Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.9: Christ and Pontius Pilate

Image: Mosaic detail of Pontius Pilate, Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy, 5th-6th cenutry.

The next installment is posted in the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 1, chapter 9 (Listen here):

Notes and Commentary:

This is another very brief chapter.

Its purpose is to set a time frame for understanding the life and ministry of Jesus.

Eusebius begins by referring to Luke as “the historian [ho historikos].” He cites Luke 3:1 with references to the tetrarchies of Philip, the younger Herod, and Lysanius, after the deposal of Archelaus.
He then turns to book 18 of Josephus’s Antiquities (note how Luke is set in par with Josephus as an accurate historian of the era) to describe the rule of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate over Judea, beginning in the twelfth year of Tiberius, lasting for ten years.
Eusebius rejects as spurious a series of “reports” about the Savior (which Lake identifies as the Acta Pilata, noting they are “Christian forgeries of uncertain date” [n. 1, p. 74]) supposedly from the time of Pilate, noting that they claim Pilate was ruling in the seventh year of Tiberius’s reign, but this cannot be accurate, since, as noted above, Pilate only became governor in the twelfth year of Tiberius’s reign.
Again, we see that Eusebius is keen firmly to ground the life of Jesus in historical reality.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Allusion to a Bi-Covenantal Canon in 2 Peter 3:2, etc.

More gleanings from Kruger’s Canon Revisited (Crossway, 2012): 207-209:

Kruger notes: “A key indication of an emerging canon within early Christianity is that Christians began to conceive of something like a New Testament alongside, and parallel to, the Old” (207). The early evidence of this is “rare” but “cannot be overlooked” (207).

Kruger sees this is 2 Peter 3:2: “That we may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”

Here the writer thinks in terms of the (written) words of the prophets and the (written) commandment of the apostles.

He also sees the possibility of a bi-covenantal allusion in 2 Corinthians 3 where Paul refers to himself and other apostles as “ministers of the new testament [diatheke, covenant]” (v. 6), while later making reference to the writings of Moses as part of the “old testament [diatheke, covenant]” (v. 14).

He adds: “The implications of this passage for bi-covenantal canon are difficult to miss” (208-209).

Finally, he also notes Hebrews 2:2-3 which juxtaposes “the word spoken by angels” (v. 2, in reference to the OT) and that “which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (v. 3).

Kruger concedes that this reference is not “obvious” but that it nonetheless “continues to lay the foundation for a future bi-covenantal canonical structure” (209).


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Calvin on the implications of the beloved disciple's care for the mother of Jesus (John 19:27)

Image: The supposed "house of Mary" near the site of ancient Ephesus in Turkey. Tradition says John brought Mary to Ephesus and cared for her there.

I preached this morning a sermon on John 19:23-27, including our Lord’s words from the cross to the beloved disciple, “Behold thy mother!” (v. 27a), entrusting care of his mother to this disciple (John).

I ran out of time, so I did not get the chance to share this intriguing insight from Calvin on v. 27b: “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home [eis ta idia]” (v. 27b). Notice “home” is in italic.
Calvin observes:
“Hence it is also evident that the Apostles had their families; for John could not have exercised hospitality towards the mother of Christ, or have taken her into his own home, if he had not a house and a regular way of living. Those men, therefore, are fools who think that the Apostles relinquished their property, and came to Christ naked and empty; but they are worse than fools, who make perfection [maturity] to consist in beggary.”
Again, we see Calvin’s commentary influenced by his contemporary efforts to reform the RC church of his day. His point: You don’t have to take a vow of poverty, renounce the world, and live in a monastery to live a faithful Christian life. This is not what the apostles did. On the contrary, your duty is to live in the world while not being part of it, and to love Christ and love the brethren.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Vision (3.15.19): Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews

Image: A hypothetical reconstruction of the Titulus Crucis by P. L. Maier.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:13-22.

And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS (John 19:19).

In Roman crucifixions, it was common for there to be a titulus, a placard or tablet, spelling out the crimes of the condemned. John says that the providential, guiding hand of God was there, directing Pilate to write, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” (v. 19).

The location of the crucifixion was public and visible: “for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city” (v. 20). The inscription was tri-lingual, in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Jews, Greeks, and Romans could all understand it. The inscription accused the Lord Jesus of being an insurrectionist. It mocked him as a failed king. But, ironically, it told the truth. The chief priests were so unnerved by this that they tried to get Pilate to change it (v. 21), but Pilate refused (v. 22).

Thus, Calvin says, Pilate, a reprobate man, “by a secret guidance” was “appointed to be a herald of the gospel that he might publish a short summary of it in three languages.” The tri-lingual note anticipates the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20), that men of all nations, will come to know Christ. How happy is the foreign traveler when he finds a sign in this native tongue! How glad the man who hears the gospel in his heart language!

The apostle Paul is perhaps making reference to this kind of title in Colossians 2:14 when he talks about Christ “blotting out the handwriting of the ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.”

Indeed, all of our sin was nailed to the cross. Our titulus was there. Christ, our King, died on the cross for the sins of men from all nations.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.8: The Death of Herod the Great

Image: The funeral procession of Herod the Great to his mausoleum at Herodium in 4 BC. Illustration by Hong Nian Zhang.

A new installment has been post to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 1, chapter 8 (Listen here):

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter describes the ignoble end of Herod the Great and recalls the Biblical adage that as a man sows, so shall he reap (cf. Gal 6:7).

Eusebius draws on Matthew’s account of the visit of the magi at the birth of Jesus and the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem.

He also draws on the accounts in Josephus, from both his Antiquities of the Jews and the Jewish War, of Herod’s miserable suffering with disease, including gangrene in his genitals and “breeding worms”, his plan to take captive and murder a crowd in the Hippodrome so that there would be weeping at his death, and the murder of a third son before his death.

Eusebius sees Herod’s suffering was an act of God’s justice for his murder of the innocents at Bethlehem.

Lastly, he returns to Matthew’s account of Joseph bringing Jesus to Galilee from Egypt at Herod the Great’s death.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Book Note: Jacob K. Olupona's African Religions

Jacob K. Olupona, African Religions: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2014): 152 pp.

I got started reading this little book last year while preparing to teach a unit on African religions for a World Religions class. Here are some notes:

Olupona is a Professor of African Religious Traditions at Harvard Divinity School. This book is in the popular “Very Short Introductions” series from Oxford.

In the preface, he traces the development of the field of the study of African religions. He begins by acknowledging that Christians missionaries were the first to take up these studies:

“Some of the most serious early writings about African religions were produced by European missionaries sent to Africa to spread Christianity. For these missionaries, the study of African religion was ultimately a preparatio evangelica, a necessary step toward understanding the most expedient way to convert Africans to Christianity” (xxi). He also connects their study to colonialism.

“Gradually, the study of African religions developed as an autonomous field within comparative religions” (xxi).

He later notes the importance of the ancestors in African religions: “Ancestral traditions, the veneration of deceased parents and forebears, constitutes a key aspect of African religions. Some traditions regard ancestors as equal if not superior to the deities within the pantheon; also, it is not always easy to make a distinction between ancestors and divinities” (28).

In a section on divination, Olupona notes how with the advent of Islam and Christianity into Africa the sacred writings of these religions were used as “divination devises.” He describes “bibliomancy” as “divination through the selection of randomly selected passages” and notes it is widespread in Africa (49).

He begins a section on African witchcraft by noting it is “completely unrelated to the religious practices of modern neo-Pagans who sometimes use the word ‘Witchcraft’ (or, more commonly, Wicca) as the name of their religion, sometimes self-identifying as witches” (49-50). Such “goddess-centered religion focused on nature veneration and holistic wellness” has no connection to witchcraft in African religions (50). In contrast, he observes, “In Africa, witchcraft is almost universally defined as the manipulation of occult forces to do harm and achieve selfish ends” (50). He adds that witches are usually marginal people (widows, elderly, outsiders, strangers) and “almost always women” (50).

He defines sorcery as “an indigenous technology implemented to manipulate the sacred for negative ends”, adding, “Indeed, a thin line exists between healers, witches, and sorcerers” (51).

In a section on initiation rites, Olupona notes, “Initiations for adolescent African girls cause great consternation among Westerners, because they often involve female circumcision” (59). He defends the practice, however, by noting that in many cultures it is “less dramatic, involving only partial removal of the clitoris, or only small ritual cuts to the clitoris and labia” (59). One wonders, however, if the author is minimizing the negative aspects of this practice.

Regarding Islam and Christianity in Africa, Olupona begins, “Africa domesticated the two exogenous religions” (89).

While saying that Christianity was “deeply culpable in the African slave trade,” Olupona also observes, “Contrary to the way that it is popularly imagined, the majority of African slaves were not directly captured by Europeans” (95). “Slavery was already endemic throughout Africa, with the enslavement of defeated peoples being common” (96). Thus, he concludes, “both Europeans and Africans were responsible for the Atlantic slave trade” (96).

In the colonial period of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, the author notes that in general Christianity “tended to fare much better under colonial rule than did Islam” (99).

In the modern period he calls attention to the rise of the so-called African Independent Churches (AIC). He notes, “The AIC movement is arguably the most creative and vibrant Christian movement in African history and has led to massive numbers of conversions” (100). While acknowledging that many of these AIC’s have  adopted cult-like practices, he does not offer the assessment that many of these movements hold little semblance to historic, orthodox Christianity.

Finally, he talks about the spread of African religious practices in the African diaspora, so that African religions are now a global phenomenon.

Though it takes an overall relativistic view on theology and religious practices (describing, rather than prescribing), this little book is a succinct, well-written, and insightful introduction to understanding African religions.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.7: Harmonizing the Genealogies of Matthew and Luke

Image: This chart represents the view espoused by Eusebius, drawing on Africanus, for harmonizing the genealogies of Matthew (left) and Luke (right).

A new installment from Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History has been posted: book 1, chapter 7 (Listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter is an attempt by Eusebius to harmonize the genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3. He cites as a source a letter from Julius Africanus to Aristides on the harmony of the genealogies of the Gospels.

Among the major differences in the two genealogies is the fact that Matthew traces the line through David’s son Solomon and ends, “And Jacob begat Joseph” (Matt 1:16a); meanwhile, Luke traces the line through David’s son Nathan and begins by noting that Jesus was supposed to be “the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli” (Luke 3:23). How could Joseph be the son of both Jacob (Matt) and Heli (Luke)?

Eusebius argues that “neither Gospel misstates, reckoning both nature and law.” He adds, “both accounts are strictly true … in a manner complicated but accurate.”

Lake explains in a footnote:

“The point of this obscure argument is that among the Jews if a man died childless his brother was charged with the duty of begetting children of the widow, who was still reckoned as the wife of the deceased. Such children were legally regarded as the sons of the dead brother, though known to be actually the children of the living one. This happened in the case of Joseph. He was legally the son of Eli [Heli], physically of Jacob. A further complication was that Eli and Jacob were only half brothers. They were the sons of the same mother, Estha, but Eli was the son of her second husband, Melchi, descended from Nathan the son of David, and Jacob was the son of her first husband Mattan, descended from Solomon the son of David. Thus, Matthew giving the physical descent of Jesus traces it through Jacob to Solomon, but Luke (who avoids the word ‘begat’) giving the legal descent traces it through Eli to Nathan” (n. 2, pp. 56-57).
I agree with Lake that this explanation is “obscure.” A simpler harmonization would be to say that Matthew provides the legal line through Joseph, a descendent of David through Solomon, and Luke, the natural line through Mary, also a descendent of David but through Nathan, thus making Heli the father of Mary not Joseph in Luke 3:23.

Eusebius also makes reference to traditions handed down “by the human relatives of the Savior,” that Herod the Great had attempted to obscure.

He again, puts forward the idea that Herod the Great was not a Jew. He suggests that Herod the Great’s father Antipater had been taken captive by the Idumaeans from the temple of Apollo, where his father, a certain Herod, was a priest. Antipater was later befriended by Hyrcanus, priest of Judea. Then, when Antipater died, his son Herod the Great was made king of the Jews by the Romans.

Herod the Great had tried to burn family records to hide his origins but private records were preserved, again by the family of Jesus, which tell the true story of his descent.
Finally, Eusebius adds that the Jewish practice requiring tribes to marry among their own also argues for Mary as from the tribe of Judah.

This analysis provides an excellent example of early Christian pre-critical analysis of Scripture, which seeks to harmonize the canonical Gospels and assumes them to be historically reliable.