Tuesday, December 31, 2019
Image: Woodcut of the Greek philosopher Euclid (c. 300 BC). At the close of Book 5 in the EH, Eusebius denounces those who import Greek learning, including the geometry of Euclid, into their study of Scripture.
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 5, chapters 26-28. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These three chapters bring Book 5 of the EH to conclusion.
Chapters 26-27 provides a summary of various orthodox writers and writings.
Mention is made of Irenaeus’s treatise against the Greeks, titled Concerning Knowledge, and his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, among others.
The imperial transition from Commodus to Severus is also noted.
More orthodox writers are surveyed. These include:
Hereclitus on the Epistles [Lake notes: literally, “On the Apostle”, meaning a study of Paul’s letters];
Maximus on the problem of the source of evil and on the origin of matter;
Candidus on the Hexaëmeron (the six-day creation), as well as Apion on the same subject;
Sextus on the resurrection;
A treatise by Ariabanus, and countless other works, including, Eusebius notes, the writings of many anonymous early authors.
Chapter 28 begins with a discussion of a treatise written by one of the anonymous orthodox writers against the heresy of Artemon, which consisted of a denial of the deity of Christ. Eusebius notes that this heresy was being revived in his day by Paul of Samosata.
This heresy made a historical argument against orthodoxy, saying that Christ deity only began to be taught during the Roman bishopric of Zephyrinus, who followed Victor.
Eusebius points out that this argument is faulty since the apostles and the earliest Christian authors (including Justin, Clement, Irenaeus, and Melito) all affirmed Christ’s deity.
The founder of this movement is identified as Theodotus the cobbler, who was excommunicated by Victor.
Several other anecdotes from the anti-Artemon treatise are shared, including an account of a man named Natalius who was deceived by the disciples of Theodotus the cobbler. This Natalius was seduced to become a “bishop” in this sect when offered a large salary, but he was warned against this sect in visions and even scourged all night long by holy angels, until he repented before Zephyrinus and was restored.
The same treatise notes how those in this sect were not afraid “to corrupt the divine Scriptures.” They apparently tried to use Greek learning, even the geometry of Euclid, and Greek philosophy to “correct” Scripture.
An evidence of their error was that they could not produce”originals [antigrapha] from which they had made their copies [metagrapho].”
One of the marks of their error was that their teachings did not agree with one another.
Book five ends with another record of the ongoing conflict between orthodox, right-believing Christianity and heterodox teaching, like that of this Artemon heresy and its denial of Christ’s deity. Orthodox Christian writers are raised up in each generation to denounce such movements and to defend the unified and true faith. So, Eusebius continues his triumphalist record of early Christianity.
Monday, December 30, 2019
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 5, chapters 23-25. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters concern the Quartodeciman controversy among early Christians. This controversy involved a dispute as to when the death and resurrection of Christ should be remembered and celebrated by Christians. The churches in the East celebrated on the original Passover date of Christ’s passion, 14 Nissan, regardless of the day of week on which it fell (thus, they were the Quartodecimans). The churches in Rome and the West, however, celebrated on the Sunday after Nissan 14.
Chapter 23 introduces the Quartodeciman controversy, noting that it was ultimately determined “that the mystery of Christ’s resurrection from the dead should be celebrated on no day save Sunday.” Mention is made of a conference convened in Palestine, presided over by Theophilus of Caesarea and Narcissus of Jerusalem. Another statement came from Victor of Rome. Still more statements came from Palmas of Pontus, Irenaeus of Gaul, and Bacchylus of Corinth, among others.
Chapter 24 describes Polycrates as the leader of the Quartodeciman side in the controversy. A document he addressed to Victor of Rome is cited in which he claims the tradition came to him from early luminaries like Philip the Apostle (confusion with Philip the evangelist?), John the Apostle, Melito (described as a eunuch) of Sardis, and others. He claims to be the eighth from his family to serve as a bishop and that all his kinsmen had kept this practice, as he had for 65 years of his Christian life.
In response Victor attempted to excommunicate the Asian churches. Others, like Irenaeus, however, chided Victor for being too harsh and noting that the controversy was not only about the date, but also how it should be observed.
Irenaeus also reminded Victor that past bishops of Rome had been tolerant of this difference with the Eastern churches. He notes, in particular, how Anicetus and Polycarp did not agree on this matter, but it did not disrupt their unity.
Irenaeus thus reflected his name by serving as a peacemaker.
Chapter 25 returns to the decision on this matter by the churches of Palestine under Narcissus and Theophilus, and others. A letter is cited from them which notes that the church at Alexandria also held the same practice as they.
These chapters are interesting on a number of levels. First, the demonstrate an early Christian interest in commemorating the death and resurrection of Christ. Second, they demonstrate how the early churches dealt with controversy and threats to their unity. In particular, this controversy shows an early difference between Eastern and Western practices. It is also noteworthy that Victor the Roman bishop has his actions and desires tempered by others, in this case, especially, Irenaeus, who comes off in the narrative as a hero for unity and peacemaking.
Friday, December 27, 2019
Image: Elder Clark leads prayer during CRBC outreach at Epworth Manor (12.27.19).
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Philippians 2:5-11.
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7).
In the “Christ Hymn” of Philippians 2:5-11, the apostle Paul provides perhaps the best-known summary of the doctrine of Christ. He describes three aspects of our Lord’s existence and ministry: (1) his pre-existent glory (v. 6); (2) his incarnation (vv. 7-8); and (3) his exaltation (vv. 9-11).
Let’s look at each:
First, his pre-existent glory (v. 6):
This verse reminds us that the second person of the Godhead existed before the incarnation of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth. God has from all eternity been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons, equal in essence, power, and glory. The second person of the Godhead was in the form (morphe) of God, and did not consider it robbery [harpagmos: something to be seized, stolen, grabbed at] to be equal (isos) with God (cf. John 5:18; 10:32; 19:7).
Second, his condescension in his incarnation (vv. 7-8):
Three things are described in v. 7:
First, he made himself of no reputation. He laid aside the glory and honors and prerogatives that were rightly his as God.
Second, he took on the form of a servant. The word servant is doulos, slave. He went from the highest and most exalted state to the lowest and humblest.
Third, he was made in the likeness of man. It staggers the mind. He went from riches to rags. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). No one can ever say to God: But you don’t understand what it’s like to be me (cf. Heb 4:15).
Third, his exaltation (vv. 9-11):
Praise be to God, his death on that cruel cross is not the end of the story!
He was gloriously raised from the dead, appeared to his disciples, and ascended on high to be seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty (cf. Mark 16:19).
Finally, the Christ hymn proceeds to tell of yet another level or stage of Christ’s exaltation that has yet to be achieved, and it is the final and universal acknowledgement of his great identity by all creation, including all men.
What is described here is not universal salvation but universal acknowledgement of the identity and greatness of Christ. The godly will do this willingly, but the ungodly “by force” (Matthew Poole).
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, December 26, 2019
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 5, chapters 21-22. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters describe the life of the church during the reign of the Emperor Commodus.
Chapter 21 describes the relative peace from persecution that the Christians enjoyed during the reign of Commodus, but how Satan struck back in the martyrdom of Apollonius, a man famous among the Christians “for his education and philosophy.” He was accused by a servant, but that servant was then executed for betraying his master. After making a learned defense of the faith, Apollonius was sentenced to death by beheading by the judge Perrinius. Eusebius notes that the account of Apollonius’s defense and his death are recorded in his compilation of the ancient martyrs.
Chapter 22 provides a summary of transitions in leadership among the bishops in several key cities:
In Rome, Victor succeeded Eleutherus.
In Alexandria, Demetrius succeeded Julius.
Serapion was at Antioch, eighth from the Apostles.
Theophilus was at Caesarea.
Narcissus was at Jerusalem.
Bacchylus was at Corinth.
Polycrates was at Ephesus.
This account confirms the relative peace enjoyed by Christians at the time of Commodus, despite interruptions to that peace as occurred in the martyrdom of Apollonius. Whatever turbulences which arose, or difficulties faced, the churches were served in key cities by faithful bishops, who succeeded one to another.
Tuesday, December 24, 2019
Image: Contemporary view of an archaeological site from ancient Antioch, taken from the Antiochepedia blog.
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 5, chapters 19-20. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters continue the attack against the Montanists by noting two more of their orthodox opponents: Serapion of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons.
Chapter 19 makes references to Serapion, who became bishop at Antioch following Maximinus. He wrote against the “new prophecy” in a letter, commending the writings of Claudius Apolonarius, bishop of Hierapolis, against them. His letter also included the “autographic signatures” of other bishops who opposed the Montanists.
Chapter 20 notes Irenaeus’s letters against the heresy, as it was found in Rome. He wrote a letter to Blastus, titled On Schism, and another to Florinus, titled On the Sole Sovereignty [monarchia], or That God is not the Author of Evil.
Irenaeus also refuted the Valentinian error is a work titled On the Ogdoad. Eusebius makes an interesting reference here to a scribal instruction, which urged faithful copying of Irenaeus’s letter. He also notes in the letter to Florinus, that Irenaeus had appealed to his connection with Polycarp, who had known the apostle John and others “who had seen the Lord.” He suggests that if Polycarp had seen such heresy, as represented by Montanism and Valentinism, he would have exclaimed, “O good God, to what time hast thou preserved me that I should endure this?”
These chapters illustrate again the conflict between orthodoxy and heresy in the early church. The orthodox could claim a direct connection to the apostles through men like Polycarp, showing that the “new prophecy” of Montanism was not a faithful apostolic practice.
Saturday, December 21, 2019
Image: Ruins of ancient Ephesus. Some early traditions [though not Eusebius] say that the anti-Montanist writer Apollonius had been bishop of Ephesus.
Another episode is posted to the occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History. Here is Book 5, chapter 18. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
This chapter concerns the writings of Apollonius, “a writer of the church [ekklesiastikos syngrapheus],” against the Montanist heresy.
He is quoted as attacking the teaching of Montanus, which included the following: the annulment of marriage, the enactment of fasts, setting up two small towns (Pepuza and Tymion) as “Jerusalem”; and various financial irregularities.
He also notes that the prophetesses deserted their husbands once they were “filled with the spirit”, though Priscilla falsely claimed to be a “virgin” (Did she mean this in a “spiritual” sense?). She is also accused of taking silver, and gold, and expensive clothing from her followers.
He then attacks two Montanist adherents. First, Themiso claimed to be a “martyr [witness]”, who wrote a spurious Montanist epistle, “in imitation of the apostle” [by “the apostle” he presumably means Paul]. Second, he mentions Alexander, described as a charlatan, who joined the prophetess in revelry. He exhorts his readers to test the fruit of prophets, and notes that Alexander was arrested not for being a Christian but as a criminal.
As a guide for testing the fruit of a true prophet, he offers the following questions:
“Tell me, does a prophet dye his hair? Does he pencil his eyelids? Does he love ornaments? Does he gamble and dice? Does he lend money?”
Other details are added about Apollonius, including his claim to have written 40 years after Montanus began his teaching, his mention of Zoticus of Pepuza as a faithful elder who had attempted to oppose Maximilla, and his mention of the martyr Thraseus, his claim that Christ ordered the apostles to stay in Jerusalem for 12 years, and his quotations from Revelation. He also conveyed an account of John the apostle raising a man from the dead in Ephesus.
This chapter provides important information about the Montanist heresy and how the early orthodox opposed it. It also tells us about an early Christian apologetic writer, Apollonius, who wrote against Montanism. The Montanists are attacked, in particular, as money-grubbing charlatans. Exhortation is offered to the orthodox to be discerning and to “test the fruits” of the so-called “prophets.”
Friday, December 20, 2019
Image: Some CRBC young people singing for residents during outreach at Epworth Manor in Louisa (12.18.19)
Note: Devotion based on last Sunday's sermon on 2 Kings 2.
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).
And he [Elisha] took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over (2 Kings 2:14).
Here is the great ascension of Elijah. The chariot of fire and horses of fire are a theophany, a manifestation of God’s presence. Fire is so often associated with God’s presence. Think of the burning bush (Exod 3), and of the fire that fell from heaven at Carmel (1 Kings 18) and also on the men of Ahaziah (2 Kings 1). Recall also Hebrews 12:29: “For our God is a consuming fire.”
Notice also again the reference to the whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1; cf. Job 38:1).
Having witnessed his master’s departure, Elisha takes his mantle and stands before the Jordan. What thoughts must have gone through his mind. Am I sufficient for these things?
He takes the mantle and strikes the water, even as Elijah had. As he does this, he asks, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” (v. 14). It is a question, but it is also a petition. Where are you Lord? Are you still there? Will you still work among your people? Will you still manifest your power to them? Will you still provide for them?
And the answer comes quickly as the waters are parted. God is with Elisha as he was with Moses at the Red Sea (Exod 14), with Joshua (Josh 4) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:8) at Jordan. He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb 13:8).
God’s power is the same, no matter who the prophet is. He may give his power to whom he will. His power is not limited by the people through whom he works.
The transition took place from Elijah to Elisha in the prophetic office, but Jehovah is always the same.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Friday, December 13, 2019
Image: Some CRBC young people helping with leaf raking last Saturday (12/7/19)
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 2 Kings 1.
2 Kings 1:2 And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and he sent messengers, and said unto them, Go, inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease. 3 But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say unto them, Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron?
King Ahaziah had an accident and became gravely sick (v. 2a). Remember, however, that there are no accidents (cf. 1 Kings 22:34a). The sad thing is that instead of calling out to the one true God and seeking a word from his prophets, the king instead sends messengers to go and inquire of “Baalzebub the god of Ekron” (v. 2b). It might be said that just as there are no atheists in foxholes there are none in hospice units. Gravely ill men will often seek spiritual help, who otherwise have been indifferent to it.
Baal-zebub literally means “Lord of the flies.” It is suggested that this might have been one of the titles given to Baal, affirming him as the chief god of the pagans, who controlled all creatures, including even the flies. Or, it is also suggested, the title here might have been given by the inspired historian as a sarcastic parody of another title given to Baal: Baal-zebul, which means “prince Baal” or “Lord Baal.” For the historian, he was instead “Lord of the flies.” Where would one find flies? Circling around a pile of dung. Baal-zebub is a title used in the Gospels in reference to Satan (cf. Matt 10:25; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15).
Ekron was a Philistine city. The point is that Baal was a foreign god. I remember several years ago on a trip to DC we saw a group of Hare Krishnas dancing and chanting. They were all Westerners who had abandoned the God of the founders of this nation for Lord Krishna, a foreign deity.
But the angel of the LORD intervenes (v. 3). He commissions Elijah to meet the messengers sent to Baal with a question: “Is it not because there is not a God in Israel…?” (v. 3b). That is a fair rendering of the original Hebrew, but with two negatives it comes with some difficulty to our ears. Its meaning: Are you going to this foreign god, because you do not know that the one true God is in Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? This question is an indictment. Are you really denying the existence and power of Jehovah?
If you were sick would you want to seek out an actor who plays a doctor on tv or a doctor who is actually a doctor and who can actually help you?
The question we need to ask ourselves: To whom will we turn in time of crisis, when life and death is at stake? Will we turn to the false gods of this world, the Baalzebubs, as did Ahaziah? Or will we turn to the one true God?
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
I have posted WM 145: Review: Robert W. Yarbrough's "Clash of Visions." Listen here.
In this episode I offer an audio version of a draft review I have written of:
Robert W. Yarbrough, Clash of Visions: Populism and Elitism in New Testament Theology (Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2019): 116 pp.
Here are the opening and closing paragraphs:
Yarbrough is a seasoned evangelical academic scholar, who, among other significant contributions, is well known for his translations of several important works by evangelical German authors (like Eta Linnemann, Gerhard Maier, and others) for English-speaking audiences. This brief book is an expansion of the author’s 2018 Gheens Lectures at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In this work Yarbrough reflects on the “clash of visions” between the popular (traditional) Christian’s approach to Scripture and that of the elite (academic) scholar.....
Yarbrough’s work is thought-provoking. It offers valuable reflections on the inevitable disconnect or “clash” which results from embracing Enlightenment methods of academic study, while also affirming the inspiration and authority of the Bible. This comes from a scholar uniquely situated to offer such a critique, given his training and expertise in the historical critical method, his awareness of the worldwide Christian movement, and his personal evangelical convictions. Like those whose works he has previously translated (e.g., Linnemann and Maier) Yarbrough offers his own compelling and insightful evaluation of the “clash” between “elitist” scholarship and “populist” faith.
Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor, Christ Reformed Baptist Church, Louisa, Virginia
Tuesday, December 10, 2019
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 5, chapters 14-17. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters survey the Montanist or Phrygian (or Kataphyrgian) heresy.
Chapter 14 introduces this Montanist heresy and its adherents who “like poisonous reptiles crawled over Asia and Phrygia.” Its leader Montanus was called the Paraclete (of the “Comforter” the term for the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel) and two women of the sect, Priscilla and Maximilla, were considered to be his prophetesses.
Chapter 15 notes two other heterodox men who had been turned out of the church at Rome, Florinus and Blastus..
Chapter 16 describes Apolinarius of Hierapolis as a “powerful and invincible weapon” against Montanism. He and other “learned men” opposed the heresy.
Eusebius cites several passages from a work by one of these men [perhaps Asterius Urbanus to whom reference is made] addressed to a certain Abercius Marcellus. The Montanists are called the sect of Miltiades, one of their early teachers.
The writer expresses his hesitancy to write, since he did not want to add to or take away from the gospel (canonical Scripture?).
What the Montanists claimed to be prophecy, he called “false prophecy.”
He says the movement began in the village of Ardabav in Phrygian Misia where Montanus had been a Christian convert led astray by an unbounded lust for leadership control. He had ecstatic experiences, spoke strangely and prophesied contrary to church tradition. Some assumed he was led by the devil or a spirit of error. The two women were then raised up who were also possessed by the same “bastard spirit” and spoke madly, improperly and strangely, like Montanus.
When this arrogant spirit blasphemed the universal (catholic) church, the Montanists were drive our and excommunicated.
This author reports the miserable end of these “prophets”, relaying a tradition that Montanus and Maximilla, like Judas, committed suicide.
Another Montanist teacher named Theodotus is also said to have come to a miserable end.
He reports that faithful bishops attempted to refute Maximilla, while she lived, but were muzzled by the Montanists.
He also cites prophecies made by Maximilla about the end of the world, but 13 years later these prophesies had proven false.
Finally, he cites a report that the Montanists, like the followers of Marcion, claimed to have martyrs, as did the orthodox. The martyrs of the true faith, like Gaius and Alexander of Eumeneia, however, separated themselves from those in these sects, so as not even to die with them.
Chapter 17 continues this survey of the anti-Montanist work, citing another anti-Montanist author named Miltiades [not to be confused with the Montanist teacher of the same name] who described Montanist attacks against the orthodox teacher Alcibiades. The Christians pointed to the prophets of the OT and of those with prophetic gifts in the NT (Agabus, Judas, Silas, and the daughters of Philip) as well as early Christian prophets Ammia and Quadratus. It is noted that the Montanist prophets had not one to succeed them when they passed.
Finally, other writings of this Miltiades are mentioned including works against Gentiles and against Jews and an Apology to the secular rulers.
These chapters are important for understanding the Montanist heresy, which was something like a “charismatic” sect, relying on ecstatic experiences and utterances. The Romans in their persecutions lumped those of this sect in among the orthodox Christians but, according to Eusebius, the martyrs from the heretical sects were not authentic. Against the Montanists, there were also raised up orthodox writers and teachers to oppose them.
Monday, December 09, 2019
Image: Michelangelo's depiction of the brazen serpent in the Sistine Chapel (c. 1508-1512)
Gregory continues his mystical interpretation of Moses:
Regarding the spies, the bunch of grapes “suspended from the wood … signifies the saving Passion” (115).
The raising of the brazen serpent also points forward to the cross. “To look to the cross means to render one’s whole life dead and crucified to the world, unmoved by evil” (116).
After asserting that “sin is the real serpent”, he adds, “Man, then, is freed from sin through him who assumed the form of sin and became like us who had been turned into the form of the serpent” (116-117).
Christ “keeps the bites from causing death, but the beasts themselves are not destroyed” (117). “In fact, the gnawings of desire are frequently active even in the faithful” (117).
Those who seek to “punish the passion of desires by living a disciplined life …. thrust themselves into the priesthood” (117).
To purify the passions is to “cross through the foreign life”, as the law leads one “along the royal highway” (120).
Gregory’s discussion of virtue and vice, reflects the influence of Aristotle and his “golden mean.”
According to Gregory, “all evil naturally operates in a deficiency or an excess of virtue. In the case of courage, cowardice is the lack of virtue, and rashness is its excess. What is pure of each of these is seen to lie between these corresponding evils and is a virtue. In the same way all other things which strive for the better also somehow take the middle road between the neighboring evils” (121).
“The person who lacks moderation is a libertine, and he who goes beyond moderation has his conscience branded, as the Apostle says” (121).
In his discussion of the daughters of Moab, Gregory discusses the use of pleasure to entice evil:
“Pleasure is truly like evil’s bait; when it is thrown out lightly, it draws gluttonous souls to the fishhook of destruction” (124).
Of the many passions “which afflict men’s thinking there is none so strong as the disease of pleasure” (125). Pleasure “is an enemy of ours that is hard to fight and difficult to overcome” (125).
The “irrational animal impulse to licentiousness” made the sinful Israelites of old “forget their human nature” (125).
He concludes, “For the evils of the passions, like a plague, when once they have gained possession of the critical parts, stop only at death” (126).
The mature Christian seeks “the end of the virtuous life” (129). For believers, there is “one purpose in life: to be called servants of God by virtue of the lives we live” (130).
He adds: “the goal of the sublime way of life is being called a servant of God” (130-131).
In his concluding words to “Ceasarius, man of God” Gregory notes his attempt to trace “in outline like a pattern of beauty the life of the great Moses, so that each of us might copy the image of the beauty which has been shown to us by imitating his way of life” (131).
Final Thoughts on Gregory of Nyssa’s The Life of Moses:
Gregory of Nyssa, along with his fellow Cappadocians, was a key early articulator and defender of orthodox Trinitarian theology.
In other areas, however, one might challenge some of Gregory’s views. in recent days, for example, David Bentley Hart has appealed to Gregory and other early Christian thinkers (like Origen) to support universalism.
In this work, as noted, Gregory seems significantly to depart from the apostle Paul’s anthropology, hamartiology, and soteriology.
What also do we make of his allegorical and mystical interpretation of Scripture? On one hand, one might point to similar typological and allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament in New Testament Scripture itself (cf. e.g., John 3:14; 1 Cor 10:1-6; Gal 4:22-31). These interpretations, however, come from inspired authors.
What checks do we have on allegorical interpretations when they are made by uninspired men? Is this not what the Reformers were adressing when they revived a literal, grammatical-historical method (see, e.g., the method used by Calvin in his commentaries)?
Nevertheless, Gregory’s emphasis on the end or goal of Scripture study as the spiritual development of the Christian virtues is refreshing.
Friday, December 06, 2019
Note: Devotion based on last Sunday's sermon on 1 Kings 22:3-53 (audio not yet posted).
And a certain man drew a bow at a venture and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness….” (1 Kings 22:34a).
Old Testament scholar Dale Ralph Davis describes the theme of this chapter as “the word of God destroys the man who defies it” (1 Kings, 311).
As King Ahab went into battle, he took off his royal robes in order to hide his identity and not draw the attention of the Syrians. This illustrates his cunning, his shrewdness. He had fooled the army of the Syrians. There was someone, however, whom he had not fooled. There was someone who knew his identity, better than any facial recognition system or DNA test. Someone who knew his location, with greater precision than any GPS could provide. Someone who, in fact, knew every inch of his body and even where there was a tiny gap of vulnerability where one piece of his armor was joined to another.
Christ encouraged his disciples by telling them that the very hairs of their head were all numbered (Matt 10:30). That is comforting to know, but also frightening. He knows us and we cannot hide from him.
Notice in v. 34a, “And a certain man drew a bow at a venture….” It was just a random, unnamed man, who became the instrument of the Lord’s judgement upon Ahab. He drew his bow “at a venture.” We might say, “by chance.” He was not even aiming, but behind the human archer, there was a Divine Archer, who would guide that missile. And it smote the king of Israel “between the joint of the harness.” It land just at the tiny point of weakness.
If you are familiar with Greek mythology this account might bring to mind the death of the hero Achilles. As an infant, he had supposedly been dipped into the river Styx by his mother Thetis, giving him invulnerability over his whole body, except at the heel where he had been held to be dipped. Then, in battle an arrow fatally struck him in his “Achilles’ heel.” Sometimes even the pagans could grope however blindly toward recognition of the guiding hand of divine providence.
Was it dumb luck that Ahab was struck? No, it was the hand of a providential God. The Lord was bringing his temporal judgement to bear upon Ahab for all his sin and idolatry, and for all the spiritual misery he had brought upon his nation and people. There are no accidents in this life.
1 Kings ends with a warning. Men will either obey the Word of God or they will be crushed by it. Consider Christ’s words in Matthew 21:44, “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”
Will you be like the many that go to destruction, or the few who find life in Christ?
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, December 05, 2019
WM 144: Taylor DeSoto Guest Lecture on TR @Phoenix Seminary is posted. Listen here.
My friend Taylor DeSoto, associate pastor at Agros Reformed Baptist Church in Phoenix, AZ, was invited to give a guest lecture on his view of the TR in a ThM class on text criticism (on 12.4.19) at Phoenix Seminary, taught by Dr. Peter Gurry. Taylor does a very able job of speaking about the Confessional Text position and addressing questions, including the "Which TR?" challenge. Thanks to Dr. Gurry for his invitation to hear directly from a TR advocate.
This presentation is also available in video format here on youtube.com.
More from Gregory of Nyssa's allegorical interpretation in The Life of Moses:
On the tables of stone, Gregory asserts that “the spiritual sense agrees with the literal account” (100). On the restoration of the broken tables, he asserts that God is “the restorer of our broken nature” who has “restored the broken table of our nature to its original beauty” (100).
On God’s meeting Moses face to face, he observes, “If these things are looked at literally, not only will the understanding of those who seek God be dim, but their concept of him will also be inappropriate” (101).
Gregory’s Neoplatonism is seen throughout.
The “ardent lover of beauty” longs “to be filled with the very stamp of the archetype” (104). He longs “to enjoy the Beauty not in mirrors and reflections, but face-to-face” (104).
“True being is true life” (105).
“This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see him” (106).
The ascent to God “is both a standing still and a moving”; it “takes place by means of standing. I mean by this that the firmer and more immovable one remains in the Good, the more he progresses in the course of virtue” (107-108).
“He who finds any good finds it in Christ, who contains all good” (109).
In discussing the envy of men against Moses, Gregory observes: “Envy is the passion which causes evil, the father of death, the first entrance of sin, the root of wickedness, the birth of sorrow, the mother of misfortune, the basis of disobedience, the beginning of shame” (111).
He adds: “Envy is the death-dealing sting, the hidden weapon, the sickness of nature, the bitter poison, the self-willed emaciation, the bitter dart, the nail of the soul, the fire in the heart, the flame burning on the inside” (111-112).
“Envy is grieved at the good deeds of men and takes advantage of their misfortunes” (112).
When envied, Moses “did not rush to defend himself against those who caused him sorrow” (113).
To be continued….