Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Problem of Citing Bodily Autonomy in Defense of Legalized Abortion

Author’s Note: Abortion is an extremely sensitive issue for many, and must be approached with sensitivity and compassion, especially for the women and families who have been so deeply impacted by the agonizing decision over whether or not to terminate a fetus, and for those who have been wounded by the often uncaring and hurtful words of people on both sides of the debate. The intention of this piece isn’t to provide a “gotcha” argument for either side, but rather to help all those involved in forming public opinion and policy to reasonably think through the unquestioned assumptions we often hold regarding when individual lives (and their associated rights) do or don’t begin.

Many pro-choice advocates appeal to the individual woman's right to bodily autonomy as justification for free access to abortion. Though attempting to build a strong philosophical foundation for any political belief is important, I do not think the concept of “bodily autonomy,” or the right for a person to make all choices regarding the health and care of their bodies, is as sound as it may at first seem.

We as a society seem to have already agreed there are certain times when bodily autonomy can and indeed should be violated. For instance, most tend to agree that people should be vaccinated, even if the personal views of individuals run counter to the practice. This violation of bodily autonomy is generally justified by the risk non-vaccinated people pose to the rest of the population. When it comes to gun control, many societies have agreed that the right to bodily self defense must be weighed against the concerns of a safer society and the realities of mass shootings, suicides, and domestic abuse. And almost every nation on the planet is willing to compromise the bodily autonomy of certain classes of people (soldiers, prisoners, etc.) in order to maintain a stable society. Finally, we're also coming to the realization that the fight against climate change will likely require global action which restricts the choices of many individuals with respect to their own bodies (everything from freedom of transportation to the types of food we eat will be impacted)(1).

All of these pressing concerns demonstrate the reality that a perceived right to bodily autonomy isn't as inviolable as we may initially think. This is especially true when we consider that no man or woman is an island, and each decision we make impacts the lives of many others. This also means that when we decide to end the life of an unborn child (or, at the least, the potential life of a fetus); the decision almost always has further reaching impacts than in the life of the mother alone. The truth is, no body is really autonomous.

If we say a fetus is less of a person simply because it is wholly reliant on the mother for life, then we may as well argue that no one has rights; because literally every human being on the planet is part of an interconnected, complex system and each requires the others to survive. The species could not survive if each human being were truly divorced from the support she or he receives from others.

Because of this, and because I do think a fetus is a life with certain inalienable rights, I cannot support legalized abortion (except in the case of medical emergencies). I must admit that as a person of faith, I believe there is a sacredness to life... to all life, but especially to human life. And when we remove our sense of life's fundamental value, then all individual rights are at risk of dissolving before the ever-increasing needs of "the greater good." The irony is that when we begin to see unborn children as expendable tissue, it isn't that far of a cognitive leap to seeing born children as expendable as well.

But I also recognize that not everyone in this country holds to my particular religious beliefs. Since our country is based upon the principles of free expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of belief; any relevant policy decisions must be based not on the tenets of a particular religion, but through the development of coherent political philosophies arrived at through the application of reason.

Though I have many religious reasons for opposing abortion (the sacredness of life, the creation of humanity in God’s image, and God’s care for the voiceless and defenseless); I do not believe that faith and reason must necessarily conflict. And in this case, I believe that they do not. I simply think there is a stronger philosophical foundation for contending that fetuses have certain rights which must be considered equal to any other right (including the rights of born men and women); than the contention that abortion is justified by the right to bodily autonomy alone, especially since no bodies are truly autonomous.

This is because the same reasons for asserting the rights of those who have already been born apply equally to the unborn. These reasons are both biological and philosophical. Both groups exhibit biological individuality (both born and unborn have their own, unique DNA). And both groups exhibit the potentiality for agency (agency being defined as the capacity for intentional action).

If we judge the value of human life on individual agency alone (as many pro-choice advocates seem to affirm), then we suddenly run the risk of arguing that the elderly, the infirm, or the handicapped are somehow less human. This is why "potentiality for agency" is a better basis for asserting individual rights than simply "agency" or even viability alone.

But when we destroy a life, for any other reason than to save another life (and even then it's an ethical gray area that must be approached with compassion and sensitivity), we necessarily violate the intrinsic value of that life (whether born or unborn).

I don't want to restrict anyone's rights more than necessary. And I certainly don't want women to be oppressed, or left out in the cold to take care of vulnerable lives alone. We must have strong social webs of support for women in need. But I just can't see the justification for supporting legalized abortion in light of all this.

(1) I briefly considered including seat belt laws in the list of ways we as a society have decided public health concerns trump bodily autonomy, but I felt that would unnecessarily bog down the article. Suffice it to say there are many laws on the books which restrict the rights of individuals to make decisions regarding their own bodily health.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Fig Tree With No Figs

Below is the manuscript of a sermon first delivered at Cortez (CO) Church of the Nazarene on Mar. 24, 2019.

Text: Luke 13:1-9 (ESV):
13 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Making Sense of a Crazy World
Human beings like the world to make sense. Things happen for a reason, and sometimes that reason is that we need things to happen for a reason! We want good things to happen to good people, and bad things to happen to bad people. And we want to know that when things upset our routine, or the expected order of things, that there is some reason behind it. There’s a very good reason for this. We were created to perceive patterns in the world, to discover the order behind it, and to relish the beauty found in it. This is so that we can perceive and know God’s love and care for His Creation by studying the works of His hands. After all, when you want to know the mind of an Artist, you study His Art.

As Paul says in Rom. 1:20 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”(1)

But sometimes our ability to perceive order and patterns in the world and the events which take place backfires. The same sense that helps us see beauty in the Cosmos is also responsible for people seeing the Virgin Mary in their toast, or faces in clouds, or sometimes even Divine punishment and blessing in the tragedies and triumphs which we experience. We want the world to make sense. And so, in our effort to find meaning, we impose sense on senseless happenings and then get mad at God when the World doesn’t look like we believe it should be.

The Arrival of Bad News
This is what happens in Luke 13. Over the past several weeks, we have been walking with Jesus and his disciples as they head to Jerusalem so that He can fulfill His mission and triumph over sin and death on the cross. But along the way, he has continued to heal, cast out demons, and teach the crowds. As he gets closer and closer to Jerusalem, we notice a subtle shift in his teaching in chs. 12 and 13 as he emphasizes more and more the need for repentance in the face of coming Judgment. This Judgment would arrive very soon for Israel, as the Temple was about to be destroyed and the city of Jerusalem abandoned in a few short decades. But, as Jesus is about to make clear, the Judgment facing Israel is one from which no man or woman is immune.

And so, when we find Jesus in Luke 13:1-9, he is in the middle of delivering a large block of teaching to the crowds, when a group of people rush in with bad news. The emphasis in v. 1 on “that very time,” lends a sense of urgency to their news. Something terrible has happened! A group of Galileans who were bringing their sacrifices to the Temple have been slaughtered by Pilate’s ruthless command, and their blood has been mingled with their sacrifices. For an observant Jew, no greater sacrilege could have taken place. Roman occupation was bad enough. And murder was certainly worse. But the time to bring sacrifices was supposed to be one of peace. It was supposed to be off-limits. And the idea that holy sacrifices offered to God would be polluted by human blood was unthinkable to them.

Now such an episode might be shocking to some of us. When most of us think of Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, we think of him as a passive and almost unwilling participant in Jesus’ crucifixion who washes his hands of the whole affair and hands Jesus over to the blood-thirsty crowds. I’ve even heard sympathy expressed for Pilate, as if he were forced into a position which he otherwise would have avoided. The fact is, Pilate was known throughout the ancient world for his brutality and iron hand in dealing with the occupied territories.

The Romans crucified thousands, and as far as Pilate was concerned, there was always enough wood available for more crosses. Though we don’t find this episode of the slaughtered Galileans outside the New Testament, the ancient Jewish historian Josephus tells us of two other instances of Pilate’s brutality. In one (and this may very well be the news Jesus was receiving), a group of Galileans were protesting Pilate’s raid on the Temple treasury to build a new aqueduct for Jerusalem, so he sent soldiers dressed in plain-clothes to infiltrate the crowds, and they beat the protesters so severely in the streets that many of them died.(2) The Galileans of the time were noted for agitating against the Roman occupation, and so had gained a reputation as insurrectionists, which may have prompted Pilate’s especially brutal treatment of them.(3)

In another instance of unrestrained violence, he put to the sword a large group of Samaritans who had gathered on their holy mountain Gerizim, where they still offer sacrifices today, and it was this episode which when reported to Caesar in Rome, caused Pilate to be recalled in disgrace in 36 AD.(4) Whatever the event is which the people report to Jesus here, it was certainly well within Pilate’s brutal character to kill a bunch of Galileans in the midst of their offering sacrifices to God.

The Crowds Want an Explanation
Naturally reeling from this horrifying news, the crowds want an explanation. Things happen for a reason. Surely these men who were so brutally murdered with their sacrifices so outrageously polluted must have done something to deserve this sudden, unexpected death. Just like when Jesus’ disciples ask him about why a certain man was born blind and they assume the only two possibilities are that either he or his parents must have sinned in some way for him to wind up in such a state.(5)

But Jesus makes it clear that that isn’t really how the world works. Sometimes people suffer. Sometimes there is no good reason for suffering! That’s an answer we don’t like to hear. The world has to make sense. Things happen for a reason. Or at least that is what we would like to believe. And that is what the Jews of Jesus’ time had been raised to believe. They were no strangers to experiences of tragedy and Judgment. When the people grumbled and disobeyed in the wilderness during the Exodus from Egypt, they were struck down with snake bites and plague until they repented. When they wandered from God during the period of the Judges, they were repeatedly put under the control of foreign powers until they cried out to God for help and God delivered them. When Israel neglected the poor and needy, when they abandoned justice in favor of the rich, and when they oppressed the orphan and the widow during the time of the prophets, they were once again handed over to foreign powers, this time to the Assyrians and Babylonians who sent them into exile.

They knew God to be a just God, and they knew that when the people abandon God’s precepts bad things happen. But that isn’t the whole story. Just as integral to their experience is the story of Job, where a righteous man suffered for no discernible reason or fault of his own or the observations of the writer of Ecclesiastes, who saw evil men prosper and good men go to the grave early.

But it’s easy to forget those stories, because a world that makes sense, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, is safe. If we just do what is good, we won’t suffer. When taken to its extreme, this view almost makes God a big bully whose attention we don’t want to attract. But as Jesus is about to make clear, that is not what God is like, and that’s not why we suffer.

In vv. 2-5, Jesus replies to the crowds, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you: but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Sometimes bad things happen to good people (or at least, they are good by our standards). This is because we live in a fallen and broken world, and we were broken with it. The very sense which allows us to search for and perceive order in the world was corrupted when we first sinned. Continuing Paul’s thought from Romans 1 that I cited earlier, v. 21 says,
“For although [we] knew God, [we] did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but [we] became futile in [our] thinking, and [our] foolish hearts were darkened.”

I mentioned last week that in Hebrew thought, the heart was not just the seat of emotion as we think of it, but also the seat of the senses and of reason. So, when we perceive suffering in the world, or experience it ourselves, our ability to perceive the causes behind it is clouded by the debilitating effects of a fallen world. Sometimes people just hurt one another because they are selfish, or because they don’t realize all the consequences, or sometimes bad things just happen for no reason because of the broken nature of reality.

Jesus gives this unsatisfying answer to the crowds around him. Maybe they wanted him to make a political statement in the wake of the Galileans’ reputation for resisting Rome. Maybe they wanted him to denounce the Galilean movement.(6) There are certainly many preachers today who wouldn’t hesitate to do just that. I remember when 9/11 happened, and later when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans; there were prominent televangelists who claimed God had visited these calamities on the nation or on the city because of its sins. When tragedy struck, instead of pulling the people together to care for those whose lives were devastated by these tragedies, they sought to divide them further by fueling their need for somebody to blame.

Now, I’m not denying the reality of Judgment here. God’s wrath is a necessary result of His justice, and His justice is a necessary component of His love.(7) But the irony is that it can be incredibly self-serving to find fault in others to explain calamity. We think: if they sinned, they deserved it. And if they deserved it, we can avoid deserving it (and so avoid suffering) if we just do what is good and right. But Jesus makes it clear that this isn’t the case. Our future with Him, though it ends in glorious triumph, includes suffering and a cross. Anyone who wants to follow Him has to come to terms with that.

Instead, what Jesus tells them is that all Galileans are just as deserving of judgment as those who were brutally killed in Pilate’s crackdown. And by bringing up the fall of the Tower of Siloam, a tower near the SE corner of Jerusalem(8), Jesus is making it clear that the Jews who live in Jerusalem are no more righteous than the Galileans, who had a reputation for being less-than-observant when it came to keeping all the minute kosher laws emphasized by the Pharisees.(9) Jesus is taking these tragic events and making them metaphors for the final Judgment to which we are all liable if we remain unrepentant.(10)

A Fig Tree with No Figs
To bring this point home, Jesus then tells the crowds a story. In vv. 6-9 he says, “And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

For ancient people, figs were symbols of prosperity and God’s blessing, but they were notoriously difficult to grow and their trees required constant care.(11) Here, Jesus is recalling the prophet Micah’s words when he says in Micah 7:1-4,
“Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires. The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand.”
He’s saying the people are like a fig tree that has been given plenty of chances, plenty of seasons to grow and bear fruit, but again and again they have proven barren. Despite God’s many chances, despite his repeated calls to the people to return to Him, they remain bare branches and they stubbornly refuse to repent. All people, not just a subset of Galileans or even just the Jews living in Jesus’ day, but the entire human race is being called back to through Jesus.

Like John the Baptist earlier in the gospel, Jesus is telling the people to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” or else they will be “cut down and thrown into the fire” like every other tree that doesn’t bear good fruit.(12)

The Good News
Still, the news isn’t all doom and gloom. God doesn’t relish in punishment and He doesn’t delight in destroying the creatures He made to pour His love into. As He says in Eze. 33:11,
“‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’”
It is for that reason that Jesus, the gardener, pleads with the Father represented by the owner of the vineyard, on our behalf. Though we deserved judgment the very moment we sinned, Christ has pleaded on our behalf from the beginning. Just one more season. Let them have just one more season to repent. And so he digs at our roots, aerating the soil around us, he clears the brush that inhibits our growth. He fertilizes our soil with the means of grace: the sacraments, studying scripture, prayer, acts of service, and evangelism. Because without His mediation, without His intervention, we would be utterly barren and lost. But He gives us everything we could ever need to flourish. He nurtures our fruitfulness so that we may repent of our sins, turning away from them and toward him, and so bear the fruit of love which He planted us to grow in the first place.

But it’s still up to us to respond. He has enabled us to have the choice, but it is still our choice whether we will repent or not. Whether we will bear fruits of love or not. Notice in the parable, Jesus doesn’t tell us what happens to the tree. He leaves its fate open-ended and up to us to decide. But whatever choice we choose, we need to be aware that the Judgment which Jesus promises is very real and very near. It isn’t a myth, it isn’t hyperbole. God’s justice won’t wait forever, and it is only because His justice is itself part of His love that he waits for us to respond. Please don’t delay! If you search your heart, and find you need His grace and forgiveness, don’t wait! Call out to Him this morning. He is quick to forgive and it is desire that you be saved. It’s his desire that we all be saved.

(1) All scripture references are from the ESV.
(2) Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews”, 18:3, 2. From The Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus the Jewish Historian. Transl. by Willian Whiston, 1737. Retrieved from the University of Chicago Website.
(3) Ibid., see footnote to the text.
(4) Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews”, 18:4, 1-2.
(5) cf. Jn. 9:1-3.
(6) Neale, David. A. “Luke 9-24.” in New Beacon Bible Commentary(Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2013), 110.
(7) I had many conversations about this topic with my Pastor, Rev. H. Gordon Smith III, while I served as his Associate Pastor in La Junta, CO.
(8) Liefeld, Water L. and David W. Pao. “Luke,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revised Ed. Vol. 10. Ed. by Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 232.
(9) Ibid., 59, 232.
(10) Neale, “Luke 9-24,” 110-111.
(11) Ibid., 112.
(12) Luk. 3:8-9.
#Jesus #parables #figs #Josephus #suffering #love #justice #wrath #repentance

Monday, March 18, 2019

10 Early Non-Christian References to Jesus

Popular Doubts About Jesus’ Historicity
In recent years, I have encountered an increasingly popular idea among atheists and anti-theists of my generation, often called the “Christ myth theory.” Variations of this theory usually posit that there was no historical person known as Jesus, whose life was anything like that narrated in the New Testament. When the New Testament itself is brought up as evidence to the contrary, they argue that these sources are biased and so cannot be trusted. There’s a certain irony there, as naturally anyone who believes that accounts of a man rising from the dead are genuine, will necessarily believe some supernatural force is behind it and so will be more predisposed to believe the claims of that man’s followers.

Many followers of the “Christ myth theory” argue instead that the New Testament claims are an amalgam of different religious ideas from all over the Ancient Near East. They often claim that he is simply Osiris, Serapis, Mithras, or Sol Invictus rehashed, and for evidence they will sometimes make completely unsourced claims as to their similarities (which usually evaporate on closer academic inspection).

There are so many competing, contradictory claims associated with this “theory” that they cannot all be addressed here. But one claim can, and it is one often repeated in rapidly shared social media memes: that no contemporary (or near-contemporary) Non-Christian historians or writers refer to an historical Jesus. In reality, there are an abundance of references to Jesus and early Christians by non-followers of Jesus writing within about 80 years (i.e. two generations) of his death.

Just like today, these writers display varying attitudes regarding the beliefs and practices of Christians, with some praising the wise philosophy of their founder and others denigrating their gullibility. Whatever the attitudes expressed, they each demonstrate the very early belief that Jesus was a real historical person and none suggest that he is simply an amalgam or copy of older mythical characters. Even among those who save their most biting ridicule for Jesus and his followers, none ever doubt that he existed.

These writers include both Jewish and Roman historians (Josephus, Tacitus, and Seutonius), a Roman Governor (Pliny the Younger), and a Syrian Stoic philosopher (Mara bar Serapion). These form the earliest Non-Christian references. I’ve also included later quotes from Jewish rabbis (the Babylonian Talmud) and a Roman Satirist (Lucian) as these have their roots in events and oral traditions of the 1st century.

So, to put to bed once and for all the claim that no early secular historian mentions Jesus, I’ve included relevant quotations by each of these authors below, along with information on where each of these quotes can be found in their writings, and source citations in footnotes along the way. Questions of authenticity or relevance are also addressed in the footnotes. Whatever one’s belief regarding the claims by Jesus or his followers, the claim that he didn’t exist or that he was a new face on old mythical characters just doesn’t hold water when faced with the evidence available.

Catalogue of References Included(1)
    • 73-99 AD, Mara bar Serapion, A Letter.
    • 93-94 AD, Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (Book 18, 3:3)
    • 93-94 AD, Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (Book 18, 5:2)
    • 93-94 AD, Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (Book 20, 9:1)
    • 112 AD, Pliny the Younger, Letters (10, 96-97)
    • 116 AD, Tacitus, Annals (Book 15, 44)
    • 121 AD, Seutonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars (Claudius, 25)
    • 121 AD, Seutonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars (Nero, 16)
    • ca. 170 AD, Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus (11, 13)
    • 175-475 AD, Various Rabbis, The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin, 43a)

Quotations by the Earliest Non-Christian Writers
    • 73-99 AD(2), Syrian Stoic Philosopher Mara bar Serapion (A Letter):
“What are we to say, when the wise are dragged by force by the hands of tyrants, and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom by slander, and they are plundered for their superior intelligence, without the opportunity of making a defence?  They are not wholly to be pitied.  For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence?  Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the whole of their country was covered with sand?  Or the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them?  For with justice did God grant a recompense to the wisdom of all three of them.  For the Athenians died by famine; and the people of Samos were covered by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, brought to desolation and expelled from their kingdom, are driven away into every land.  Nay, Socrates did ‘not’ die, because of Plato; nor yet Pythagoras, because of the statue of Hera; nor yet the Wise King, because of the new laws which he enacted.”(3)
    • 93-94 AD(4), Jewish Historian Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (Book 18, 3:3)(5):
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”(6)
    • 93-94 AD, Jewish Historian Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (Book 18, 5:2):(7)
“Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him.”(8)
    • 93-94 AD, Jewish Historian Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (Book 20, 9:1):
“And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus... But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]... so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done...”(9)
    • 112 AD(10), Roman Governor Pliny the Younger, Letters (10, 96-97):

Governor Pliny to the Emperor Trajan
“It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.
Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.
Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.”
Emperor Trajan to Governor Pliny
“You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.”(11)
    • 116 AD(12), Roman Historian Tacitus, Annals (Book 15, 44):
“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration(13) was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed."(14)
    • 121 AD, Roman Historian Seutonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars (Claudius, 25):
“Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”(15)
    • 121 AD(16), Roman Historian Seutonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars (Nero, 16):
“During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made: a limit was set to expenditures; the public banquets were confined to a distribution of food; the sale of any kind of cooked viands in the taverns was forbidden, with the exception of pulse and vegetables, whereas before every sort of dainty was exposed for sale. Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition. He put an end to the diversions of the chariot drivers, who from immunity of long standing claimed the right of ranging at large and amusing themselves by cheating and robbing the people. The pantomimic actors and their partisans were banished from the city.”(17)
    • ca. 170 AD(18), Roman Satirist Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus (11, 13):
“It was then that [Peregrinus](19) learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine... and they revered him...  next after that other [Jesus](20), to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world...
The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan and trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk.”(21)
    • 175-475 AD(22), Various Jewish Rabbis, The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a)(23):
“[But](24) it was taught: On the even of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the even of the Passover! — 'Ulla retorted: Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defence could be made? Was he not a Meshith [enticer], concerning whom Scripture says, Neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him.'
With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential].
Our Rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples, Matthai, Nakai, Netzer, Buni and Todah.”(25)
Relevant Christian Witnesses
Though the primary purpose of this piece is to collate a selection of the earliest Non-Christian references to Jesus and his followers, the antiquity of Christian witnesses to Jesus’ life must be acknowledged to gain a complete picture of just how prolific early references to Jesus as an historical figure really were. These Christian witnesses include at least ten different writers of the New Testament who were either eye witnesses themselves, or who relied on oral traditions and even interviews of eye witnesses themselves.(26)

    • Probably the most significant New Testament quote to refer to eye witnesses comes from Paul the Apostle, writing only 20 years after Jesus’ death.(27)(28) He says in 1 Cor. 15:3-8:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”(29)
Then there is also the often overlooked collection of writings termed the Apostolic Fathers, written by men who personally knew and followed the Apostles themselves. These include Clement (a follower of the Apostle Peter), and Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias (all followers of the Apostle John), as well as the writers of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, 2 Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle to Diognetus, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Didache.(30)

    • Within this collection is a short quotation of Quadratus of Athens referring to eye witnesses alive in his own lifetime, written in 124-125 AD(31), and preserved by the Church historian Eusebius:(32)
“But the works of our Saviour were always present, for they were genuine:— those that were healed, and those that were raised from the dead, who were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were also always present; and not merely while the Saviour was on earth, but also after his death, they were alive for quite a while, so that some of them lived even to our day.”
Given all this evidence: Multiple near-contemporary Non-Christian writers, multiple contemporary Christian writers, and the testimony of hundreds of eye witnesses all make the idea that Jesus didn’t really exist an extreme improbability, if not an impossibility to any truly reasoning mind.

(1) The dates provided refer only to scholarly consensus regarding the quotations themselves. In the case of the Babylonian Talmud, material was added over centuries, but the specific quotes cited carry with them the associated dates.

(2) Van Voorst, Robert E. Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. (Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), 53-56.

(3) Mara bar Serapion, A Letter. Transl. By Benjamin Plummer Pratten.

(4) Freedman, David Noel, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday, 1997).

(5) This is probably the most contested quote in this collection. Scholars debate whether a later Christian scribe modified this section to reflect Christian attitudes, and most believe this to be the case. Even so, the consensus is that the original passage written by Josephus included a reference to Jesus and to his execution by Pilate, and so it still provides an important witness to the events described.

(6) Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews. Transl. By William Whiston.

(7) Though this passage doesn’t mention Jesus or Christians, its description of the ministry of John the Baptist is so striking, that its inclusion is appropriate to demonstrate the multiple points at which the Gospel accounts agree with outside sources.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Ibid.

(10) Carrington, Philip. The Early Christian Church, Vol. 1. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1957), 429.

(11) Pliny the Younger, Letters. Transl. By Unknown. Retrieved from Georgetown University Website on Mar. 18, 2019.

(12) The Cambridge History of Latin Literature. Ed. By P.E. Easterling & E.J. Kenney. (Cambridge University Press, 1982), 892.

(13) The fire that ravaged Rome during Emperor Nero’s reign.

(14) Tacitus, Annals. Transl. By Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb (1876).

(15) Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars. Transl. By Catharine Edwards, (2001), 184, 203.

(16) “Seutonius,” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Web. Retrieved Mar. 18, 2019.

(17) Ibid.

(18) Estimation by me, based on Peregrinus’ self-immolation at the Olympic Games of 165 AD.

(19) Clarification mine.

(20) Clarification mine.

(21) Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus. Transl. By A.M. Harmon.

(22) The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon. Ed. By Nosson Dovid Rabinowich. (Jerusalem, 1988), 79, 116.

(23) There are numerous passages in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds which may refer to Jesus or his followers. Some are passing references to followers healing in his name (cf. Tosefta Hullin 2:22f), while others consist of polemical word plays possibly intended to ridicule the Virgin Birth (cf. Sanhedrin 67a; Shabbat 104b and Celsus’ On the True Doctrine, written in 175-177 AD and preserved in Origen’s Contra Celsum) or as allegorical stories designed to illustrate Mishnaic points unrelated to Jesus’ historical life or ministry (cf. Sanhedrin 107b and Gittin 57a). The confusion is compounded as many of these references mention characters who lived either during the Hasmonean dynasty 80 or so years before Jesus’ birth or during the Bar Kokhba Revolt 100 years after his death. The passage I’ve included here is, in my estimation, the only one which most directly relates to Jesus’ actual life and death. Even so, there’s much debate over whether this really refers to the Jesus of the New Testament or not.

(24) Clarification added by me.

(25) The Soncino Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a. Transl. By Jacob Shachter. Ed. By Rabbi Dr. I Epstein (1935).

(26) cf. Luke 1:1-4.

(27) 53-54 AD.

(28) Robert Wall, New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 10 (Abingdon Press, 2002), 373.

(29) ESV.

(30) The last work listed was probably the first of these written in the 1st century, as a Manual for Church discipline and practice, and possibly by the Apostles themselves.

(31) “Quadratus.” Ed. By Charles Herbermann. Catholic Encyclopedia. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1913).

(32) Eusebius, Church History (Book 4, 3:2). Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1. Ed. by Philip Schaff & Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890.) Ed. for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

#Jesus #HistoricalJesus #ChristMyth #NewAtheism #Atheism #Christianity #Josephus #Seutonius #Tacitus #Pliny #Lucian #Talmud #History #Osiris #Serapis #Mithras #SolInvictus

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Part of Something Greater, Part III: Defending Nazarene Apostolic Succession

This is part of an on-going series which began as a reflection on my own ordination to the order of Elder in the Church of the Nazarene, and quickly expanded into an articulation and defense of apostolic succession and the ordination of women, and why I think it is important for Evangelical Christians to understand their biblical basis, especially as ecclesiology often gets put on the back-burner in American Evangelicalism (1). Though many Evangelicals may contend that their affirmation of the central Christian beliefs and the expression of their individual faith is enough for obedient discipleship; I would argue this isn’t the case (2). While Jesus definitely came so that we may all be saved as individuals redeemed and restored to His Image; he also desired that we would all be one, as Jesus and the Father are one (3). It is this unity in Christ, exemplified by love for one another that would show the World that we are truly His disciples (4).

So, for the sake of unity, one of the ultimate goals of this series is to not only develop a reasonable and scripturally sound ecclesiology for Evangelicals, which includes apostolic succession and the ordination of women; but also to defend the legitimacy of that succession and our ordinations to other communions who make up the majority of the Christian Faith. These include the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East. Each of these groups affirms the doctrine of apostolic succession and its relevance to ordination and the legitimacy of sacraments, and each declares Protestant apostolic succession (and therefore our ordinations and sacraments) to be invalid.

Their contention that our apostolic succession is invalid is based on two arguments: 1) that we have left the orthodox faith as (variously) held by their individual communions, and so do not have apostolic authority; or 2) that our ordinations, as being traced through the Anglican Communion, are invalid since Anglican ordinations lost their apostolicity after their form and intent were changed during the Edwardian Reforms following the English Reformation (5). In the piece below, I will demonstrate that the Church of the Nazarene retains apostolic authority both in its orthodoxy (right teaching) and in the form and intent of its ordinations.

Orthodoxy in Apostolic Succession
As members of the Church of the Nazarene, we hold that everything necessary to our salvation is inerrantly contained within scripture (6). This includes the central doctrines of the faith, namely those expressed in the only creed universally agreed upon by bishops from the entire Church in ecumenical council, namely the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381. The early fathers, called the creeds “symbolum” as in “Symbolum Nicaenum” and “Symbolum Apostolicum” or “symbolon” in Greek. The original meaning of the term meant “watchword” or “badge of identification” and identified the bearer as belonging to a particular community, in this case orthodox Christianity (7). All those who affirm the Creed are orthodox Christians, those who don’t, aren’t. That the creed itself is the definition of the apostolic faith was affirmed by Canon 1 of the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 and in Canon 7 of the Council of Ephesus (8).

This means that, if one uses the Creed alone as the symbol (in the ancient sense of the word) of orthodoxy, then the vast majority of Trinitarian Christians are in fact orthodox in their belief. This would include most Protestants, the Proto-Protestant Churches, the Anglican Communion, the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Ancient Church of the East. If orthodoxy is a condition for apostolicity, then each of those churches has it.

Now the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, and Oriental Orthodox Church would all disagree with the above statements, as they all hold Ecumenical Councils beyond the first two to be authoritative and necessary for true orthodoxy (9). But it is this effort to define orthodox doctrine beyond scripture and the central Creed of the Church which simultaneously ushered in the first schism of the Church, and caused the visible institutions of the various churches to lose their catholicity and unity, two of the four marks of the Great Pre-Schism Church. The Creed which was defined at Nicaea and clarified at Constantinople was again affirmed at the Council of Ephesus in Canon 7 (10). But while the Fathers of Ephesus sought to clarify the christological understanding of the Church, they anathematized a portion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church despite the fact that it held to orthodox christology and to the Creed mentioned above. That their christology was in fact orthodox has since been confirmed by joint declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East (11).

This effectively created two visible institutions within the Church: the Great Church and the Churches of the East, which were not in full communion with each other but which were both fully orthodox and who both preserved apostolic succession. Because of this disunity, all subsequent councils lacked true ecumenical character, as a certain number of orthodox bishops in true apostolic succession were barred from participating, and their sees were ignored and invaded by bishops from the other communions, in contravention of Canon 16 of the Council of Nicaea (12). More schisms have followed among bodies who all hold to the Creed and who also preserve apostolic succession, but which lack catholicity and unity and so cannot unilaterally anathematize or formulate doctrine as a means of denying the legitimacy of the other denominations within the Church. No denomination in existence today has the authority to deny the orders, sacraments, or ministry of any other denomination which holds to the central creed of the Church and preserves apostolic succession.

The only guides for deciding orthodoxy remain scripture and the Canons of the first two Ecumenical Councils, including the Creed which they formulated. Subsequent Councils may indeed be helpful and espouse solid theology, but they are effectively local synods with jurisdiction over their own denominations only. I, for instance, affirm the theology expressed in the Canons of Ephesus and the Definition of Chalcedon. But I deny that their councils are truly ecumenical in the way the first two are.

This means that those who would argue the Church of the Nazarene lacks apostolicity because we are “unorthodox” are simply wrong. We still hold to the only Symbol of orthodoxy which the Ecumenical Councils have affirmed, and as long as we preserve the apostolic succession with which we’ve been entrusted, no other denomination has the right or jurisdiction to take that away from us. And as long as the ancient schisms continue to mar the unity of the Churches, this will not change.

The Form and Intent Behind Ordination
Having addressed the first common argument against our apostolic succession from orthodoxy, we now move to the second: namely that our ordinations lack the form and intent present within the ordinations of the apostolic churches. This is an argument most often advanced by Catholics, who point to a papal bull issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1896 which declared that the Edwardine rite instituted by the Church of England “completely null and void,” as they supposedly changed the form of the ordination sufficiently to communicate an intent that was different from that which the apostles intended (13). Since the Church of the Nazarene traces its superintendents back through the Church of England, they contend that our apostolic succession was invalidated at the institution of the Edwardian reforms in 1552, when explicit reference to the Eucharist as a sacrifice and to the priesthood as a sacrificing priesthood was omitted (14). This meant that those ordained according to the Catholic rite prior to the Edwardian reforms, but after the schism in 1534, were still validly (though illicitly) ordained.

That schism does not ipso facto invalidate orders is supported by Canon 8 of the Council of Nicaea which made provision for the reception of Novatians who returned to full communion with the Church, and which recognized the ordinations which they performed while in schism (15). The papal bull referenced above recognizes this, and so affirmed that the bishops who separated from the Catholic Church with the Church of England remained bishops with the authority to ordain, even though they were in a state of schism.

The contention that the Edwardian rite changed the form as a reflection of the intention of Thomas Cranmer and others to deny the sacrificial role of the priest or the nature of the Eucharist as a sacrifice is possible, but is not conferred by the words themselves, as they do not expressly deny the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. Rather, the omission simply serves to allow for freedom of conscience when interpreting scripture with reference to the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, while still affirming its sacramental character as a means of grace. That the Eucharist is a sacrament and means of grace in which Christ is really present is still affirmed in the words of ordination and the doctrines of the Church of the Nazarene today (16).

That the intention of Nazarene ordination is to give the ordained Elder the full apostolic authority to administer the sacraments and lead the Church is evident in the words which were used at my ordination (17) and in the doctrine we hold regarding scripture, that it contains “all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith,” (18). This means the primary intention of ordination (whether Nazarene or by one of our Methodist or Anglican predecessors) is and has always been to transmit the fullness of apostolic authority and all it entails.

If scripture supports the contention that the Eucharist is a sacrifice (or more accurately is the participation of the Church in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross), then the fullness of the Eucharist is inferred by our ordination. If scripture does not support the contention, then it is not and need not be inferred in the ordination. The form and intention behind the rite of ordination used in the Church allows for both interpretations inclusively as the Eucharist is positively defined as a means of grace by which Christ is truly present and does not negatively preclude a sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist or the priesthood (whether ministerial or corporate). And since the form communicates the intention of both the ordaining authority and the recipient of ordination to transmit full apostolic authority, that authority is exactly what is transmitted, since we know we can trace our apostolic succession back to the apostles themselves (19).

That the papal bull of Leo XIII is not as definite as it may initially seem for Roman Catholics is evident by the fact that the eight member commission tasked by Leo XIII to investigate the validity of Anglican Orders was split evenly, 4-to-4 on the question of whether or not Anglican orders were valid, and subsequent investigation by the US Council of Catholic Bishops suggests that a re-appraisal by the Catholic Church of Anglican orders is necessary, given a better knowledge of the tumultuous events and theological positions of the English and Roman bishops during the 16th century (20). In the same document, the USCCB cites the encyclical Sæpius Officio, a letter written by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to all the bishops of Christendom. This encyclical both affirmed the Anglican teaching of the Eucharistic sacrifice and pointed out that the precise terms required by Leo XIII were missing from the earliest Roman ordinals which had been used to consecrate bishops and ordain priests which the Catholic Church naturally considered valid, as they were instrumental to the Catholic Church’s own claim to apostolic succession (21).

All of the above evidence demonstrates that the declaration of Anglican orders (and therefore Nazarene orders) as null and void by Pope Leo XIII is likely mistaken in both its estimation of the intent behind the Edwardian reforms and in the forms required for ordination. The deep irony of this is that the standard by which the Pope would require the Anglican Communion to conform would invalidate his very own ordination! Additionally, given the state of schism between multiple denominations in which the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church exists; no single denomination, or pope, or even council has the authority contend the orders of other communions are valid or invalid, beyond what was already decided by scripture and the first two ecumenical councils which were decided when the visible institution of the Church still retained the fullness of the first two marks of the Church: Unity and Catholicity. Until the Church repairs its schisms and decides by Ecumenical Council otherwise, the apostolic succession (and therefore the orders, sacraments, and ministry) of the Church of the Nazarene remains valid, intact, and equal to that of any other Church.

(1) Hyde, Ian. “A Part of Something Greater, Part I: Apostolic Succession” Written Jun. 21, 2018. (Link); and Hyde, Ian. “A Part of Something Greater, Part II: Women’s Ordination.” Written Oct. 22, 2018 (Link).
(2) Though I fully affirm the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide, which says it is by grace through faith, and not works, that we are saved (Eph. 2:8-9); what I am talking about here is the obedient Christian walk, which requires community. Though faith saves, if a person refuses to walk with other believers as Christ commands, then do they really have faith in Him?
(3) Jn. 17:21.
(4) Jn. 13:35.
(5) Smith, S. “Anglican Orders.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Web. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
(6) Para. 4. Manual, 2017-2021. Church of the Nazarene. Web. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2018.
(7) σύμβολον , τό. Henry George Liddell. Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. revised and augmented throughout by. Sir Henry Stuart Jones. with the assistance of. Roderick McKenzie. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1940.
(8) “The Canons of the Council of Constantinople (381),” and “The Canons of the Council of Ephesus (431),” at Early Church Texts. Web. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2018.
(9) The Oriental Orthodox Church affirms the first three ecumenical councils. The Eastern Orthodox Church the first seven, and the Catholic Church claims twenty-one ecumenical councils through the ages.
(10) “The Canons of the Council of Ephesus (431),” at Early Church Texts. Web. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2018.
(11) Pope John Paul II and Mar Dinkha IV. “Common Christological Declaration Between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.” Signed Nov. 11, 1994. Vatican Website. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2018.
(12) “The Canons of the Council of Nicaea (325),” at Early Church Texts. Web. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2018.
(13) Pope Leo XIII. “Apostolicae Curae.” Written Sep. 13, 1896. On EWTN Website. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2018.
(14) United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Anglican Orders: A Report on the Evolving Context for their Evaluation in the Roman Catholic Church.” Web. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2018.
(15) “The Canons of the Council of Nicaea (325).
(16) cf. Hyde, “A Part of Something Greater, Part I”, as well as COTN Manual, Para. 13, 515.4, 700.
(17) Ibid.
(18) Para. 4. Manual, 2017-2021. COTN. Web. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2018.
(19) For a full list of all the names in my line of apostolic succession, see Hyde, “A Part of Something Greater, Part I.”
(20) USCCB. “Anglican Orders: A Report.”
(21) Ibid.

*Edited to clarify first paragraph and correct footnotes.

#Apostles #Ordination #ApostolicSuccession #Nazarene #ChurchOfTheNazarene #Catholic #Orthodox #Anglican

Monday, October 22, 2018

A Part of Something Greater, Part II: Women's Ordination

Back in June I wrote a brief piece titled “A Part of Something Greater, Part I: Apostolic Succession” reflecting on my apostolic succession as an ordained elder through the Church of the Nazarene, and in that context briefly outlined my support for women's ordination. Needless to say, this is a very controversial topic which has given rise to a number of passionate articles, books, and sermons both for and against the idea. Below, I revisit the subject of whether the Church should ordain women in more detail and provide biblical evidence for why we indeed should.

Popular Arguments Against Women's Ordination
Since writing that piece, I’ve had many great conversations with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom disagree with my contention that in Rom. 16:1-7, Paul commends Phoebe as an ordained deacon, Junia as an Apostle, and Prisca as the pastor (with her husband) of a local church. They contend that 1 Cor. 14:33-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15 demonstrate that Paul forbade women to teach or speak in church, or to have any authority over men in the churches.

Many go further to claim that due to a misplaced accent mark in Rom. 16:7, Junia may actually be Junias (1) and that in any case, the above passages from 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy preclude her from having the authority of an apostle or Phoebe the office of deacon. In the case of Phoebe, they argue that there is ample evidence of ancient orders of “deaconesses” and that Phoebe likely belonged to one of these (2), or that she was a servant or even hand-maid, as the Greek word for “deacon” can also mean one of these (3). And in the case of Prisca, they argue that she and her husband led something akin to a bible study in their home, and not an actual local church in the full sense of the word.

As we will see, each of these contentions is based on either a misreading of the text out of context, faulty manuscripts, or mistranslations of the Greek. It is my hope that this piece amounts to a convincing defense of my belief that not only should women be ordained today, but that God has always called women to ordained ministry. The Church is just now waking up to that fact.

An Apostle, a Deacon, and a Pastor Walk Into a Bar
First, though the Catholic Answers site cited above maintains it is unclear whether we should read Rom. 16:7 as referring to the female name Junia or the male name Junias, I disagree. The early papyrus P46 (from ca. 200 CE) as well as the early Coptic (3rd century), Vulgate (4th century), and Latin (5th century) all use the feminine name Julia; while the Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest complete copy of the Bible from the 3rd century calls her Junia (4).

Likewise, the early Fathers uniformly recognize that this passage refers to a woman named Junia (5). As John Chrysostom writes,
"To be an Apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the Apostles - Just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great is the wisdom of this woman that she was even deemed worthy of the title of Apostle," (6).
It is clear that Paul doesn’t just intend to communicate that Junia (or Julia) and Andronicus are missionaries “sent” (“apostolos” means “one who is sent”) to minister in the general sense, as the only other Apostles he ever mentions by name are the Twelve, himself, Barnabas, Silvanus, and Timothy (7). All the others have been recognized as ordained clergy in the apostolic line of succession by the later Church. It goes to follow that Junia and Andronicus are as well.

Though some may contend that the fact that the Twelve were all men demonstrates women were not apostles in the same sense, I argue this just reflects the nature of Jesus’ earthly mission specifically to the Jews. After all, when Jesus initially sends out the Twelve in Mat. 10:5, he gives them the instructions, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and in Mat. 15:24, where Jesus says his own mission, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Paul affirms this in Rom. 15:8 when he calls Jesus a “servant (8) to the circumcised,” (ESV). If we used the reasoning that the Twelve were men, to prohibit the apostolic ministry of women; then we must use the same reasoning, and say that since they were all Jewish men, we must prohibit the apostolic ministry of Gentiles.

It seems to me that Jesus chose twelve male, Jewish apostles (and not twenty, or four, or three) because he was restoring a new Israel from the old. Just as the old Israel had twelve sons from which the nation sprang, so the new Israel had twelve new sons from which would spring the Church. And just as the old Israel expanded to include many sons (rather than remaining only twelve always), so the new Israel would expand to have many apostles, but now with both women and Gentiles equally among their number, among the first being Junia. And if the bishops (used interchangeably with "elder" in scripture) are the successors of the apostles, then surely there must be female bishops and elders just as there were female apostles.

That Phoebe is a deacon and not a deaconness is clear from the Greek, where Paul uses specifically the generic male noun "diakonon" rather than its female form; the exact same noun he uses to describe his own office in Rom. 15. This is also the first place where he uses "ekklesia", which refers to the organized, local church at Cenchreae where she pastors with the same authority with which Paul pastors to the Romans in ch. 15. That she bears the authority to act as Paul’s representative in Rome is evidenced by Paul's use of the Epistolatory formula "systemi de hymin" in Rom. 16:1 to commend her as “adelphe hymon” or “our sister,”(9).

Interestingly, even 1 Tim. 3:11 (which seems to envisage only male leadership) opens the possibility of ordination for women to the diaconate, where it says, "Likewise the women..." contrary to most translations which read "Their wives likewise..." (ESV) (10). This betrays a bias on the part of the translators who assume v. 12 restricts the office to men; but if we were to read it that way, we would then have to restrict the office to married men only.

Finally, that Prisca is a co-pastor along with her husband Aquila is clear from the fact that where both are frequently mentioned together, Prisca is more often than not mentioned first in precedence (11); and that both Aquila and Prisca (here spelled Priscilla) correct Apollos’ teaching in Acts 18:26. That Paul considers them equals in ministry is strongly suggested by his description of them as “fellow workers” in Rom. 16:3 (ESV). And that their church is just that, an organized, local congregation is evidenced by his second use of “ekklesia” in v. 5.

The arguments that these three women aren’t who Paul says they are must then fall on other passages for their support. And it’s these passages that I’ll address next.

Misreading 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Moving on to 1 Cor. 14:33-35, we find that the passage must be read in the context of its surrounding verses, dealing with speaking in tongues and disorderly worship (vv. 26-32, 36-40). Here Paul is writing in response to a specific problem of women interrupting the service to ask questions. That women can indeed speak publicly, pray, and prophecy in the service is demonstrated by 1 Cor. 11:5, as long as they do so with their heads covered. This itself should be read within the context of Paul's philosophy of submitting to the Torah to avoid unnecessary offense (1 Cor. 9:20), a philosophy which informs the entire dialogue (12).

When taken in the context of the entire Epistle, it is clear that women speaking in church isn’t shameful; but women speaking in the way Paul is referring to – that is interrupting orderly service to ask questions is shameful. The fact that the very people these women may be interrupting may themselves actually be women is demonstrated by 1 Cor. 11:5. If this isn’t the case, then 1 Cor. 11:5 must likewise become artificially generalized and all women must wear head coverings in church and all men must keep their heads uncovered.

Additionally, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart make the argument that this passage is likely an interpolation or gloss, as it is the only passage of this type which is found in two different places in the Greek manuscripts (13). Even if genuine, in my previous article, I argued that the emphatic of v. 36 likely means vv. 33-35 constitutes a quote or popular concept which Paul is correcting (14)(15).

Finally, I'd like to address 1 Tim. 2:11-15, which if taken prima facie would seem to be a universal prohibition against women preaching. But I do not think Paul intends it to be taken as such. Paul bases his reasoning in this passage on the fallen Eve, forced to submit to her husband as a result of the curse (16). Elsewhere, Paul reasons that the same curse is lifted in the new creation in which we are reconciled to God and each other (17).

If we are reconciled to God and each other in a new creation in Christ, then relationally we are to be as we were in the Garden, in perfect communion with God as when He walked with us there (18), and as equal reflections of God's image (19) in unity with each other (20) whether male or female.

That Paul uses the reasoning of the curse in his injunction toward Timothy may in fact be due to the church in Ephesus coming from a similar hedonistic background as that in Corinth, who had its own Temple to Aphrodite and a thousand "heteiras" or priestess-prostitutes (21). The Church tradition that Timothy was beaten and stoned to death during the festival of Artemis, and presence of her temple (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) tells me that Ephesus was still very much under the curse Paul alludes to.

However, utilizing the general reasoning of the curse to justify the doctrine that all women are forbidden from speaking in church (and by extension, from ordained ministry) doesn't hold up when given the historical-cultural context of Ephesus and Corinth, the textual/manuscript problems of the texts cited, and in the context of Paul's teaching elsewhere (especially Rom. 16:1-7, 1 Cor. 11:5, and Gal. 3:28).

Conclusion: Women Should Be Ordained
Given all of the evidence, it seems clear to me that (contrary to popular belief) women not only can, but should speak in Church. Women not only can, but should lead congregations. And women were definitely ordained during the Apostolic era of the Church. Please understand, my position is not the result of postmodern influences or attempts to make Christian leadership more socially acceptable. After all, my denomination has affirmed women clergy since our founding, decades before women could even vote. My position is an exegetical corrective and not a social one. To maintain that women should not be ordained and should not lead congregations is to ignore the evidence cited above, and frankly stands in opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit.

(1) Fr. Grondin, Charles. Was Junia a Female Apostle? Catholic Answers. Web. Written April 06, 2018.
(2) The Revised Standard Version’s translates Phoebe’s title in Rom. 16:1 as “deaconess.”
(3) See Rom. 15:8, where in the English Standard Version, Christ is referred to as “a servant to the circumcised.”
(4) Preato, Dennis J. “Junia, A Female Apostle: Resolving the Interpretive Issues of Romans 16:7”. God’s Word to Women. Web. Retrieved Oct. 22, 2018.
(5) Thorley, John. “Junia, A Woman Apostle.” Novum Testamentum. Vol. 38, Fasc. 1 (Jan. 1996), 18.
(6) Chrysostom, John. In Epistolam ad Romanos, Homilia 31, 2, in Patrologiae cursus completus, series Graeca, ed. by J. P. Milne, cited by B. Brooten, 141.
(7) Thorley. “Junia, A Woman Apostle,” 18.
(8) Greek, “diakonos”.
(9) Greathouse, William M. and George Lyons. New Beacon Bible Commentary: Romans 9-16. (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2008), 264-265.
(10) Ibid.
(11) Acts 18:18, Rom. 6:3, 2 Tim. 4:19; cf. Acts 18:2-3; as well as Acts 18:26 and 1 Cor. 16:19 where Aquila is mentioned first.
(12) Metz, Donald S. “1 Corinthians” Beacon Bible Commentary: Romans, I and II Corinthians. Vol. 8. Ed. By A.F. Harper. (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1968), 453-454.
(13) Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stewart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 88-89.
(14) Hyde, Ian. “A Part of Something Greater, Part I: Apostolic Succession”. Theological Discussions. Web. Written June 21, 2018.
(15) Verbrugge, Verlyn D. “1 Corinthians.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Revised Edition. Vol. 11. Ed. By Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 387. Only here, the commentator argues against it solely based on the passage’s length.
(16) Gen. 3:16.
(17) Cf. Gal. 3:28; 2 Cor. 2:17-18.
(18) Cf. Gen. 3:8.
(19) Gen. 1:27.
(20) Gen. 2:24.
(21) Strabo, Geographika, Book VIII, 6:20.

*Edited for spelling and grammar.

#Apostles #Ordination #Women #OrdinationOfWomen #ApostolicSuccession #Nazarene #ChurchOfTheNazarene

Thursday, September 06, 2018

A Short Discourse on the Question of Miracles

The following is a response I wrote for an atheist friend who asked for personal accounts of miracles, which they then defined as “something that defies the known laws of physics.” They stated that while they had heard many stories of unusual events, they believed the causes to be perfectly rational and natural. In my response, I both relayed a personal experience I had a couple of years ago and made the argument that miracles are in fact perfectly rational and natural and that the definition which she used is a modern straw man created by David Hume, and not the classical definition of a miracle.

A Personal Experience of a Miracle
To begin, I'd like to describe an event that happened to me two years ago, which doesn't defy any laws of physics, but which was extremely (on orders of magnitude) unlikely. I was moonlighting as a security guard, with a number of properties to watch during the night, including a lot with a large number of U-Haul trucks. I never visually checked inside the cabs if they were locked (which they always were) as the windows were above my eye level, and generally just walked around without investigating the particular trucks too closely. My attention instead was on making sure there was no visible damage or noticeable signs of a break-in. One night, I was walking in front of one of the rows of trucks, when the truck immediately to my left suddenly flashed its lights. This was obviously extremely startling. When I checked the cab, I found a small boy sleeping (perhaps 8-9 years old), who must have accidentally kicked the lights causing them to engage at the exact moment I walked by.

Long story short, the boy had been missing for a week, and hadn't eaten or drunk anything for a number of days. He was very frightened, exhausted, without a jacket or any protective clothing, and the temperatures were sub-freezing. After calming him and assuring him that he wasn't in any trouble, I was able to give him my jacket and small sips of coffee while I called the police, who came with paramedics and child services. I am convinced that if I hadn't found him that night, he likely would have succumbed to the elements.

Now did this break any laws of physics? No, it did not. But if I hadn't been in that exact position, at that exact moment (with maybe a second or two of leeway), and if he hadn't kicked that light (I assume he did) and it hadn't engaged for a split second to alert me to his presence, then there’s a very real likelihood that he would have died. Due to its extreme improbability, I consider that a miracle, whereby God (maybe on a subconscious level) interacted with both our minds to cause us to be at the exactly right place at the exactly right time.

The (Often Misunderstood) Nature of Miracles
A miracle doesn't have to break the laws of physics. That has never strictly been its definition, even in ancient times. It simply needs to be evidence of an outside Intelligence interacting within those laws, to effect a result that is outside our normal human experience. As Thomas Aquinas wrote, a miracle is simply an event whose source is “apart from the general order of things” and not necessarily contrary to it (1). As far as I can tell, Hume was the first to insist they break natural laws, so that he could build a straw man to knock down using circular reasoning (that miracles can't happen since they break the laws of nature, and human experience shows the laws of nature unbroken, because miracles are never observed)(2).

I perceived God's presence in that moment the same way I perceive that those I interact with through social media are actual people, based on their tweets, shares, and comments. I don't have any proof that the letters which are posted aren't just a random arrangement of electrical signals that erroneously appeared in the system. I don't have any proof that a social media account is not a non-human bot. But our online interaction demonstrates to me that you exist; in a similar way to how the episode that I experienced above demonstrated to me God's miraculous care in that moment. That interaction between minds, and the perception of outside consciousness intervening in the situation still constitutes a genuine miracle. It is the very unlikelihood of an event occurring naturally and without interference which alerts us to the presence of intelligent interaction (whether among humans or with the Divine).

The Granddaddy of All Miracles: The Resurrection of Christ
So, what about the reports of miracles we have that are less subtle and truly extraordinary? For that, I suggest we look at the miracle of miracles, the singular one on which the entire Christian faith rests, the resurrection of Jesus. Now, the popular argument that I hear most often against it runs along the circular reasoning of Hume referenced above. Resurrections don’t happen, because if they did happen, it would be observed within the laws of nature and would consistently happen all the time under the right conditions. The problem is that the laws of nature are by necessity generalizations of human experience and not immutable realities. “Laws of nature” are predictive and descriptive, not proscriptive the way we think of human laws. They are simply what we have consistently observed in nature. Since we have not consistently observed all possible conditions, we cannot know all characteristics of the natural order. This uncertainty is highlighted by discoveries over the past several decades within the field of quantum mechanics.

As Heisenberg observed, there are limits to the extent to which we can measure the complementary variables (such as position and momentum) of particles. For instance, if we know a photon’s exact position, we can’t know it’s momentum and vice versa. So our knowledge of these particles includes a probabilistic range of behavior. As we’ve learned more about the cosmos, we’ve realized that the classical assumptions about its deterministic behavior are wrong. The future isn’t a predetermined reality, it is an uncreated (until it is created as the present) range of potentialities, many of which are much more likely to happen than others.

Within this almost infinite range of realities, there are quite possibly (but extremely unlikely) conditions which lead to the resurrection of a body. If an outside Intelligence, with perfect knowledge of those conditions, interacts with the cosmos in a way that doesn’t change the probability of such an event happening in any given moment, then they cannot be said to have necessarily “broken” the laws of nature, even by effecting a resurrection. Since such an event is so extremely unlikely, if credible reports of a resurrection arise, it does not necessarily mean they are false (unless the reports themselves are unreliable). Rather, with numerous credible reports (which Christians believe we have in the New Testament and early Apostolic accounts), the likelihood of the source being an omnipotent Intelligence increases.

Additionally, given the wide range of possibilities within the natural order, it may be that God acts in such a way so as to not upset the likelihood of expected outcomes. This does not mean miracles are violations of the natural order (as David Hume presumed) but rather unlikely events which disturb the natural operation of the cosmos, suggesting to us the presence of and interaction with an outside Intelligence, in the same way that every day interactions with the effects of other human’s actions convince us that there are other intelligent beings which exist besides ourselves. Miraculous effects then are observed to be within the natural order, but their source (whether by degrees or outright) is beyond it (3).

Christians, just like skeptics, recognize the extreme improbability associated with miracles. And we should insist that all possibilities be investigated when reports arise. However, given the wide range of human experience and the very nature by which we perceive Intelligence, I do not think we can simply brush aside credible reports when they arise with the outdated Humean response that “miracles don’t happen because the laws of nature prohibit them.” The laws of nature do no such thing because the laws of nature (as characteristics of observed effects) don’t actually do anything.

(1) Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Contra Gentiles. 3.101.1. Transl. by Vernon J. Bourke.
(2) Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. 10.1.
(3) Aquinas. Summa Contra Gentiles. 3.101.2.

*Edited for clarity.

#miracles #theism #atheism #philosophy #reason #science #experience