Saturday, January 18, 2020

WM 149: Hixson, the CJ, and Roman Catholic Provenance

Image: 88 with CJ in margin. From EH's blog article.

I have posted WM 149: Hixson, the CJ, and Roman Catholic Provenance. Listen here.

My notes for this episode:

There have been several recent posts on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog site addressing the supposed inadequacy of the TR. This is, in fact, probably a good sign in that it indicates an awareness of gains made by the Confessional Text movement and a realization that this poses a grassroots threat to the modern academic reconstructionist text enterprise.

One recent example of this newfound interest in the TR is an article posted by Tyndale House Research Associate Dr. Elijah Hixson titled, “The Greek Manuscripts of the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7-8)” (1/7/20).

In this article EH surveys the ten extant Greek mss. that include the CJ in some form (in the text or margin).

There were a number of things I found interesting about EH’s article.

To begin with, EH starts by saying that the rejection of the authenticity of the CJ is “one of the easiest text-critical decisions.” Nevertheless, he says, it continues to get “a lot of attention.” He then announces that he will provide a survey of all ten extant Greek mss. that include the CJ in some form. The so-called “easiest” decision to reject the CJ is based on the fact that this extant evidence in favor of the CJ is so weak.
One of the main problems I see here is that EH seems to imply that the reason TR advocates embrace the CJ is because of this sort of external evidence. That is, he assumes that TR advocates are engaged in the same sort of reconstruction methodology as modern/postmodern text critics.  JW, the PIA, often makes the same sort of mistake when discussing the Confessional Text position. Clearly, however, this is not the case.

In fact, at least six of the ten extant Greek mss, that have some form of the CJ, surveyed here by EH, have only been discovered in the last few years. In Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary (Corrected Edition, 1971, 1975), for example, he begins his discussion of the external evidence for the CJ as follows: “The passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except four, and these contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late recension of the Latin Vulgate” (715). He lists the four Greek mss. bearing witness to the CJ as 61, 88, 629, and 635.

So, in 1975 TR advocates accepted the CJ, despite the fact that it appeared in, what was then, only four extant Greek mss. Clearly, support for the TR reading at 1 John 5:7-8 is not based on empirical study of the extant Greek mss. evidence, nor is it dependent on any recent discoveries of other witnesses to the reading.

When TR advocates point to the fact that the CJ does appear in at least ten Greek mss, in some form, even if late and marginal, it is only to point out that the CJ is not without any extant Greek witnesses whatsoever. That point is true whatever the poor quality or lateness of those mss.

Furthermore, as I pointed out in WM 54, titled “The CJ and the Papyri,” there is, in fact, very little early mss. evidence overall for the Catholic Epistles in general, for 1 John, in particular, and, especially, for 1 John 5:7-8. In fact, according to the NA 28 there are only two extant papyri that contain any part of 1 John (p9 and p74), both are fragmentary, and neither provide any evidence concerning the CJ (for or against).

Second, EH seems to take exception to the fact that TR advocates “vigorously defend the TR because of its theological value.” He provides an interesting anecdotal account of how as a “much younger” man he had discovered the CJ and naively thought he could use it in evangelism and apologetics, in defense of the Trinity, until a friend disabused him of that notion by telling him it was not “original to 1 John.”

Let me offer three asides to this anecdote:

Aside one: One wonders what might have happened if EH’s friend had held to the Confessional Text (?).

Another aside (two): EH also says that at that na├»ve stage when he was ignorant of the wonders of modern text criticism, he was making use of a MacArthur Study Bible in the (gasp!) NKJV version. I’m not really sure why this would be supposed evidence of his textual naivete, given that if we had been using the NKJV he might well have read its textual note at 1 John 5:7, which explains: “NU, M omit the words, from in heaven (v. 7) through on earth (v. 8). Only 4 or 5 very late mss. contain these words in Greek.” And the MacArthur Study Bible notes, in fact, emphatically argue against the authenticity of the CJ, concluding, “Most likely, the words were added much later to the text.” One wonders why a “much younger” EH had to rely on his friend to discover that the authenticity of the CJ had been challenged in modern times, not only by modern text critics (the NKJV references to the NU and M) but even by some Calvinistic evangelicals (the MacArthur Study Bible notes), given he had these sorts of notes to consult.

Yet another aside (three): EH makes the point that affirmation of the authenticity of the CJ does not necessarily mean that one will embrace the Trinity.  He points out that Oneness Pentecostals use the KJV (a translation based on the TR in the NT) but reject the Trinity. On reflection, however, this does not really prove anything with respect to the authenticity of the CJ. Mormons also use the KJV to argue for equally bad theology, with respect to the doctrine of God, but this does not nullify how the orthodox rightly interpret Scripture’s content. On the other hand, Jehovah’s Witnesses base their New World Translation on the modern critical text and, thus, reject the CJ, but this hardly leads them to sound conclusions. The fact that unbelievers “twist” the traditional text of Scripture, says nothing about its authenticity.

We are, in fact, more concerned about how it might be used by sound men, not heretics. Clearly, the CJ has been used as one text, among several, in support of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Those who have appealed to the CJ for this purpose throughout church history have included the likes of Bernard of Clairveux, Peter Lombard, Peter Abelard, Bonaventure, William of Ockham, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Francis Turretin, Benjamin Keach, the framers of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Second London Baptist Confession (1689), and John Wesley, among countless others.

Third, EH declares that in his survey of these ten Greek mss. that support the CJ in some form, he will give special attention to the provenance of these mss., noting especially that many of them were produced by or possessed by Roman Catholics.
Why does EH think this is important? He explains as follows:

I want to mention from the start that I have drawn attention to the Roman Catholic provenance of a few of these. I’ll explain more at the end why I do so, but the short version is that some of the most vehement defenders of the CJ are Protestant textus receptus advocates who subscribe to the Westminster or London Baptist confessions and claim doctrinal purity via affirmation of these confessions, yet in order to defend the CJ by appealing to the Greek manuscripts, they have to appeal to manuscripts from the tradition from which their own tradition broke away, and in some cases, manuscripts that were made (or marginal notes that were added) after that break.

So, EH suggests that confessional TR advocates, are inconsistent, because they defend the CJ by appealing to Greek mss. which contain the CJ, in some form, but which also demonstrate a RC provenance.

Question: Is this a valid or reasonable critique of the TR defense of the CJ?
Before we answer that question let me briefly survey the ten Greek mss., as presented by EH. It is tempting to spend more time in analysis here, but my comments will be brief and will focus particularly on EH’s comments on provenance, since he himself has noted this a special interest of his survey.

Here are the ten Greek mss. EH examines:
Note: At the start he mentions with a possible 11th example GA 635 marg but rejects it as not containing the CJ. I reserve judgment on his conclusion.

1.    GA 629 (1362-1363)

EH says, this is “the earliest known Greek ms. of the CJ.”

With respect to provenance, EH says it had ownership ties to “a RC family”, and today it is in the Vatican.

2.    Codex Montfortianus (GA 61)

Hooray! EH writes, “No, Erasmus didn’t promise to include the CJ if someone could give him a Greek manuscript with it, and no, 61 wasn’t made to force Erasmus’ hand.” I am glad to hear that this scholarly legend [“Erasmus anecdote”] is beginning to be acknowledged and that it is rejected by EH. If only JW would now do the same!

EH’s conclusion: “In short, 61 is a manuscript of Catholic (Franciscan) provenance that has a series of what looks like private owners, suggesting that it was either not made for church use or never made it to church use, copied by a scribe who diverged from his exemplar in order to introduce Latin readings into his text rather than copying what was there in the Greek.”

3.    429marg (date: after 1522)

EH says that though 429 is “itself 14th century” the CJ addition must be after 1522, since it agrees with Erasmus’s third edition (1522).

Questions: Does this risk circular reasoning? Would not even EH concede that this conclusion must remain speculative? Can the CJ addition to 429 be conclusively proven to have been copied from Erasmus’s third edition? What if the 429 marg and the third edition of Erasmus were both dependent on a common source  of unknown date?

4.    918 (date: probably 1573-1578)

EH begins by stating that “this is another manuscript with a Catholic provenance.”
He also points out that this is one of three mss. of these ten (along with 61 and 429marg) which agree with Erasmus. So, “Erasmus is likely the source,” adding, “consequently 918 is not a witness to the pre-Erasmian CJ.”

Questions: As with 429marg do the conclusions here risk the charge of circular reasoning? Is it possible that 918 and Erasmus were both dependent on a common source?

EH adds this conclusion: “GA 918 is a manuscript of Spanish Catholic provenance from the 1570s that broke from its textual tradition by adding the CJ from Erasmus’ third edition.”

How strange indeed that a Spanish mss. would follow the reading of Erasmus and not the Complutension!

5.    2473 (1634)

This ms. only has a short entry. EH concludes, “Still, the King James Version already existed by the time this manuscript rolled around.”

One wonders about the mention here of the KJV, in particular. The implication, of course, is that defense of the TR is simply a variety of KJV-Onlyism.

Why did not EH write instead something like: “Still, Tyndale’s English translation and a host of other early English translations based on the TR (e.g., the Matthew’s Bible, the Bishop’s Bible, the Geneva Bible, etc.), as well as numerous Protestant translations in various other European languages already existed by the time this manuscript rolled around.”? Because this likely does not fit with EH’s assumption that defense of the TR can only be perceived as a variety of KJV-O.

6.    2318 (1700s)

EH concludes this ms. “seems to have a clearly non-Protestant provenance in the 1700s” [if from the Romanian Academy Library, though EH does not suggest an Eastern Orthodox provenance.]. He quotes Wachtel’s suggestion that it was copied from a later printed edition of the TR. Is it also at least possible it was copied from a Byzantine ms.?

7.    177marg (c. 1785)

EH begins, “GA 177 is fun.”!

He traces the marginal insertion of the CJ to “a Roman Catholic priest in Munich.”

8.    221marg (after c. 1850)

EH dubs this “a complete surprise” and “the oldest manuscript (10th century) with the youngest CJ.”

He cites a printed note on this ms. from Henry Coxe (1854) which says, “There is missing 1 John, chapter 5, verse 7.” From this he dates the CJ to after c. 1850.

Questions: Is it possible that Coxe made his note on absence of the CJ in the main text, simply ignoring mention of the marginal addition? If this is the case, we have, in fact, no idea when the marginal note was added.

9.    88marg

EH begin, “GA 88 itself is 12th century, but the hand of the note is later.” It is found in the National Library in Naples.

EH adds: “Still, it would not surprise me if the addition post-dates printed editions.”

And he concludes: “Though I can’t say much about its 12th-century provenance, 88 does have strong ties to Counter-Reformation Roman Catholicism by the time the CJ seems to have been written in it.”

I assume EH would agree that his suggestions on the date of the CJ addition must remain a speculation. I’m also not sure I understand the relevance of his emphasis on the discovered provenance of this ms. as having “strong ties to Counter-Reformation Catholicism.” Why would Counter-Reformation RCs desire to insert into an ancient manuscript a passage missing but which appears in printed editions of the Greek NT used by Protestants?


EH begins, “GA 636 is a 15th-century manuscript, but again the CJ looks like a later hand.

He traces the provenance to Naples and adds: “That seems to give the manuscript itself a 15th-century Roman Catholic provenance, though it is unclear when the marginal addition was written.”

EH’s Conclusions:

I might say that EH has done us all a service by providing this catalogue of the current extant Greek mss. which provide at least some evidence of the tenacity of the CJ reading in 1 John 5:7-8.

EH ends the article with a three-paragraph conclusion. Let’s look at each paragraph in full, in turn, with some responses.

Paragraph 1:

I wanted to give a survey of the manuscripts here that goes slightly beyond merely mentioning them. If you’re just dealing with numbers and vague generalities, it’s really easy to lose sight of the significance of what each manuscript is. To someone who doesn’t know how to evaluate evidence, 10 manuscripts of the CJ might look like it’s even more or better/stronger evidence than places where modern editions go with a reading that has fewer manuscripts in support, but when you are so focused on a big idea that you neglect to look at the evidence you are claiming to support your idea at specific points, you don’t see things like what I have pointed out here. More than that, a lot of people don’t want to just “trust the scholars”. That’s another discussion, but I wanted to lift the curtain a bit and show why the scholars can arrive at some of the conclusions we do. I’ve tried to walk through in a few cases why I think these are the reasonable observations about the manuscripts and from those, the reasonable conclusions about where the data leads (note: yes, data is a Latin neuter plural, but let’s not forget that in both Greek and Latin, a neuter plural subject can take a singular verb).

JTR Response: As noted above, EH wrongly implies that TR advocates affirm the CJ based on analysis of extant Greek mss evidence. Clearly, this is not the case. TR advocates held to the CJ when there were only four extant witnesses to it. Further witnesses have not “proven” its authenticity empirically, but they have provided evidence of its appearance in the Greek tradition and also of its tenacity in the Christian tradition.

Paragraph 2:

Maybe I have been reading too much from textus receptus advocates, but it struck me that some of the arguments I hear from them actually work against the textus receptus position once you take the time to step away from the grand claims and look at how the specifics about manuscripts fit in with those grand claims. I often hear from people who want to do away with modern textual criticism that the textus receptus is based on manuscripts with known provenance (and I think they mean “approved texts used by the Church”) whereas the Oxyrhynchus papyri were discarded as rubbish, etc. (Yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen any textus receptus advocate making this claim acknowledge the lectionary markings in Codex Bezae, which are as sure indicators of church use as anything.) In my experience, some of the manuscripts whose provenance we do know are the ones that should be most quickly rejected by people whose position on the text is derived from a particular reading of the Westminster Confession or London Baptist Confession. This is why I made all the references to Roman Catholic provenance in this post. If Protestants (specifically, those who actively align themselves with the Protestant Reformation and the Puritans and claim to have the correct view of the text based on confessional statements made in the 1600s) are citing the Greek manuscript evidence for the CJ, they are appealing to manuscripts produced by, owned by, and used by those whom their own theological predecessors rigorously opposed.

JTR Response: First, one wonders which TR advocates EH has been reading. No specifics are given. Second, he suggests that the arguments of TR advocates in support of that text actually work against them. This is seen, he says, once one steps away from their “grand claims” and looks at the specific manuscript evidence. One wonders what EH means by “grand claims.” Is it simply the claim that the TR has historically been and should continue to be looked to as the authoritative and authentic text of the Protestant Scriptures? He takes exception to a preference for this text over ones based on modern discoveries of mss. of unknown provenance (like the Oxyrenchcus papyri). But is it really wrong to prefer a text affirmed by usage in Westminster rather than one of unknown provenance in Egypt? I’m not sure about his drift in reference to lectionary markings in Codex Bezae. Is his point that it was used in some church tradition? But its obscure readings were, in fact, rejected as authentic, right? Doesn’t that argue in favor of the preservation of the true text in spite of obscure counter-readings and not against it?

He takes special aim at confessional Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists who prefer the traditional text. The charge is inconsistency, since some of these late mss. which witness to the CJ have a (dreaded) RC provenance.

I do not think this argument is well founded. In fact, it reminds me of the arguments sometimes made against the TR I’ve heard from the likes of JW and Dan Wallace, that the TR is suspect because Erasmus was Roman Catholic!

We need to point out again that though Erasmus’s edition of the Greek NT were foundational to the emergence of the family of printed TR mss., the validity of his text was affirmed by Protestants like Stephanus and Beza. We might also point out that prior to 1517 nearly everyone in Western Europe was at least nominally Roman Catholic. For the examples surveyed here dating post-1600, in particular, this argument seems especially irrelevant, given that they were composed after a Protestant consensus on the authenticity of the CJ had already been forged. IMHO, the fact that the CJ represents a point where RCs, and Eastern Orthodox, for that matter, as well as Protestants find agreement is not a matter that in any way discredits the Protestant affirmation of its authenticity.

I find two further distinct ironies in this line of argument:

First, it is ironic for an evangelical modern text advocate, like EH, to chide TR supporters for supposedly making use of “RC” evidence, given that such men have essentially suggested that confessional commitments should be irrelevant when doing text criticism. Tommy Wasserman, for example, has suggested we should approach the text as though God does not exist. If there is concern that orthodoxy should be considered as paramount in doing text criticism or in examination of textual evidence and its provenance, where was the hue and cry from such men when a Roman Catholic served as one of the editors of the Novum Testamentum Graecae in the 1980s, or when a Mormon was appointed as an editor of the Biblia Hebraica Quinta in 2009?

Second, it is ironic for an evangelical modern text advocate, like our friend EH, to chide TR supporters for supposedly making use of “RC” evidence, given that it is confessional TR advocates who are, in fact, urging a self-conscious return to the textual position of the Protestant orthodox, who defended the notion of a stable and divinely preserved text of Scripture as part of their overall defense of Scripture as theopneustos and autopistos, over against the RCs, who suggested that Scripture had been corrupted, and thus Sola Scriptura, could not be affirmed, apart from the interpretation of the Roman magisterium.

The noted Puritan John Owen, for example, presciently and intuitively saw the warning clouds of developing modern text criticism in his critique of Brian Walton’s Biblia Polyglotta. Namely, he saw the apologetic advantage of assuming corruption in Scripture that would be seized upon by “Romanists or Atheists.” Owen suggested they would use such empirical study of textual corruption in transmission “as an engine suited to the destruction” of the authority of Scripture. It would serve “as a fit weapon put into the hands of men of atheistical minds and principles, such as this age abounds withal, to oppose the whole evidence of truth revealed in the Scriptures.” He continues, “I fear, with some, either the pretended infallible judge or the depths of atheism will be found to lie at the door of these considerations.”

Paragraph 3:

To bring the ‘Evangelical’ back into Evangelical Textual Criticism, one of the most liberating things to me is knowing that Jesus is powerful enough to save me—to grant forgiveness of my sins and reconcile me to God, and God’s promises to preserve his word are so strong that I am not powerful enough to screw it up. As a result, I don’t have to scramble to explain away things that are difficult for my position in order to try to preserve the integrity of my position, because that would be exhausting. When it comes to manuscripts, I can let the chips fall where they may because Jesus is king (and they’re his chips, after all!). As my dad always says, “The truth don’t hurt unless it ought to”. I can take rest and comfort in the knowledge that I must do my best with what I’ve been given, and if I make a mistake, well I’ve been wrong before (just ask anyone who was at my 2016 SBL paper! [EDIT: or ask the friend who found a typo in this very sentence before I updated the post just now to fix it]), and I’m sure I’ll be wrong again, but no matter what, Christ is enough, and I am not powerful enough to thwart his purposes.

JTR Response:  Though I might appreciate some of the piety expressed here I find it confusing. EH seems to be saying that evangelical modern critical text advocates, like himself, experientially benefit from their modern redefinition of the doctrine of preservation (through modern scholarly reconstruction) in a way that TR advocates do not.

He writes, “As a result, I don’t have to scramble to explain away things that are difficult for my position in order to try to preserve the integrity of my position, because that would be exhausting. When it comes to manuscripts, I can let the chips fall where they may because Jesus is king (and they’re his chips, after all!).

I find this ironic for several reasons.

First, it is the defenders of the TR who are, in fact, advocating a return to the classic Reformed doctrine of preservation as stated in WCF 1:8. Namely, that Scripture has been “by [God’s] singular care and providence kept pure in all ages.” Such men believed in the “practical univocity” between the autographs and the apographs (see the historical scholarship by Richard Muller, Garnet Howard Milne, Richard Brash, etc.).

Second, it is defenders of the TR, in fact, who feel no need to “scramble” through the extant evidence to defend some “reconstruction” of it. It is they who “let the chips fall where they may.” Does EH realize he writes this after an exercise in which he has literally been “scrambling” through the extant CJ evidence attempting to show the impact of RC provenance?

The question, in the end, is, which definition of providential preservation do you want to embrace? The classic Protestant “preservation” view, or the modern “reconstruction” view?

I choose the former. This leads me to feel perfectly comfortable with affirming the CJ as an authentic and inspired part of God’s Word.


Friday, January 17, 2020

The Vision (1.17.20): Reflections on Government (Elder Jeff Clark)

Image: Capitol Building, Richmond, Virginia

The Christian worldview holds that government is a necessary “evil” because all men are sinners (cf. Romans 13:1-5).

The Challenge of Government

There must also be control of the sinners that govern, as they attempt to govern other sinners.  The powers of the state will necessarily enlarge or shrink in proportion to the degree that the governed are self-controlled. Or, we can say that the less self-control the individual has, the more external control will be required. 
Therefore, those who have the responsibility to govern others ought to be among those who exemplify self-control, informed by the basic reality, namely, that God rules and overrules the affairs of men. 

Here is a foundational principle: Human rights come from God, their Creator.  The purpose of government is to protect the rights of the citizens who are governed by it.

In (2 Kings 11:17) we see that human governments are properly instituted as a covenant between God and the rulers; God and the people; and the people and the rulers:

And Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD and the king and the people, that they should be the LORD'S people; between the king also and the people. (2 Kings 11:17)
The Consequences of Ignoring Reality

The goal of godless governments is to make government “god” and, thereby, the arbiter of all aspects of human life and death. If government is the dispenser of “rights”, it also can withhold those rights.  It is free to define and invent rights to be given without equity to persons of groups.  The problem comes when such governments require genuine, “God given” rights to be abridged.

These abuses already exist and are but evidence that the foundations have been destroyed (cf. Psalm 11:3). Sometimes it seems that the great edifice of “government by the people, and for the people” is collapsing.  Will it be replaced by a government made up of willful tyrants who rule a mostly ignorant and uncontrolled populace of self-seeking hedonists? A population created by an educational system controlled by those possessed by utopian delusions?

Pray for Those in Authority

As with everything, our only hope is Christ.  Let us heed Paul’s admonition to Timothy to pray earnestly “For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Elder Jeff Clark

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Eusebius, EH.6.6-8: Origen's Notorious "Rash Act"

Image: Manuscript representation of Origen, c. 1160.

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 6, chapters 6-8. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters continue the account of the life of Origen.

Chapter 6 provides brief mention of Orgien’s teacher, Clement of Alexandria, who had succeeded Pantaenus.

Chapter 7 makes reference to another notable writer of the Severan period, a certain Judas, who wrote a discourse on the book of Revelation. Eusebius notes that Judas anticipated the coming of the Antichrist, in light of the persecutions the church was enduring.

Chapter 8 is more extensive. It provides an account of a notable “rash act” undertaken by Origen, that sprang from “an immature and youthful mind.” He took Christ’s comments that there are those who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom (Matt 19:12) “in too literal and extreme a sense” and apparently emasculated himself.

He is said to have done this out of faith and self-control and to avoid any hint of scandal in his instruction of women.

Origen had attempted to hide this act from others, but it became known to his pupils.

Eusebius reports that Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, at first approved of Origen’s zeal and sincerity. Later, however, when he did not approve of Origen’s appointment as an elder by the bishops in Caesarea and Jerusalem, Demetrius described it as a “monstrous” deed and a “grave scandal.”

Turning to transitions, Eusebius notes that Severus was succeeded by his son Antoninus as emperor, and, in the Jerusalem church, Alexander was made bishop alongside Narcissus, while Narcissus still lived.


This section provides one of the most colorful and oft repeated anecdotes about Origen: his youthful “rash act.” Modern historians have raised questions about the anecdote’s historicity. Even Eusebius notes that the story was only circulated in opposition to Origen’s appointment as a presbyter. At the least, it is consistent with the presentation of Origen in Eusebius as a rigorous and zealous ascetic.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Sermon Recommendation: Defending the Traditional Text

I listened yesterday to this sermon, titled "Defending the Traditional Text" (alt. title: "Confessional Bibliology and the Long Ending of Mark") by Colin Samuel, pastor of Great Basin Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA) in Reno, Nevada.

Though there might be a few things I would want to tweak (e.g, he suggests that Masoretic text of the OT is not being significantly challenged by modern text criticism, in favor of things like the DSS and the LXX [but it is], and he makes reference to NT "text types," though this is less talked today about with the rise of the CBGM and modern text criticism), overall this is a very good presentation. Nice to hear a young, confessionally Reformed man, defending the traditional text in his public preaching and teaching.



Monday, January 13, 2020

Eusebius, EH.6.4-5: Origen and the Alexandrian Martyrs

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 6, chapters 4-5. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These two chapters expand on the note at the end of 6:3, which referred to those instructed by Origen who suffered martyrdom.

Chapter 4 begins the list:

First, there was Plutarch, whom Origen himself had comforted on his way to death, risking his own life.

Second, Serenus, who  proved his faith “through fire.”

Third, Heraclitus, a catechumen.

Fourth, Hero, one newly baptized.

Both Heraclitus and Hero were beheaded.

Fifth, another man named Serenus, tortured and then beheaded.

Sixth Herais, a woman preparing for baptism, but who, Origen said, received “baptism by fire.”

Chapter 5 continues the list:

Seventh mentioned is Basilides. Basilides was a soldier who led “the famous” beautiful, virtuous, chaste, young Christian maid Potamiaena to her death. She was tortured by having boiling pitch slowly poured over her body. Then she and her mother, Marcella, were both “perfected by fire.”

Basilides testified that three days after her martyrdom, Potamiaena appeared to him, wreathing his head with a crown. Thereafter he confessed himself a Christian and was beheaded.


These chapters continue both the admiring presentation of Origen and the glory of the martyrs. Origen’s distinction is demonstrated, in part, by the zeal he instilled in his students for faithful in martyrdom. The conversion of Basilides offers an early trope of the persecutor, who is converted by the witness of the martyr (going back perhaps even to NT itself and the conversion of Saul, as a persecutor of the church, in Acts 9).