Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Image: Marble bust of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (c. AD 117-138) in the British Museum, London.
This is another in this occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 4, chapters 5-6. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
In these chapters Eusebius describes the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem and the ill-fated Jewish Bar-Cochba Revolt (c. AD 132-135).
Chapter 5 begins with a discussion of the early bishops of Jerusalem. Eusebius says there were 15 bishops in the church in Jerusalem from the time of the apostles up to the siege of Jerusalem by Hadrian and that their occupancies of the office were “short-lived,” no doubt due to persecution and martyrdom. He says he has no written source for the dates of the Jerusalem bishops. He adds that the Jerusalem church was completely Jewish up to the time of Hadrian.
A list of the bishops is provided:
1. James, called the Lord’s brother
To this information on the Jerusalem church, Eusebius also gives updates on the bishops in Rome and Alexandria.
In Rome, Telesphorus succeeded Xystus.
In Alexandria, Eumenes became the sixth bishop.
Chapter 6 then describes the Jewish rebellion during Hadrian’s time led by Simon Bar-Cochba, meaning “son of a star.” Lake point out that after the failed revolt he was called Bar-Choziba, “son of a lie.”
The revolt was ruthlessly put down by Rufus, the governor of Judea, who slaughtered thousands of men, women, and children.
Eusebius says the war reached its height in the siege of a citadel called Beththera, outside Jerusalem.
After the war, Hadrian decreed that no Jew could enter the area of Jerusalem and the city was re-named Aelia, after the emperor Aelius Hadrian.
Eusebius cites as a source for the war the writings of Ariston of Pella, which are no longer extant.
He adds that after Bar-Cochba, Jerusalem was inhabited by Gentiles, where in the church, Marcus became the first Gentile bishop.
These chapters provide important information about Jews and Jewish Christians in Jerusalem during the time of Hadrian. In Jerusalem, in particular, he notes its transition from being a wholly or, at least, predominantly Jewish church to it being a Gentile church.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Another episode is posted to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 4, chapters 3-4. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters mark the transition from the reign of the emperor Trajan to that of Aelius Hadrian (AD 76-138; emperor AD 117-138).
In chapter 3 mention is made of the apologist Quadratus’s defense (apologia) for the Christians presented to Hadrian. Quadratus was introduced in EH 3.37. Other tradition say he was bishop of Athens, a martyr, and among the first Christian apologists. Eusebius claims to have a copy of the apology and testifies that it gives proof of “his intellect and apostolic orthodoxy.” He cites a portion from Quadratus in which he mentions those who were cured and raised (resuscitated) from the dead by Christ and who remained alive up to his own times (cf. Matt 27:52-53?).
Mention is also made of an apology by another apologist Aristides, “a man of faith and devoted to our religion.” Other traditions say he was a philosopher of Athens.
Chapter 4 continues to chronicle the Christian leaders in Rome and Alexandria. In Rome Alexander was succeeded by Xystus, and in Alexandria, Justus succeeded Primus.
The mention of the activity of the early apologists calls attention to the fact that early Christianity was an intellectual and literary movement and that it presumed to have influence in the highest levels of Roman society (evidenced by the fact that they made direct appeals to the emperor) in the faced of persecution.
Monday, September 16, 2019
Image: Ruins of ancient Alexandria, Egypt.
Another episode has been posted to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 4, chapters 1-2. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
The opening chapters of book 4 outline events during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan (53-117; emperor, 98-117).
Chapter one covers the succession of bishops in Alexandria, where Primus became bishop, and Rome, where Alexander succeeded Evarestus.
Again, we see the significance of Christians in these major city centers and a concern to trace succession from the apostles.
Chapter two describes various woes suffered by the Jews during this time.
A Jewish revolt in Alexandria and throughout Egypt is described which took place in the 18th year of Trajan’s reign (c. AD 115), and while Lupus was governor of Egypt.
The Jewish leader was named Lucuas. After some initial Jewish victories, the Roman Emperor sent Marcius Turbo to Egypt to put down the rebellion, and he killed many Jews. The Emperor also ordered Lusius Quietus to “clean” the Jews out of Mesopotamia for fear they would join the revolt, and for this he was rewarded by being named governor of Judea.
Eusebius notes that these events are recorded by the Greek historians. K. Lake notes this information is found in the writings of Dio Cassius, but that he gives the Jewish leader’s name as Andreas, rather than Lucuas.
These chapters show the stabilization and growth of the Christian movement and the travails of the Jews in their homeland and in Egypt under Roman rule in the early second century. He presents Christianity as rising and Judaism as fading. The opening sentence of chapter 2 well captures this: “While the teaching of our Saviour and the church were flourishing daily and moving on to further progress the tragedy of the Jews was reaching the climax of successive woes.”
Friday, September 13, 2019
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 1 Kings 13.
He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the LORD, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him (1 Kings 13:18).
1 Kings 13 provides one of the most unusual narratives found in the Old Testament. A prophet described as “a man of God out of Judah” (v. 1) confronted the false worship promoted by King Jeroboam. As he returned home, however, this same prophet was deceived by “an old prophet in Bethel” who convinced him to disobey God’s explicit instructions to him and to turn aside for a meal.
In order to mislead the man of God the old prophet of Bethel claimed to have been visited by an angel (v. 18a). The inspired historian then adds: “But he lied unto him” (v. 18b).
We should stop and reflect on this:
First, this episode reveals the precarious nature of relying on supposed experience alone. It reminds us of the superiority of our present situation as New Covenant believers now that we have the complete Word of God written, by which to test all things.
Second, it reminds us that men can lie about their experiences and can claim false experiences in order to manipulate others.
Third, it reminds us of the importance of what we might call the “non-contradictory” principle of God’s Word. The man of God of Judah failed in that he believed that God’s Word to him had been changed or was contradicted by some “new” revelation.
The apostle Paul exhorted the churches of Galatia: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:18). In warning the Corinthians to beware “false apostles” Paul told that them that Satan can transform himself into “an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:13-14).
Beware the man who says, “God told me….” Test everything, as did the Bereans, by the Word of God (Acts 17:11).
As the apostle John exhorted, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
May the Lord give us wisdom and discernment.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Image: Colonnade in the ruins of ancient Hierapolis ("holy city") near the modern town of Pamukkale in western Turkey.
A new episode is posted to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 3, chapter 39. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
The focus in this chapter is on the writing of Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 60-130).
Eusebius says that Papias was the author of five treatises under the title, “Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord.” This work is no longer extant except in quotations from Eusebius and Irenaeus.
He notes that Irenaeus described Papias as “the hearer of John, who was a companion of Polycarp and one of the ancients.”
Eusebius notes, however, that Papias himself did not say he was “a hearer and eyewitness of the sacred apostles” but that he had learned from those who knew them.
He cites a passage in which Papias says he was diligent in learning from the followers of the apostles and other disciples of Jesus, mentioning Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, and Matthew, but also Aristion and the presbyter (elder) John.
He quotes a controversial statement of Papias in which he says he did not consider that he would profit so much “from books” as from “the word of a living and surviving voice.”
Eusebius also notes the mention of two Johns by Papias: John the Apostle and John the Elder, suggesting the possibility that the latter, John the Elder, was the author of Revelation.
He relays other traditions, including one related to the daughters of Philip the Apostle (Confusion with Philip the Evangelist?) at Hierapolis and the raising of a corpse, as well as an account of a tradition of Justus Barsabas drinking poison but suffering no harm (cf. Mark 16:18).
He also notes “unwritten tradition” conveyed by Papias that included “some strange parables and teachings of the Saviour, and some more mythical accounts.”
Among these accounts he mentions the teaching of a millennial kingdom. Eusebius accuses Papias of misreading mystical and symbolic accounts of the apostles, since he was a man “of very little intelligence.” Yet, he influenced others to hold such views, including Irenaeus.
He also records Papias’s description of the evangelist Mark as “Peter’s interpreter” who recorded the apostle’s remembrances accurately but not “in order.”
Of Matthew, Papias says, the evangelist “collected the oracles in the Hebrew language [dialect], and each interpreted as best he could.” This has led to questions about whether Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic.
He adds that Papias cited from 1 John and 1 Peter.
Finally, he refers to a story of a woman “accused before the Lord of many sins” recorded in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. It has been speculated that this refers to the pericope adulterae (John 7:53—8:11) and lends credence to this as a popular Jesus tradition “floating” about in early Christianity, but this is not substantiated.
Eusebius recognizes Papias as an important early historical source but also raises questions about his reliability, especially with regard to his millennial views.
Friday, September 06, 2019
Image: Remains of the ancient city gate at Dan in Northern Israel.
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 1 Kings 12.
And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan (1 Kings 12:30).
In Reformed theology the Regulative Principle of Worship (or RP) refers to the idea that worship should be regulated by Scripture. That is, we should not introduce any element into our worship unless we can find direct command or warrant for it in Scripture.
1 Kings 12 provides a vivid example of the violation of the RP in ancient Israel.
At that time, the Lord had decreed that he would be worshipped in one central place, the temple in Jerusalem. The building of this temple had been one of Solomon’s greatest achievements and reflected the triumph of the RP. But when the ten Northern tribes of Israel under Jeroboam broke away from Judah and Benjamin under Solomon’s son, King Rehoboam, all this was undone.
Rehoboam’s took a series of ungodly actions driven by political motivation and lack of trust in God (cf. 1 Kings 12:26-27):
First, he set up a false place and object of worship: the golden calves at Dan and Bethel (vv. 28-30). This violated the second commandment by making graven images. It violated Deuteronomy in abandoning the temple in Jerusalem as the true place of worship. Notice v. 30a: “And this thing became a sin.” Worship can be sinful if it is not worship that is done in obedience to the command of God.
Second, he set up false priests (v. 31). He put men into the priesthood who were not Biblically qualified, because they were not sons of Levi.
Third, he set up a man-made holy day (vv. 32-33). He created his own feast, a pseudo holiday made in imitation of true feasts that had been ordained by God. This holy day was one “he had devised in his own heart” (v. 33).
This spiritual degeneracy and compromise eventually led to the undoing of this North Kingdom of Israel, though it would take many years to be played out.
We are left to ponder:
Have we set up false objects of worship?
Have we been driven by pragmatism, convenience, and personal preference in worship, rather than obedience?
Have we compromised on Biblical standards for church officers?
Have we created worship practices or “holy days” that we have devised in our own hearts?
May the Lord direct us to purify our worship and to regulate it according to his Word.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, September 05, 2019
A new episode has been posted to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 3, chapters 37-38. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
Eusebius here continues to describe the expansion of the Christian movement after the time of the apostles.
He begins with reference to one named Quadratus who was said to have prophetic powers like the daughters of Philip, but emphasizes that there were a large number of unnamed men who “built in every place upon the foundations of the churches laid by the Apostles.”
He notes that it would be impossible to describe exhaustively all “the shepherds or evangelists in the churches throughout the world,” noting, though, that it is natural to take notice of those who left behind useful writings.
Here he notes again the letters of Ignatius of Antioch as well as the first epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians.
Eusebius adds some interesting views on Hebrews here, noting that Clement made use of parallel thoughts from Hebrews and made quotations from it.
This, he suggests, proves the antiquity of Hebrews. He suggests that Paul originally wrote Hebrews in the native language of the Jews and that it was translated by either Luke or Clement.
He also refers to 2 Clement but sees it as spurious, and he likewise rejects the authenticity of other writings attributed to Clement, like a supposed dialogue between Peter and Apion. These pseudo-Clementine works are rejected, because they are not mentioned ‘by the ancient writers nor do they preserve the pure type of apostolic orthodoxy.”
This analysis is interesting in noting the distinction between canonical, apostolic works (including Hebrews as in the Pauline tradition, even if translated by someone else) and non-canonical, post-apostolic works (like the authentic writings of Clement).
These chapters are also interesting in drawing a distinction between the age of the apostles and the age that followed, in which, Eusebius seems to indicate, the exercise of extra-ordinary gifts were diminishing.
Wednesday, September 04, 2019
Image; David Larlham (right) speaks with a brother following the evening service at the Lynchburg RB Mission (9.1.19).
Sunday afternoon (9/1/19) I sat down and recorded an interview with David Larlham, who served for 20 years as the Assistant General Secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society in London. David and his wife Monica are vacationing in the US and joined us for Lord's Day worship at CRBC.
I have posted our conversation as WM 131: Interview: David Larlham, Trinitarian Bible Society. Listen here. The conversation covers David's testimony to faith in Christ, his career path, and the ministry of the TBS.
Tuesday, September 03, 2019
Image: Ned B. Stonehouse (1902-1962).
An interesting point is made by Ned B. Stonehouse in the opening of chapter two (“The Self-Witness of Matthew”) in his Origins of the Synoptic Gospels (Tyndale Press, 1963) relating to the self-disclosure of the canonical Gospel authors (19 ff).
He notes that the canonical Gospels are technically “anonymous writings” in that the authors never directly self-identify. In this regard he makes a distinction between Matthew and Mark, on one hand, and Luke and John on the other, with the latter at least including some “features of self-disclosure” (cf. Luke’s historical prologue, Luke 1:1-4, the “we passages” in Acts, and passages in John like John 13:23 ff; 19:26 ff, 35; 20:2 ff).
He contrasts this with the apocryphal Gospel of Peter which includes this statement, “But I, Simon Peter, and Andrew my brother, took our nets and went out into the sea….” One does not find Matthew or the other Gospel writers speaking in the first person about themselves quite like this. The sense is that the canonical Gospel authors did not feel compelled to “prove” or “show” that they were eyewitnesses (at least in the case of Matthew and John), in the way that the pseudonymous author of the Gospel of Peter did, and this, in fact, subtly supports the traditional view of their authorship.