I've created a few resources to aid with your studies or interest in the Early Church. The below maps are converted from the appendices in my book. I'll also soon add some hi-res versions as A3 poster size to purchase as well. Below the maps is an interactive chronological timeline of when the New Testament and Early Church texts were written. At the time of writing, I have covered most of the Ante-Nicene (pre-325 AD) period.
Approximate locations of where the NT and Ante-Nicene texts were written (or sent).
Blue book icons represent the New Testament books, the red crosses are a selection of the Early Church Fathers texts. Zoom in and click on the icons for more details.
The whole journey covers about 1524 miles (2454 km)!
A timeline of when the New Testament and other early Patristic works were written*, plus significant historical events which may have influenced certain writings.
Orange = New Testament
Dark Green = Apostolic Fathers (c.70 - c.150 AD)
Light Green = Ante-Nicene Fathers (pre-325 AD)
Light Orange = Post-Nicene Fathers
Blue = Significant Historical Events
Black = Major Time Periods
Teal = First Seven Ecumenical Councils
Red = Widespread Persecutions
Light Red = Localised/Regional Persecutions
Grey = Disputed Facts
Yellow = Major Schisms
* Much of the dating and research has been taken from the works of Schaff, Lightfoot, Harmer et al.
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Luke J. Wilson | 13th September 2019 | Early Church
Hey everyone, so I’ve launched a new website called Patristics.info to be a new resource for all things early church related. I’ve added a few texts which I already had formatted from my book manuscript, plus other resources like timelines, maps, recommended books etc. I’ll be adding more soon in the coming days. I’ve also created a “topical index” page too which is auto-generated from the tags on the pages to aid with searching, plus I created a word highlighter on each page so you can search keywords in a text and have them highlighted if you’re looking for particular things. If anyone would like to be involved to contribute resources or blogs, or have any book you’ve written which you’d like linked/advertised on the site then just get in touch! I want this to be as useful a tool for people who are interested in this area as much as for people who are new to Patristics (the early church fathers). Features and functionality Much of the site is ready to go in terms of functionality and resources etc for the time being. I’m still working on adding more Early Church texts to the site, but this takes a lot of time as I need to transcribe them from unformatted text into a nicer format for reading, plus inserting all of the footnotes as well (I’m currently half way through 1 Clement now). While I mention the footnotes, I’ve created a feature similar to Wikipedia where if you hover on a footnote number, it will display a popup with the footnote text in it hopefully making it simpler to read the Patristic text and quickly see any additional information from the original translators as you go. This should also work well on mobiles too. Inline footnote hover popups Another new feature I’ve created is the Quote Search page: https://patristics.info/quote-search.html This is an experimental tool at the moment while I still perfect it, but please give it a go and submit any feedback if you can. The page will allow you to search a keyword and bring up a list of contextual quotes from within the Church Father texts where that word is mentioned. As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing else like this available online in this format so I hope it will prove useful for study! Example quote search for the word “baptism” I hope that you enjoy the site and find it a useful tool. Please share it online etc. and if you want to get involved with creating blogs or resources just get in touch, or if you feel so inclined, you can support this project financially via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/LukeJWilson Go and explore the site today: Patristics.info !...
Luke J. Wilson | 17th June 2019 | Early Church
I was asked not so long ago what kinds of things Christians did in the Early Church (first to fourth century) as a form of spiritual discipline, on a personal level as well as a corporate one. Though the concept of an individual “personal spiritual life” would have been quite foreign to first century believers as faith and Church was very much a corporate venture that had personal implications, rather than the other way around as it can often appear to be thought of today. Much of what made Christianity structured, disciplined and set apart from society, has largely been lost in practice, or forgotten and relegated to the annals of history by many practicing Christians today. With that said, let’s take a look at what the most common practices were of the ancient Church. Reading/Memorising Scripture Memorising Scripture – specifically the Psalms and Gospels Singing/praying the Psalms as worship to God Both of these principles are based on Psalm 1:1–3 and Colossians 3:16. “Every Psalm brings peace, soothes the internal conflicts, calms the rough waves of evil thoughts, dissolves anger, corrects and moderates profligacy.” Commentary on Psalm 1, Basil the Great (4th century) Prayer and Fasting Another common practice that was expected of believers was regular fasting, since Jesus had said “when you fast”, not “if”. Typically, fasting was done every week on Wednesday and Friday, based on Matthew 6:16–18, and also to honour the days of the Passion and crucifixion in later tradition. “But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; … but fast on the fourth day (Wednesday) and the Preparation (Friday). … [But pray] as the Lord commanded in His Gospel (the Lord’s Prayer) … Thrice in the day thus pray.” Didache (c. 50 – 70) Alongside fasting, praying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (morning, noon, evening) was a common discipline. From around the third century, liturgy and prayers in a church service would start to face East as that was seen where God’s glory arose, and in baptism ritual turning East was a sign of turning away from the devil towards Christ (Jews similarly prayed facing Jerusalem). This is also why many old church buildings are cross-shaped and have the alter end pointing Eastward. For it is required that you pray toward the east, as knowing that which is written: ‘Give ye glory to God, who rideth upon the heaven of heavens toward the east’ (Ps 67.34 LXX [Ps. 68:33 – 34]). Didascalia, Ch. XII (c.250) The various spiritual benefits to fasting are marked throughout the Church Fathers' works on the subject, but I find this quote from Augustine sums it up succinctly: “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself.” Augustine; Sermon, On Prayer and Fasting, LXXII (c. 393–430) Fasting was also not just total denial of food all day, but often only until sundown (or evening meal), and would comprise of bread and water with some oils to dip the bread in. Some may be more like a vegetarian diet, but with no oil, fish or alcohol either. Meal times should be replaced with prayer, and in all times during the fast (as well as generally also), to bear in mind the true fast that is pleasing to the Lord as seen in Isaiah 58:6–9. “Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen: to release the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Isn’t it to distribute your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh?” Isaiah 58:6 – 7 (WEB) Signing the Cross Another ancient custom is making the sign of the cross over yours...
Luke J. Wilson | 02nd June 2019 | Early Church
The Nicene Creed — what is it and why is it called that? This creed gets its name from a time and place: the first ecumenical Church council held at Nicaea, which is now known as İznik in northwestern Turkey, in 325 AD. Now that may raise another question for you: what is an ecumenical council? Well, to explain more about the Nicene Creed, we are going to have to take a look at The First Council of Nicaea in order to better understand why this creed was written. First things first though; an “ecumenical council” is ideally a Church-wide meeting where all the Bishops from all across the Church come together to hold a very large and very important meeting to discuss topics and issues affecting the whole Body of Believers, with the results intended to be binding on all believers. Most often, these Councils were called to combat heresy and false teachers who had come about and gained enough popularity that it warranted an official response, with the creeds being the result after proper orthodoxy had been ratified. Seeking unity, the Council was convened by Constantine I in response to the Arian controversy which had gripped the Greek-speaking East. The teaching of Arius of Alexandria were considered heretical by most bishops of the time, fearing that it would cost people their salvation. 1800 bishops were invited by Constantine (that was every bishop across the Roman Empire), but only around 250-320 turned up from across the Empire, except Britain, according to the various surviving documents from different attendees. This Council was an extremely historic event as nothing quite like it had happened before since the Council of Jerusalem around 50 AD (Acts 15), which convened in a similar manner to counter controversial and false teaching which was upsetting the Church Body. As with that Council, the Nicene Council and its outcome was intended for the whole of the Church global. What actually happened at Nicaea I won’t go into too much detail about everything the Council discussed, but other than condemning and exiling Arius for his false teaching that the Son of God was a created being (or “creature”) out of nothing like the rest of creation, the council aimed to settle on a uniform date for celebrating Easter as the East followed Jewish customs of Passover for the date, and the West followed another custom. Other than that, the other decrees (“canons”) declared were to do with how bishops should be consecrated, how bishops and priests should stay within their parishes and some rules on lending money with interest. There were 20 short canons/rulings in all which you can read here, if you’re interested to see exactly what went on. For another viewpoint of what occurred during the Council, Eusebius of Cæsarea (who you may know as the author of Ecclesiastical History) was in attendance and wrote a letter covering the events to send back to his Diocese explaining the formation of the creed and why and how they came up with it. You can read his letter here, or you can also read the letter of Athanasius who was also present at the council as a secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, here. It’s also often said that Nicholas of Myra (also known as Saint Nicholas – yes, that St. Nick) attended and actually slapped Arius across the face(!), but that is most likely an exaggeration at best, or an urban legend. If you do read the canons of the council and the letters of Eusebius and Athansius, you’ll see that the Nicene Council had some specific goals to achieve and that their main objective was that of the divine nature of Christ and how to deal with the teaching of Arius. What they didn’t do, as some pervasive myths claim, was to “decide what went in the Bible”, “create Catholicism”, “change the Sabbath to Sunday”, or “invent the deity of Christ”! The internet allows for a lot of nonsense to get spread, especially when much of the disinformation was proliferated by a Hollywood film and orig...
Luke J. Wilson | 08th May 2019 | Early Church
40 Days with the Fathers: Companion Texts is now available to buy as Paperback or Kindle! I am happy to say that the new book is now available in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon! Other eBook formats will be available soon as it rolls out. This book is the companion to my other book (40 Days with the Fathers: A Daily Reading Plan), and includes twenty-three Early Church texts in full—including all additional footnotes from the original editors and translators so that you can get as close as possible to reading these ancient texts without needing to know ancient Greek or Latin. It's structured in such a way to read a chapter a day over a 40 day period which will help digest these long texts, and also serve as an easy introduction to what is often the more scholarly/academic side of things. Order your copy today to get the Paperback at the special low price of £19.99 (RRP: £21.99)! In the UK? Go to Amazon.co.uk In America or worldwide? Go to Amazon.com Thank you for your interest and support of my work! Luke J. Wilson...
Luke J. Wilson | 08th March 2021 | Etymology
For many people today, non-Christians and (low church) Christians alike, when they hear the word “Catholic”, certain images spring to mind: the Pope, the rosery, Catholic school, big old churches buildings, choirboys, maybe monks or statues of Mary even; and sadly more recently, sex abuse scandals. But, generally speaking, all of these are actually aspects of Roman Catholicism — a particular branch of Christianity, and not what the word “catholic” truly means as we’ll see when examining how the early church used the word and what the original Greek word means. καθολικός (katholikos) The Greek word where we get the English word “catholic” from is καθολικός (katholikos) meaning “universal”, which comes from the Greek phrase καθόλου (katholou), meaning “on the whole”, “according to the whole” or “in general” (catholicus in Latin). In non-ecclesiastical use, it still retained its root meaning in English in some literature from the 1800s, though that usage has fallen out of common use in modern times. The first Biblical reference to the word is found in Acts 9:31 when speaking about “the church throughout [all] Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…”. The words “throughout” and “all” are καθ (κατά) and ὅλης (ὅλος) respectively in Greek, which together come to form the word καθολικός. The earliest historical use of the word, in the context of the Church, is found in one of the letters of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, written around A.D. 107, where he writes: Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. From here on we begin to see that the word “catholic” was used in reference to mean “orthodoxy” (the word “orthodox” means “right belief”) as opposed to the non-orthodox heretics who were then by definition not catholic as they were not ‘according to the whole’ which was, as Jude wrote, “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The Catholic Church, in its original and Apostolic sense, would have meant the entirety of the Body of Christ across the world, i.e., all the believers wherever they may be, rather than it being “universal” in the physical sense that the institution of “church” should be all encompassing (like as an official, global institution that all must attend). The difference may be subtle, but it’s an important one. The development of doctrine about Jesus after Paul’s death, with all its commonalities and unifying features, is seen as an early form of “Catholicism” by modern scholars, which really begins in Ignatius (outside of the New Testament) and continues to grow and spread as time goes on, with the definition becoming more refined. Historical Use of the Term As we saw above, Ignatius was the earliest Christian writer we have who applied the word katholikos to the Church. Some people object to using Ignatius as evidence of this, as some of the letters attributed to him are considered spurious (not authentic), though scholarly opinion on this is fairly universal in which are genuine letters, as neither Eusebius nor Jerome makes any reference to the eight spurious epistles. Justo L. Gonzalez explains in his book, The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Reformation, Volume One: The original meaning of Catholic church referred to this episcopal collegiality, as well as with the multiform witness to the gospel in several canonical gospels. … It was the church “according to the whole,” that is, according to the total witness of all the apostles and all the evangelists. The various Gnostic groups were not “Catholic” because they could not claim this broad foundation. … Only the Church Catholic, the church “according to the whole,” could lay claim to the entire apostolic witness. (pp.81,82). ...
Luke J. Wilson | 11th May 2020 | General Interest
EXCITING UPDATES! Just a quick update for you about a couple of new and exciting things I am offering now! Firstly, I have now launched a new range of faith-inspired clothing, which you can see some examples of in the image banner above. If you want to proclaim Christ and your faith via what you wear (especially in these dark times where churches are closed), head on over to: https://thatancientfaith.teemill.com The second thing to mention, as you may gather from the logo above, is that I now have a YouTube channel! I have begun it by doing a read through of my book, 40 Days with the Fathers, through Lent, so you can listen to the whole book for free. I also plan to create videos discussing the topics I write about where I can go into things in more detail or explain some of the thinking behind the various topics which I can't always fit into the blogs. So if you enjoy watching things on YouTube, come on over and subscribe to my channel. That's right: I have a new book in the works! It draws on some of the series and articles I've written on this site to do with Old Testament prophecy and its links into the New Testament, the Incarnation (briefly) and the Second Coming and what we have to look forward to (or worry about). Stay tuned for updates, I'll post some more information soon when there's something more solid to show. If you want to get some insider previews or maybe some advanced reading or snippets etc. then come on over to my Patreon and sign up. Members will get advanced access to any news and updates before anyone else, plus other bonuses! That's all for now, leave a comment if you have any queries or thoughts! ...
Luke J. Wilson | 29th February 2020 | Fasting
The season of Lent is here once again which of course brings up the topic of fasting, since the tradition of Lent comes from following Jesus’ example of his time in the wilderness (Luke 4:1–2). I wasn’t planning on writing anything specific this year like I have previous in previous years, but I felt inspired today at church from one of Gospel readings: Matthew 9:14–15 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Often times when the topic of fasting, or Lent, comes up, people are quick to defend their inaction towards self-denial by claiming that, “Jesus didn’t command us to fast!”. Let’s take a look at that claim for a moment. There may be no chapter and verse you can point to where Jesus says, “Thou shalt fast” — but it was certainly implied in a couple of places when Jesus spoke on the topic, the verse from Matthew above being one of those times, when he finishes off by saying: “and then they will fast” after the “bridegroom” (ie. Jesus) is taken away (death and ascension into heaven). The other time Jesus talks about fasting is a little earlier on in Matthew’s Gospel, in chapter six: Matthew 6:16–18 And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Here we can see that Jesus clearly speaks with the expectation that his followers will fast and even gives instructions and guidance on how to do so and how to avoid being lumped together with the “hypocrites” (sometimes translated as Pharisees). When Jesus tells us how to fast and when it will be appropriate, he was making sure to raise the bar again as he did with many things he taught on. As the Jewish leaders would fast in an obvious way to make sure that everyone could witness their apparent piety, Jesus was telling his followers to go about the business like normal; to get up, have a wash and not look miserable in their hunger. Reading past the Gospels and into Acts and the Epistles, we begin to see how the Apostles and other early believers took Jesus seriously and did begin to fast once the “bridegroom” has been taken away from them. In Acts, the Church was fasting and praying when making decisions about missionary work and who to send (Acts 13:2–3), before appointing leaders (Acts 14:23) and oftentimes fasting preceded receiving visions from God, which we see in both Old and New Testaments (Acts 10:10; 11:5; 22:17). Fasting was also used for various other needs people wanted from God, like petitioning for answers in prayer, for protection, forgiveness or simply for humbling yourself (Ezra 8:21; Nehemiah 1:4; 9:1; Esther 4:3; Psalm 35:13; 69:10; Daniel 9:3; Joel 2:12; Zechariah 8:18–19). As you can see, fasting has a long and active tradition within Judaism, which passed on into Christianity quite naturally. During Second Temple Judaism, biweekly fasts were a common practice amongst Jews (see Luke 18:12 for a brief mention of it), and this is what Jesus would have been targeting in his teaching in Matt. 6. A late first century text from the early church, called The Didache (which was a sort of “church handbook”), expands on this teaching of Jesus and demonstrates to us how the earliest believers understood this and carried on the practice of fasting, taking the familiar model they were used to in Judaism, and reshaping it: But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; for they fast...
Luke J. Wilson | 11th November 2019 | Devotional
The other week we had a series of power cuts in our town. It doesn’t happen very often here where I am, but there was particularly bad weather recently which damaged some cables; but sitting in the dark winter evening, my phone low on battery power, it made me realise just how much we rely on electricity for nearly everything these days. We don’t even have a gas supply so we were completely cut off from doing anything! Now it might sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget how dependent we are on modern conveniences until it’s suddenly taken away and you’re sat in the cold surrounded by tiny little tea-light candles. The following Sunday, the sermon at church touched on the fear of God, which got me thinking about how that concept is still kind of strange to me—God is love, He’s our Father, we’re His children… but then we are to also fear Him? What does this have to do with electricity and power cuts, I hear you say—I’ll come to that in a moment. I’ve often been taught that the word “fear” used in this context actually means “respect”, so I decided to look up the Greek and Hebrew words that are used when we see the words “fear God” in the Bible. It wasn’t exactly what I expected to find. 2 Corinthians 5:11 is where I began, as that was the verse quoted in the sermon. Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are revealed to God, and I hope that we are revealed also in your consciences. I thought I may see a Greek word with a semantic range which includes “respect” or “honour” maybe, but what I found was the word φόβος (phobos) which literally means “alarm or fright; be afraid, fear, terror”. It’s also where we get our English word “phobia” from! So I went forward a couple of chapters to this verse: 2 Corinthians 7:1Having therefore these promises, beloved, let’s cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. But again, the word “phobos” was used, so now I decided to search across the New Testament for this phrase, and the next passage that came up was in Romans. Romans 3:18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is part of a larger passage which ends on this verse about the fear of God (still using the same Greek word), where I saw a footnote to say it had been a quote from Psalm 36:1. Ah, I thought, maybe the Hebrew word used for “fear” will show something different! I thought wrong. This particular verse in Psalm 36 used the word פַּחַד (p̱aḥaḏ), which has a wide meaning such as: a (sudden) alarm (properly, the object feared, by implication, the feeling): — dread(-ful), fear, (thing) great (fear, greatly feared), terror. So again, the type of fear is an actual fear! A little searching through the Old Testament revealed that the word “fear” has a couple of other Hebrew words which lie underneath the English translations, one of which does also mean “reverence” as well (יָרֵא [yârê], found in Gen 22:12 and 1 Sam 12:14). So maybe there is an element of that understanding in the Greek by the time the New Testament writers came along who meant that ‘fear’ as awe and reverence as well. So this all leads me back to where I was a week or so ago, sat in church listening to a sermon, wondering when my power would be back on. As I thought about all of this, the combination of electricity and the fear of God combined into something that helped me put some perspective on it: the fear of God is like a live, sparking electric cable. I’ll clarify my thinking—if we saw an electric cable on the ground, flailing around and sparking everywhere, we should be fearful of that because touching it could kill us! But when electricity is used right, it is good for and to us; it provides power and comfort etc. Without it we lose access to pretty much everything these days and go into darkness—Much like if we lose sight of,...
Luke J. Wilson | 22nd July 2021 | Christology
Now you may be wondering about the title, or thinking “who the heck is Sophia??” — well, bear with me, and all will be revealed. It’s not as sinister or weird as it may first appear. I saw a post on my Instagram feed the other day that just got me a little riled up. I’ll admit it, I can be a little short-tempered at times, especially around the subject of Jesus and seeing him/the Christian faith misrepresented to such a degree that it could mislead others down the wrong path. I don’t normally write responses to things like this, but I felt this one deserved it, mainly just to add some clarity to a somewhat confusing topic, and so there’s a place I (or you, if you fancy sharing my posts!) can point people to if this type of ideology is going to spread. Here’s the Instagram post in question, but it’s the caption below it that got to me. I’ll quote the caption below, too, in case the embedded post doesn't work (here’s a direct link too). View this post on Instagram A post shared by Adam Ericksen (@adamericksen) Jesus had two moms.Their names areMary and Sophia.You’ve heard about Mary, but do you know about Sophia?Sophia is the Greek word for God’s Wisdom.And God’s Wisdom is a Woman. Her name is Sophia.Sophia was there at the beginning of creation. She birthed the world into existence.Deuteronomy 32 says that God gave birth to the people. That was Sophia.Christians began to associate Sophia with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is Sophia. She is the divine feminine who is the Third Person of the Trinity.Sophia is our divine Mother.God is She who loves you.❤️❤️❤️ — via @adamericksen A lot of the comments under that post seemed to find it quite affirming in some ways, others were confused as they’d never heard this before (and rightly so) but were keen to look into it. There were also a lot of references to a single author, and book, called, She Who Is, by Elizabeth A. Johnson, where this idea seemed to have originated in some form. In fact, the majority of the comments were wanting to explore this idea in more depth. So, I think maybe there’s something to be said there for the lack of female representation in the Church if it garnered this type of response, but I also thought if people are this taken by the idea, I wanted to write something to offer some Biblical and historical views on this “Sophia”, as she isn’t a new concept at all. The caption under the Instagram post sounds nice, but it’s ever so slightly off-kilter that it misrepresents everything. Let’s look at the claims line by line: Jesus had two moms.Their names areMary and Sophia. Well, not much to say here yet, but… nope. You’ve heard about Mary, but do you know about Sophia? Well, yes, I do. Maybe you, dear reader, know as well. But I began to question whether the author of the caption did. Sophia is the Greek word for God’s Wisdom. OK, finally. Getting to some facts and less conjecture. Although I would clarify that “sophia” (σοφία) is simply the Greek word for “wisdom”, not specifically “God’s wisdom” (or a name), per se. It’s a minor point though, I’m just nit-picking now. Sophia was there at the beginning of creation. She birthed the world into existence. Right, so here’s where it gets a little “squiffy”. It’s true that Wisdom, or “Sophia”, was there at the very beginning before anything was created, and that she stood beside God during creation. We can see all of this in the book of Proverbs, and it’s all very interesting. I’m sure you’ll notice parallels with John 1. But was this Sophia a separate entity from who we normally think of as being there in the beginning? Who created everything — the Word or the Holy Spirit? Proverbs 8:22–31The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,the first of his acts of long ago.Ages ago I was set up...
Luke J. Wilson | 03rd July 2021 | Hell
Welcome to Part Two of my study and examination of Conditional Immortality (aka Annihilationism). If you missed part one, you can read that one here. As with part one, this will be a long post as there is still much ground to cover before we can really grasp the bigger picture about what Scripture teaches. So with that said, I’ll pick right up where we left off. In part one, I covered a lot of New Testament texts, a few Old Testament passages, plus a look at what some of the earliest church leaders also wrote on the topic to the early church. In this one, we will be looking at a few more Old Testament examples and how they relate to the imagery used in Revelation, amongst other things. Unquenchable Fire and Undying Worms What of unquenchable fire and undying worms? Do these phrases really mean that the fuel of the fire and the worms must last forever and ever? We have a few references to shed some light on the meaning of these phrases which we can examine below: Ezekiel 20:46–48Mortal, set your face toward the south, preach against the south, and prophesy against the forest land in the Negeb; say to the forest of the Negeb, Hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to north shall be scorched by it. All flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it; it shall not be quenched. So, in our first example, Ezekiel was obviously not prophesying that the forests of Negeb would burn forever and never go out. Instead, fire that “shall not be quenched” is used to mean fire that cannot be interrupted or stopped in its destructive purpose. No one is able to stop a fire like this until it has run its course, or it is stopped by something greater, which is what the word “quench” actually means. It is an action performed by something external which stops the flames — what it doesn’t mean is a fire burning out naturally once it consumes its fuel. The fire will continue regardless. Jeremiah 17:27But if you do not listen to me, to keep the sabbath day holy, and to carry in no burden through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates; it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched. Here is another reference to an unquenchable fire consuming something and not being stopped even after the object of destruction has been “devour[ed]”. The image is one of a fire which rages on and on, even after everything in it is burnt up and destroyed. Now let’s move onto the “undying worms” and see how that phrase is used. In the New Testament we see this phrase used in Mark 9:47–48, which originally comes from Isaiah, and also a similar theme in Jeremiah. Isaiah 66:24And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. A little earlier in Isaiah 66 (v.16) we see that God executes judgement with fire and “by his sword, on all flesh”, and that the dead will be many, ending the chapter with the verse quoted above. Jeremiah picks up on a similar theme of God’s judgement, people being killed to such an extent there won’t be room to bury them. This is also where we find a reference to Gehenna, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, as its name means (also called Topheth), in chapters 7 and 19. The concept of Gehenna as a place of punishment is then picked up by Jesus in Matthew 10:28, which he uses in a more eschatological sense. Jeremiah 7:32–33Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room. The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the animals of ...
Luke J. Wilson | 22nd March 2021 | Easter
Much like any major Christian holiday, there are the usual arguments and accusations about how it’s all just pagan festivities with a “Christian mask”. Easter is no different, and usually gets hit the hardest over its so-called “pagan roots”, or in the month or so preceding it, Lent being some “invention of the Catholic Church”. Table of Contents The Lenten Fast The Easter controversy and why we celebrate it when we do Is the Name “Easter” really the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre? Chocolate eggs and bunnies? Concluding Thoughts Further Reading and Sources I like to try and observe Lent, as it is one of the most ancient customs in the Church, which led me to researching its origins, along with the Easter celebration, to see where they have their basis. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that much of the accusations against Easter and Lent as “pagan” are either fabricated or is just misinformation. So let’s examine the different aspects of Easter to see how we got from Passover to resurrection, to little bunnies and chocolate eggs! The Lenten Fast A forty day fast prior to Easter has been a long established practice within the Church dating back to possibly within the first century. This is well established from ancient letters we still have available, such as from Irenaeus in the second century: For some consider themselves bound to fast one day, others two days, others still more. In fact, others fast forty days … And this variety among observers [of the fasts] did not have its origin in our time, but long before in that of our predecessors.–Irenaeus (c.180) Notice here that Irenaeus mentions that this was a practice passed onto them by their “predecessors”, a term often used in conjunction with the Apostles themselves, or those who immediately came after them, putting the origins of this Lenten fast much earlier than when Irenaeus wrote in 180, and also possibly having Apostolic origin. The Easter controversy and why we celebrate it when we do Back in the days of the early church, there arose a controversy around the celebration of Easter (or “pascha” as it was known then). But no, before your imagination runs wild, it wasn’t quite as exciting as it sounds and still had nothing to do with “paganism”. The dispute was over which day to hold the festival! Yep, the controversy really is as mundane as that. In fact, it was one of the issues raised at the council of Nicea to be discussed and hopefully settled, and is officially known as the Quartodeciman (lit. Fourteenth) controversy/dispute. It’s called this due to the issue being over whether the Easter celebration should follow the Jewish pattern of Passover on the 14 Nisan or not and simply follow the days of the week (Friday and Sunday). It became a bigger issue when the not only the Jewish community of believers wanted to follow this method, but when the Gentile Asian communities also claimed that their Quartodeciman practice was of Apostolic origin! It was a disciple of John the Apostle, and bishop of Smyrna, called Polycarp (c.69–c.155) who followed this practice in one of the seven churches of Asia as well as Melito, bishop of Sardis (died c.180). Irenaeus tells us that, in his old age, Polycarp visited the bishop of Rome to discuss this matter with him as the Roman church had diverged from the Quartodeciman custom and celebrated the resurrection according to the day Jesus rose instead: Sunday (the first day of the week). We gain an important glimpse about this whole dispute from Irenaeus though, when he tells us of the meeting between Polycarp and Anicetus: Neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it, as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him. … And they parted from each...
David Jakubovic | 17th March 2021 | Book Review
This is a guest post by David Jakubovic. The views are that of the author and don't necessarily reflect the views of That Ancient Faith. A 20 year update of the 1996 book by the same name, this slim volume (211 pages) is a helpful cross-section of current evangelical thought on Final Punishment, sampling Denny Burk on Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT hereafter), John Stackhouse Jr on Conditional immortality (CI hereafter), Robin Parry on Christian Universalism (CU hereafter) and Jerry Walls on (a Protestant) Purgatory. Preston Sprinkle pens both Introduction and Conclusion, plus there are Scripture, Author and Subject indices. The Introduction sets the scene, listing the 3 historically available views along with speculation about post-mortem purgatorial sanctification, before clarifying that it is not the existence of hell that is here in doubt: “They agree that hell exists, but they differ on what this hell is like.” (11) Sprinkle lists verses used by all 4 views, then introduces the academic background of the 4 essayists. He finally issues a substantial challenge to the reader: “You, of course, will probably agree with only one of the following essays and disagree with the other three. But keep in mind: disagreement is not refutation. We must be able to refute the evidence of the views that we disagree with and then provide more compelling biblical evidence for the view that we uphold.” (15) Burk kicks off Chapter One (‘Eternal Conscious Torment’) with a startling parable. He visualizes a man torturing creatures in increasing order of complexity and dignity: first torturing a grasshopper, a frog, a bird, a puppy and finally a human baby. Burk states: “In each of the scenarios above, the ‘sin’ is the same – pulling the legs off. The only difference in each of these scenarios is the one sinned against…The seriousness of the sin is not measured merely by the sin itself (pulling off the legs) but by the value and the worth of the one being sinned against.” (19, italics his) This macabre thought-experiment is of course a gruesome version of Anselm’s ‘Status Principle’, namely that to sin against an infinitely good God merits infinite or eternal punishment. But fellow pro-ECT essayist Walls squashes this analogy: “There is profound disanalogy in the parable that undermines the central point he wants to establish. This resides in the fact that we do not have the power to do anything to God that is remotely analogous to the harm the character in the parable inflicts on helpless creatures ranging from grasshoppers to human infants. Indeed, God is so far above us in power, glory, and moral perfection that we are utterly incapable of harming him.”1 Burk even ventures that ECT “will ultimately become a source of joy and praise for the saints as they witness the infinite goodness and justice of God.” (20) Yet it is grossly incongruous to place ECT side by side with notions of ‘joy’, ‘goodness’ or ‘justice’ as these are universally understood. The very philosophical logic behind the ‘Status Principle’ is itself highly suspect, as Kronen points out when dismantling the ‘Classical Doctrine of Hell’ (CDH): “It is by no means obvious that an offense against an infinite being must be punished by the sorts of torments envisioned by CDH. One might sin more or less gravely against such a being, and in that case it does not seem that just any sin against an infinite being would merit eternal, continuous, and excruciating pain.”2 Spiegel adds that “human guilt is at most maximally great, not infinitely great”3, meaning that human guilt is still finite: “Finite guilt, however great, presumably does not warrant endless punishment in the form of ECT.” (Spiegel, op. cit. 41) He adds that, under the ‘Status Principle’, even the first sin you commit as a child is enough to incur ‘infinite guilt’, but this does not allow for the vast spectrum of p...