Church History

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).

Source

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 Simplicanus 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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