Saturday, February 26, 2011

Persecution and the Early Church

There were many reasons given for the persecution of the early church which included social, political economic, and religious. There were varying degrees of persecution well into the third century which helped to shape the church. Some early Christians abandoned their faith all together. Others stood firm for a time but acquiesced once brought before the Roman authorities and offered the appropriate sacrifice to the gods allowing them to receive a certificate attesting to their compliance.[1] Still others obtained fraudulent certificates and avoided offering a sacrifice to the Roman gods.

Since Emperor Decius’ goal was to create apostates rather than martyrs, there were relatively few Christians who died during his persecution. Those who did were referred to as “confessors” and were honored in the Christian community.[2]

Decius’ persecution was brief and ended in A.D. 251 when he was succeeded by Gallus who set aside the policies of his predecessor.[3] This left the Christian church with a problem: what to do with those who “lapsed” during the persecution? Was one who ran immediately to comply with Decius’ edict to offer a sacrifice to Roman gods the same as those who denied their faith but then returned to the church while the persecution was still in progress? What of those who purchased fake certificates? Who was to have the authority to forgive the lapsed and welcome them back into fellowship? Divisions over whether purity of forgiving love has had a tremendous impact on the church that can still be felt in our own day.[4]

The various persecutions of the Christians had an impact on their theology and the practice of their faith. Apologists had to sharpen their thinking in an attempt to demonstrate to the Roman authorities that Christianity was not opposed to imperial policies.[5]

Early Christians would sometimes gather in the catacombs though this was not for secret meetings but rather because it is the place where many heroes of the faith were buried. Christians believed that communion joined them together with more than themselves and Christ but also with their ancestors in the faith.[6] Unity was very important in the early church and when it became impossible for all of the believers in a city to gather together, bread from the communion of each congregation would be sent to the bishop of the city to be used other communion ceremonies.[7]

A final note: hierarchy of the church did not seem to be a response to the persecution of the church. It was in response to the heresies (i.e. Gnosticism) in the late second and early third centuries.[8] Sadly there is still persecution of Christians taking place today in many places around the globe.

[1] González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity Vol 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1984), 85-86.

[2] Ibid, 87-88.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 90.

[5] Ibid, 52, 57, 92.

[6] Ibid, 95.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 97.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Between the Old and New Testaments

So just how do we know about the period between the Old and New Testaments? If you are like me, you have heard at least one pastor say in a a sermon that "the prophets fell silent" or something to that effect. While true, there obviously is still some record of the four hundred years between testaments. As you would expect, I have had a class that discusses this very topic! Some of the major sources used to reconstruct the history of the intertestamental period include:

· The Hebrew Old Testament, the Pentateuch whose 39 books were regarded as the Holy Word of God by the end of the period.

· The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint which has some content that differs from the Hebrew. According to Scott, where these differences exist, the Septuagint is considered a separate source.

· The Apocrypha of the Old Testament which are books found in the Septuagint but not in the Pentateuch. These books are considered a separate source as well.

There are other writings from which the fullness of the period is also derived. The writing of Flavious Josephus and Philo Judaeus as well as the Dead Sea scrolls are rather important. Additionally, it is important to remember that the New Testament itself provides details about the period.

At this point in my studies, I consider the Septuagint the most important. The differences in emphasis and changes in content provide some insight into the thoughts of the translators. The Septuagint also contains the books of the Apocrypha which were written during the Intertestamental period. I sincerely believe that any serious study of this period would be incomplete without these sources especially in light of the fact that many consider them to be scripture though I am not among them.

Studying these and other sources is important in a proper understanding of the New Testament for a number of reasons. First, we now have variations of the same documents of the period. Study of the progressive changes of these documents reveals details about the period that would otherwise be missed. Second, knowledge of these writings was common at the time and the authors of the New Testament books knew this. Beginning their work with the understanding that the audience would have a common frame of reference at the time must have impacted the way in which they approached the material under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Third, the Hellenistic culture was changing the Jewish people. For example, the Greek influence on education was much different. Both boys and girls were educated and everyone was strongly encouraged to continue learning until at least 18 years of age.

If one is to have a full understanding of anything, learning about the culture, the manner in which families worked to survive, the system of government, etc. are all very important. Omitting any aspect of life will only serve to limit the understanding of the student. I have benefited tremendously from purchasing a book that covers the manners and customs of those who lived in biblical times. I would encourage my readers to do the same. It will be a blessing to your studies.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thoughts on the Federal Budget

There is a lot of talk in the media these days about the federal budget and the cuts that the newly empowered GOP will attempt to make. Whether or not they are successful this time around in cutting what they campaigned on, one thing is certain, deep cuts will have to be made. Consider this: the Congressional Budget Office is projecting this year’s spending to be around $3.7 trillion. $35 billion is less than one percent of this spending level. Even the $100 billion Tea Party Republicans are insisting on is only about 2.7 percent of the current spending level.

Sounds bad, doesn’t it! Well if the federal government reduced spending by $1 trillion, they would still be running a budget deficit of over $500 billion. With federal revenues at their current levels, a return to the spending levels last seen in 1995 would be necessary to get the budget balanced. By the way, that doesn’t do anything to significantly reduce the national debt. That doesn’t do a thing to address over $60 trillion in unfunded entitlement liabilities that the government officials rarely talk about. You see, this mess is much larger than the $14 trillion cash debt that most folks think of when discussing the federal budget.

There is much work to be done on the budget problems in America. Roughly, one third of what the federal government does goes away before the problems begin to be resolved. The alternative is increase government revenues (a.k.a. taxes on US!) by $1.5 trillion. That means everyone in the US pay much more to the government. I don’t know about you but I would prefer to keep the money my wife and I earn though our hard work each day! The next election cycle will see more career politicians replaced in both parties. The cold hard truth is the folks who have been in Washington DC for 20 – 30 years are largely responsible for this mess regardless of party affiliation. Making difficult budgetary decisions is clearly beyond many of these politicians currently holding office.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

John Calvin's Geneva

Calvin and Feral first attempted to reform the church in Geneva in 1536.[1] Not everyone was ready to follow Calvin and Feral in their efforts at reform. The main sticking point was excommunication of unrepentant sinners. The bourgeoisie who then controlled the local government refused to allow this stating it was unnecessary rigorism.[2]

Calvin’s return to Geneva in 1541 saw an imposition of restrictions Dr. Diemer described including curfews, eliminating consumption of alcohol and dancing, etc.[3] Holy living as determined by Calvin and Feral was the order of the day. The local government was placed mostly under the control of the Consistory which was a body made up of pastors and lay elders who usually followed Calvin’s advice.[4] Calvin’s Geneva was noted for religious dogmatism in which people were expelled from the city and one in this week’s reading was even burned at the stake for being a heretic.

One should remember to keep the times in which Calvin lived in mind when considering this question. The Middle Ages had just passed and it would still be many years before the separation of church and state would ultimately become a reality in Europe.

One need not conceive of such a society today as a hypothetical because it clearly exists in many countries in the modern Middle East where Islam is the religion completing the marriage of church and state. Occasionally there are news stories of those who are imprisoned or worse for violating some religious code. After centuries of church and state more or less being the same, there is little wonder in the mind of this seminarian why there is such strong opposition to this in many parts of the world today. Even in our own country there seems to be an attempt to ban religion from the public square all together.

[1] González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity Vol 2: The Reformation to the Present Day. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985), 64-66.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Lesson 5 Lecture video. Dr. Diemer first describes Calvin and Feral’s unsuccessful attempts to limit the liberal lifestyle advocated by the Libertines who succeeded in essentially running Calvin out of town in 1538. Though Feral was invited to remain, he joined his friend. The return three years later was at the request of the town council who knew what they would be getting but thought it was better than the direction Geneva was heading.

[4] González, 67.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Prayer Request

Please be in prayer about the possibility of a trip to India. The details are not yet worked out but there is a good chance this will happen in April. The working plan is to head out on a Friday arriving on Sunday. After 5 days, departing on the next Friday to return to the U.S.

I will write a lengthy post on this once a firm decision has been made and plans get finalized. This is developing rather quickly so I do not anticipate a long delay in that post.

I sincerely appreciate your support and especially your prayers!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

So...Is Luke the Author of Acts?

When answering the question of the authorship the book of Acts, it is important to note that acceptance of Lucan authorship was generally accepted in the early church and as such certainly carries weight[1]. In answering this question, we must also consider whether or not Luke was the author of the Gospel that bears his name. It is believed that Acts is a second volume of Luke’s Gospel, a view with which I wholeheartedly agree! Strictly speaking, the author of both books is anonymous[2]. The prologues of both books leave little doubt that a relationship must exist. Theophilus is addressed in both books and the “former book” mentioned in Acts 1:1 is undoubtedly Luke’s Gospel. Additionally, the style and idiom of the Gospel of Luke and Acts and the usage of words and phrases common to both strengthen this opinion[3]. Together, these two books comprise over half of the New Testament. In order to claim Luke is not the author of Acts, one must first prove that Luke is not the author of the Gospel of Luke. Arguments against Lucan authorship of either book fall woefully short.

Concerning the question of how Luke could become aware of privileged information found in Acts 23:25-30; 25:14-22; 26:30-32, this is explained simply by the fact that Luke was present with Paul. Notice specifically that Luke states in Acts 25:15 that “when I was at Jerusalem”. Clearly, Luke had been personally communicated with and then in verse Luke responded. This is undoubtedly the testimony of a participant in the events.

Inferences from the “we” passages also point to Lucan authorship. The author was most certainly a companion of Paul. This is most clearly demonstrated in the “we” passages where, by using the first person plural pronoun, Luke places himself in the narrative with the Apostle Paul. Additionally, Luke makes the distinction between himself and Paul’s other companions by naming them. Of the unnamed companions, only Titus and Luke could possibly have been present during each of the three “we” passages. At the conclusion of Acts, the author places himself with Paul at the Roman imprisonment. Paul himself clarifies this detail in Philemon 24 by stating that Luke, not Titus, was with him during that time.

[1] Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: It's Background And Message (2nd ed). (Nashville: Broadman & Hollman Publishers, 2003), 282-283.

[2] Carson, D A, and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 290.

[3] Easton, M.G.: Easton's Bible Dictionary. (Oak Harbor, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897)