If you follow certain Christian blogs, or have Christian friends on Social Media, then you may have seen a short video clip being shared which has been taken from a recent sermon by popular Evangelical pastor/speaker and author, Francis Chan of Crazy Loveministries.
Depending on who shared the clip will depend on which reaction you have seen; some are praising his words, others fearing for his future calling it a “red flag”.
And all of this over a short statement he made about communion!
I recommend you watch this 3 minute clip below before continuing, if you haven’t seen it already. I would also recommend watching the whole 47 minute sermon for some better context, where he talks about his struggles and journey to this point in his faith around the topic of communion — something he was wrestling with even back in his BASIC series teaching on Communion from around 2012, views which have clearly moved on since then towards a more historical view.
Chan says he isn’t making any sort of “grand statement” here, and goes on to give a brief, if little distorted, overview of church history:
“I didn’t know that for the first 1,500 years of church history, everyone saw it as the literal body and blood of Christ … And it wasn’t until 500 years ago that someone popularised the thought that it’s just a symbol and nothing more. I didn’t know that. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s something to consider.’”
This part isn’t too far from reality, really, though a little over-simplified. But I understand his zeal and excitement about this discovery of his, as I went through the exact same mind-blowing realisation around five or so years ago when I first delved into the writings of the Early Church Fathers and was forced to come to the same conclusion that there was something there to seriously consider. If the Church had always understood Jesus’ words and the interpretation of Scripture in a fairly singular and unified way for nearly two millennia, then who was I to come along and say my understanding exceeds the wisdom of everyone before me?
It was actually one of the earliest texts, from a second century bishop called Ignatius, that really tipped me over the edge from a “memorialist” view (that the bread and wine are purely symbolic, nothing more), to a sacramental view (that the bread and wine are a means of grace that God uses). Ignatius was writing against a heretical group who were teaching a false doctrine about Jesus not really coming in the flesh, and uses communion as an example to prove the opposite, which also gives us an interesting and early view on the sacraments:
“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” — Ignatius Of Antioch: Letter To The Smyrnaeans (c.108 AD)
At first reading I was stuck by the literal nature in which Ignatius spoke of the Eucharist (communion), and as I read more of the Early Church Fathers, that same, common thread kept appearing: they all held to a view of Communion which was definitely more than simply a symbol or memorial (you can read some more quotes on the topic here).
Chan later talks about unity in the early church and how he longs to see that type of unity again in the Church globally, explaining that making communion more central to worship would help with that. Chan then laments about the apparent disunity within Protestantism, citing the dramatic statistics of there being “30,000 denominations” in the Protestant world.
It’s a common claim, often from Roman Catholic apologists, but it’s not exactly accurate; there’s really only about six general umbrellas if you boil it all down: Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal/Charismatic. Most “non-denominational” churches are still largely Baptist in their theology, despite avoiding any overarching labels. You could also possibly argue for maybe 20-ish denominational groups, if you accept some of the sub-sects of the six listed above as different enough to warrant being counted separately. But I digress.
Chan then continues his sermon, making some more generalised historical claims:
“…for 1500 years it was never one guy and his pulpit being the centre of the church, it was the body and blood of Christ…”
Another area he touches on is the centrality of the Eucharist to the ancient church compared to many modern, Evangelical church services today, where it’s the speaker or sermon which is the focus and communion sometimes gets sidelined. The effect of the Reformation in the 16th century on theology as a whole was when the position of the pulpit really started to shift its focus from off-center to the central positioning common today.
I agree with him here, and that point is definitely part of my own journey in why I’ve recently joined the Anglican church, as I enjoy the fact that the whole of the liturgy leads up to the celebration of Christ’s presence with us as the high point of the service. This isn’t to say or diminish the importance of preaching, but that it too should be a stepping stone into the presence of God; and if you believe in the Real Presencein communion, then that is where we meet with Christ in a very real way as the crescendo of the whole service.
Despite what some bloggers and YouTubers are claiming, I don’t think we can say from this video and short clip alone that Francis Chan is “swimming the Tiber” and becoming a Roman Catholic. His statements are too broad and vague to say he is specifically talking about transubstantiation, and he could just as easily be expressing the Anglican or Lutheran view of Communion, which would make him just as much, if not more, Protestant than he already is.
But overall, I think he’s just experienced that first time realisation that the early church wasn’t what he thought/was taught and it’s blown his mind, and until he refines his views and reads more of the Early Church Fathers, his statements are just a bit over-simplified and fuelled by an excitable zeal. I had the exact same reaction a number of years ago when I first discovered these early writings weren’t what I was taught, and said what I didn’t expect (and I even took a Church History class at Bible College)!
We would all be wise to reserve judgement on the matter until Chan comes out and gives a proper statement about his new views and says one way or the other if he’s going towards Rome fully, or towards one of the other more historically rooted Protestant denominations, if anything actually comes from this.
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! ...
I'm going to start a new category here for "General Interest" which will be for things I see or read about that I think are interesting or informative about the Bible, Christianity or the Faith in general; but which aren't necessarily topics I could, or would need to, write a full blog post about.
I'll kick off this new venture with an brief look at something I read the other day from the Dead Sea scrolls which is very interesting – Qumran text 4Q521. It gives us a glimpse of early Jewish expectations of the coming Messiah from the time before Jesus arrived, and shows just how Jesus did actually meet those expectations.
For example, when John asks his disciples to enquire of Jesus if he is the Messiah, Jesus's response is pretty much a direct quote of this Qumran text.
Read this from Matthew 11:2-6 and then compare with the quotes from the Qumran scroll below:
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Here's an excerpt from the article I read, with some quotes from the scroll:
We now have an unambiguous statement that “raising the dead” was one of the key expectations of the Messianic age in this community.
Line 11 of this text also contains another highly striking feature. Indeed, it appears to be the closest and most direct linguistic parallel to a New Testament text that we have yet discovered. The line reads:
For he will heal the wounded, resurrect the dead,and proclaim glad tiding to the poor.
In both Matthew and Luke we read of a deputation that John the Baptist sends to Jesus while John is imprisoned. John’s disciples ask Jesus, “Are you the coming one, or do we look for another?” The story is thus tightly framed around the question of messianic identity: what will the signs of the true Messiah be? Jesus answers:
Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the glad tiding preached to them (Luke 7:22-23 and Matthew 11:4-5).
This reply is cast in the style of a precise formula. It reflects a very early Christian expectation of the signs of the messianic age and the marks for identification of the Messiah. One indication that we have here a very early Christian tradition is that these passages from Luke and Matthew come from the source scholars have designated as Q, from the German word Quelle, meaning “source.” According to most N.T. scholars, Q was a collection of the “Sayings of Jesus,” somewhat like the Gospel of Thomas in genre, which was compiled in the middle of the first century, but before our finished Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were written.
It's very interesting stuff and gives us a great insight and glimpse into the world and surrounding culture of the time of Jesus!
You can read full article here which I quoted from above, or have a look at a full translation of the text here.
Let me know what you think in the comments!...
UPDATE (3rd May 2014): It is now believed to have been confirmed as a hoax/fake; read the full story on The Wall Street Journal.
Ancient and not a fake according to scientists
IMAGE: HARVARD UNIVERSITY, KAREN L. KING/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A little while ago, there was some hoopla in the news about a newly discovered fragment of papyrus from ancient times which contained the phrase "Jesus said to them, 'my wife...,'". Obviously, and not surprisingly, the media made a big deal out of this. Atheists and the like, saw it as a blow to Christianity and conspiracy theorists everywhere thought it confirmed their views that the Vatican and the Catholic Church were part of some big cover-up to hide the "truth" about Jesus: that he married Mary Magdalene and had children.
But before we all get too carried away at the so-called implications of this, lets now forget one thing: Jesus being a bridegroom and having a bride (ie. a wife) is in the Gospels and New Testament all along.
In his parables, Jesus often referred to, or implied himself as the bridegroom (Matthew 9:15; Mk 2:19; Lk 5:34), whilst the people of the Kingdom of God were a part of the bridal or wedding party (Matthew 25:1-13; Jn 3:29).
In Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church, he speaks of them as a bride to be presented to Christ, the husband (2 Cor 11:2), and also to the Ephesian church, Paul draws a parallel between the love of a husband and wife being the same kind of love and commitment as Jesus had for his church:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25)
This theme of husband and wife with Jesus as the groom and husband even follows through into John's apocalyptic Revelation, probably in a more vivid depiction than the previous examples:
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
(Revelation 21:2; Rev 21:9-10)
The New Jerusalem here is the bride "adorned for her husband" who is the "wife of the Lamb" - and who is the Lamb? Yep, Jesus (Jn 1:29). Then also, Jesus is linked as the one who has a bride again in Rev 22:17, when John writes:
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”And let everyone who is thirsty come.Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
It's interesting here that "the Spirit" is synonymous with Jesus as having the bride, since he is the one who gives the water of life, which we can see in John 4:14 when Jesus says "those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty".
So what's the point here? There's lots of references made about Jesus being the bridegroom and as one who has a bride and, later in the book of Revelation, has a marriage supper (Rev 19:9) so it presumably married by this point too (or at least, will be), so it's really not that unusual for a reference of Jesus speaking of a "wife".
Despite all this though, the fragment has been dated to be "between the sixth and ninth centuries CE" which means it was written long after the rest of the New Testament, which already has a rich narrative about Christ and his Bride, and so the small fragment of text could simply be a later interpolation by Christians writing about Jesus and his wife, the Church. Alternatively, it could also be a genuine saying of Jesus which had been preserved in other texts not included in the Canon, in which Jesus was saying "my wife... the Church".
We don't know, and unless the rest of this document is found, we will never know. But I think it is pretty clear and likely that Jesus never had a "real" wife, as you would th...
Lent is a time of self denial and of giving things up, and also a period of lament in the lead up to Easter where we remember the Passion and death of Christ before we celebrated the glorious resurrection.
Often this is a personal affair on the discipline side of things, even if it's a practice shared within your church community, but this year has been so very different. With the outbreak of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, the whole world has slowly gone into lockdown country by country, creating a strange sort of global “Lent” where everyone is having to practice self control and self denial. This has been underpinned with a sense of lament at the way things were, the way things should be, and all of the things—and people—we've lost.
I don't think it's coincidental that the most isolating part of this pandemic happened during the Lenten season, causing us all, Christian or otherwise, to stop, step back and reflect on life.
While it can feel a little gloomy of late with all the isolation and lack of social and religious meetings, we mustn't think that God has abandoned us—likewise we also shouldn't lose faith.
The Bible isn't a stranger to times of lament and distress, and we see it often in the Psalms. At times like this of limited food and resources and job loss, we can probably relate to David when he wrote things like this:
Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call.
And such poetic sadness from the book dedicated to lament;
He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the LORD.”
Hope in the face of darkness
As we look forward to the end of this pandemic with hope like a light at the end of a tunnel, in the meantime we just learn to live in the darkness as the Apostles did on those gloomy days between the crucifixion and the resurrection; when their world ended but was then reborn better than ever expected!
They only had to wait a couple of days to see their hope realised, whereas we have no idea how long this will last. How long will we go without seeing friends and family, meeting up at restaurants or going to church again? Only time will tell, but in the midst of this, we shouldn't worry but rather cling onto the hope of God as the Psalmist did, as the Apostles did and so many others before us.
And in the words of the author of Lamentations: “...the Lord will not reject forever … for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” (Lamentations 3:31,33).
There is always light at the end of darkness if we put our hope in Christ.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)...
We currently live in troubled times lately with a lot of uncertainty around us, both locally and globally. But even now as I write this and think on the topic of the virus, one verse in particular springs to mind:
Psalm 23:4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of deathI fear no evil;for you are with me;your rod and your staff — they comfort me.
It does feel a little bit like we are all walking through “the valley of the shadow of death” at the moment! But as the Psalmist says, “I fear no evil” for God is with us and comforts us. That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t get sick (or die), but that no matter what is happening around us, internally we should be at peace and have a stilled mind; not one filled with worry and hopelessness.
John 14:27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Not to mention the mandate to not worry about what we’ll eat or wear etc. (Matthew 6:25–34) especially in this time of panic buying where shops are facing food shortages. We must strive to avoid this type of thinking and behaviour, because not only does it not help anyone (and is incredibly selfish), it just causes more panic. As Christians we should keep in mind what God has spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.” (Isaiah 41:10), and what Paul wrote to Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Christians and Plagues Throughout History
Disease, plagues and pandemics are not new things in this world. History is replete with sickness and death, the only difference now is that since around the 20th century, modern medicine and vaccines have improved to such a degree that we are fairly well protected against anything on a pandemic, or even an epidemic, level. Sickness is often relegated to a temporary inconvenience during winter, which we can pop pills for; whereas the more serious sickness and death are hidden away in hospitals and care homes out of sight for the most part.
Prior to this time, past generations just had to deal with recurring diseases and plagues killing off the populations fairly regularly. Just take a look at this infographic to see the scale and frequency of them! It dates back all the major pandemics to the second century, of which there are about twenty, so that’s just over one global disease per century. As scary as the current times are, this is nothing new, historically speaking.
In these past times of plague and disease, many people would flee their towns and cities if they weren’t obviously sick to try and escape the looming deadly virus — but the Christian communities often had the opposite response: they stayed with the sick and dying!
In the year 249 AD, a pandemic swept the Roman Empire known as The Plague of Cyprian, named in commemoration of Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, as he was a witness to it. At the height of the outbreak, it was thought that around 5,000 people a day were dying, and it almost toppled the Empire. Cyprian wrote about the plague in his On Mortality, describing its symptoms, which some modern historians think could describe a type of Ebola:
This trial, that now the bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength; that a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces; that the intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting; that the eyes are on fire with the injected blood; that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction; that from the weakness arising by the maiming and loss of the body, either the gait is enfeebled, or the hearing is obstructed, or the sight darkened…
As gruesome as that sounds, Cyprian, a couple of chapters later, writes in praise of those who forsook their own well-bei...
You've probably seen it in the news lately: John Chau, the American guy who tried to evangelise the secluded Sentinelese tribe off the coast of India. Much of the debate in secular media has centered around the grief of his friends and family; how he could have brought outside disease to the tribespeople and potentially killed them all (despite this not being their first contact with outsiders, with no known ill effect), or that he ventured there completely in ignorance with no preparation or wisdom — something which the missionary agency, All Nations, has recently debunked.
But the question I want to look at is this: was Chau's mission total madness or is he a modern-day martyr?
Well first, what is a martyr? The dictionary definition is simply: “a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs”, and the word itself comes from ancient Greek meaning “witness”.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the whole story (as much as we can see), John Chau had said since 2011 that he felt called by God to go and tell the good news of Jesus to the Sentinelese people. After many years of preparation, about two weeks ago in late November, he succeeded in getting to the remote island via a fishing boat (which was illegal to visit under normal circumstances). But after a few attempts at making contact, he is believed to have been killed. The fishermen saw some tribespeople dragging Chau’s body across the beach, so it has been assumed that he is dead – and no one knows any differently to date.
So in the strictest sense as the definition above, he may not be a martyr as he wasn’t necessarily killed because of his beliefs, as the tribespeople couldn’t even understand his preaching, and on the face of it, it does seem like madness.
In the broader sense of the word, I think it’s fair to call him a martyr, as that would be one who “sacrifices his or her life, station, or something of great personal value, for the sake of principle or to sustain a cause”. His cause was Christ, his principle was to spread the Gospel and he sacrificed his life for it.
This was living out the message of Jesus to its fullest.
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.
There are those who argue that he died purely because the islanders were hostile towards any who would try and step foot on their land, and his death had nothing to do with whatever purpose Chau went there with, therefore he wasn’t technically martyred.
But if that is the case, then you could make the same point about many of the early Christian martyrs who were killed by the Romans. Sure, there were times of specific and targeted persecutions against the Church, but there was also times where persecution was more of a by-product of the Roman Empire’s hostility to those were disloyal to the Emperor. The men and women who were killed during those times were still seen and declared to be martyrs for the faith since they stood strong in their convictions in the face of death. For example in the early centuries, on pain of death, the people of the Roman Empire had to swear loyalty to the Emperor and publicly perform some act of worship and veneration towards him. This wasn’t an attempt to root out Christians necessarily, but they did refuse to partake due to their beliefs in worshipping God alone and not committing idolatry by performing an act of worship towards the reigning Caesar.
As far as the Romans were concerned, the Christians were traitors and committed a treasonous act. It didn’t really matter why, only that they couldn’t be convinced otherwise and were killed for it to be an example to others. Were these early Christians martyrs or completely mad? How you answer that, I suspect, will inform you of how you view young John ...
You may have seen the videos and articles being shared around social media lately about Google's new voice-activated digital assistant, Google Home, not knowing who Jesus is.
Shock, horror — right?
No. It's just more faux outrage and fuel for America's persecution complex. I mean, so what? Google isn't a Christian run company, they have no obligation to Christ or the Church. Why are we letting something like this bother us so much? It's just another thing in the ever growing list of things-to-be-mad-about-that-don't-really-matter on social media. Where is our faith rooted? What is the foundation and rock upon which we stand? Is it in how well a 'smart speaker' can read Wikipedia? Or what decorations Starbucks put on their cups? Or how non-Christians greet you during the holidays? No. Our faith is in Christ. If it's so easily shaken by this nonsense then maybe it ought to cause us to look a bit deeper within and see what our foundations truly are; where our 'centre of gravity' and peace is. Because if all of these external factors shake you so much, your foundation probably isn't as securely in Christ as it should be. He gives us "peace ... which surpasses all understanding" (Phil 4:7) — a peace that isn't the same as what is in the World (Jn 14:27). Therefore the World shouldn't be able to unsettle us with such peripheral things. In as close as a comparison as I can think of, look at what Paul said to the Corinthians when they worried about meat and idols from their local markets: if you faith isn't strong enough to not be bothered by such things, avoid them (I'm paraphrasing, obviously). If Google offends your conscience, don't buy their smart speaker. Simple.
Paul didn't tell them to go into a "holy outrage" about it. Why? Because these things really should have no effect on us or our faith. Just move along. Concern yourselves with the real cause for outrage, like injustice and poverty and actual persecution of our fellow brothers and sisters who, in many countries around the world, are "accounted as sheep to be slaughtered" (Rom 8:36).
Isaiah 1:17learn to do good;seek justice,rescue the oppressed,defend the orphan,plead for the widow. (cf. James 1:27)
It is violations of these things that should outrage us. Not how well AI can read webpages. A little perspective goes a long way.
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...
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 ...
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?
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...
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...