Friday, June 04, 2021

This Is The Time For Contest And For Fighting

"Let us not then seek relaxation: for Christ promised tribulation to His disciples and Paul says, 'All who will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.' [2 Timothy 3:12] No noble-spirited wrestler, when in the lists, seeks for baths, and a table full of food and wine. This is not for a wrestler, but for a sluggard. For the wrestler contendeth with dust, with oil, with the heat of the sun's ray, with much sweat, with pressure and constraint. This is the time for contest and for fighting, therefore also for being wounded, and for being bloody and in pain. Hear what the blessed Paul says, 'So fight I, not as one that beateth the air.' [1 Corinthians 9:26] Let us consider that our whole life is in combats, and then we shall never seek rest, we shall never feel it strange when we are afflicted: no more than a boxer feels it strange, when he combats. There is another season for repose. By tribulation we must be made perfect." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On Hebrews, 5:7)

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Don't Forget About Josephus

There are some contexts in which Christians should be giving Josephus more attention than they typically do. Because Josephus was a non-Christian, he had no dog in some of the fights among the Christians of his day or later generations. And since he was writing so early (the late first century), his comments are more valuable accordingly.

As Steve Mason (a non-Christian scholar who specializes in the study of Josephus) noted, "He [Josephus] also confirms, in case there was any doubt, that James was distinguished by being Jesus' actual brother - a significant point in view of later Christian thinking about Mary's status as 'perpetual virgin' and speculation as to whether Jesus' 'brothers and sisters' were really only spiritual relatives or more distant physical relations." (Josephus And The New Testament [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005], 248) For more about how Josephus supports Mary's giving birth to other children after Jesus, and does so in multiple ways, see Eric Svendsen's Who Is My Mother? (Amityville, New York: Calvary Press, 2001).

On page 214 of his book cited above, Mason quotes Josephus' comments on how the baptism of John the Baptist was non-justificatory and non-regenerative: "They must not employ it [baptism] to gain pardon for whatever sins they had committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already cleansed by right behaviour." (Antiquities Of The Jews, 18:5:2) Given the close relationship between John and Jesus and John's baptism and Christian baptism (as illustrated by John 3:26-30 and Peter's comments in 1 Peter 3:21 that are similar to those of Josephus, for example), it makes more sense to think that there would be more rather than less continuity between the two baptisms. The New Testament evidence suggests that John's baptism was non-justificatory and non-regenerative, and Josephus gives us further reason to reach that conclusion.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

How much did Irenaeus influence our view of the gospels?

Critics often suggest that Irenaeus had an inordinately large influence on what gospels were considered canonical, what authors those gospels were attributed to, and other gospel issues. However:

"Irenaeus hardly adopted precisely these four Gospels randomly, especially given his emphasis on church tradition; and is it an accident that he chose the four Gospels more reflective of first-century Judean traditions than our other extant gospels (the 'apocryphal' gospels and gnostic sayings treatises)?" (Craig Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume I [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2012], 399)

Martin Hengel mentioned a line of evidence that's rarely discussed:

"Claus Thornton has shown that this [a passage in Irenaeus about gospel authorship] is an earlier tradition, which must be taken seriously; as the geographical references and references to persons show, it is written throughout from a Roman perspective....As Thornton has demonstrated, it corresponds to the short notes about authors in the catalogues of ancient libraries, of the kind that we know, say, from the Museion in Alexandria. Presumably this information comes from the Roman church archive." (The Four Gospels And The One Gospel Of Jesus Christ [Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000], 35-36)

Here's the passage in question:

"Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia." (Against Heresies, 3:1:1)

Notice how unnecessary the reference to Peter and Paul's work in Rome is. I don't recall anybody else describing the timing of the composition of the gospel of Matthew that way. Similarly, connecting the origins of Mark's gospel to the apostles' work in Rome ("After their departure") is unnecessary. Just before what I've quoted above, Irenaeus refers to how the apostles had spread the gospel "to the ends of the earth", so the shift to such a focus on Rome is somewhat contrary to the context. Irenaeus probably was citing a Roman source along the lines of what Hengel refers to above. So, Irenaeus is citing an earlier source that presumably made its claims independently of Irenaeus, a source that was well positioned to have significantly reliable information (the Roman church).

For more about how Irenaeus' influence is often overestimated in these contexts, see here, here, and here.