Archive for August, 2010

In the evangelical west, one of the hills on which to die is creationism. Many have debated this in various groups, but it has really heated up recently with Southern Seminary vs. the BioLogos Foundation. Below are some questions many orthodox Christians are asking:

Should we interpret Genesis literally? Does the genre, theology, or original intent of the text even demand a scientific literalistic reading? Is theistic evolution a possibility? What is at stake if we reject creationism? Etc.

I personally, as of now, do not accept a literal seven-day creation account. I also do not accept Darwinian or theistic evolution. I think all three are faulty interpretations if we keep in mind the whole of the canon. What is the other option, you might ask?

I stand with St. Augustine that God created instantaneously and that the the seven-day creation account should not be read literally. I believe what we have in the first part of the creation narrative (Gen 1 and 2) is a polemical writing against the other Ancient Near East (ANE) gods and beliefs. Moses is combating their view of creation and affirming Israel’s view that YHWH is the supreme God over the creation. So, we have YHWH (and/or the Pre-Incarnate Word according to John) creating and exercising order over the Chaos (Much like YHWH appoint man to exercise dominion over His creation).

There is an excellent post by Peter Enns on the subject. Though you may not agree with all of his conclusion (as I do not), he does an excellent job of giving you the cultural and theological background of the creation account among it’s ancient listeners. http://biologos.org/blog/how-should-biologos-respond-to-dr-albert-mohlers-critique-petes-response/

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In a recent conversation with Rev. Luke Panter, he posed the question, “how would you use extra-biblical and historical literature in the exegetical process?” I gave a short answer, but have had longer to gather my thoughts and think I can answer more accurately.

I think the use of historical and extra-biblical sources is almost essential for being a faithful exegete (though I do not give them the same weight as the Scriptures). Let’s take the New Testament for example: you have an empire (Rome) ruling over Israel while their Messiah and his followers are preaching the Kingdom of God, you have the sacred Scripture written in a common trade language (Greek), and you have cultural, theological ideas, and backgrounds that are present in the NT authors (this is most explicitly seen in Jude and 2 Peter). On top of all of this, we have the historical witness of Post-Apostolic theology (the Fathers). We, through historical study, can understand how they understood and employed texts. So, I would say that it is essential to study the cultural, religious, and historical background that our sacred texts were composed in.

The OT, Apocrypha, NT, Patristics, nor any other works or authors wrote scripture or did theology in a vacuum, and neither should we study it in one (plus it is impossible to do). So, we should read as many good books in the relevant subject of our study so that we can not only understand our research, but that we are also able to communicate the author’s theological points in a way that the original audience would understand them.

I am not saying however, that having knowledge of cultural, political and/or historical settings surrounding the canon is necessary for faithful Gospel preaching. Nor can I concede that this knowledge must inform the Gospel message in order to be recieved and believed upon by the sinner.  However, it is very difficult to have a good understanding of the Bible while ignoring the past by neglecting historical research. I do trust in the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to guide us in interpretation, but I also believe that God has given us some research tools with which to aid our exegesis of the Scriptures.  Let us employ the tools available to us and trust the Holy Spirit to move mightily through our work.  But let us not neglect those tool s and resources given to us while asking the Holy Spirit to bless our work.

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As most historians and theologians know, the bible was not written in a vacuum. The OT has political and religious polemics against the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians, and much of the Apocrypha was written under Greek persecution. So, why would the political undertones not be present in the NT scriptures under Roman domination? Tom Wright has an excellent lecture on this topic provided above. I would also advise people interested in NT political theology to pick up NT Wright, Seyoung Kim, George Ladd, Ricahrd Horsley, and Warren Carter to name a few.

Seek first the Kingdom of God.

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The First Epistle of Clement to Corinth (Κλήμεντος πρὸς Κορινθίους) or 1 Clement as we will refer to it, is one of the earliest works of the Apostolic Fathers. It is a sixty-five [1] chapter letter to the Corinthian church, near the end of the 1st century AD during a time of persecution and turmoil. The work has many themes including escaping envy, looking to the Apostles whom suffered, some mysticism in the form of the Phoenix, and a dispute among the younger Bishops and older Bishops to name a few.

Content: Chapters 1-3 letter occasion, Chapters 4-39 exhortations against turmoil, Chapters 40-58 dispute among the Presbyters, and Chapters 59-65 prayer, summary, and salutation.

Authorship: Probably Clement, the third successor of St. Peter to the Episcopal See of Rome (earliest church tradition)[2]. This same Clement may also be the Clement mentioned by St. Paul in Phil. 4:3 [3]. Not much more is known than that. If Pope Clement 1 was indeed the author, we have the some of the earliest Papal material available, other than St. Peter.

Date: End of the 1st century. 96 or 97 AD, near or at the end of the reign of Domitian, Caesar of Rome.

Origin: Probably Rome with Corinth as the recipient.

Status: It was included into the Codex Alexandrinus and the Canons of the Apostles, and found use among the Fathers.Though it was eventually not accepted into the New Testament.

Work Cited:

[1] Full Greek and English text diglot http://earlychurchtexts.com/public/apostfaths/clem_i.html

[2 and3] ]Drobner, Hubertus. The fathers of the Church. P.47-49

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One of the earliest non-canonical Christian works is what is known by many scholars and churchman as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (ΔΙΔΑΧΗ ΤΩΝ ΔΩΔΕΚΑ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΩΝ) or simply just the Didache. The work is a collection of communal and liturgical rules of the 1st or 2nd century Christian community. The work is now include within the Apostolic Fathers in the Roman Church, and the Broader Canon in the Ethiopian Church.

Content: The Didache is broken into sixteen sections. Chapter 1. The Two Ways and the First Commandment, Chapter 2. The Second Commandment: Grave Sin Forbidden, Chapter 3. Other Sins Forbidden, Chapter 4. Various Precepts, Chapter 5. The Way of Death, Chapter 6. Against False Teachers, and Food Offered to Idols, Chapter 7. Concerning Baptism, Chapter 8. Fasting and Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer), Chapter 9. The Eucharist, Chapter 10. Prayer after Communion, Chapter 11. Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets, Chapter 12. Reception of Christians, Chapter 13. Support of Prophets, Chapter 14. Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day, Chapter 15. Bishops and Deacons; Christian Reproof, and Chapter 16. Watchfulness; the Coming of the Lord. [1]

Date: 1st [2] or 2nd [3] century A.D.

Origin: Most likely Syria/Palestine

Status: The Didache has had a very interesting status like many other early Christian books. It is listed in some early canons apparently: “Let there be placed among the spurious works the Acts of Paul, the so-called Shepherd and the Apocalypse of Peter, and besides these the Epistle of Barnabas, and what are called the Teachings of the Apostles, and also the Apocalypse of John, if this be thought proper; for as I wrote before, some reject it, and others place it in the canon.” [4] Though regularly used in the early church, it did not receive canonical status in the final formulation of the NT canon.

Works Cited:

[1] Full Greek text http://www.ccel.org/l/lake/fathers/didache.htm and English text http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html

[2] Witherington, Ben. The Act of the Apostles p.372: “The earliest extra-canonical book”. This would thus predate Clement at very late 1st cent. Work, placing the Didache in the 1st century.

[3]Drobner, Hubertus. The fathers of the Church p.56

[4]Historia Ecclesiastica III, 25

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Much has been said about baptism in the two-thousand plus years of church history. There are many perspective whether Easter or Western, Paedo or Credo, immersion or christening, etc. My task here has less to do with the previous list, and more to do with baptisms role in the early church concerning salvation.

A Very Brief History and Introduction

Baptism in the Jewish world seems to very much related to the Mikvah, or purity bath that Jews would partake in before Sabbath, festival, or holy event. So, when John came baptizing it was not some new or unique rite that he created.  It should also be noted that immersion, like in the Jewish Mikvah, was in preference though it was not an absolute necessity:

“And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.” (Didache, section 7)[1]

So in summary: Baptism was done to believers and their children in the early church, preferably by immersion.

Baptism in the New Testament

In the NT there seems to be a very strong connection between baptism and salvation, ie more than just a sacrament after conversion.

1. With John, you have baptism involved in repentance and the forgiveness of sin.[2] 2. In Jesus’ baptism you have the giving of the Spirit, and his anointing as elect son, and king.[3] 3. In Acts you have baptism and repentance bringing about the liberating gift of the Holy Spirit, and the washing away of sins[4] 4. In Paul you have identification with Jesus’ death through baptism, and the promise of resurrection and life.[5] 5. And in Peter you have Baptism that saves you, and is the pledge of a good conscience toward God.

As you can see I have briefly went through a few of the NT text and we see that baptism: Is part of repentance, fills with the Spirit, anoints/elects, washes away sins, associates you with with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it saves you. A straight forward reading of the text challenges many protestant positions on baptism, specifically Symbolism as the primary purpose of baptism.

Now that we have textual evidence that the early church might have viewed things differently, we could safely assume from the NT textual evidence that the Apostles taught some form of baptismal regeneration. But, many protestants cringe at this thought we must take it a step further and examine what the early Patristics thought about baptism.

The Ante-Nicene Fathers[6]

Now let us see if the Lord has been at any pains to give us a foreshadowing of the waters of Baptism and of the cross. Regarding the former, we have the evidence of Scripture that Israel would refuse to accept the washing which confers the remission of sins and would set up a substitution of their own instead [Jer 22:13; Isa 16:1-2; 33:16-18; Psalm 1:3-6]. Observe there how he describes both the water and the cross in the same figure. His meaning is, “Blessed are those who go down into the water with their hopes set on the cross.” Here he is saying that after we have stepped down into the water, burdened with sin and defilement, we come up out of it bearing fruit, with reverence in our hearts and the hope of Jesus in our souls. (11:1-10)

“I have heard, sir,” said I, “from some teachers, that there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins.” He said to me, “You have heard rightly, for so it is.” (The Shepherd 4:3:1-2)
They had need [the Shepherd said] to come up through the water, so that they might be made alive; for they could not otherwise enter into the kingdom of God, except by putting away the mortality of their former life. These also, then, who had fallen asleep, received the seal of the Son of God, and entered into the kingdom of God. For, [he said,] before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when he receives the seal, he puts mortality aside and again receives life. The seal, therefore, is the water. They go down into the water dead [in sin], and come out of it alive. (ibid 9:16:2-4)

ST. JUSTIN MARTYR (inter A.D. 148-155)
Whoever is convinced and believes that what they are taught and told by us is the truth, and professes to be able to live accordingly, is instructed to pray and to beseech God in fasting for the remission of their former sins, while we pray and fast with them. Then they are led by us to a place where there is water; and there they are reborn in the same kind of rebirth in which we ourselves were reborn: In the name of God, the Lord and Father of all, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they receive the washing with water. For Christ said, “Unless you be reborn, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” …The reason for doing this, we have learned from the Apostles. (The First Apology 61)

Moreover, those things which were created from the waters were blessed by God, so that this might also be a sign that men would at a future time receive repentance and remission of sins through water and the bath of regeneration — all who proceed to the truth and are born again and receive a blessing from God. (To Autolycus 2:16)

ST. IRENAEUS (c. A.D. 190)
“And [Naaman] dipped himself…seven times in the Jordan” [2 Kings 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: “Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Fragment 34)

TERTULLIAN (inter A.D. 200-206)
A treatise on our sacrament of water, by which the sins of our earlier blindness are washed away and we are released for eternal life will not be superfluous…..taking away death by the washing away of sins. The guilt being removed, the penalty, of course, is also removed…..Baptism is itself a corporal act by which we are plunged in water, while its effect is spiritual, in that we are freed from sins. (On Baptism 1:1; 5:6; 7:2)
…no one can attain salvation without Baptism, especially in view of the declaration of the Lord, who says: “Unless a man shall be born of water, he shall not have life.” (On Baptism 12:1)

When we are baptized, we are enlightened. Being enlightened, we are adopted as sons. Adopted as sons, we are made perfect. Made perfect, we become immortal….”and sons all of the Most High” [Psalm 82:6]. This work is variously called grace, illumination, perfection, and washing. It is a washing by which we are cleansed of sins; a gift of grace by which the punishments due our sins are remitted; an illumination by which we behold that holy light of salvation — that is, by which we see God clearly; and we call that perfection which leaves nothing lacking. Indeed, if a man know God, what more does he need? Certainly it were out of place to call that which is not complete a true gift of God’s grace. Because God is perfect, the gifts He bestows are perfect. (The Instructor of Children 1:6:26:1)

But you will perhaps say, “What does the baptism of water contribute toward the worship of God?” In the first place, because that which has pleased God is fulfilled. In the second place, because when you are regenerated and born again of water and of God, the frailty of your former birth, which you have through men, is cut off, and so …you shall be able to attain salvation; but otherwise it is impossible. For thus has the true Prophet [Jesus] testified to us with an oath: “Verily, I say to you, that unless a man is born again of water….he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Recognitions 6:9)

ST. CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE (c. 200 – 258 A.D.)
But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the water of re-birth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; afterwards through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man… Thus it had to be acknowledged that what was of the earth and was born of the flesh and had lived submissive to sins, had now begun to be of God, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit was animating it. (To Donatus 4)
[When] they receive also the Baptism of the Church…then finally can they be fully sanctified and be the sons of God…since it is written, “Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (Letters 71[72]:1)
[It] behooves those to be baptized…so that they are prepared, in the lawful and true and only Baptism of the holy Church, by divine regeneration, for the kingdom of God…because it is written, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (Letters 72[73]:21)

And in the gospel our Lord Jesus Christ spoke with his divine voice, saying, “Except a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” …Unless therefore they receive saving Baptism in the Catholic Church, which is one, they cannot be saved, but will be condemned with the carnal in the judgment of the Lord Christ.


1 Roberts-Donaldson English Translation of the Didache

2  Mark 1:4, Matt 3:11, and Luke 3:3

2 Matt 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32-34

4  Acts 2:38, Acts 13:24, Acts 22:16

5  Romans 6:3-7, Col 2:12

6 Taken from a collection/essay: http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/num2.htm

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