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…it was actually not Jewish but Greek philosophical categories which made it difficult to attribute true and full divinity to Jesus. A Jewish understanding of divine identity was open to the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity. But Greek philosophical – Platonic – definitions of divine substance or nature and Platonic understandings of the relationship of God to the world made it extremely difficult to see Jesus as more than a semi-divine being, neither truly God not truly human. In the context of the Arian controversies, Nicene theology was essentially an attempt to resist the implications of Greek philosophical understandings of divinity and re-appropriate, in a new conceptual context, the New Testament’s inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity.
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 58.
Remember this the next time you hear people talking about Nicene “Platonizing” the faith. The exact oppose actually happened. They used Greek language to capture the doctrine. But they were actually resisting the “Platonizing” of the faith by keeping the doctrine of Christ to what it was revealed to be by the Apostles. If you want to get the full picture I would recommend Bauckham’s work, God Crucified, where he explores how the earliest Christians understood Jesus in very high Christological terms.
The New York Times broke a story two days ago about Karen L. King presenting a fragment of a papyrus at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in which the fragment reads of Jesus having a wife (you can see the fragment here and read the presentation here). What should we make of this?
First, even King herself states that this find means nothing about the historic Jesus,
“It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married.” (Karen L. King, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus)
Anyone who is using this fine to try and prove such is going against the publisher herself, let alone all reasonable evidence.
offers us a window into debates about sex and marriage in the early church, and the way Jesus could be adapted to play a part in a particular debate. If it is genuine.
As Gathercole points out in the post there were debates going on during that time in the early church about the rightness or wrongness of sex and marriage. What this fragment could be is someone trying to say Jesus was married in order to prove that marriage was good. But at the end of the day everything is just speculation since there is no context.
Third, the “if genuine” part is a big part. Over at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog the report has been coming out from the ICCS that a lot of scholars are doubting the authenticity of the fragment. Christian Askeland, who is at the ICCS posted several problems he saw with the manuscript. Other scholars have weighted in the comment section. Let me just reproduce what they are saying here:
Consider the following points:First, the 4th century date is speculation. I say this based on my own familiarity with similar datable texts (Nag Hammadi, Kellis, Melitian Archive) and with the wider issues of dating in general. King’s argument’s in her article are based upon other speculatively dated manuscripts which additionally are not similar in appearance or format.Second, this is not a literally codex leaf. Everyone to whom I have spoken is agreed on this. Gregor Wurst has publically noted that this fragment resembles the erratic nature of magical texts.Third, letter formation is not literary, semi-literary or documentary. I note only the example of Epsilon which is two strokes (not three) and which does not conjoin. Contra Bagnall, I have a hard time explaining the script via a dull calamus. It is not that hard to sharpen a calamus. This text was painted or markered.Fourth, if an amateur with a basic knowledge of Coptic were to forge a text, it would look like the text under question. ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓ̅ⲥ̅ … “Jesus said …” Two omissions are bizarre and may reflect a weak knowledge of the language (missing ϫⲉ and zero article). Most other weird gospel-like texts from the early period have non-Sahidic elements.
I’m not completely convinced either way, but I am sympathetic to some of Christian’s scepticism. I agree with the point that if one were producing a fake, this is like what you’d make. (1) Jesus said, “My wife” is slap-bang in the middle of page. Also (2) the script is at least fishy. (3) Most of it is paralleled in the Gospel of Thomas, images of which are easily accessible on the web!
In addition to the general appearance of the piece and the script and the convenient positioning of the key idea there are also several problems of procedure: a) two external reviewers expressed doubts about the authenticity of the text (King, draft, p. 3) [these are partly fobbed off on the basis of the low resolution of the photos as if that was decisive, p. 4]; b) they suggest investigation by Coptic papyrologists and scientific investigation of the ink (p. 3); c) neither of these things happen!!!; rather d) a Coptic linguist says the language is OK; e) Bagnall apparently says OK; f) no scientific analysis of the ink takes place.
This procedure is rather curious to me.
Bloomberg is actually picking up the doubts that other scholars have about the fragment.
But what happens if it turns out to be genuine?
Dirk Jongkind points out that nothing in the fragment can really be trusted. The dealer who cut it cut it where he did for a reason,
Is it too far-fetched to suggest that the lamentable loss of the words immediately following the famed words ‘My wife’ might not have been accidental, but perhaps made in order ‘to maximize profit’?
At the end of all this I don’t see this fragment amounting to much if anything of worth. But the vote is still out and we will wait to see what develops.
The patristic fathers are an important group of people for the church to hear. They stand the closest to the Apostles in time and place when it comes to understanding doctrines and Christian beliefs. The Roman Catholic Church even uses their words to create traditions that Christians must follow and believe.
This raises the question for us about how we are to read and understand them. Should they have an authoritative word for us when we think through doctrines? Should what they say be the decisive factor if there is a debate over a certain issue? Are we to assume that they are closer to the truth because of their relative closeness to the early church?
Mark R. Saucy raises an important point about the teachings of the Church Fathers in his article, Canon as Tradition: The New Covenant and the Hermeneutical Question. He states the logical flow of his thesis,
1. The theology of the new covenant is central to the story of the Old and NT and so comprises the canonical tradition.
2. The patristic church did not pay sufficient attention to the canonical tradition of the new covenant.
3. Therefore, by implication, the claims for the patristic church’s necessity and normativity in the hermeneutical question must be moderated accordingly.
He then explores each one of these points. The hope of the bible is placed in the New Covenant planned by the Father, brought about by the death of Christ and activated by the work of the Spirit in the hearts of believers promised in the Old Testament and inaugurated in the New. This is an essential grid to have when coming to the Bible. Without it we miss the grand story of redemption that is portrayed in the scriptures. Dr. Saucy writes ( διαθήκη means “covenant”),
As is clear from this brief survey of the canonical tradition, Johannes Behm’s assessment accurately reflects the view of the NT writers: “Jesus conceived of His Messianic work fulfilled in His death from the standpoint of the fulfillment of prophecy of the eschatological διαθήκη.”(J. Behm, “διαθήκη,” TDNT 2:133. Themelios) In this fulfillment, Jesus truly continues the Great Covenant Story of restoration of the creation promised to Abraham back to the earliest parts of Israel’s Scriptures. But he also advances that Story by moving it beyond and cancelling earlier transitional elements. The final resolution of the sin-problem accomplished in Christ’s cross made obsolete earlier mediated approaches to God in the temple cult. With the life of God’s own Spirit pulsing within, the believer in Jesus has new knowledge of the Holy One of Israel as Father, giving the new, true power of full acceptance and sonship from within that enables obedience and holy living. As heirs of God’s irrevocable promises, the blessing of all flesh could be expected in the future restoration of Israel itself. Here then is the canon of Scripture’s tradition of the new covenant’s continuity and discontinuity that founded the church by the apostles’ inspired witness.
After reading Jason Meyer’s book, End of the Law, I find myself in more and more agreement with this point as I look at the bible. The New Covenant is not an interesting point that the biblical authors refer to now and then. But the reality of God’s actions through the New Covenant is foundational to the Apostle’s understanding of God’s redemptive workings in this world.
Then Dr. Saucy looks the different patrisitc fathers and how they departed from this central point. He lists four main areas of departure,
- First, dominance of the Christus Victor model of the atonement in the early patristic tradition means that things other than forgiveness of sins occupy center stage.
- Second, the second-century church tended to dissipate the power of Christ’s cross to other mediating objects and human moral striving.
- Third,…, the ecclesiology of the church’s tradition developed along vectors alien to the canonical tradition’s new-covenant ideals.
- Fourth, the growing institutionalization of the patristic tradition also correlated well to a perception of God quite alien to the new-covenant canonical tradition.
- Whereas the new-covenant Story climaxes in the unbroken communion between creature and Creator provided in the forgiveness of sins, God the Father in the patristic tradition waxes again strangely distant and becomes shrouded in the mist of absoluteness, impassibility (ἀπάθεια) and apophatic discourse as the maxims of Neoplatonism are enlisted to talk of him and battle pagans.
Now, I do not have the personal knowledge of the writings of the patrisitic fathers to give authoritative backing to what he says. But Dr. Saucy does work through the actual writings of the fathers to back up his points.
What we have with the apostolic and church fathers are men who were susceptible to error like the rest of us. If Saucy’s findings prove true then we see the fathers departing from a central motif of the Scriptures. This should cause us to not treat the patrisitc church as a final authority over matters of doctrine but as simply other righteous voices that we should listen to as we allow the bible to be the final authority on all things. And where they agree with Scripture we should embrace their teaching but where they depart we should depart from them as well.
You can read the article in full if you want the full explanation of backing of all these point.
This is a rare TV interview of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is great to see the man in person and hear a little about his calling.
The actual interview starts around the 1:50 mark.
And if you would like to watch a short documentary on his life that I posted a while back you can go here.
HT: Justin Taylor
Turn the early pages of history; what was it that caused our father Abraham to be blessed? was it not his faith, which prompted him to acts of righteousness and truth? And it was Isaac’s confident faith in what would follow that stretched him on the alter with a light heart. As for Jacob, who so submissively quitted his own country on account of his brother and came and served Laban, he was rewarded with the headship of the twelve tribes of Israelites.
…On all of these great honour and renown were bestowed; yet not for their own sakes, or because of their own achievements, or for the good works they did, but by the will of God. Similarly we also, who by His will have been called in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves or our own wisdom or understanding or godliness, nor by such deeds as we have done in holiness of heart, but by faith through which alone God has justified all men since the beginning of time.
~Clement of Rome, the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, written AD 80-140, from Early Christian Writings, p.35-36
Justin Holcomb, over at the Resurgence blog, has written short biographies of women who served their Lord in the Reformation. It is neat to see how God used these women in their service and zeal for Him in the ways which He did. Even though they did not post Theses on doors they did serve the Lord in what they could do.
Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, it reminds us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.
From, Learning in War-Time, C. S. Lewis
I know that today is not the official day. But since I don’t post on Sundays I am celebrating it early.