Church History

On the historical use of rhetorical character attacks

From Reign of heretics – Arianism and political power in the Vandal and Ostrogothic kingdoms by Christopher J. (Christopher James) Nofziger:

Although a few schools of thought followed lines similar to the teachings of Arius, the label “Arian” acquired negative connotations after Nicaea. The practice of attaching recognizably “deviant” titles to groups considered theologically or socially unacceptable makes it difficult to identify the actual beliefs held by these groups. Often, clergy would incorporate many distinct factions together under a single name, creating a convenient opposition against which the Church could define itself. The widespread use of “Manichaean” or “Pelagian” enjoyed similar usage, acting as a convenient “known” heretical label to which people could attach negative connotations. Even the Eunomian Philostorgius classified members of the Homoousion (Nicene) movement as “Arians.” The diverse applications of such terms, when held alongside their negatively charged associations and rhetorical use, cannot be necessarily held as indicators of an internal identity within these groups.

12 Point about Calvin’s Murder of Servetus

1. Heresy was never established as a crime in Geneva. The crime of Blasphemy (not to be confused with Heresy) had always been punished with exile in Geneva.
2. Calvin, when the Catholics had power, argued heresy was not a death penalty offense (Institutes). After killing Servetus, Calvin reversed his stance (Defense of the orthodox faith in the sacred Trinity), and edited out of new editions of the Institutes his earlier position.
3. Calvin’s companion, Castellio was horrified at Calvin’s bloodlust against Servetus. Castellio argued the above points, plus Castellio argued for a principle of free speech.
4. Servetus did not write or speak in Geneva and therefor broke no laws of Geneva. He was a visitor, punished for thought crimes.
5. Calvin bragged about executing Servetus in his Defense of the Orthodox Faith and in a letters to Marquis Paet.
6. Before Servetus was murdered, Calvin wrote to Farel and Viret his intentions to kill Servetus.
7. Calvin had god-like power in Geneva. In 1552, the Senate of Geneva decreed the Institutes were “God’s doctrine”.
8. Testifying to his power in Geneva, Calvin also personally had revised the Civil Code of Geneva and also the Geneva Confession of Faith (1536).
9. The court (laymen led town counsel) originally was only considering exiling Servetus, until Calvin appeared in court. Calvin convinced them to increase the penalty to death, more than the maximum that the blasphemy laws allowed.
10. Calvin personally argued to the layman court, that the Bible condoned putting Servetus to death.
11. Calvin also ensured Servetus would be denied legal counsel.
12. Calvin ensured Servetus’ request for appeal be denied, and thus denied Servetus’ case to be heard by lawyers.

Josephus on Omnipresence in 1 Samuel 20

From Antiquities Book 6:

8. But Jonathan heard these last words with indignation; and promised to do what he desired of him, and to inform him if his father’s answers implied any thing of a melancholy nature, and any enmity against him. And that he might the more firmly depend upon him, he took him out into the open field, into the pure air, and sware that he would neglect nothing that might tend to the preservation of David; and he said, “I appeal to that God, who, as thou seest, is diffused every where, and knoweth this intention of mine, before I explain it in words, as the witness of this my covenant with thee: that I will not leave off to make frequent trials of the purpose of my father, till I learn whether there be any lurking distemper in the secretest parts of his soul: and when I have learnt it, I will not conceal it from thee, but will discover it to thee; whether he be gently or peevishly disposed. For this God himself knows, that I pray he may always be with thee: for he is with thee now, and will not forsake thee; and will make thee superior to thine enemies; whether my father be one of them, or whether I my self be such. Do thou only remember what we now do: and if it fall out that I die, preserve my children alive; and requite what kindness thou hast now received, to them.”

Servetus and His Ideas on the Trinity

From On the Errors of the Trinity book 6:

You will (if you have examined your capacity with the sober judgment of reason) easily recognize the knowledge of God which we obtain through CHRIST. For in himself God is incomprehensible; he can be neither imagined, nor understood, nor discovered by thinking, unless you contemplate some aspect in him. And the likeness of Christ and the Person of the Word are just this. For the impersonated oracle of God, the Person of Christ, as I have said above, which was with God, was God himself; nor was there in him any other aspect than that.

From On the Errors of the Trinity book 7:

With regards to filiation among divine beings, and the divinity of CHRIST, and hypostasis of the Word, questions are usually asked which I shall clear with a few words. I say that from the beginning there was among the divine beings a filiation, not real but personal. The Son was the Word; the Son was not real but personal, in so far as it was the Person of CHRIST. Nor is he in Scripture ever called Son, but an eternal kind of generation is attributed to CHRIST, and the things that were in the law were a shadow of the body of Christ. Yet some dream here of an emanation of a conception, or a Word, from the divine mind, by means of an emanating filiation…

But in God, within, there are no goings forth, nor emanations; but CHRIST was formed beforehand in the divine mind. There was a certain way of keeping himself which God arranged in himself in order that he might manifest himself to us; namely, by representing in himself the likeness of JESUS CHRIST, for all this was foreordained for exhibiting the glory of CHRIST. And John did not say that the Word emanated from God, but it was in God, the Word was God.

Calvinists in South Africa

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle talks about the Boer Calvinists:

while to their corruption they added such crass ignorance that they argue in the published reports of the Volksraad debates that using dynamite bombs to bring down rain was firing at God, that it is impious to destroy locusts, that the word ‘participate’ should not be used because it is not in the Bible, and that postal pillar boxes are extravagant and effeminate.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Great Boer War . Kindle Edition.

Calvin Confirms There Were Many Open Theists in His Time

On the Providence of God, in so far as conducive to the solid instruction and consolation of believers, (for, as to satisfying the curiosity of foolish men, it is a thing which cannot be done, and ought not to be attempted,) enough would have been said, did not a few passages remain which seem to insinuate, contrary to the view which we have expounded, that the counsel of God is not firm and stable, but varies with the changes of sublunary affairs. First, in reference to the Providence of God, it is said that he repented of having made man, (Gen. 6:6,) and of having raised Saul to the kingdom, (1 Sam. 15:11,) and that he will repent of the evil which he had resolved to inflict on his people as soon as he shall have perceived some amendment in them, (Jer. 18:8.) Secondly, his decrees are sometimes said to be annulled. He had by Jonah proclaimed to the Ninevites, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” but, immediately on their repentance, he inclined to a more merciful sentence, (Jonah 3:4-10.) After he had, by the mouth of Isaiah, given Hezekiah intimation of his death, he was moved by his tears and prayers to defer it, (Is. 38:1,5; 2 Kings 20: 1,5 cf. II Chron. 32:34.) Hence many argue that God has not fixed human affairs by an eternal decree, but according to the merits of each individual, and as he deems right and just, disposes of each single year, and day, and hour.

Institutes 1.17.12
Calvin, John. The John Calvin Collection: 12 Classic Works . Waxkeep Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Augustine Ambrose and Origen on Spiritual Interpretation of the Bible

On Sundays, Augustine recalls, he would come to listen attentively to Ambrose’s sermons. People talked and interrupted, as we can infer from Ambrose’s own words, but Augustine was not troubled. He was not there to take in the contents, and yet as he listened to the style, his ‘heart’, typically, opened to what was being spoken. He does not recall that he was influenced by Ambrose’s rhetorical training, one which he shared. Instead, he is clear, as we should be, that Ambrose was the first person to show him that concealed other meanings, or allegories, could be discerned in awkward verses of scripture. They did not have to mean what they appeared to say on the surface. Ambrose’s use of allegory was derived from Greek authors, the Christian thinker Origen (c.185–254) and the Greek-speaking Jew Philo in Alexandria in the early to mid-first century, from whose books Ambrose took whole patterns of interpretation while claiming that, as a Jew, Philo had not been able to ‘discern the mystery’ himself.27

Hidden meanings and ‘mysteries’ beneath the surface of a text were not new for Augustine. During his literary training he had learned that allegory could be applied to verses by Virgil.28 Now, beneath the clumsy style of the Latin scriptures, a deeper meaning was being shown to lie hidden. Ambrose could reveal its depths because a key had been made available by Christ. ‘You have read in the Apocalypse,’ Ambrose later wrote, ‘that the Lamb opened the sealed book which nobody thitherto had been able to open… by means of His Gospel: Jesus handed over the key of knowledge and gave it to us so that we may open.’ Faith in Christ, Ambrose believed, guides scripture’s readers to the hidden meanings which unify it and to which they are linked by the Holy Spirit. In this sense, so Ambrose would preach, ‘the Letter kills, the Spirit gives life’, words of St Paul to the Corinthians which greatly struck his hearer, Augustine.29 They were a sort of ‘rule’ for understanding scripture whose depths of meaning made it like a ‘sea’. One level might be natural, but another might be ‘moral’, discernible with the help of allegorical keys. A third level was mystical, which only allegory could unlock. Ambrose did not name his source, but, like the ‘rule’, these three levels had been formulated in Greek by Origen.30

Fox, Robin Lane. Augustine: Conversions to Confessions . Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

the Pseudo-Sibylline Oracles on Omniscience Part 2

Book 4

But of the mighty God, whom hands of men
Formed not like speechless idols carved of stone.
For he has not for his abode a stone
10 Most dumb and toothless to a temple drawn,
Of immortals a dishonor very sore;
For he may not be seen from earth nor measured
By mortal eyes, nor formed by mortal hand;
He, looking down at once on all, is seen
15 Himself by no one; his are murky night,
And day, and sun, and stars, and moon, and seas
With fish, and land, and rivers, and the month

the Pseudo-Sibylline Oracles on Omniscience

Book 3

Of the immortal Maker? God is one,
15 Sovereign, ineffable, dwelling in heaven,
The self-existent and invisible,
Himself alone beholding everything;
Him sculptor’s hand made not, nor is his form
Shown by man’s art from gold or ivory;
20 But he, eternal Lord, proclaims himself
As one who is and was erst and shall be
Again hereafter. For who being mortal
Can see God with his eyes? Or who shall bear
To hear the only name of heaven’s great God,

A Petition Written by Michael Servetus in Prison

Translated by Joy Kleinstuber
For full text (gated): link

Honoured Sirs
I am being held prisoner on the instigation of Jean Calvin, who has charged me unjustly, saying that I had written,

1. That souls were mortal. And also
2. That Jesus Christ only got a quarter of his body from the Virgin Mary.

These are horrible and detestable things. Of all heresies and of all crimes, there is none so heinous as making the soul mortal. Because with all the others there is hope of salvation, but none at all with this one. Whoever says this does not believe that there is a God, or justice, or resurrection, or Jesus Christ, or Holy Scripture, or anything {at all}; only that everything is dead, and man and beast are one and the same thing. If I had said that—{and} not only said it, but written it for all to see, to defile the world—I would sentence myself to death. For which reason messeigneurs I request that my bogus prosecutor be punished according to the lex talionis, and that he be held prisoner, like me, until such time as the case is decided by {a ruling for} either his death or mine, or some other sentence. And to this end {I hereby bring a charge against him according to the aforementioned lex talionis}. And I am willing to die if he is not proven guilty, as much for this, as for other things, which I will describe later. I ask you for justice, my lords: justice, justice, justice. Written in this prison of Geneva, on 22 September 1553.

Michael Servetus
{pleading} his own case.

Rabbi Sacks on the Jewish Concept of Time

Jewish Time:

Atonement and forgiveness are the supreme expressions of human freedom – the freedom to act differently in the future than one did in the past, and the freedom not to be trapped in a cycle of vengeance and retaliation. Only those who can forgive can be free. Only a civilisation based on forgiveness can construct a future that is not an endless repetition of the past. That, surely, is why Judaism is the only civilisation whose golden age is in the future.

It was this revolutionary concept of time – based on human freedom – that Judaism contributed to the world. Many ancient cultures believed in cyclical time, in which all things return to their beginning. The Greeks developed a sense of tragic time, in which the ship of dreams is destined to founder on the hard rocks of reality. Europe of the Enlightenment introduced the idea of linear time, with its close cousin, progress. Judaism believes in covenantal time, well described by Harold Fisch: “The covenant is a condition of our existence in time . . . We cooperate with its purposes never quite knowing where it will take us, for ‘the readiness is all’.” In a lovely phrase, he speaks of the Jewish imagination as shaped by “the unappeased memory of a future still to be fulfilled”.

Jesus Was not Born In a Stable and Other Christmas-Related Details

From Jason Staples Jesus Was not Born In a Stable and Other Christmas-Related Details:

In the first (recently published in NTS), he shows (in spite of the constant threat of the Spanish Inquisition) that Luke 2:7 in fact involves no “inn” (the word traditionally translated “inn” actually suggests an extra room or “place to stay”), nor does Luke suggest that Jesus was born in a stable, barn, cave, or anything of the sort. It’s an excellent article, and though it might take the fun out of nativity scenes for some folks, it is well worth the read for those interested in the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth.

The end result is that in Luke’s account, Mary seems to have given birth in Joseph’s family’s house in Bethlehem, being forced to put Jesus in a manger, which would have been in the main room of the house, since they didn’t tend to have barns or stables for their animals like in the modern world, instead bringing the animals inside. Luke 2:7 is probably best translated something like this:

And she bore a son, her firstborn child, and they wrapped him in baby cloths and laid him in a manger, because they had no space in their accommodations [for him].

Yup, that’s right. No stable, no inn, no innkeeper. But on the plus side, it’s better exegesis of what Luke actually says. So it has that going for it. Which is nice.

Excerpts from Pagan and Christian

From Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety – Dodds:

A story which begins with Philo and St Paul and ends with Augustine and Boethius is much too long to be told in four lectures, even if l were competent to tell the whole of it. I have therefore judged it best to concentrate my attention on the crucial period between the accession of Marcus Aurelius and the conversion of Constantine, the period when the material decline was steepest and the ferment of new religious feelings most intense. In calling it ‘an Age of Anxiety’ I have in mind both its material and its moral insecurity;

I am interested less in the issues which separated the combatants than in the attitudes and experiences which bound them together.

Joseph Bidez described our period as one in which ‘Men were ceasing to observe the external world and to try to understand it, utilize it or improve it. They were driven in upon themselves. … The idea of the beauty of the heavens and of the world went out of fashion and was replaced by that of the Infinite.’

And in this glittering house of many mansions the earth appeared as the meanest mansion of all: it was held to be compact of the mere dregs and sediment of the universe, the cold, heavy, impure stuff whose weight had caused it to sink to the centre.

As time went on, this traditional antithesis between the celestial world and the terrestrial was more and more heavily emphasised,’ and it was increasingly used to point a moral. In the recurrent topos of the fight of the soul through the universe-imagined as taking place in a dream, or after death, or sometimes just in waking contemplation- we can trace a growing contempt for all that may be done and suffered beneath the moon.

Much the same feeling underlies the long and splendid passage where Plotinus in his last years, drawing both on Plato and on the Stoics, interprets the grandeurs and miseries of human life in terms of a stage performance.

For him, as for the aged Plato, man’s earnest is God’s play, performed in the world-theatre by ‘fair and lovely living puppets’ – puppets who mistake themselves for men and suffer accordingly, though in truth they are but external shadows of the inner man, the only truly existent, truly substantial person.’ This is linked with Plotinus’ general doctrine that action is everywhere ‘a shadow of contemplation and an inferior substitute for it.’ When cities are sacked, their men massacred, their women raped, it is but a transitory moment in the endless drama: other and better cities will arise one day, and the children conceived in crime may prove better men than their fathers. That seems to be his final word on the tragic history of his time.

From Plotinus this attitude of contemptuous resignation was transmitted to the later Neoplatonic schools, Christian as well as pagan. To Gregory of Nyssa, for example, human affairs are but the play of children building sand castles which are promptly washed away; as Father Danielou says, his entire work is penetrated by a deep feeling of the unreality of the sensible world, which he calls goAteia, a magical illusion, echoing a phrase of Porphyry.’ And Augustine in turn declares that ‘this life is nothing but the comedy of the human race’.

But no Stoic or Aristotelian, and no orthodox Platonist, could condemn the cosmos as a whole. Where we meet such condemnation we must suspect that it derives ultimately from a source farther east, a dualism more radical than Plato’s. The visible cosmos as a whole could only be called evil in contrast with some invisible Good Place or Good Person outside and beyond the cosmos: radical dualism implies transcendence!

…Plotinus could accept the equation of Matter with evil only by reducing both to the status of marginal products, the limiting point of the outgoing from the Absolute.

To the majority of Gnostics it was unthinkable that such a world should have been created by the Supreme God: it must be the handiwork of some inferior demiurge- either, as Valentinus thought, an ignorant daemon unaware of any better possibility; or, as Marcion thought, the harsh and unintelligent God of the Old Testament; or again, as in other systems, some angel or angels in revolt against God.

Origen, however, maintained the substance of the Gnostic view; he attributed the creation to the action of certain ‘bodiless intelligences’ who became bored with contemplating God and ‘turned to the inferior’

Plotinus v the Gnostics.

The unio mystica recognized by the Church was a momentary illumination, granted only occasionally, perhaps but once in a lifetime. And whatever energies it might release and whatever assurance it might bestow, the human being who experienced it did not thereby shed his human condition; it was as an ordinary mortal that he had to live out his life on Earth. The heretical mystic, on the other hand, felt himself to be utterly transformed; he had not merely been united with God, he was identical with God and would remain so for ever. For ‘the great Catholic mystics’ read ‘Plotinus’, for ‘the heretical mystic’ read ‘certain Hermetists and Christian Gnostics’, and the distinction applies perfectly to our period. Plotinus also rejected firmly the megalomaniac claim of the Gnostics to a monopoly of the divine presence. For him God is present to all beings, and the power of becoming aware of that presence is a capacity ‘which all men possess, though few use it’ (r, vi, 8.2.4). ‘If God is not in the world’, he tells the
Gnostics, ‘then neither is he in you, and you can have nothing to say about him’ (n, ix, I6.zs).

‘belief in the possibility of an intimate and direct union of the human spirit with the fundamental principle of being, a union which constitutes at once a mode of existence and a mode of knowledge different from and superior to normal existence and knowledge’.


He is also, with his pupil Porphyry, the only person of our period who is stated in so many words to have enjoyed mystical union. Four times, according to Porphyry, in the six years that the two men worked together ‘Plotinus lifted himself to the primal and transcendent God by meditation and by the methods Plato indicated in the Symposium’; Porphyry himself had attained the same goal but once, many years later . And we have the testimony of Plotinus himself in the unique autobiographical passage where he speaks of occasions when ‘I awakened out of the body into myself and came to be external to all other things and contained within myself, when I saw a marvelous beauty and was confident, then if ever, that I belonged to the higher order, when I actively enjoyed the noblest form of life, when I had become one with the Divine and stabilized myself in the Divine.’ Elsewhere Plotinus has described in memorable prose, if not the mystical union itself, at any rate the steps which lead up to it. He tells us that when we have achieved through intellectual and moral self-training the right disposition, we must practice a discipline of negation: we must think away the corporeal opaqueness of the world, think away the spatio-temporal frame of reference, and at last think away even the inner network of relations. What is left? Nothing, it would seem, but a centre of awareness which is potentially, but not yet actually, the Absolute.

The last stage of the experience comes by no conscious act of will: ‘we must wait quietly for its appearance’, says Plotinus, ‘and prepare ourselves to contemplate it, as the eye waits for the sunrise.’ But what then happens cannot properly be described in terms of vision, or of any normal cognitive act ; for the distinction of subject and object vanishes. I quote one of Plotinus’ attempts at description:

The soul sees God suddenly appearing within it, because there is nothing between : they are no longer two, but one; while the presence lasts, you cannot distinguish them. It is that union which earthly lovers imitate when they would be one flesh. The soul is no longer conscious of being in a body, or of itself as having identity-man or living being, thing or sum of things… For who it is that sees it has no leisure to see. When in this state the soul would exchange its present condition for nothing in the world, though it were offered the kingdom of all the heavens: for this is the Good, and there is nothing better.

Ephraim Urbach on Jewish notions of Omniscience

However, several of the earliest commentators of the Mishna already did not understand the phrase ha-kol safûy in the sense of ‘Everything is revealed and known from the outset’, but in the connotation ‘All that a man does in the innermost chambers, the Holy One, blessed be He, watches and observes’,11 and as Rabbi said, ‘Know what is above you—a seeing eye’ (M. ’Avot ii, 1); this explanation accords with the use of the stem safa in the idiom of the Tannaim. This verb does not signify knowledge of the future, but seeing that which exists and is present, like the Biblical usage ‘The eyes of the Lord keep watch [ sofôt] upon the evil and the good’ (Proverbs xv 3). R. Akiba himself said: ‘I was watching [ sôfe] Rabban Gamaliel and R. Joshua, (and I saw) that whereas all the people were waving their palm-branches, they waved them only at “We beseech Thee, O Lord”’ (M. Sukka iii, 9); Rabban Gamaliel also used the verb in a similar sense: ‘I was watching [sôfe], and (I observed that) we were within the (Sabbath) limits before nightfall.’12 The use of safa in the signification of ‘to know beforehand’, ‘to see beforehand’, as, for instance, ‘He foresaw by the holy spirit [i. e. prophetic spirit] that they would. . .’, The ‘Holy One, blessed be He, foresaw that they would. . .’ I found only in Amoraic sayings.

Urbach, Ephraim E.. The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (Kindle Locations 5776-5789). . Kindle Edition.

NT Wright on the Legacy of Plato

That vision of a nonbodily ultimate “heaven” is a direct legacy of Plato and of those like the philosopher and biographer Plutarch, a younger contemporary of St. Paul, who interpreted Plato for his own day. It is Plutarch, not the New Testament (despite what one sometimes hears!), who suggested that humans in the present life are “exiled” from their true “home” in “heaven.” That vision of the future— an ultimate glory that has left behind the present world of space, time, and matter— sets the context for what, as we shall see, is a basically paganized vision of how one might attain such a future: a transaction in which God’s wrath was poured out against his son rather than against sinful humans.

N. T. Wright. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 928-932). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Grant on the Role and Function of the Septuagint

The Septuagint had the obvious effect of bringing Jewish and pagan thought much closer together, but this proved a curiously one-way traffic. The translation was supposedly devised to persuade the Greeks of the correctness of Judaism, but its influence in this direction was negligible or non-existent – even in Alexandria itself, where so many of the two peoples lived together. Indeed, Greek readers would only have found the biblical narratives and prophesies, even after translation, a puzzling and incomprehensible affair. So the version is scarcely referred to by classical authors. But for the Alexandrian Jews it fulfilled an enormous role. It became, in fact, their Bible, in place of the Hebrew Bible which most of them could not understand.

Grant, Michael. The History of Ancient Israel (p. 203). Orion Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Morrell Corrects Slick on Pelagius

From Matt Slick of CARM Slanders Pelagius and Pelagianism by Jesse Morrell:

Matt Slick of CARM wrote that “Pelagianism…. taught that people had the ability to fulfill the commands of God by exercising the freedom of human will apart from the grace of God. In other words, a person’s free will is totally capable of choosing God and/or to do good or bad without the aid of Divine intervention.”[29]

This description of “Pelagianism” by Matt Slick is an example, not of Pelagian heresy, but of Pelagian hearsay.

I would suspect that Matt Slick learned about Pelagianism from its opponents, and not from actually reading the writings of the Pelagians. This is a common practice for Calvinists, but what if that is how their doctrine was treated? What if someone stated what Calvinism teaches, by stating the opponents? Augustine accused Pelagius of denying the grace of God, but this was an accusation not a fact.

Had Matt Slick actually read some of the few writings that still exist today from the original Pelagians, he would have read in the Pelagian Statement of Faith submitted to the Pope: “We [Pelagians] maintain that men are the work of God, and that no one is forced unwillingly by His power either into evil or good, but that man does either good or ill of his own will; but that in a good work he is always assisted by God’s grace, while in evil he is incited by the suggestions of the devil.”[30]

Pelagius himself said, “I anathematize the man who either thinks or says that the grace of God, whereby ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ is not necessary not only for ever hour and for every moment, but also for every act of our lives: and those who endeavor to dis-annul it deserve everlasting punishment.”[31]

Pelagius said, “This grace we do not allow to consist only in the law but also in the help of God. God helps us through His teaching and revelation by opening the eyes of our heart, by pointing out to us the future so that we may not be preoccupied with the present, by uncovering the snares of the devil, by enlightening us with the manifold and ineffable gift of heavenly grace.”[32]

Pelagius said, “God always aids by the help of his grace. God aids us by his doctrine and revelation, while he opens the eyes of our heart; while he shows us the future, that we may not be engrossed with the present; while he discloses the snares of the devil; while he illuminates us by the multiform and ineffable gift of heavenly grace. Does he who says this, appear to you to deny grace? Or does he appear to confess both divine grace and the freewill of man?”[33]

Pelagius said in a letter to Innocent, “Behold, before your blessedness, this epistle clears me, in which we directly and simply say, that we have entire freewill to sin and not to sin, which, in all good works, is always assisted by divine aid. Let them read the letter which we wrote to that holy man, bishop Paulinus, nearly twelve years ago, which perhaps in three hundred lines supports nothing else but the grace and aid of God, and that we can do nothing at all of good without God. Let them also read the one we wrote to that sacred virgin of Christ, Demetrias, in the east, and they will find us so praising the nature of man, as that we may always add the aid of God’s grace. Let them likewise read my recent tract which we were lately compelled to put forth on freewill, and they will see how unjustly they glory in defaming us for denial of grace, who, through nearly the whole text of that work, perfectly and entirely profess both free will and grace.”[34]

Pelagius taught that the freedom of the human will was not lost by the original sin of Adam, but that grace was necessary for man to rightly use his free will. He also taught that free will itself was a gracious gift given to us at Creation. He did not deny grace as necessary or as an aid for free will. The only grace he denied was Augustinian grace, which said that free will was lost by original sin and therefore man’s ability to obey needed to be restored by grace. However, one of the best Greek-English Lexicons, Thayer’s, defined grace as “divine influence upon the heart” which is precisely how Pelagius viewed grace in contradiction to Augustine.

Ibn Ezra on Genesis 22:1

Ibn Ezra is often claimed as an example of an early Jewish Open Theist. John Sanders points to his commentary on Genesis 22:1 for evidence of this. Evidently, Sanders is referring to the following commentary:

Some say we need to read with different spelling: נשא instead of נסה ‘Uplifted’ instead of ‘Test’. And I say, the content of the Parashah (the story) proves that נסה is a ‘Test’. And experts explain that נסה (Test) means – to know what exists in the present. And the Gaon (a Babylonian Jewish leader) explained that the purpose of the test was to show His righteousness to the people. But the Gaon surely knew that when Avraham bound his son, no one else was there. And others say “go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights” meant to be “make a sacrifice upon the mountain.” And not him for sacrifice. And Abraham did not know the secret of the prophecy, and he hurried to slaughter him, and God said to him, “I did not ask for this.” All these wise leaders needed their interpretations because they couldn’t believe that God would command a Mitzvah and then change it. But all those leaders did not notice that there is a precedent for a change like that. In the case of commanding a role for the first born male child (Bamidbar ג – Nombers 3) He replaces them with the Levites one year later. (And my understanding is) that the text of the Torah uses “נסה” Test, and that is why we don’t need to think that anything changed. God tested Avraham for the purpose of giving him a reward (and not for the purpose of commanding sacrifices or showing his righteousness).


Apologetics Thursday – Much Ado About Judaism

In the criticism of Open Theism, Beyond the Bounds, Russell Fuller writes:

“The idea of God in Judaism is developed from the Scriptures. The influence of contemporary philosophy which is seen in some Hellenistic Jewish writings—the Wisdom of Solomon, 4 Maccabees, and above all in Philo—is not recognizable in normative Judaism, nor is the influence of other religions. . . .”9 Similarly, Adin Steinsaltz declares: “Some of the mishnaic and talmudic sages were acquainted with Greek and classical literature, but this knowledge had almost no impact on their way of thinking where talmudic scholarship was concerned. In this they differed greatly from Egyptian Jewry which tried to combine Greek culture with Judaism.”10 Saul Lieberman, arguably the greatest Rabbinic authority of the last century and a leading expert on Hellenistic influence in Judaism, admits that some purely Greek ideas penetrated into Rabbinic circles, but these were limited to ethical principles and Greek legal thought.11

Piper, John; Taylor, Justin; Helseth, Paul Kjoss. Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (pp. 25-26). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Fuller quotes plenty of Rabbis who discount the influence of Philo, but does not seem to have too much information quoted about the extent of Greek influence on Judaisms. Fuller’s thrust of his points about Judiasm is that Judiasm has not been corrupted by Greek thought, and that furthermore, Judiasm traditionally reflects Classical Theism’s views on God. This is not true, and even by the time the book of Jubilees was written perhaps 300 years before Jesus, the text of the Bible was being rewritten into more Hellenized ideas. Even the name of God shows some Hellenistic tampering.

Modern rabbis, contrary to what Fuller suggests (he does not show relevant quotes), do not agree that the current Christian idea of Yahweh is pure of Greek corruption. Perhaps the most influential Rabbi of our time, Rabbi Sacks, writes:

The fifth and most profound difference [between Christianity and Judaism] lies in the way the two traditions understood the key phrase in which God identifies himself to Moses at the burning bush. ‘Who are you?’ asks Moses. God replies, cryptically, Ehyeh asher ehyeh. This was translated into Greek as ego eimi ho on, and into Latin as ego sum qui sum, meaning ‘I am who I am’, or ‘I am he who is’. The early and medieval Christian theologians all understood the phrase to be speaking about ontology, the metaphysical nature of God’s existence. It meant that he was ‘Being-itself, timeless, immutable, incorporeal, understood as the subsisting act of all existing’. Augustine defines God as that which does not change and cannot change. Aquinas, continuing the same tradition, reads the Exodus formula as saying that God is ‘true being, that is being that is eternal, immutable, simple, self-sufficient, and the cause and principal of every creature’.

But this is the God of Aristotle and the philosophers, not the God of Abraham and the prophets. Ehyeh asher ehyeh means none of these things. It means ‘I will be what, where, or how I will be’. The essential element of the phrase is the dimension omitted by all the early Christian translations, namely the future tense. God is defining himself as the Lord of history who is about to intervene in an unprecedented way to liberate a group of slaves from the mightiest empire of the ancient world and lead them on a journey towards liberty…

Far from being timeless and immutable, God in the Hebrew Bible is active, engaged, in constant Far from being timeless and immutable, God in the Hebrew Bible is active, engaged, in constant dialogue with his people, calling, urging, warning, challenging and forgiving. When Malachi says in the name of God, ‘I the Lord do not change’ (Malachi 3: 6), he is not speaking about his essence as pure being, the unmoved mover, but about his moral commitments. God keeps his promises even when his children break theirs.

Sacks, Jonathan. The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning (p. 65). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Rabbi Sacks understands that the picture of God drawn by the likes of Fuller is one of Greek origin. Negative attributes are known to be of Greek origin, and not part of early Jewish theology (Fuller even quotes a Rabbi to this effect, misunderstanding him). Fuller is incorrect to view Judiasm as untainted by Greek thought, and he is also incorrect to see Yahweh in modern Judaism as equivalent to his conception of God.

Augustine Praises the Platonists

From a Letter from Augustine to Dioscorus:

33. The Platonists, however, who, amidst the errors of false philosophies assailing them at that time on all sides, rather concealed their own doctrine to be searched for than brought it into the light to be vilified, as they had no divine personage to command faith, began to exhibit and unfold the doctrines of Plato after the name of Christ had become widely known to the wondering and troubled kingdoms of this world. Then flourished at Rome the school of Plotinus, which had as scholars many men of great acuteness and ability. But some of them were corrupted by curious inquiries into magic, and others, recognising in the Lord Jesus Christ the impersonation of that essential and immutable Truth and Wisdom which they were endeavouring to reach, passed into His service. Thus the whole supremacy of authority and light of reason for regenerating and reforming the human race has been made to reside in the one saving Name, and in His one Church.

Apologetics Thursday – Greek Influences in the Church

By Christopher Fisher

Arbour and Blount argue that Open Theists just assume that the church fathers rejected face value readings of the Bible in favor of Platonism. From The Camel’s Nose: Open Theism and Biblical Interpretation – Benjamin H. Arbour and Douglas K. Bloun:

Now Adolf Harnack and Wolfhart Pannenberg not withstanding, we doubt that the tradition’s interpretive approach has been as heavily influenced by Greek philosophy as open theists suggest. Sadly, however, we cannot entertain open theists’ arguments to the contrary for the simple reason that they have put forward no such arguments.21 That traditional Christian readings of scripture have been unduly influenced by Greek philosophy is not a conclusion for which open theists argue but rather an assumption from which they argue. So, for instance, Sanders—who proclaims the point persistently and pointedly—does nothing to show that the tradition has been so influenced; he also does nothing to show which Greek philosophical doctrines are problematic for Christian theology, not to mention why they are so. Apparently, he takes the point to be beyond dispute; it is not.

Arbour and Bloun might be unfamiliar with the extent of documentation of the early Church’s reliance on Platonism. Augustine, the most influential Christian writer, literally stated that he believed the Bible was absurd before Simplicanous told Augustine to read the Bible in light of Plotinus. Augustine admits it plainly. This is in the same work which Augustine shows utter contempt for those who read the Bible on face value:

6. I rejoiced also that the old Scriptures of the law and the prophets were laid before me, to be perused, not now with that eye to which they seemed most absurd before, when I censured Your holy ones for so thinking, whereas in truth they thought not so; and with delight I heard Ambrose, in his sermons to the people, oftentimes most diligently recommend this text as a rule—The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life; while, drawing aside the mystic veil, he spiritually laid open that which, accepted according to the letter, seemed to teach perverse doctrines— teaching herein nothing that offended me, though he taught such things as I knew not as yet whether they were true…

Notice, the Bible was “absurd” to Augustine during his face value readings. And what was absurd? In Chapter 11, Augustine mocks those who think God is in time and spoke as Jesus was being baptized. In Augustine’s commentary on Genesis, he does great damage to the text. Augustine makes the “original sin” as sex between Adam and Eve, as well as other affronts to the face value reading. As soon as Augustine was given license to reinterpret the text spiritually, dumping the face value reading, that allowed him to convert to Christianity.

26. But having then read those books of the Platonists, and being admonished by them to search for incorporeal truth, I saw Your invisible things, understood by those things that are made; [Romans 1:20] and though repulsed, I perceived what that was, which through the darkness of my mind I was not allowed to contemplate,— assured that You were, and were infinite, and yet not diffused in space finite or infinite; and that Thou truly art, who art the same ever, varying neither in part nor motion; and that all other things are from You, on this most sure ground alone, that they are. Of these things was I indeed assured, yet too weak to enjoy You… Upon these [books by the Platonists], therefore, I believe, it was Your pleasure that I should fall before I studied Your Scriptures, that it might be impressed on my memory how I was affected by them… For had I first been moulded in Your Holy Scriptures, and had Thou, in the familiar use of them, grown sweet unto me, and had I afterwards fallen upon those volumes, they might perhaps have withdrawn me from the solid ground of piety; or, had I stood firm in that wholesome disposition which I had thence imbibed, I might have thought that it could have been attained by the study of those books alone.

Notice, Augustine praises the books of the Platonists. Augustine then says his Platonism made the Bible repulsive. Augustine then says that once he used Platonism to understand the Bible, he accepted the Bible. And to top it off, Augustine runs a hypothetical: if Augustine first accepted the Bible and then came across the books of Platonism, Augustine would have converted away from Christianity to Platonism. Christianity, Augustine explicitly says, is Platonism plus charity.

In Confessions, Book 8, Simplicanus lets Augustine into a secret: All the Church Fathers were engrained in Platonism. Simplicanus told Augustine that all Augustine needed to do was import Platonism into Christianity to make Christianity believable:

But when I mentioned to him that I had read certain books of the Platonists, which Victorinus, sometime Professor of Rhetoric at Rome (who died a Christian, as I had been told), had translated into Latin, he congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers, which were full of fallacies and deceit, after the rudiments of the world, [Colossians 2:8] whereas they, in many ways, led to the belief in God and His word.

When Arbour and Bloun claim that it is only assumed that the Church Fathers read the Bible in light of Platonism, they are very mistaken. They might be unfamiliar with Early Church writings, but it is not a contested point. It is well documented that not only were the Church Fathers hardcore Platonists, but that they would reject Christianity if they believed the face value text of the Bible. Platonism was their mechanism to conforming Christianity into something they could accept. This is not assumption (as Arbour and Bloun label it); it is explicitly stated in essay format by the Church Fathers.

John Calvin was a Monster

Peter Lumpkins sets straight James White on Calvin’s execution of Servetus:

It’s a joke to suggest Servetus broke no laws in Geneva. Servetus was guilty of heresy which was against the law (4:28).
Not so fast. At the time of Servetus’ arrest, no laws in Geneva had been broken. We apparently have few, if any, records of Servetus’ doing anything but renting a hotel room and attending church the next day. He’d broken no laws in Geneva. Was it a crime to have been convicted of heresy by Rome? If so, John Calvin and every Geneva pastor should also have been arrested as well. Thus at the time the authorities came and pulled Servetus from Calvin’s church, Barker was correct; Servetus had broken no laws of Geneva. From all indication, Servetus was only passing through and already had a boat ticket to Naples (see below). Even so, at the time no law apparently existed in Geneva which called for Servetus’ death even if he was a known heretic. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “No law, current in Geneva, has ever been adduced as enacting the capital sentence…but in 1535 all the old laws on the subject of religion had been set aside at Geneva; the only civil penalty for religion, retained by the edicts of 1543, was banishment” (Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 21, 1892, p.685, emphasis added). Hence the author concludes, “The extinct law seems to have been arbitrarily revived” for the specific purpose of putting Servetus to death. According to famed Reformation historian, William Naphy, Servetus “would probably become the first person to be executed for heresy in Geneva…”(William G. Naphy, Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation p.183).

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Augustine and His Platonism

Excerpted from Christopher Fisher:

Simplicianus and Ambrose convinced Augustine that the Bible was to be taken figuratively. Notice how Augustine read the Bible on face value. Augustine called it “absurd”, he said “the letter kills”, he called it “perverse doctrines”, and he called it “offensive”. It was only through Simplicanus and Amborse spiritualizing the text in a Platonic sense that Augustine finally accepted the Bible. In short, Augustine was able to see the natural reading of the Bible, and Augustine rejected it because it was antithetical to Plantonism (that “god” cannot change)…

Augustine’s characteristics for the books of the Platonists are “pride” and “knowledge”. Augustine, even after becoming a Christian, held Platonism in high regard. This is in contrast to his disdain for the natural meaning of the Bible text, which he calls “absurd”, “killing”, “perverse”, and “offensive”. Biblical theology was to be rejected all except one point. The Platonists gave Augustine all Augustine’s theology except “charity”. In fact Augustine writes: “I might have thought that it could have been attained by the study of [Platonist] books alone.”

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