Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Closed Canon?

The Four Evangelists, by Rubens

The Four Evangelists, by Rubens

F. F. Bruce, in his book “The Canon of Scripture”, writes approvingly of the canon of Sacred Scripture being closed.

The words ‘to which nothing can be added … and from which nothing can be taken away’, whatever they precisely meant in this context, seem certainly to imply the principle of a closed canon. There are some scholars who maintain that the word ‘canon’ should be used only where the list of specially authoritative books has been closed; and there is much to be said in favour of this restrictive use of the word (a more flexible word might be used for the collection in process of formation), although it would be pedantic to insist on it invariably. (F. Bruce 2010, 22)

The idea of nothing can be added and nothing taken away comes from a variety of sources. F. F. Bruce cites from the Old Testament (Deut 4:2; cf 12:32), the New Testament (Rev 22:18 f.), the Didache, and Josephus. Of all these citations, Bruce says: “This language can scarcely signify anything other than a closed canon.” (F. Bruce 2010, 23) The impression is given that these citations apply to the Word of God as text, rather than the doctrinal substance of the books. Certainly in the case of Josephus this is a reasonable interpretation, but the other citations are more problematic.

In Deuteronomy we read: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut 4:2). If this implies a closed canon, how are we to account for the remainder of the Old Testament since, apart from the book of Job, none of it had been written yet? Equally important for we Christians, how are we to account for the New Testament, given that it not only speaks of the fulfillment of the law of Moses in the person of Jesus Christ, but also reveals the Triune God, something never made explicit in the Old Testament, and not even made implicit apart from the reading of Christ back into the Old Testament

Historically, the canon of the Old Testament was accepted by the Christian Church up until time of the Reformation. Henry Wace, in his commentary on the King James Version, admits as much when he writes:

“When the Reformers denied the inspired authority of the books of the Apocrypha, it was by no means their intention to exclude them from use either in public or in private reading. The Articles of the Church of England quote with approbation the ruling of St. Jerome, that though the Church does not use these books for establishment of doctrine, it reads them for example of life and instruction of manners.” [emphasis added] (Wace 1811, xxxvi)

There were individuals who devised lists of books approved for use in the church (such as the “ruling of St. Jerome), lists similar to that used by Protestants today, but these were not authoritative in the wider church. It should be noted that the Bible texts created prior to the Protestant Reformation included what Protestants call the Apocrypha. The Geneva Bible of 1560 and the original King James Version (KJV) of 1611 both contained the Apocrypha, and versions of the KJV with the Apocrypha are available today (although printed versions are quite rare in the United States).

But the situation is more complicated when we discuss the lectionaries, the appointed Scripture readings for the Church year. The King James Bible with Commentary contains, in its introduction, a history of the gradual elimination of the Apocrypha from the Common Lectionary of the Anglican Church. Originally the Lectionary included the Apocrypha with the exception of the books of the Maccabees. Henry Wace notes: “Among the Puritan complaints in the reign of Elizabeth, objections to the public reading of the Apocrypha had no prominent part.” (Wace 1811, xxxvi) Various redactions were made over the years, and while the revised lectionary of 1867 contained readings from the Apocrypha only on weekdays, readings from the Apocrypha were reduced from two months to only three weeks. Of the Anglican Lectionary of 1867, Wace writes:

So small a portion of the apocryphal books has been retained in the present Lectionary that the retention of any would seem intended for little more than an assertion of the Church’s right to use these books if she pleases in public reading. This is still more true of the American Church, which entirely discontinued the use of lessons from the Apocrypha on ordinary week-days ; but still uses such lessons on two or three holy days. The Irish Church on its last revision of the Lectionary has not even retained so much as this. (Wace 1811, xxxviii)

The complete elimination of the Apocrypha from the life of the Protestant Church turns out to be a relatively recent innovation, one which would not have been acceptable to the Reformers.

Bibliography

Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Kindle Edition. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Wace, Henry. Holy Bible According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611). Edited by Henry Wace. Vol. 1. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1811.

 

 

Idolatry as the Beginning of Perversions

Christian Idol Worship

Christian Idol Worship?[1]

A Comparison of Rom 1:24-32 and Wisdom 14:12, 24-27

For the devising of idols was the beginning of spiritual fornication, and the invention of them the corruption of life. … They kept neither lives nor marriages any longer undefiled: but either one slew another traiterously, or grieved him by adultery. So that there reigned in all men without exception blood, manslaughter, theft, and dissimulation, corruption, unfaithfulness, tumults, perjury, Disquieting of good men, forgetfulness of good turns, defiling of souls, changing of kind, disorder in marriages, adultery, and shameless uncleanness. For the worshipping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil. (Wisdom 14:12, 24-27)

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Rom 1:24-32)

The apostle Paul begins with a description of idolatry (Rom 1:21-23), and the immorality arising from it. In this Paul is saying nothing new, but is simply repeating the ideas found in Wisdom. This is not a direct quotation, but Paul is definitely copying his thematic material from Wisdom, and is simply more graphic in his depiction.

In Wisdom we read that idolatry is the beginning of spiritual fornication; in Romans we read that after becoming idolaters, God “gave them up” to immorality. In Wisdom we read that idolatry is the source of defiled marriages; in Romans we read that because men worshipped the “creature more than the Creator”, they dishonored their own bodies. In Wisdom we see idolatry as the source of murders, manslaughter, theft, dishonesty, corruption, unfaithfulness, tumults, perjury, etc.; Paul describes idolaters as filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, etc. In Wisdom we read of “disorder in marriages, adultery, and shameless uncleanness; in Romans we read of fornication and “vile affections”, which Paul goes on to explain as male and female homosexual acts — which is an explication of Wisdom’s “shameless uncleanness”.[2] Everything we see in Paul we first read in the book of Wisdom, which was Paul’s source material — his bible, if you will.


[1] We must not think that we are above reproach, while condemning others. If the idolatry is the beginning of immorality, than we sinners are all idolaters to one degree or another. We are all compromised. We are all guilty, whether Jew or Gentile, whether Christian or pagan, whether agnostic, atheist, or theist. Perhaps the test should be this. Does the other’s idolatry lead them towards sin, or away from it?

[2] I do not intend to get into the culture wars over the acceptance of homosexuality, except to say this. The one side fails to differentiate between the person who is loved by God, and the homosexual acts that person commits, or the homosexual impulses endemic to that person. The other side states that homosexuality is not a choice, which may be true. After all, no one chooses as a young child a sexual orientation that puts them at odds with society at large. And since (they say) homosexuality is not a choice, then it must be a valid expression of human sexuality.

I simply state that we must deal with the homosexual as a person loved by God, while recognizing the scriptures class homosexuality as “vile affections” and “shameless uncleanness.” We must also recognize that in vilifying the homosexual (while allowing other sins such as gluttony), we drive them away from the Gospel.

What Have we Learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Just keep walking, this booth doesn't concern you.

Between 1946 and 1952, what became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves near the ancient settlement of Qumran. Since then scholars have differed as to their importance. Many years ago, I asked a bible scholar what we had learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls. His answer? “We learned that we didn’t need them.” By this he meant that the Dead Sea Scrolls had confirmed everything conservative bible scholars had been saying about the reliability and inerrancy of scripture. He was wrong.

With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars now had a group of texts that were a thousand years older than the existing Masoretic texts, which date from the 9th and 10th centuries. On the one hand, these texts were passed on relatively unchanged around the time of Christ. However, some theological conservatives — such as Will Varner, writing for ChristianAnswers.net — draw unwarranted conclusions. Varner writes:

Here is a strong example of the tender care which the Jewish scribes down through the centuries took in an effort to accurately copy the sacred Scriptures. We can have confidence that our Old Testament Scriptures faithfully represent the words given to Moses, David and the prophets.[1]

The problem with this is that Moses lived approximately 1100 years before the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. The claim that the scriptures changed little between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic texts provides us no insight into the potential for the development or alteration of the texts in the centuries prior to the coming of Christ. Moreover, the claim that there was little change between the extant Masoretic texts and the texts of the Dead Sea scrolls is just wrong.

Most importantly, the Dead Sea Scrolls were unpointed texts. The ancient Hebrew texts did not contain the vowel points, and had no spacing between the letters. When the Masorites did their work, they added vowel pointing and word spacing, fixing a particular interpretation of the text. The 18th Century Anglican Scholar Adam Clarke, in the Preface to Volume 1 of his Commentary on the Whole Bible, writes the following:

The Mazoretes were the most extensive Jewish Commentators which that nation could ever boast. The system of punctuation, probably invented by them, is a continual gloss on the Law and the Prophets; their vowel points, and prosaic and metrical accents, give every word to which they are affixed a peculiar kind of meaning, which in their simple state, multitudes of them can by no means bear. The vowel points alone, add whole conjugations to the language. This system is one of the most artificial, particular, and extensive comments ever written on the Word of God; for there is not one word in the Bible that is not the subject of a particular gloss, through its influence.[2]

It should be noted that the Hebrew word from which is derived the term Masoretes, mesorah (מסורה, alt. מסורת), is a reference to tradition; specifically, the transmission of a tradition. Therefore, the Masoretic text should be understood as fixing a particular understanding of scripture, a particular strain of Jewish thought.

Moreover, it is not just the addition of vowel points and word spacing that differentiates the Masoretic text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, but that entire texts have been changed. The Book of Psalms, as found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, is quite different, including a number of psalms missing from both the Masoretic text and the LXX.[3] The book of Jeremiah is quite different, and agrees with the Septuagint instead of the Masoretic text. Karel Van Der Toorn, in his book Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible, writes:

Biblical scholars have long been aware of the fact that the Greek translation of Jeremiah as extant in the Septuagint is shorter by one-seventh than the text in the Hebrew Bible. Its arrangement of the material, moreover, differs at some points from that in the Hebrew text. The most striking instance is the position of the Oracles against the Nations. Whereas the Septuagint places them right after 25:13 (“ And I will bring upon that land all that I have decreed against it, all that is recorded in this book — that which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations”), the Hebrew Bible has them at the end of the book (Chapters 46-51). The discoveries in the Judean Desert have yielded a fragment of a Hebrew version of Jeremiah (4QJerb) that agrees with the Septuagint (henceforth JerLXX) against the Hebrew text known from the Masoretic tradition (Henceforth JerMT). Based on this fragment, scholars have concluded that the Greek translation goes back to a Hebrew text of Jeremiah that differs in important respects from the Hebrew Bible. The differences between JerMT and JerLXX are such that they cannot be attributed to scribal errors in the process of transmission. Nor can the Hebrew vorlage[4] of the Septuagint be interpreted as an abbreviated version of the book. In view of their different placement of the Oracles against the Nations, JerMT and JerLXX represent two different editions of the same book. Chronologically, the edition reflected in JerLXX  precedes the one extant in JerMT.[5]

Lawrence Boadt, in his book Reading the Old Testament, confirms this. He writes:

There were quite a variety of copies of the Hebrew Old Testament available by the time of Jesus. Since copying had gone on for a long time already, many different editions circulated, some longer with sections added in, some shorter with sections omitted. All had some change or error in them. Since a scribe in one area often copied from a local text, the same error or change often appeared regularly in one place, say, Babylon, but not in text copied in Egypt. Thus, at the time of Christ, three major “families” or groupings of text types could be found: The Babylonian, the Palestinian, and the Egyptian. …Only at the end of the first century A.D. did the rabbis decide to end the confusion and select one text, the best they could find, for each part of the Bible. In the Pentateuch they chose the Babylonian tradition, but in other books, such as the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, they followed the Palestinian-type text.

These first century rabbis also inaugurated a method of guaranteeing the text from any more glosses and additions, though not completely from copying errors. They counted words, syllables, and sections, and wrote the totals at the end of each book of the Old Testament. …The standard Hebrew text that resulted from the decisions of these early rabbis has become known as the “Masoretic text,” named after a later group of Jewish scholars of the eighth to eleventh centuries A.D., the masoretes, or “interpreters,” who put vowels into the text, and thus “Fixed the words in a definitive form. No longer could a reader be confused by whether the word qtl in the text meant qotel, “the killer,” or qatal, “he killed.”[6]

The problem is this. The 1st century rabbis fixed the text in a form significantly different than that used by the Jewish diaspora for several hundred years. This was a radical emendation of the text which, when coupled by the Masoretic vowel pointing, fixed the interpretation of the text. Thus it is clear that as Judaism underwent substantial changes subsequent to the destruction of the temple, so too did the text used as the basis for their faith.

Additionally, we learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls is that the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was quite fluid in the years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem.[7] Judaism is now understood to have been much more diverse in the time of Christ than it was to become. The Samaritans held that only the five books of Moses were scripture, although their version of the first five books of Moses were slightly different.[8] It has been widely (although not universally) understood that the Sadducees considered only the first five books of Moses to be scripture.[9] This view was prevalent among some of the church fathers, but modern scholars think the fathers were conflating the Samaritans and the Sadducees.[10] If the latest scholarship is correct, the canon for both the Sadducees and Pharisees covered what we know today as the Hebrew Scriptures, aka. the Old Testament. The Diaspora, sometimes called the Hellenists, used the Septuagint (LXX) in their synagogues. The canon of the LXX was quite fluid, containing numerous books written after the time of Ezra. The Essenes appear to have used the Septuagint canon, with the possible exception of the book of Esther.[11]

So what does this all mean? Well for one thing, the Dead Sea Scrolls have exposed the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures changed over time, thus calling into question the 20th century theological innovation known as inerrancy. Moreover, the Dead Sea Scrolls have called into question the validity and veracity of the Masoretic text, being examples of the Septuagint textual tradition. This, the Dead Sea Scrolls call into question all translations based upon the Masoretic text.[12] Perhaps this is why conservative evangelical scholars will still tell you that the Dead Sea Scrolls were not needed; to admit otherwise would call into question their entire theological paradigm.

 


[1] Arnett, Will. What is the Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls? 1997. http://christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a023.html

[2] Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Volume 1. 1853. p. iii

[3] Sanders, J. A. Psalms Scroll: Tehillim. http://www.ibiblio.org/expo/deadsea.scrolls.exhibit/Library/psalms.html

[4] Vorlage: a prior version of a text under consideration.

[5] Van der Toorn, Karel. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible.  2007. pp. 199-200

[6] Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. 1984. pp. 73-74

[7] Tigchelaar, Eibert. How did the Qumran Scrolls Transform our Views of the Canonical Process? 2009. https:// lirias.kuleuven.be/bitstream/123456789/253557/3/tigchelaar-canon.doc

[8] Wikipedia. Samaritan Pentateuch. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritan_Pentateuch

[9] Ross, Allen. The Sadducees. 2006. https://bible.org/seriespage/sadducees

[10] The primary difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was not the canon itself, but the use to which they put the canon. The Sadducees were strict literalists; it if couldn’t be found in scripture, it wasn’t part of Judaism. By contrast, the Pharisees had a body of tradition which served to enhance or interpret scripture; some of these regulations were extra-scriptural, in that they could not be traced back to scriptural texts. For this reason, the Sadducees rejected the traditions and regulations of the Pharisees. (Skarsaune, Oskar. In the Shadow of the Temple. IVP Academic. 2002. pp. 109-111)

[11] This is the popular view, based on archeological digs by a Dominican monk named Roland de Vaux, as interpreted through the translation (by a Polish scholar named Jozef Milik) of a scroll called “The Rule of the Community”. Roland de Vaux’s views were widely accepted in the academic community in the 1970s, and fired the popular imagination. More recent archeology has cast doubt upon the identification of the Qumran community with the Essenes, and suggests that the texts hidden away in the caves of Qumran were deposited by Jews in anticipation of the Roman’s capture of Jerusalem. This view is bolstered by the inclusion of a copper scroll comprising a list of possible second temple treasures hidden away in anticipation of the Roman advance. (Lawler, Andrew. Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? 2010. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Who-Wrote-the-Dead-Sea-Scrolls.html)

[12] I do not say that the Masoretic text is not Scripture; merely that it is not the best available text of scripture. A text need not be perfect to be inspired. Inspiration, as testified to by Sacred Scripture, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness. Clearly the Masoretic text meets that benchmark.

Scribal Culture and the Old Testament

Reconstruction of the Library of Alexandria

Reconstruction of the Library of Alexandria

How are we to determine the development of the Old Testament canon, to say nothing of the development and preservation of the Scriptures themselves? The first difficulty is our tendency to view antiquity through the lens of the modern age, and to assume that people lived, thought, and acted much as we do. But this is a tremendous error, for the ancients were quite unlike us.

For one thing, the ancients did not have our fascination with the printed word, and in particular, with individual authorship. The ancients had a much different view of the individual than we do — not individual as a means of distinguishing one person from another, but rather as a person occupying a social role. Karel van der Toorn expands upon this line of thought.

We think of a human person as a unique individual distinct from all other human beings. This view is the outcome of a long historical process. Earlier cultures put much greater emphasis on the social role of the individual. In ancient civilizations, such as Mesopotamia and Israel, the human person is understood as a character (personage) rather than as a personality (personne). The individual is indistinguishable from his or her social role and social status. (van der Toorn 2007, 46)

Since the ancients didn’t have our fascination with the individual, our concept of authorship doesn’t fit. The ancient author was unconcerned with issues that concern modern publishing, such as “authenticity, originality, and intellectual property.” Instead, the name attached to a document had to do with the authority of the document, rather than authorship in the modern sense. The actual author, in the modern sense, would have been an anonymous scribe. (van der Toorn 2007, 47)

The role of the scribe in antiquity was in part a function of that era’s widespread illiteracy, which was so bad that in at least one case a person was considered literate since he knew how to sign his name.  (Ehrman 2005, 38-39) With few people available who knew how to read, there could be no trade in books. Scrolls, therefore, were primarily a matter for governance and religion, and were kept in the palace and temple libraries. Karel van der Toorn writes:

Scribes wrote scrolls (rather than books) for the benefit of other scribes (rather than for private readers). A book market did not exist, nor were there public libraries; in fact, there was no reading public of any substance. Texts reached the people by being read out loud by someone from the literate elite. Writing and reciting were complementary facets of the scribal craft, and the Bible came into being through the agency of the scribes. In many respects, then, the Bible is the fruit of scribal culture. (van der Toorn 2007, 51)

Conditioned as we are by Hellenism, this scribal culture is foreign to us — so much so that we read our understandings into the scriptures, seeing in them the things that fit our mental model. We are like someone learning a foreign language, and whose brain cannot ‘hear’ the phonetics that don’t occur in their native tongue.

For example, there is a passage in Deuteronomy that provides regulations for the proclamation and behavior of the king once the people enter the land (Deut 17:14-20). This passage is peculiar, because it suggests that God was not opposed to Israel having a king. In fact, not having a king was normative for Israel during the period of the Judges (Jud18:1; 19:1; 21:25). The prophet Samuel was the last judge of Israel when the people asked for a king. And God said to Samuel: “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Sam 8:7). What follows is a passage that details the behavior of the king — his taxation, and the manner of his rule — and provides this in greater detail than the passage in Deuteronomy.

Given this, we may well ask why the passage in Deuteronomy exists if Israel was not meant to have a king. This is not Moses allowing for divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. Instead, we have the Mosaic law explicitly permitting something which under Samuel was a considered to be a rejection of God. Now we can discuss this in light of God’s perfect will vs. his permissive will, but wouldn’t it be easier to suggest the passage in Deuteronomy is a later scribal addition? That perhaps the scribes took down Samuel’s words and added them to the text of Deuteronomy?

Shocking, I know, given our post-Hellenistic understanding of authorship as an individualistic, creative act. But in the scribal culture, books and authors didn’t exist as such. An author was the authority under which something was written, not the person who actually wrote.  Scribes collected, copied, edited, and maintained libraries of scrolls for use in the temple, and in government. It is reasonable to assume that once Israel had a king, certain rules and regulations for having a king were added to the law.[1]

For the ancients, an author was not necessarily someone who wrote, but rather someone who lent authority to the works that bore his name. Given this, the books of Moses should be understood as the books compiled and maintained under Moses’ authority, rather than the books Moses personally authored by his own hand. Just as the book of Jeremiah was transcribed by Baruch the son of Neriah, in like fashion Moses would likely have used an amanuensis to transcribe his thoughts. Given the scribal culture, it should be expected that the original Mosaic material was compiled and edited over the centuries, yet maintained the basic structure and authority of the original  —  if such a thing (an original in the modern sense of the term) could be said to have existed in the first place.


Bibliography

Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.

van der Toorn, Karel. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.


[1] We should note that while Saul was king, he functioned more like a tribal leader. Under Saul, there was no government as such. The same can be said for David. It wasn’t until Solomon that a government existed, one in which the power of the king was delegated to government functionaries whose exercise of power was in accordance with the law.

The Influence of Enoch on the Book of Revelation

Enoch Lithograph by William Blake

Enoch Lithograph by William Blake

The Old Testament does not contain an apocalypse. Yes, there are portions of some Major and Minor Prophets that are apocalyptic, but there is no single book that is apocalyptic in its entirety. This is true whether we use the truncated Old Testament of the Protestants, or the more inclusive Old Testament of the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and others. Only the Ethiopian Coptic Church has a canon that includes an Old Testament apocalypse. Yet the New Testament contains the Revelation of St. John, a book that is steeped in second temple apocalyptic imagery and thematic material.

The primary difference between the Revelation of St. John and the second temple apocalypses is Christology. Whereas the second temple imagery looks forward to the coming of the messiah, the Revelation of St. John describes Jesus Christ as the Messiah who had come, who was slain, who was resurrected, and who is coming again at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead. What is interesting about the Book of Revelation is the way it borrows the apocalyptic imagery of Enoch in support of its Christology.

In examining this imagery, it is important to note that in the second temple, the Holy of Holies was empty. The Ark of the Covenant was missing. The attentive bible reader will remember how the Ark of the covenant was shrouded in the “thick darkness” of the Holy of Holies (I Kings 8:12); and then how in Ezekiel chapters 8-10, the prophet is given a vision of the glory of God departing from the temple as a consequence for Israel’s sin. After the Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra makes no mention of the glory of God returning, filling the temple, and overshadowing the Ark. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that when the Roman General Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 BC, he entered the Holy of Holies. Tacitus writes:

Roman control of Judaea was first established by Gnaeus Pompey. As victor (12) he claimed the right to enter the Temple, and this incident gave rise to the common impression that it contained no representation of the deity—the sanctuary was empty and the Holy of Holies untenanted.[1]

Interestingly, Josephus leaves this out of his account. He writes:

No small enormities were committed about the temple itself, which, in former ages, had  been inaccessible, and see by none; for Pompey went into it, and not a few of those that were with him also, and saw all that which was unlawful for any other men to see, but only for the high priests.[2]

In like fashion, the Jewish Encyclopedia fails to mention that Pompey found the Holy of Holies empty.[3] This should be no surprise; while the temple liturgies carried on in the second temple, the glory of the Lord was missing. Moreover, since the Ark of the Covenant was missing, there was no Mercy Seat, and therefore no atonement for sin. This sense of loss is expressed in the book of Ezra, when the ancient men, those who had seen the first temple, wept over their loss. “But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice” (Ezra 3:12).

This sense of loss, that something was amiss, is quite likely the source of much of the second temple literature. The apocalypses in particular supply us with vivid images of a heavenly temple full of angels serving God, a temple filled with the glory of God, and a temple where God is enthroned within the heavenly Holy of Holies. This heavenly temple, unlike the earthly second temple, was a place where God was present.

The calling of Enoch is similar in kind to that of the apostle John. Where Enoch “was blessing the Lord of majesty and the King of the ages” when he was called (Enoch 12:3), John was “in the spirit on the Lord’s Day,” and was called up to heaven (Rev 1:10; 4:1). Both of them were called into the heavenlies, where they both alike had visions of the Son of Man (Enoch 46:1-8; Rev 1:13-18; 5:5-9; 19:11-16). Both alike witness the angels serving God, both witnessed the heavenly liturgies, and both were called into the presence of God, the fully-furnished Holy of Holies.[4]

The similarities between the thematic material of Enoch and Revelation are striking, so much so that it is clear that Revelation is a product of the second temple literary tradition. Yet there are striking differences as well. In particular, the idea that the Son of Man had indeed come, had died, and now liveth for evermore (Rev 1:18). The scandal of the cross is entirely missing from second temple literature, yet is ever present within John’s Revelation. It is therefore clear that whatever debt the apostle John owed to second temple literature in general, and the Book of Enoch in particular, his apocalypse is clearly of Christian origin.

[1] (Tacitus 2015)

[2] (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 1987, 14.4.69ff, p. 370)

[3] (Jewish Encyclopedia 1906)

[4] (Barker, Temple Theology: An Introduction 2004, 21)

Literary Types found in the Apocrypha

Merrill F. Unger

Merrill F. Unger

In Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger provides the following argument against including the Apocrypha in the Bible.

  • They resort to literary types and display an artificiality of subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture.[i]

This is a curious statement, given that the bulk of the New Testament consists of letters, Gospels, an apocalypse (Revelation), and a theological treatise (Hebrews), literature not found in the Old Testament Scriptures. The only historical book is Acts; the only wisdom literature is the book of James. The Old Testament does not contain an apocalypse, a style of writing that was in fashion from the time of the Maccabees until the destruction of Jerusalem, but absent from the Old Testament.[ii] So basically, nearly all of the New Testament is made up of “literary types” and contains “subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture” — at least depending on your point of view.

The fact is that the literary types found in the Apocrypha line up well with the Old Testament documents. There is not a single literary type found in the Apocrypha which does not have a counterpart in the literary types of the Hebrew Scriptures, something that cannot be said of the Christian New Testament.

 

Literary Types Hebrew Scriptures Apocrypha
Historical accounts Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther Tobit, Judith, I, II, & II Maccabees,
Psalter Psalms Psalm 151
Wisdom Literature Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach (a.k.a. Sirach or Ecclesiasticus)
Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi Baruch, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Epistle of Jeremiah

[i] (Unger 1966, 70)

[ii] Even though the New Testament contains an apocalypse, many in the ancient church rejected the Revelation of St. John precisely because of its mysterious symbolism and apocalyptic character — something the heretics were able to twist to their advantage.

The Apocrypha and the Magnificat (Luk 1:46-55)

Visitation ( visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Saint Elizabeth, Virgin Mary shown pregnant ), 14th century Wallpaintings, Timios Stavros Church in Pelendri, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List

The Visitation of the Virgin Mary to Elizabeth

The Lord hath cast down the thrones of proud princes, and set up the meek in their stead. (Sirach 10:14)

He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. (Luk 1:52)

Mary’s Magnificat is one of the most well known prayers in all of Scripture. What is less well known is that it is basically one scripture quotation or citation after another. Given that context, it would be hard to say that citations Sirach are not scripture when everything else is. Here is the text of the Magnificat, verse by verse, with all its scriptural quotations and allusions.[1]

  • 46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
    • 1 Sa 2:1 My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high.
    • Ps 34:2,3 My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.
    • Ps 103:1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
  • 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
    • Ps 18:46b Exalted be God my Savior!
    • Isa 61:10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.
  • 48a For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
    • 1 Sam 1:11 And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
    • Ps 138:6 Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.
  • 48b for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
    • Gen 30:13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.
    • Luk 1:28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
    • Luk 1:42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
  • 49a For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;
    • 1 Sam 2:1 And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.
    • Ps 71:19 Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you?
    • Isa 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
    • Hab 3:18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
  • 49b and holy is his name.
    • 1 Sa 2:2 There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you.
    • Ps 22:3 You are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.
    • Ps 71:22b I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.
    • Ps 89:18 Indeed, our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.
    • Ps 99:3 Let them praise your great and awesome name – he is holy.
    • Ps 103:1b Praise his holy name.
  • 50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
    • Ps 103:17 From everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.
  • 51a He hath shewed strength with his arm;
    • Ps 89:10 Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.
  • 51b he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
    • 1 Sa 2:3 Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.
    • 2 Sa 22:28 You save the humble, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low.
    • Ps 89:10 You crushed Rahab like one of the slain; with your strong arm you scattered your enemies.
  • 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
    • Sirach 10:14 The Lord hath cast down the thrones of proud princes, and set up the meek in their stead.
  • 53a He hath filled the hungry with good things;
    • 1 Sa 2:5b but those who were hungry hunger no more.
    • Ps 103:5 who satisfies your desires with good things.
    • Ps 107:8,9 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
  • 53b and the rich he hath sent empty away.
    • 1 Sam 2:5 Those who were full hire themselves out for food. (Note: This is the prayer of the barren Hannah, when she was blessed with a child.)
  • 54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
    • Ps 98:3 He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
  • 55a As he spake to our fathers,
    • Ps 25:6 Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
    • Ps 98:3 He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel.
    • Ps 105:8-11 He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.”
    • Ps 136Aff. His love [mercy] endures forever.
  • 55b to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
    • Gen 12:2-3 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
    • Ps 147:19 He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel.
    • Mic 7:20 You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.
    • Sirach 44:19-22 Abraham was a great father of many people: in glory was there none like unto him; Who kept the law of the most High, and was in covenant with him: he established the covenant in his flesh; and when he was proved, he was found faithful. Therefore he assured him by an oath, that he would bless the nations in his seed, and that he would multiply him as the dust of the earth, and exalt his seed as the stars, and cause them to inherit from sea to sea, and from the river unto the utmost part of the land. With Isaac did he establish likewise for Abraham his father’s sake the blessing of all men, and the covenant, And made it rest upon the head of Jacob. He acknowledged him in his blessing, and gave him an heritage, and divided his portions; among the twelve tribes did he part them.

[1] The cross-references for the Magnificat come from a number of sources. The versification is from an essay by Curtis A. Jahn. (Jahn 1997, 14-15)


 Bibliography

Jahn, C. A. (1997). Exegesis and Sermon Study of Luke 1:46-55 The Magnificat. Mequon: Wisconson Lutheran Seminary. Retrieved October 15, 1008, from http://www.wlsessays.net/files/JahnLuke.pdf

Wisdom and the Four Gospels (Wisdom 2:10-20)

The Crucifixion of Christ

The Crucifixion of Christ

Regarding the allusions to the Apocrypha in the New Testament, let us begin our discussion with an examination of an extended passage from the Wisdom of Solomon. In Wisdom chapter 2, we have a description of the ungodly man and his reaction to and oppression of the righteous. This passage is generally applicable to the relationship between the ungodly and the righteous person, whoever he (or she) may be; however, this passage is specifically applicable to the relationship between Jesus (the ultimate Righteous Man), and the religious and political leaders of His day. I would argue that the gospels are the fulfillment of this passage from the Wisdom of Solomon. With that in mind, let us examine this passage.

Let us oppress the poor righteous man, let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the ancient gray hairs of the aged. (Wisdom 2:10)

This passage begins with the oppression of the poor, which is a recurring theme of the Old and New Testaments. The book of Proverbs goes so far as to say: “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Pr 12:10). Not only does a righteous man care for the poor man and the aged, but also the creatures entrusted to his care (Gen 1:26).

Let our strength be the law of justice: for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth. (Wisdom 2:11)

The ungodly use the law against the poor, the aged, and all of creation. To the ungodly, obedience to the letter of the law excuses a lack of mercy. Against this argument, the prophet Hosea argues that God desires mercy rather than sacrifice (Hos 6:6). To those who pride themselves on their adherence to the law, Jesus argues that judgment, mercy, and faith are the “weightier matters of the law”, which must be done without neglecting the law itself (Matt 23:23).

Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. (Wisdom 2:12)

Here is where this passage takes a turn; while generally applicable to the relationship between the ungodly and the righteous, from this point onward this passage is specifically applies to the relationship between the ungodly and The Righteous One, who is Jesus Christ. In the Gospels we read how Jesus upbraided the religious leaders, and how they in turn plotted against him. We read how they tried to trap Jesus with questions designed to elicit answers which would have been unsatisfactory to the people or would have put Him at odds with the Roman authorities. (The question regarding whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman authorities comes to mind; see Matt 22:17ff)

He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. (Wisdom 2:13)

This is most certainly true of Our Lord. The first example of this is found in the story of the Boy Jesus in His Father’s house. Not only were the teachers astonished at His understanding, but when His parent’s upbraided Him, Jesus asked them why they didn’t know He must be about His Father’s business (Luk 2:41-50).

He was made to reprove our thoughts. (Wisdom 2:14)

This passage is fulfilled in the healing of the man with palsy (Matt 9:1-8). Jesus first announces to the man the forgiveness of sins, which the scribes thought was blasphemous, because only God can forgive sins. Jesus reproved them for their thoughts, after which he demonstrating that He had the power to forgive sins by healing the palsied man.

He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion. (Wisdom 2:15)

In the Gospel of Luke, we read how Jesus called Levi the tax collector, who then gave a great feast at his house with other tax collectors present. Seeing this, the “scribes and Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, ‘Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'” Jesus response was that just as a physician ministers not to those who are well, but those who are sick, so too He ministered not to those who presumed themselves to be righteous, but those who knew themselves to be sinners (Luk 5:30-31). Later, while dining with Simon the Pharisee, a sinful women came in “began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head: and she kissed His feed and anointed them with the fragrant oil.” At this, the Pharisee murmured in his heart against Jesus for allowing Himself to be touched by a sinful woman. Jesus then rebuked the Pharisee for failing to follow the standards of hospitality by having Jesus’ feet washed before dinner, whereas the sinful woman had done this and more. Therefore to the woman he said her sins were forgiven, and that her faith had saved her (Luk 7:36-50). To the Lawyer who sought to justify himself in his own eyes, Jesus gave the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the Priest and Levite are the villains, while the hated Samaritan was the hero for showing mercy to someone to whom he had no relationship, no kinship, and no expectation of reward (Luk 10:25-37).

We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. (Wisdom 2:16)

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus denounces the counterfeit religiosity of the Pharisees, those who “make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess” (Matt 23:25). In the Beatitudes, Jesus pronounces the blessedness of the righteous (Matt 5:3-12). The gospels use the life of Christ as an illustration of this passage from Wisdom; the good works that Jesus does enrage the ungodly, as does his description of God as His Father (Luke 10:22; John 5:28; 10:30). Thus the three clauses from this verse are applicable to the life of Christ.

Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected. (Wisdom 2:17-20)

These final verses describe the state of mind and the actions of the Chief Priests and Pharisees regarding the death of Christ. Not only that, but they specifically foretell the words of the rulers of the Jews at the foot of the cross.

The Jewish trial was done contrary to the law, using false witnesses (Matt 26:59). After accusing Jesus of blasphemy, the scribes and elders spit in Jesus face and beat him with their hands, mocking him by saying: “Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee? (Matt 26:67-68). After delivering Jesus to the Pontius Pilate, the Romans stripped him, whipped him, put a crown of thorns on His head, mocked Him, and crucified Him (Matt 27:27-31; Joh 19:1-18).

During Jesus’ examination before the Sanhedrin, Jesus said nothing, until he was asked whether he was “the Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 14:53-62). During Jesus’ examination before Herod, Jesus said nothing (Luk 23:6-9). Jesus did not try to justify Himself, nor did he beg for mercy, but “as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa 53:7).

There was nothing more shameful than to be stripped naked and die a criminal’s death on the cross. The gospels state not only that the Jewish leaders desired the death of Jesus, but they specifically wanted the Romans to crucify Him (Joh 19:6). The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame”, and is now seated at the right hand of God. (Heb 12:2).

Finally, at the foot of the cross the rulers of the Jews use the words from Wisdom to mock Christ. They sneer: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God” (Luk 23:35). This is then taken up by the soldiers who mock Christ, saying: “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself” (Luk 23:37). Finally, one of the thieves crucified with Christ blasphemes: “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us” (Luk 23:39).

It is quite clear that this passage from Wisdom is prophetic, in that it is broadly descriptive of the life and death of Christ. Therefore, the arguments of some that the Apocrypha are not prophetic and therefore are not scripture fall to the ground.[1]

 

[1] Normal Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie write: “Contrary to the Roman Catholic argument from Christian usage, the true test of canonicity is propheticity. There is strong evidence that the apocryphal books are not prophetic. But since propheticity is the test for canonicity, this would eliminate the Apocrypha from the canon.” (Geisler and MacKenzie 1995, 196-197)


Bibliography

Geisler, N. L., & MacKenzie, R. E. (1995). Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: agreements and differences. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

 

How to Read the Bible and Why

Potograph of St. Justin Popovich

St. Justin Popovich

HOW TO READ THE BIBLE AND WHY

by Archimandrite Justin Popovich

The Bible is in a sense a biography of God in this world. In it the Indescribable One has in a sense described Himself.

The Holy Scriptures of the New Testament are a biog­raphy of the incarnate God in this world. In them it is related how God, in order to reveal Himself to men, sent God the Logos, who took on flesh and became man–and as a man told men everything that God is, everything that God wants from this world and the people in it.

God the Logos revealed God’s plan for the world and God’s love for the world. God the Word spoke to men about God with the help of words, insofar as human words can con­tain the uncontainable God.

All that is necessary for this world and the people in it–the Lord has stated in the Bible. In it He has given the answers to all questions. There is no question which can torment the human soul, and not find its answer, either directly or in­directly in the Bible.

Men cannot devise more questions than there are answers in the Bible. If you fail to find the answer to any of your questions in the Bible, it means that you have either posed a sense-less question or did not know how to read the Bible and did not finish reading the answer in it.

In the Bible God has made known:

[1] what the world is; where it came from; why it exists; where it is heading; how it will end;

[2] what man is; where he comes from; where he is going; what he is made of; what his purpose is; how he will end;

[3] what animals and plants are; what their purpose is; what they are used for;

[4] what good is; where it comes from; what it leads to; what its purpose is; how it is attained;

[5] what evil is; where it comes from; how it came to exist; why it exists–how it will come to an end;

[6] what the righteous are and what sinners are; how a sin­ner becomes righteous and how an arrogant flghteous man becomes a sinner; how a man serves God and how he serves satan; the whole path from good to evil, and from God to satan;

[7] everything–from the beginning to the end; man’s entire path from the body to God, from his conception in the womb to his resurrection from the dead;

[8] what the history of the world is, the history of heaven and earth, the history of mankind; what their path, purpose, and end are.

In the Bible God has said absolutely everything that was necessary to be said to men. The biography of every man-­everyone without exception–is found in the Bible.

In it each of us can find himself portrayed and thoroughly described in detail: all those virtues and vices which you have and can have and cannot have.

You will find the paths on which your own soul and everyone else’s journey from sin to siniessness, and the entire path from man to God and from man to Satan. You will find the means to free yourself from sin.

In short, you will find the complete history of sin and sin­fulness, and the complete history of righteousness and the righteous.

If you are mournful, you will find consolation in the Bible; if you are sad, you will find joy; if you are angry–tranquility; if you are lustful–continence; if you are foolish–wisdom; if you are bad–goodness; if you are a criminal–mercy and righteousness; if you hate your fellow man–love.

In it you will find a remedy for all your vices and weak points, and nourishment for all your virtues and accomplishments.

If you are good, the Bible will teach you how to become better; if you are kind, it will teach you angelic tenderness; if you are intelligent, it will teach you wisdom.

If you appreciate the beauty and music of literary style, there is nothing more beautiful or more moving than what is contained in Job, Isaiah, Solomon, David, John the Theologian and the Apostle Paul. Here music–the angelic music of the eternal truth of God–is clothed in human words.

The more one reads and studies the Bible, the more he finds reasons to study it as often and as frequently as he can. According to St. John Chrysostom, it is like an aromatic root, which produces more and more aroma the more it is rubbed.

Just as important as knowing why we should read the Bible is knowing how we should read the Bible.

The best guides for this are the holy Fathers, headed by St. John Chrysostom who, in a manner of speaking, has written a fifth Gospel.

The holy Fathers recommend serious preparation before reading and studying the Bible; but of what does this preparation consist?

First of all in prayer. Pray to the Lord to illuminate your mind–so that you may understand the words of the Bible–and to fill your heart with His grace–so that you may feel the truth and life of those words.

Be aware that these are God’s words, which He is speaking and saying to you personally. Prayer, together with the other virtues found in the Gospel, is the best preparation a person can have for understanding the Bible.

How should we read the Bible? Prayerfully and reverently, for in each word there is another drop of eternal truth, and all the words together make up the boundless ocean of the Eternal Truth.

The Bible is not a book but life; because its words are “spirit and life” (John 6:63). Therefore its words can be comprehended if we study them with the spirit of its spirit, and with the life of its life.

It is a book that must be read with life–by putting it into practice. One should first live it, and then understand it.

Here the words of the Saviour apply: “Whoever is willing to do it–will understand that this teaching is from God” (John 7:17). Do it, so that you may understand it. This is the fun­damental rule of Orthodox exegesis.

At first one usually reads the Bible quickly, and then more and more slowly, until finally he will begin to read not even word by word, because in each word he is discovering an everlasting truth and an ineffable mystery.

Every day read at least one chapter from the Old and the New Testament; but side by side with this put a virtue from each into practice. Practice it until it becomes a habit to you.

Let us say, for instance, that the first virtue is forgiveness of insults. Let this be your daily obligation. And along with it pray to the Lord: “O gentle Lord, grant me love towards those who insult me!”

And when you have made this virtue into a habit, each of the other virtues after it will be easier for you, and so on until the final one.

The main thing is to read the Bible as much as possible. When the mind does not understand, the heart will feel; and if neither the mind understands nor the heart feels, read it over again, because by reading it you are sowing God’s words in your soul.

And there they will not perish, but will gradually and imperceptibly pass into the nature of your soul; and there will happen to you what the Saviour said about the man who “casts seed on the ground, and sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, while the man does not know it” (Mark 4:26-27).

The main thing is: sow, and it is God who causes and allows what is sown to grow (1 Cor. 3:6). But do not rush success, lest you become like a man who sows today, but tomorrow already wants to reap.

By reading the Bible you are adding yeast to the dough of your soul and body, which gradually expands and fills the soul until it has thoroughly permeated it and makes it rise with the truth and righteousness of the Gospel.

In every instance, the Saviour’s parable about the sower and the seed can be applied to every one of us. The seed of Divine Truth is given to us in the Bible.

By reading it, we sow that seed in our own soul. It falls on the rocky and thorny ground of our soul, but a little also falls on the good soil of our heart–and bears fruit.

And when you catch sight of the fruit and taste it, the sweetness and joy will spur you to clear and plow the rocky and thorny areas of your soul and sow it with the seed of the word of God.

Do you know when a man is wise in the sight of Christ the Lord? –When he listens to His word and carries it out. The beginning of wisdom is to listen to God’s word (Matt. 7:24-25).

Every word of the Saviour has the power and the might to heal both physical and spiritual ailments. “Say the word and my servant will be healed” (Matt. 8:8). The Saviour said the word–and the centurion’s servant was healed.

Just as He once did, the Lord even now ceaselessly says His words to you, to me, and to all of us. But we must pause, and immerse ourselves in them and receive them–with the centurion’s faith.

And a miracle will happen to us, and our souls will be healed just as the centurion’s servant was healed. For it is related in the Gospel that they brought many possessed people to Him, and He drove out the spirits with a word, and healed all the sick (Matt. 8:16).

He still does this today, because the Lord Jesus “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8)

Those who do not listen to God’s words will be judged at the Dreadful Judgment, and it will be worse for them on the Day of Judgment than it was for Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:14-15).

Beware–at the Dreadful Judgment you will be asked to give an account for what you have done with the words of God, whether you have listened to them and kept them, whether you have rejoiced in them or been ashamed of them.

If you have been ashamed of them, the Lord will also be ashamed of you when He comes in the glory of His Father together with the holy angels (Mark 8:38).

There are few words of men that are not vain and idle. Thus there are few words for which we do not mind being judged (Matt. 12:36).

In order to avoid this, we must study and learn the words of God from the Bible and make them our own; for God proclaimed them to men so that they might accept them, and by means of them also accept the Truth of God itself. In each word of the Saviour there is more eternity and permanence than in all of heaven and earth with all their history.

Hence He said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). This means that God and all that is of God is in the Saviour’s words. Therefore they cannot pass away.

If a man accepts them, he is more permanent than heaven and earth, because there is a power in them that immortalizes man and makes him eternal.

Learning and fulfilling the words of God makes a person a relative of the Lord Jesus. He Himself revealed this when He said: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and carry it out” (Luke 8:21).

This means that if you hear and read the word of God, you are a half-brother of Christ. If you carry it out, you are a full brother of Christ. And that is a joy and privilege greater than that of the angels.

In learning from the Bible, a certain blessedness floods the soul which resembles nothing on earth. The Saviour spoke about this when He said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).

Great is the mystery of the word–so great that the second Person of the Holy Trinity, Christ the Lord, is called “the Word” or “the Logos” in the Bible.

God is the Word (John 1:1). All those words which come from the eternal and absolute Word are full of God, Divine Truth, Eternity, and Righteousness. If you listen to them, you are listening to God. If you read them, you are reading the direct words of God.

God the Word became flesh, became man (John 1:14), and mute, stuttering man began to proclaim the words of the eternal truth and righteousness of God.

In the Saviour’s words there is a certain elixir of immortality, which drips drop by drop into the soul of the man who reads His words and brings his soul from death to life, from impermanence to permanence.

The Saviour indicated this when He said: “Truly, truly I say unto you, whoever listens to my word and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life …and has passed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Thus the Saviour makes the crucial assertion: “Truly, truly I say unto you, whoever keeps my words will never see death” (John 8:51).

Every word of Christ is full of God. Thus, when it enters a man’s soul it cleanses it from every defilement. From each of His words comes a power that cleanses us from sin.

Hence at the Mystical Supper the Saviour told His disciples, who used to listen to His word without ceasing: “You have already been cleansed by the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).

Christ the Lord and His Apostles call everything that is written in the Bible the word of God, the word of the Lord (John 17:14; Acts 6:2, 13:46, 16:32, 19:20; II Cor. 2:17; Col. 1:15, II Thess. 3:1), and uniess you read it and receive it as such, you will remain in the mute, stuttering words of men, vain and idle.

Every word of God is full of God’s Truth, which sanctifies the soul for all eternity once it enters it.

Thus does the Saviour turn to His heaveniy Father in prayer: “Father! Sanctify them with Thy Truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

If you do not accept the word of Christ as the word of God, as the word of the Truth, then falsehood and the father of lies within you is rebelling against it.

In every word of the Saviour there is much that is supernatural and full of grace, and this is what sheds grace on the soul of man when the word of Christ visits it.

Therefore the Holy Apostle calls the whole structure of the house of salvation “the word of the grace of God” (Acts 20:32).

Like a living grace-filled power, the word of God has a wonder-working and life-giving effect on a man, so long as he hears it with faith and receives it with faith (1 Thess. 2:13).

Everything is defiled by sin, but everything is cleansed by the word of God and prayer–everything–all creation from man on down to a worm (1 Tim. 4:5).

By the Truth which it carries in itself and by the Power which it has in itself, the word of God is “sharper than any sword and pierces to the point of dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Nothing remains secret before it or for it.

Because every word of God contains the eternal Word of God–the Logos-it has the power to give birth and regenerate men. And when a man is born of the Word, he is born of the Truth.

For this reason St. James the Apostle writes to the Christians that God the Father has brought them forth “by the word of truth” (1:18); and St. Peter tells them that they “have been born anew…by the word of the living God, which abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23).

All the words of God, which God has spoken to men, come from the Eternal Word–the Logos, who is the Word of life and bestows Life eternal.

By living for the Word, a man brings himself from death to life. By filling himself with eternal life, a man becomes a conqueror of death and “a partaker of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and of his blessedness there shall be no end.

The main and most important point of all this is faith and feeling love towards Christ the Lord, because the mystery of every word of God is opened beneath the warmth of that feeling, just as the petals of a fragrant flower are opened beneath the warmth of the sun’s rays. Amen.

 

The Apocrypha and Greek Philosophy

The Books called Apocrypha

The Bookes called Apocrypha

Alfred Edersheim notes that one of the reasons why the Apocrypha was written was to find some way to reconcile Greek philosophy with previous Jewish writings. The object was apologetic, to demonstrate that the Hebrew Scriptures were every bit the equal of the Greek philosophers. In particular, Edersheim notes the Apocrypha combined Plato’s speculations with the asceticism of the Stoics.[1]

Of course, by linking Greek philosophy with the Old Testament, the Apocrypha paved the way for the New Testament’s use of the terminology of Greek philosophy. The connections between Platonism, Stoicism, and the New Testament are well documented (if only in the use of the terminology). Donald Robinson mentions the “traces of Stoicism in the New Testament”, especially in the epistles of the Apostle Paul — specifically in Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus (Acts 17:18-32), where Paul quotes from two different Greek poems, including a student of Zeno, the founder of Stoicism.[2]

Scholars have identified the first as coming from the Cretica of the pre-Socratic philosopher-poet Epimenides (fl. 7th or 6th century BC), which forms part of the verse:

They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,

Cretans, always liars,[3] evil beasts, idle bellies.

But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,

For in you we live and move and have our being.[4]

The second has been identified as coming from the Phaenomena of the philosopher-poet Aratus (315/310 – 240 BC), a student of Zeno, the founder of Stoicism:

Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.

For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.

Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.

Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.

For we are indeed his offspring…[5] [6]

Paul again quotes Epimenides in his pastoral letter to Titus when he writes: “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true.” (Titus 1:12-13a)

Bibliography

Edersheim, Alfred. 1993. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: New Updated Edition. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Robertson, Donald. 2012. “St. Paul on Stoicism: From the Acts of the Apostles.” Stoicism and the Art of Happiness. November 10. Accessed January 20, 2014. http://philosophy-of-cbt.com/2012/11/10/st-paul-on-stoicism-from-the-acts-of-the-apostles/.

[1] (Edersheim 1993, 22)

[2] (Robertson 2012)

[3] Titus 1:12

[4] Acts 17:25

[5] Acts 17:28

[6] (Robertson 2012)