Thursday, May 07, 2020

Eusebius, EH.7.24: Dionysius, Nepos, Revelation, and the Millennium

Image: Mummy painting of a young boy (Eutychus) from Roman Egypt, c. AD 150. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 7, chapter 24. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter discusses two treatises titled On Promises written by Dionysius of Alexandria in reply to the teaching of an Egyptian bishop named Nepos.

Nepos advocated a more literal form of Scriptural interpretation “after a more Jewish fashion.” For the book of Revelation, in particular, he taught there would be a literal millennium on earth. Nepos’s book (no longer extant) was titled Refutation of the Allegorists.

The first book in On Promises dealt with interpretation and the second on the book of Revelation.

Dionysus first expressed his respect for Nepos (already deceased) for his faith, devotion, and diligence in Scripture study. He then, however, stated that his love for truth required he correct Nepos’s supposed errors.

He notes that a meeting was held in the nome (division) of Arsinoë, where schism and defection of whole churches over Nepos’s teaching had taken place. Dionysius discussed Nepos’s book for three straight days, conversing day and night. In the end, the leader of this movement, Coracion, was convinced by the contrary arguments and rejected the teaching.


This chapter highlights early disputes relating to the teaching of Nepos over proper interpretation of Scripture and of Revelation and the idea of a millennium, in particular. Dionysius rejects an overly literal interpretive method and is commended for his ability to correct errors in this teaching and restore unity among the churches. This illustrates the controversial nature of book of Revelation among early Christians, which many were slow to acknowledge as canonical. We also see another focus on the importance of unity in the church.



Bill said...

I have a problem with Eusebius in that to my reading of this chapter it seems to say that Eusebius was convinced of the truth of what Nepos was teaching, but he was convinced to stop teaching the truth because Eusebius and maybe Dionysius were more concerned about the unity of the church. Are you seeing differently from me? I appreciate comments.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

I re-read the chapter today. I don't think that Eusebius is saying that he agreed with the counter-argument against Nepos merely on the basis of keeping unity. He notes that Dionysius spent three days in public discussion on Nepos's work with the local presbyters and teachers and patiently showed the weaknesses of Nepos's interpretation. The leader of the teaching, named Coracion, agreed not to keep promoting Nepos's view, not merely to keep the peace, but because he was convinced by the "contrary argument" as put forward by Dionysius.