreme God and Lord would send a man to the Egyptians, to save them, as also the Mosaic oracles taught in these words: “A man shall come forth from his seed, and shall rule over many nations”;* among which nations the Egyptians would certainly be numbered. But a great deal could be said on these points, and with sufficient leisure one could deal with them more exhaustively. Suffice it to say now, that we must hold to the truth, that the prophecies have only been fulfilled after the coming of Jesus our Saviour.10

When beginning the next chapter, and after citing many scripture passages to prove his points thus far, Eusebius lays out more of his thoughts pertaining to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70a.d.  He writes: 
   When we shall have reached that point of the argument, I think I shall have proved that it is untrue to say that the hope of the Messiah was more proper for them than for us.   Then having demonstrated that for Jews and Greeks the hope of the promise was on an equality, so that those of the Gentiles would be saved through Christ would be in exactly the same position as the Jews, I shall proceed to show with super-abundance of evidence,11 that the divine oracles foretold that the Advent of Christ and the call of the Gentiles would be accompanied by the total collapse and ruin of the whole Jewish race, and prophesied good fortune only for a scanty few easy to number, while their city with its temple would be captured, and all its holy things taken away—prophecies which have all been exactly fulfilled.12

* Deut. 27:26.
1 παραχρῆμα “immediately,” and αὐτίκα below. Eusebius passes lightly over the space till a.d. 70.
* John 4:23.
2 τῆς πρώτης στοιχειώσεως. Cf. P.E. 4 b and 761 b. στοιχείωσις is used for “the alphabet” in Epiphanius.
* Zeph. 2:11.
3 E. omits ἐν ὑμῖν (S.).
4 E. omits ἡλίου (S.).
5 The “incense” of the prophecy is referred to prayer and the “sacrifice” to good works; Eusebius does not regard it directly as a prophecy of the Eucharist. But see I. 6 c. “θυσιαστήριον ἀναίμων και λογικῶν θυσιῶν κατὰ τὰ καινὰ μυστήρια.” “An altar of unbloody and reasonable sacrifices according to the new mysteries,” I. 10 b τὴν τούτου μνήμην τοῦ τε σώματος αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῦ αἵματος τὴν ὑπόμνησιν ὁσημέραι ἐπιτελοῦντες (in contrast with Jewish sacrifices): we are “admitted to a greater sacrifice of the Ancient Law” (ibid.).
* Mal. 1:11.
6 E. omits καὶ στήλη πρὸς τὸ ὅριον αὐτῆς τῷ κυρίῳ. καὶ ἔσται εἰς σημεῖον εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα κυρίῳ ἐν χώρᾳ Ἀιγύπτου ὅτ: κεκράξονται πρὸς κύριον διὰ τοὺς θλίβοντας αὐτοὺς, and inverts the two following clauses, omitting κρίνων σώσει αὐτοὺς.
7 E. omits καὶ πατάξει κύριος τοὺς Ἀιγυπτίους πληγῇ, καὶ ἰάσεται αὐτούς.
* Isa. 19:19–22.
8 καλλιερήσειν τὰς θυσίας: cf. P.E. 157 c., a quotation from Clement, Protrepticus, c. iii. p. 12, Sylb. where καλλιερεῖν means “to yield good omens.”
9 αἰγυπτιάζουσι “acting as Egyptians,” analogous to Ἕλληνίζω, and Ἰουδαίζω.
* Num. 24:7.
10  Eusebius of Cæsarea. (1920). The Proof of the Gospel: Being the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius of Cæsarea. (W. J. Sparrow-Simpson & W. K. L. Clarke, Eds., W. J. Ferrar, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 34–39). London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; The Macmillan Company.
11 ἐκ περιουσίας: generally a rhetorical figure—“from superabundant evidence.” Gifford [P.E. 64 a, 2] quotes Plato, Theat.: “sparring for mere amusement.”
12  Eusebius of Cæsarea. (1920). The Proof of the Gospel: Being the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius of Cæsarea. (W. J. Sparrow-Simpson & W. K. L. Clarke, Eds., W. J. Ferrar, Trans.) (Vol. 1, p. 64). London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; The Macmillan Company.

The Proof of the Gospel: An Introduction

Over the next few months, I plan on posting regularly to a new series which highlights certain views of the early Christian Church, especially those views which relate to the "fulfillment" of Scripture in the events surrounding the first century Jewish wars that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel's temple in 70 a.d., as prophesied in the Holy Scriptures. My hope, in the very least, is that Christians today notice how prevalent certain views were regarding the "fulfillment" of Jesus' words, the prophets before him, and the apostles after him. 

In this post, and in many more to come, the excerpts are from Eusebius of Caesarea, a Roman historian and Bishop of Caesarea Maritima during the Council of Nicaea.  

In case any Christian doubts the credibility of this Bishop and historian, let us recall the description of him given by Pope Benedict XVI:1
   Eusebius is above all...the first historian of Christianity, but he was also the greatest philologist of the ancient church... Eusebius embraced different spheres: The Succession of the Apostles as the backbone of the Church, the dissemination of the Message... and the errors and then persecutions on the part of the pagans. ...The fundamental perspective of Eusebian a 'Christocentric' history, in which the mystery of God's love for humankind is gradually revealed.

Benedict continues elsewhere in his address: 
   Another feature thus springs to the fore which was to remain a constant in ancient ecclesiastical historiography: it is the "moral intention" that presides in the account. Historical analysis is never an end in itself; it is not made solely with a view to knowing the past; rather, it focuses decisively on conversion and on an authentic witness of Christian life on the part of the faithful. It is a guide for us, too. Thus, Eusebius strongly challenges believers of all times on their approach to the events of history and of the Church in particular. He also challenges us: what is our attitude with regard to the Church's experiences? Is it the attitude of those who are interested in it merely out of curiosity, or even in search of something sensational or shocking at all costs? Or is it an attitude full of love and open to the mystery of those who know - through faith - that they can trace in the history of the Church those signs of God's love and the great works of salvation wrought by him?

With these important considerations in mind, we now move to some of the opening words in Eusebius' classic work, The Proof of the Gospel, which introduce us to both the importance and the prevalence of such views in the early Christian Church:

   In addition to all this you can hear the wailings and lamentations of each of the prophets, wailing and lamenting characteristically over the calamities which will overtake the Jewish people because of their impiety to Him Who had been foretold. How their kingdom, that had continued from the days of a remote ancestry to their own, would be utterly destroyed after their sin against Christ; how their fathers’ Laws would be abrogated, they themselves deprived of their ancient worship, robbed of the independence of their forefathers, and made slaves of their enemies, instead of free men; how their royal metropolis would be burned with fire, their venerable and holy altar undergo the flames and extreme desolation, their city be inhabited no longer by its old possessors but by races of other stock,1 while they would be dispersed among the Gentiles through the whole world, with never a hope of any cessation of evil, or breathing-space from troubles. And it is plain even to the blind, that what they saw and foretold is fulfilled in actual facts from the very day the Jews laid godless hands on Christ, and drew down on themselves the beginning of the train of sorrows.
   But the prophecies of these inspired men did not begin and end in gloom, nor did their prescience extend no further than the reign of sorrow. They could change their note to joy, and proclaim a universal message of good tidings to all men in the coming of Christ: they could preach the good news that though one race were lost every nation and race of men would know God, escape from the dæmons,2 cease from ignorance and deceit and enjoy the light of holiness: they could picture the disciples of Christ filling the whole world with their teaching, and the preaching of their gospel introducing among all men a fresh and unknown ideal of holiness: they could see churches of Christ established by their means among all nations, and Christian people throughout the whole world bearing one common name: they could give assurance that the attacks of rulers and kings from time to time against the Church of Christ will avail nothing to cast it down, strengthened as it is by God. If so many things were proclaimed by the Hebrew divines, and if their fulfilment is so clear to us all to-day, who would not marvel at their inspiration? Who will not agree that their religious and philosophic teaching and beliefs must be sure and true, since their proof is to be found not in artificial arguments, not in clever words, or deceptive syllogistic reasoning, but in simple and straightforward teaching, whose genuine and sincere character is attested by the virtue and knowledge of God evident in these inspired men? Men who were enabled not by human but by divine inspiration to see from a myriad ages back what was to happen long years after, may surely claim our confidence for the belief which they taught their pupils.3

Also, in the opening statement of his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius tells us his purpose in writing such an important work:
As it is my purpose to record the successions of the holy apostles, together with the times since our Saviour, down to the present, to recount how many and important transactions are said to have occurred in Ecclesiastical History, what individuals in the most noted places eminently governed and presided over the church, what men also in their respective generations, whether with or without their writings, proclaimed the divine Word; to describe the character, times and number of those who, stimulated by the desire of innovation, and advancing to the greatest errors, announced themselves leaders in the propagation of false opinions, like grievous wolves, unmercifully assaulting the flock of Christ; as it is my intention, also, to describe the calamities that swiftly overwhelmed the whole Jewish nation, in consequence of their plots against our Saviour; how often, by what means, and in what times, the word of God has encountered the hostility of the nations; what eminent persons persevered in contending for it through those periods of blood and torture, beside the martyrdoms which have been endured in our own times: and, after all, to show the gracious and benign interposition of our Saviour; these being proposed as the subjects of the present work, I shall go back to the very origin and the earliest introduction of the dispensation of our Lord and Saviour the Christ of God.4

1 Benedict XVI General Audience Address June 13, 2007 
1 ἀλλοφύλων: so Fabricius.
2 δαιμόνων ἀποφυγήν. See Harnack: Expansion of Christianity. Excursus on “The Conflict with Demons.” E.T. i. 152–180. For dæmons as fallen angels, heathen gods, and oracles, cf. P.E. 329. See Jewish legends, Book of Jubilees, 103, 6, 8; 15; 2217; 1 Enoch 6; 158, 9, 11; 161; 692, 3; 86, 10613, 14. etc.

3 Eusebius of Cæsarea. (1920). The Proof of the Gospel: Being the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius of Cæsarea. (W. J. Sparrow-Simpson & W. K. L. Clarke, Eds., W. J. Ferrar, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 3–5). London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; The Macmillan Company.
Valesius. (1847). Life of Eusebius Pamphilus. In Parker S.E. (Trans.), An Ecclesiastical History to the 20th Year of the Reign of Constantine (p. 33). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Called to Freedom (A Meditation for Ordinary Time, Proper 8)

Called to Freedom 
(A Meditation for Ordinary Time, Proper 8, Year C, II)
Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Virtually every aspect of life among ancient cultures in biblical times was centered around a nation's own temple and it's god. All people of all ancient nations thought this way.

To have communion with the gods, so it was thought, you needed a house for your God to dwell in. And once your God had taken up residency among you and your people, it claimed that territory as its own, and it claimed ownership of everyone within it. Your God reigned as lord over your tribal territory, and even over your household. And if you wanted to stay in the land your god gave you, if you wanted favorable provisions in life from the hand of your god, you needed to become its household slave.  Being a slave of a king or a god wasn't a bad thing, by the way. It was, in fact, a highly privileged position to be in.

But just because your god dwelled among you and your people, that did not mean everyone else around you or your people had direct access to your god. In order for your neighbors to have access to this special relationship with your god, they needed to submit to the laws of their temple, which were the laws of their gods. The laws of their gods were the sacramental tapestry holding all of ancient social order together. 

This is the background of the "slavery" imagery which Paul uses throughout his letter to the Galatian Christians, except here, in chapter 5, we learn that there is one catch to Paul's rhetoric: with the coming of Israel's messiah, Jesus Christ had set all Christians free from such slavery.

Another important bit of background information worth remembering is that when Paul writes to the Galatian Christians, he is condemning specific types of "false-brothers" secretly planted among them, who are trying to take away their liberty in Christ (2:4). Paul is not condemning obedience to "laws" or "commandments" in the abstract. Paul is only condemning the patterns of life exhibited by such "false-brothers" who want to enslave Christians under the Law taught in Judaism (of which he, Paul, used to be an "advanced" and zealous advocate; 1:13-14). The "false-brothers" of Judaism were those who had fellowship with Christians but still insisted upon life under the law taught within Judaism, the law which centralized the liturgical and social structures of the old covenant temple, and separated Jews and Gentiles (and others) from direct access to God. 

Paul condemns the law under first century Judaism, not because the old covenant law per se was intrinsically "bad," but because of two other significant reasons. First, Paul condemned the law under Judaism because in the first century, the application of God's "Law" had become incredibly corrupt, abusive, and manipulative—and all for the sake of building up an empire lead by corrupt Jewish authorities, whom Jesus also condemned. Secondarily, Paul condemns the law under Judaism because Jesus came and replaced that first century Jewish temple with the temple of his body, making all of God's laws fulfilled and centralized in Christ's Body.

So when Paul spoke of Christ "freeing" the Galatian Christians "for the sake of freedom," telling them to submit to Christ and not to a yoke of slavery, his concern was very specific. Certain Jews had crept into the Christian church masquerading as disciples of God, but instead of promoting the work of God's Spirit in building his new temple, they were persuading Gentiles to enslave themselves to the old covenant temple and the laws of Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. They taught that in order to be a slave of God's house—which, again, was a highly privileged position to be in—you had to yoke yourself to the whole system of Jewish Law, which was centralized in their temple within Jerusalem.

In other words, the desire of these "false-brothers" was to make disciples of Judaism, not disciples of Jesus. Keep in mind, also,  that it was John the Baptist and Jesus who first spoke out about the corruption of Judaism and God's condemnation of their entire religious system. First century Judaism, as Paul understood best, was a yoke of slavery requiring obedience to uniquely Jewish laws as an entrance point into life and communion with God. But when God came down to earth in flesh and lived among men in the flesh, that changed everything about the relationship between God and men. That crossed a temple boundary enshrined in law which had never been crossed before in ancient history. Through faith in Jesus, Paul knew that the "false-brothers" of the Christian churches were deadly wrong in their understanding of communion with God, and any committed, first century disciple of Judaism was doomed to destruction along with the destruction of their temple (which was destroyed in 70ad). The whole sacramental fabric of Judaism's social order was doomed to die in 70ad via the prophecies of Jesus reaching their fulfillment. Life under the temple-centered mindset of Judaism was of "the flesh," Paul says, and that "lust of the flesh" brings death. Only the Jesus-centered desire of the Christianity was of the Spirit, producing life.

With all of this in mind, it's important to understand why Paul emphasizes "living by the Spirit" in contrast with living "under law." 

Did Paul mean to teach his Christian disciples that the law of God had now become obsolete—that the law of God is no longer a lamp unto our feet and a light for the path they walk on?

I think that if we are studying the letter to Galatians carefully, it's clear that for Paul the Law of God itself as a whole had not become obsolete. It's temple and God's covenant in relation with that temple had become obsolete, but not the law of God itself. Rather, Paul insists, the Law of God is fulfilled in Christ and his body. In Christ, God's Law had become the Wisdom and Spirit of God personified. 

Note carefully how this is evident by what Paul says in verses 13-14: 
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be slaves to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

In these two verses, Paul not only quotes a portion of God's Law word for word to endorse Christian love (Lev. 19:18), but he seems obligated to reveal such an objective standard for love because it is already well-known that the whole law has been fulfilled in Christ and his Body. Paul's exhortation to love one another would be meaningless if the whole law was not fulfilled by Christians. You shall love your neighbor as yourself, Paul says. You fulfill the whole law, Paul says. And in context, Paul seems to be saying that they ought to do so by the Spirit of the Law, just as Jesus did, and not merely the letter of the Law, as the false-brothers of Judaism did. 

Therefore, it can be safely asserted that Jesus fulfilled the law for us so that we might walk in him, fulfilling the Spirit of the Law to serve one another.

It is precisely because Christ has fulfilled the law that the church also shares in active fulfillment of God's law as well. But Christians ought not to do so by reconstructing society according to the letter of the law. That's what Judaizers did! The Judaizers could not grasp the idea of Jesus replacing their temple in Jerusalem. The holy city of Jerusalem, and it's temple sanctuary was mistakenly believed to be central to their identity with the living and true God, instead of Jesus being central. Likewise, many Christians today mistakenly centralize the Church in their own particular denomination instead of in Christ alone. Even worse, many Christians today have gone beyond the sin of first century Judaism by centralizing themselves individually as the temple of God, instead of committing to the health and well-being of the local, visible church. If you've ever heard a professing Christian say, "I'm spiritual, but not religious," you know what I'm talking about. The fundamental danger of that kind of reasoning is that the life within Jesus' Body (i.e. the baptized body, the Church) is not believed to be integral or necessary for life with Jesus himself. But that's like separating the head (Jesus) and a finger (one's self) from the rest of it's body (the visible, baptized body), and claiming that the finger can live perfectly healthy severed from the body as long as it knows the "head" (Jesus) it belongs with. But life in Christ is more than mere personal belonging to Jesus. It is a mutual belonging and indwelling of all members of the body, including it's head.

So how is it that we, the Church, can actively fulfill the whole law of God, as Paul commends here in Galatians?

Well, as a starting point, I suggest that when Christians today look back at the Law of God in such places like Leviticus 19, we should do our best not to reconstruct that exact system and its relationship to the temple of Jerusalem. Sadly, that is what most fundamentalists today desire (shown most explicitly among dispensational fundamentalists). Instead, Christians today should want to build up the body of Christ—the new covenant temple—with the Spirit of God's Law. Christians are fools if they go to God's law as a blueprint for reconstructing a Christless society. Instead, Christians ought go to God's Law to find Christ in it and to retrieve the fruits of his Spirit taught within it. If God's Law is not used by Christians to construct a Christlike culture, then whatever culture God is building through them cannot and will not ever be godly. Our American Christian culture is suffering greatly today, not because it needs God's law or because it is opposed to God's Law. It suffers because it lacks the Spirit of God's Law.

As the Spirit of God's law in Leviticus 19 teaches us, Christians have a responsibility before Christ to provide for the poor from their own fields. Christians ought not to steal or deal falsely with one another, or lie to each other, tearing apart the social fabric of godly integrity. Moreover, the Spirit of the Law teaches us that we ought not oppress our neighbor, or even rob them by withholding or delaying the wages they worked for—wages Christian employers might owe them. The Spirit of the Law teaches us to care for and treat those who are disabled exceptionally well. They are not to be treated as outcasts, because in Christ they are loved. The Spirit of the Law teaches that we ought to judge justly in civil matters. We ought to avoid the slander of our neighbors, not hating our brothers in the heart, but rather reasoning frankly with them, and not taking vengeance against them or bearing a grudge. Not only is that what the Spirit of Leviticus 19 teaches, but that is also what the Spirit of Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-26, 33-42). The Sermon on the Mount is what living by the Spirit of Leviticus 19 looks like—it looks like the Law of the Greater Moses, Jesus Christ and the commandments he gave.

One last thing about Paul's letter to the Galatians is worth noting carefully.

Remember, Paul has the Judaizers of Galatia in mind when he quotes a portion of God's law as a standard for the whole of Christian love. Paul is not opposed to a Christian transfiguration of God's Law, because it is Christ-centered; and because it is Christ-centered, it is also Christian-Church centered. Paul (just as much as Jesus) was opposed to the way the Judaizing system of God's "Law" promoted "legal" corruption and wicked behavior, contrary to the works of God's Spirit. Throughout Paul's letter he describes the disciples of Judaism as "fleshly" and deadly, not spiritual and alive.

This is why, toward the end of the letter which we read, Paul gives a long list of unspiritual, ungodly behavior. The works of "the flesh" are found in Gal. 5:19—21. Interestingly, God's Law has something to say about all of those behavioral categories, and the Spirit of God's Law condemns and transfigures such behavior. For, Paul says, those who belong to Christ Jesus have "crucified the flesh" with such lusts and passions (5:24).

Instead of standing condemned by God's Law, the Spirit of God's law revives us, granting Christians the liberty to produce the fruits of God's Spirit. What are those fruits? Galatians 5:22—23 provides a list for us. Yet notice carefully, again, how Paul concludes his list of Spiritual fruits. He says that against such Spiritually fruitful behavior "there is no law."

What Law is Paul referring to? I would contend (along with many other Christians in history) that Paul is referring to the very well-known law—the same Law that condemned the listed "fleshly" behavior in the previous three verses. From this, we can conclude that there is no law of God which stands against the fruitful behavior of Christ's Spirit within a believer. And if we behave by the Spirit, we are not merely obeying laws of God, as those of first century Judaism who did so to build up their own tribe. Instead, the Spirit of God gives us liberty to fulfill God's Law in various ways. And as the Church is filled-full with the Spirit of God's Law, the world grows into what God wants His Temple to look like. It looks godly. It looks like our God and our King, Jesus.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

* * * * * * * 

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of the Spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Church as Lone Prophet (A Meditation for Ordinary Time)

The Church as Lone Prophet
A Meditation for Ordinary Time (Proper 7, Year C, II)
I Kings 19:1-15
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

In 1st Kings chapter 18, we learn that the wicked king of Israel, Abab, has hunted down all the prophets of YHWH in an attempt to remove their influence throughout the land. And just before our reading today, he summoned all of Israel and all of their prophets to defeat the Lord's last prophet, along with his "God" on Mount Carmel. At this point in the story, it's all the prophets of Baal versus one prophet, Elijah, the lone prophet of YHWH. Elijah, again, is outnumbered. The odds seem to be completely against him. But as we soon learn, just one lone prophet with the Lord on his side, is greater than the world that opposes him. 

You all know the story. In the end, the prophets of Baal cannot summon their gods to rain down fire from heaven. The Baal worshipers make fools out of themselves all day long, and at the end of the day Elijah prays to the Lord one time, and the Lord answers him. The Lord answers by raining fire down from heaven, and Elijah's God—the living and true God—wins. And when all the people saw the Lord answer Elijah's prayer, they fell on their faces confessing that YHWH is God (1 Kings 18:38-39).

Because of Elijah's loyal and loving faithfulness to the Lord, by the end of chapter 18, it looks as though the dawn of Israel's redemption seems very near. We finally see a glimmer of hope in the story, where the Lord seems to be turning the idolatrous house of Ahab, and the corrupt hearts of Israel, back to Himself. But as soon as we turn the page and enter chapter 19—which is our reading for today—we hit a major road block. Apparently Elijah's loyalty to YHWH didn't stop all of the leaders of Israel. Jezebel, the queen, was particularly upset with his victory. And instead of turning to the Lord, the leaders of Israel follow Jezebel's reaction against Elijah's faithfulness by threatening and conspiring to kill this last, lone prophet of YHWH. For those familiar with the history of the powerful nations surrounding Israel, reactions of these sorts are expected from enemies. (Similar reactions occurred with later prophets as well, like John the Baptist and even Jesus himself.) In Elijah's day, Israel had become another powerful empire of its own, just as corrupt as the surround ungodly empires.

Even Paul, when writing to the Galatians, was prepared for the hostile reactions of Judaizers who were breathing threats against him and against his gospel. The Judaizers painted Paul's gospel as a threat to the Faith, yet Paul faithfully and lovingly urged the Galatian Christians to follow his example, obeying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and not another gospel.

Like Elijah and Paul, the Church is called to be a prophetic witness sent out ("apostled") to the nations. As such, the calling of the Church is to love and serve the Lord through all threats against Him and against His anointed ones. In doing so, the Lord's victory over the idols of every generation becomes obvious to all. But that isn't to say that such faithful witnessing is always easy or even comfortable. It can be incredibly intimidating and demanding at times as well.

Like Elijah fleeing into the wilderness and lying down in despair under a tree to die (1 Kings 19:5), at times we—the Church—will exhaust ourselves through various trials, and will even want to lie down and accept defeat at times, too. But the witness of Holy Scripture reminds us that the Lord is faithful to those who remain jealous for Him. He is faithful to those who trust and obey Him through the high mountain-top victories and low valleys of wilderness wandering—quite literally through life and death. As we see vividly in the Elijah narrative, just when the feelings of defeat and death set in, the Lord resurrects hope within, visiting them with food and drink to endure their long journey (1Kings 19:5-8).

The gospel of our Scripture readings today could not be more clear: In the midst of despair, when most people follow the "Baals" of the land or simply reject the lordship of Jesus outright (as many of Israel did in Paul's day), the Lord does not forget His people. Instead, the Lord nourishes and raises up a remnant in the midst of a dry and thirsty land, to remind us that even when despair or depression or exhaustion has distorted our vision of God's love for this world, God has the situation under control. He has not stopped loving this world of His, even through its trials and judgments; nor has He forgotten His people through such judgments. Just as the lone prophets and apostles were God's means for preserving the Faith of Israel through judgment, so the ministry of the Church in Christ Jesus—the prophet and apostle of our confession (Heb 1:1-4; 3:1)—is God's means of saving the world.

As we learned in our gospel reading today, it is in Christ that each earthly house—whether it's the house of the Gerasenes, or Israel, or Baal—can flee from judgment, and can have its Legion of demons cast out. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are sent out into the world to bear witness to that One who delivers his enemies from bondage to sin and calls them to proclaim how much God has done for them (Luke 8:39). Our calling might be difficult. It might be exhausting too. But when we get weary and weak because of our faithfulness, at least we know where rest and refreshment are found for our journey. It is here, in Christ's Church, that the weary are given rest, and the weak receive food and drink for every journey ahead.

It is in Christ Jesus that we, the Church, are all sons of God. For Paul says, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. In Christ we are now a new creation, so we ought to live like the new creation we are, living with gratitude, living with praise and adoration of Jesus Christ, living unashamedly as a prophetic witness of His lordship over all. It is in this Church united to Jesus Christ—this new Jerusalem which has already come down from heaven—that death is swallowed up in victory, and all things are being made new.

Believe that, and don't be ashamed to proclaim how much God has done and will continue doing for the world. And if you're ever feeling ready to throw in the towel, don't lean upon your own understanding. Rather, in all your ways acknowledge Jesus and He will direct your paths. He won't forsake you or anyone else who puts their trust in Him. So put your trust in Him. Lean on him. He wants you to, especially when you feel like a lone prophet in this world. He walks alongside you, directing the way you should go, so that you can put your trust in Him. Even if it's through death's darkest valley, don't fear any evil, for the Lord is with you. Let his rod and staff comfort you, for he walks with you, ready and willing to show the world that He is your Shepherd, and in Him you lack nothing. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

* * * * * * * *

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Chief End of Christian Self-Improvement

 "...[I]n both the liberal and conservative camps, the old hermeneutics are giving way to a loyalty to the Bible determined by its perceived ability to help people fulfill their own personal and social potential. The Bible is fodder for positive thinking, or rules for peace and prosperity, or a daily horoscope of customized divine promises. Or, it is not, in which case the Bible is ignored. Many liberals and conservatives alike, unpersuaded by the claims of pastors, professors, booksellers, and televangelists, turn into biblical non-readers, as they fail to find it helpful in advancing their personal agendas. 
 The weaknesses of both historical criticism and fundamentalistic legalism pale in comparison to the problems of the bibliology of self improvement. A Trinitarian and Christocentric doctrine of Scripture is an even more urgent remedy for Christians who have learned to make themselves the thing to be enjoyed, and God the sacramental thing to be used in the service of their own adoration."

1.  Telford Work, Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), p. 317. Work's closing comments are especially noteworthy, subtly parodying the first question of the famous Westminster Shorter Catechism, which asks, "What is the Chief end of man? Answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."