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 History: Book 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.