Church History

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).

It is recommended to read the entire post. Click here.
For Part 1, click here.

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.”

For full post, click here.