Monday, February 24, 2020
Image: Bust of Philip the Arab (c. 204-249). The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 6, chapters 33-38. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters continue the account of the life of Origen, with some special emphasis on his refutations of heresies, his interaction with the imperial family, and his writing.
Chapter 33 describes how Beryllus, bishop of Bostra in Arabia, denied the pre-existence and divinity of Christ and was corrected in his views by Origen in a synod.
Chapter 34 describes how the emperor Philip succeeded Gordian as Roman emperor. Marcus Julius Philippus (c. 204-249), also known as Philip the Arab, was the emperor from 244-249. Eusebius claims that he was a Christian. If true, he would have been the first Christian emperor (pre-dating Constantine). Later historians have suggested he was not a Christian but only that he was sympathetic with and lenient toward the Christians. Eusebius says the emperor wished to join the Christians on the last day of the paschal vigil, but he was not permitted to do so by the presiding officer (the bishop), till he confessed his sins and was placed with the penitent. It is said that he readily obeyed this order.
Chapter 35 notes the death of Heraclas of Alexandria and his replacement by Dionysius as bishop.
Chapter 36 notes that Origen, now over 60 years in age, allowed “short-hand writers” to take down his public discourses.
In this time, he composed his response to the anti-Christian work True Discourse of Celsus the Epicurean, as well as his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, and on the Twelve Prophets (the Book of the Twelve).
Eusebius also notes a collection of more than a hundred of Origen’s letters, including ones written to the emperor Philip, to Philip’s wife Severa, to Fabian of Rome, and to other church leaders.
He adds that more information on Origen is supplied in his Apology on the life of Origen.
Chapter 37 notes another heresy that arose in Arabia, which taught that the soul perishes at death and is only revived at the resurrection. Origen also refuted this view in a synod.
Chapter 38 describes another heretical movement, the Helkesaites, refuted by Origen in an address on Psalm 82. The errors of this group included its rejection of “the Apostle” (presumably, the writings of Paul), its suggestion that one could deny the faith with his mouth but not in his heart, and its claim to have a book “fallen from heaven” which taught a means of forgiveness other than through Christ.
These chapters present Origen as the premiere “orthodox” theologian of his time, an effective teacher and writer, called upon to refute and correct various errors. It also describes the rise of Philip and claims that he was a Christian and corresponded with Origen. These claims about Origen are striking given that some of his own teaching came under suspicious in later generations and were denounced as heterodox.
Saturday, February 22, 2020
Many who have been following the development of the Confessional Text movement are already aware of the Text and Canon Conference, held on October 25-26, 2019 at Christ Reformed Church in Atlanta.
For those who have not yet listened to the lectures I gave at that conference, I have now posted them to CRBC's sermonaudio.com page, along with the Q & A session. Here are links:
Friday, February 21, 2020
Image: Winter sunset, February 2020, North Garden, Virginia
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 2 Kings 8.
Yet the LORD would not destroy Judah for David his servant’s sake, as he promised him to give him always a light, and to his children (2 Kings 8:19).
2 Kings 8 is not an easy chapter to preach. As far as dynamic, easy to perceive spiritual truths, this chapter offers slim pickings. I am very doubtful that many Christians would list 2 Kings 8 as their favorite chapter in the Bible or claim that any verse within it is their favorite verse, or their “life verse.”
It is an overall depressing and discouraging chapter, because it describes the degeneracy, the depravity, and the wickedness of the circumstances into which both Israel and Judah fell during the time of the kings.
The thesis statement might well be found in v. 1: “for the LORD hath called for a famine.” 2 Kings 8 describes the spiritual wasteland that results when men walk away from the Lord and his ways.
The brightest point of light comes in v. 19, which begins, “Yet the LORD would not destroy Judah for David his servant’s sake….”
The remainder of the verse makes clear the reason for this mercy. It was because of the covenant promise that the LORD had made to David: “as he promised him to give him always a light, and to his children” (v. 19b).
The Lord had promised, through Nathan the prophet, “But my mercy shall not depart away from him” and that David’s house and his kingdom would be established forever (2 Sam 7:15-16). David became known as the “light of Israel” (see 2 Sam 21:17).
Despite Judah’s faithlessness, the point is that God remained faithful. The promise that was made to David would not be broken. But how was that promise ultimately fulfilled? Not in national Israel, but in spiritual Israel. Not in the kings of Judah, which would fall, but in a descendant of David, from the tribe of Judah, who would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.
The apostle Paul in Galatians 6:16 would write to the churches of Galatia, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” The promise would be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ to the new “Israel of God.”
2 Kings 8:19 points then toward the mercy of God given to sinners for the sake of Christ. In 2 Timothy 2:13, Paul wrote: “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” NKJV: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.”
This is God’s Word to his people today. We do not have faith in our faith. We have faith in a God who will not destroy us when we are faithless, for the sake of his faithful Son. Thanks be to him.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Image: Modern view of the Roman amphitheater in Caesarea
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 6, chapters 26-32. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters continue to describe the life of Origen, focusing especially on his transition from Alexandria to Caesarea, noting various significant persons, places, and events of the times.
Chapter 26 describes Origen’s transition from Alexandria to Caesarea c. AD 232. He was succeeded as head of the Catechetical School by Heraclas, and when Demetrius died, Heraclas also became bishop of Alexandria.
Chapter 27 describes the esteem in which Origen was held by the bishops, including Firmilian of Cappadocian Caesarea, Alexander of Jerusalem, and Theoctistus of Palestinian Caesarea.
Chapter 28 turns to the Roman imperial succession. Alexander was succeeded by Maximin [Maximinus] Caesar. Maximin lead a persecution against Christians, many of whom were in the household of Alexander, and he ordered leaders of the church to be put to death. Among those who suffered in this persecution were Ambrose of Alexandria and Prototectus of Caesarea. At this time Origen wrote On Martydom and described the persecution in his exposition on the Gospel of John.
Chapter 29 begins by noting that Gordian succeeded Maximin as emperor.
In the church at Rome, meanwhile, Pontianus was succeeded by Anteros. When Anteros died a month later, he was succeeded by Fabian, whose appointment to the office came after a dove mysteriously flew down upon his head, a sign of the descent of the Holy Spirit, as when Christ was baptized.
In Antioch, Zebennus was succeeded by Babylas.
In Alexandria, again, Demetrius was succeeded by Heraclas as bishop. In the Catechetical School, Heraclas was succeeded by Dionysius, who also had been a student of Origen.
Chapter 30 describes the students, local and foreign, who flocked to Origen at Caesarea. They included two brothers: Theodore (later known as Gregory Thaumaturgus, or the “Wonder Worker”) and Athenodore. Origen taught them for five years and lead them from a love of secular philosophy to a love of divine truth, and both became bishops as young men.
Chapter 31 describes Africanus, author of the Cesti [literally “embroidered girdles,” like Stromateis, meaning a collection of varied works].
He is said to have written to Origen and been answered by him regarding the authenticity of the story of Susanna, an apocyryphal addition to Daniel.
He also wrote the Chronographies.
He is said to have traveled to Alexandria on hearing of the fame of Heraclas.
Eusebius notes that another of his letters to Aristides is extant in which he offered a harmony of the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, and to which Eusebius had referred earlier in the EH.
Chapter 32 describes Origen’s commentaries on Isaiah, Ezekiel (a work completed while Origen visited Athens), and the Song of Songs (begin in Athens and finished in Caesarea).
Eusebius notes that in his life of his mentor Pamphilius he had described Pamphilius’s great library and his list of the works of Origen and other church writers. He says he has no need to list Origen’s complete works here, since it appeared in the other work.
These chapters continue the life of Origen, noting how in his transition from Alexandria to Caesarea his influence was not lessened, as he continued to teach, write, and exert his influence upon many.
Monday, February 17, 2020
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 6, chapters 23-25. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters describe Origen’s various commentaries on Scripture and on the canon of Scripture.
Chapter 23 notes that Origen’s commentaries on Scripture were instigated by his friend and patron Ambrose of Alexandria. Ambrose provided him with seven scribes and seven copyists, as well as girls “skilled in penmanship,” to write down his commentaries, in turn, as he dictated them.
Mention is made of Pontianus succeeding Urban in Rome, and Zebennus following Philetus in Antioch.
It is noted again how Origen came to Palestine and was ordained an elder in Caesarea, and how this led to controversy.
Chapter 24 traces various of Origen’s writings, noting how some were began while he was in Alexandria and completed after the left. These include his Expositions on the Gospel according to John and On Genesis. Other works are noted as having been completed in Alexandria, including his commentaries on the first 25 Psalms and on Lamentations, as well as the works On the Resurrection, De Principiis, and Stromateis.
Chapter 25 offers insights on Origen’s understanding of the canon.
It is noted that in his exposition on Psalm 1 he states that the OT consisted of 22 books, matching the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. A list is then given of these books, with a transcription of their Hebrew titles. Beyond these, there is mentioned the Maccabees.
Next it is noted that in his commentary on Matthew, he describes the four canonical Gospels, written in the order of Matthew-Mark-Luke-John and affirms the traditional view of their authorship.
And in his expositions on John, he discusses the NT epistles of Paul, and the epistles of Peter. It is noted that 1 Peter was acknowledged as genuinely Petrine, but some doubted the authenticity of 2 Peter. John is credited with the Apocalypse (Revelation) and 1 John, but questions are raised about the authenticity of 2-3 John. No mention is made of James or Jude.
Origen is cited as saying that Hebrews did not have Paul’s typical “rudeness of speech.” Origen said the thoughts of Hebrews were Pauline but not the style. He offers his famous assessment: “But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.” He also conveys traditions that suggest Clement or Luke as the author of Hebrews.
These chapters are helpful in sketching Origen as a Scripture commentator under the support of Ambrose of Alexandria. Especially valuable are his insights on canon in approving the standard Jewish OT canon (without the apocrypha) and the traditional NT canon, with questions raised about 2 Peter, and 2-3 John, while James and Jude are not mentioned. Of interest as well are his comments on the authorship of Hebrews.
Saturday, February 15, 2020
I have posted WM 152: Hixson, Mark's Ending, Medieval Scribes, and Modern Bibles. Listen here.
In this episode I offer a review of an article by Elijah Hixson titled "Was Mark 16:9-20 originally part of Mark's Gospel?" which appeared on the Gospel Coalition blog on 2.13.20. Read the article here.
Here are a few resources I mentioned in my review:
On the ending of Mark:
On the Syriac and Mark's ending:
On the "romance" of uncertainty:
Friday, February 14, 2020
Image: Winter sunset, February 2020, North Garden, Virginia
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 2 Kings 7.
Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God and said, Behold, if the LORD make windows in heaven might this thing be? (2 Kings 7:2a).
Israel was besieged and starving. What meager food remained was astronomical in price. A donkey’s head sold for 80 pieces of silver and a handful of dove dung for five pieces of silver (2 Kings 6:25).
Elisha, however, prophesied that by the next day, fine flour and barley would sell for a mere shekel in the gates of Samaria (2 Kings 7:1).
The king’s counselor was incredulous. How could this be, even if the Lord opened “windows in heaven” (v. 2a)?
Think about this reference to windows in heaven. What does it mean? Clearly it is figurative language. It is a way of expressing the providential blessings of God, that which falls from above. In Malachi 3:10 the Lord challenges Israel to bring the whole tithe into storehouse to see if he would not open “the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
This counselor’s protest was not only a challenge to Elisha as God’s prophet, but also to the character and goodness of God, as well as the sovereignty of God. He’s not good enough to want to do this. He’s not powerful enough to do it.
We might consider our own state at times to be like that of Samaria in those days. Perhaps we feel we are beset, besieged, beleaguered. And God’s Word promises a tomorrow that seems out of reach.
He promises that he will supply all our needs. “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
He promises to satisfy our deepest longings. “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
He promises to work all things for your good (Rom 8:28).
He promises that present distresses are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).
He promises that those who trust in him will one day experience the resurrection to life (1 Cor 15:51-53) and that there is land fairer than day where there will be no more tears (Rev 21:4).
The challenge: Will we believe the promises of God? Will we believe that he is all-good and all-powerful, and he can open the windows in heaven to pour out such blessings on us that there is not room enough to receive it?
Elisha’s word was fulfilled, and the unbelieving counselor was trampled in the gate and died (2 Kings 7:20). Let us be warned, fear, and believe.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle