The Heresies of Adoptionism and Docetism in the Early Church

When we think of the early days of Christianity, there is a tendency to think about our ancestors in the faith in today’s terms.  We may think they met in churches when they actually met in homes.  That every doctrine that we hold to today was laid out the same back then.  Unfortunately, this line of thinking could not be further from the truth.   The early Church dealt with many issues, and one of those issues was over Christology.

When it comes to Christology the early Church specifically had to deal with Adoptionism and Docetism.  These are two Christologies that were heretical in nature, but they were attractive to people because they answered some lingering questions that had not yet been answered.  Before those answers are discussed it is prudent to define these two terms.

Adoptionism is a Christological belief that Jesus was adopted as the son of God either after his baptism, resurrection, or ascension.  This view was seen in many parts of early Christianity, but a writer by the name of Apollinaris wrote about it extensively.  Regarding this Richard Norris writes, “The divine Logos ‘became human’ in the sense that he became embodied and thus shared the structural constitution of a human being” (Norris 22).  In the view of Adoptionism Christ only became Christ after he was adopted after spending his life doing God’s will.  In other words, the He was not born with two natures.

The other Christological view to be discussed is known as Docetism.  Docetism was an early form of Gnosticism which taught that all matter was evil.  Since all matter was evil it stands to reason that Christ was not crucified.  They saw no need for the Son to make himself involved in physical matters (Norris 13).  Many Church Fathers such as St. Irenaeus and Tertullian fought against the growth of this sect. The sect hated the flesh and taught that the divine spirit left the person of Christ before he died on the cross.  They failed to realize that man was made in God’s image, and even with all its faults the flesh is an object of God’s love and grace (Norris 13).

These two theories became popular, and even thrived, because they answered two questions.  Firstly, can a “whether a mediatorial Logos, when he becomes incarnate, can honestly be understood as God present in person” (Norris 8).  Secondly, if the idea of the incarnation is a contradiction.  There were several reasons why they were rejected.  In the case of Adoptionism it simply contradicts scripture.  Scripture teaches in many places that the Son always was and was not something that came later.  One such passage is John 1:1 which states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (NRSV).  This shows that Christ always, and since the womb Christ was fully human and fully divine.  For his sacrifice on the cross to be redemptive it had to be a sinless offering.  Tis could not have happened if it was a man who was adopted at thirty years of age.  In the case of Docetism scripture also states that Christ willingly put on flesh.  We see this in Hebrews 2:14, “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil” (NRSV).  This shows again that if Christ was not also flesh then the cross meant nothing, and the Gospel is nullified.

Image result for adoptionism and docetism

Works Cited

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

 

Norris, Richard.  The Christological Controversy.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press.  1980.  Print.

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Patristic Theories of Redemption

The fathers of the early church fought very hard to preserve orthodox teaching regarding the person of Christ.  There were numerous assaults on his divinity and nature, and the Council of Chalcedon seemed to put the issue to rest for good.  The teaching that Jesus Christ, was eternal, always existed, is fully divine, and fully human was now put to rest.  Though this was crucial part in the Christological story, it was not complete.  The Church fathers wrestled with various theories regarding Christ.  These theories did not deal with who Jesus was, but dealt with what he did to redeem us.  In this paper, three patristic will be discussed along with what is common among them.

One of the redemptive theories discussed in the Patristic period was the Pedagogical or Christ-the-teacher theory of salvation.  This theory teaches that Christ with a new knowledge, or law and demonstrated this with the example of his life.  The idea that Christ is our example is a theme throughout much of the New Testament.  There are many passages, but 1 Peter 2:21 specifically mentions that Christ is an example for us to follow.  That passage of scripture states, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps” (NRSV).  The concept of a new knowledge from God is also present outside of scripture in some of the earliest Christian writings.  Regarding this Joseph Mitros writes, Such expressions such as ‘Immortal knowledge’ ‘new knowledge’…recur quite often in the Didache, the First of Clement and the Shepherd of hermas” (Mitros 418).

Another theory set forth in the patristic era was known as the recapitulation theory.  This theory was made popular by St. Irenaeus, and taught that Christ rescued humanity by “recapitulating in himself the whole human race” (Mitros 416).  St Irenaeus found support for this theory in the writings of St. Paul.  One such passage from Paul is Romans 5:18-19 which states, “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.  For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (NRSV).  Since Adam was the cause of the fall, Christ came to live the life that Adam should have.  As a result, we are now redeemed and restored to the life we once had prior to Adam (Mitros 427).

A third theory that arose in the Patristic age is the transactional theory.  It is known better as the Christus Victor theory.  This theory claims that a ransom had be paid to Satan for the redemption of humanity.  The ransom was supposed to be part of a kind of contractual obligation between God and Satan.  There are no passages in scripture that speak of such a contract, but there was an understanding in the early church about the term slavery.  Humanity were slaves to Satan, and Christ died to redeem them.  In this regard Joseph Mitros states, “Now, the term of redemption, understood within the context of slavery, meant a liberation of a slave upon the payment of a ransom to the owner” (Mitros 422).  Gregory of Nyssa elaborated this view by introducing the concept of a fishing hook.  Just as in fishing, Satan clamped down on this hook (i.e. Christ), and found a surprise.  This surprise was the claims of all the souls taken from the devil.

There are many other theories that were developed and discussed during the Patristic era.  As has been seen, there is quite a range in belief and teaching.  However, there is one constant that stands out among them.  The redemption that is found in Christ and seeks to transform individual persons (Lecture Notes).  That is what the fathers sought to do in these various theories.

Works Cited

Mitros, Joseph. “Patristic Views of Christ’s Salvific Work,” Thought 42 (1967), 415-447.

Adoptionism and Docetism in the Early Church

When we think of the early days of Christianity, there is a tendency to think about our ancestors in the faith in today’s terms.  We may think they met in churches when they actually met in homes.  That every doctrine that we hold to today was laid out the same back then.  Unfortunately, this line of thinking could not be further from the truth.   The early Church dealt with many issues, and one of those issues was over Christology.

When it comes to Christology the early Church specifically had to deal with Adoptionism and Docetism.  These are two Christologies that were heretical in nature, but they were attractive to people because they answered some lingering questions that had not yet been answered.  Before those answers are discussed it is prudent to define these two terms.

Adoptionism is a Christological belief that Jesus was adopted as the son of God either after his baptism, resurrection, or ascension.  This view was seen in many parts of early Christianity, but a writer by the name of Apollinaris wrote about it extensively.  Regarding this Richard Norris writes, “The divine Logos ‘became human’ in the sense that he became embodied and thus shared the structural constitution of a human being” (Norris 22).  In the view of Adoptionism Christ only became Christ after he was adopted after spending his life doing God’s will.  In other words, the He was not born with two natures.

 

 

 

The other Christological view to be discussed is known as Docetism.  Docetism was an early form of Gnosticism which taught that all matter was evil.  Since all matter was evil it stands to reason that Christ was not crucified.  They saw no need for the Son to make himself involved in physical matters (Norris 13).  Many Church Fathers such as St. Irenaeus and Tertullian fought against the growth of this sect. The sect hated the flesh and taught that the divine spirit left the person of Christ before he died on the cross.  They failed to realize that man was made in God’s image, and even with all its faults the flesh is an object of God’s love and grace (Norris 13).

These two theories became popular, and even thrived, because they answered two questions.  Firstly, can a “whether a mediatorial Logos, when he becomes incarnate, can honestly be understood as God present in person” (Norris 8).  Secondly, if the idea of the incarnation is a contradiction.  There were several reasons why they were rejected.  In the case of Adoptionism it simply contradicts scripture.  Scripture teaches in many places that the Son always was and was not something that came later.  One such passage is John 1:1 which states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (NRSV).  This shows that Christ always, and since the womb Christ was fully human and fully divine.  For his sacrifice on the cross to be redemptive it had to be a sinless offering.  Tis could not have happened if it was a man who was adopted at thirty years of age.  In the case of Docetism scripture also states that Christ willingly put on flesh.  We see this in Hebrews 2:14, “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil” (NRSV).  This shows again that if Christ was not also flesh then the cross meant nothing, and the Gospel is nullified.

 

WORKS CITED

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Norris, Richard.  The Christological Controversy.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press.  1980.

Thank you Jesus!

What did Jesus do to save us?  The importance of this question is one that has a real possibility to be understated.  It is a question that has been asked for all of church history, and theologians have debated it for centuries.  The reason is because it is the eternal question with eternal significance.  The nature of the question lies within the very nature of the Gospel itself.  Within the scope of this paper we briefly look at how Gregory the Great, Anselm, and Albrecht Ritschl answered the question.  In addition a look into how John Calvin modified Anselm’s theory will be discussed, and a look at the Moral Influence theory of atonement looked at along with it must be rejected.

Gregory the Great was the last of the Latin doctors of the church and was the first Pope to use the phrase “Servant of the servants of God[1].”  He believed Augustine was the greatest church father and he applied the soteriology of Augustine in a synergistic nature[2].  Synergism coordinates the human will and divine grace as both being factors in conversion[3].  This played heavily into how Gregory answered the question presented.  To get the grace needed one had to be crucified with Christ.  This meant having an attitude of extreme repentance, doing penance, self-denial (of most if not all bodily pleasures), partake in the sacraments of the church, and do works of love[4].  He also started to formalize the medieval doctrine of purgatory.  In his view Jesus died on the cross for the sins of man.  Faith was needed, but man had to constantly show that he was in a state of penance.  According to Scholar Roger Olson, “His theology had the effect-perhaps unintended-of destroying any sense of assurance or security about salvation for most medieval Christians[5].”

A few centuries later Anselm asked “Cur Deus Homo?  i.e. Why did God become man[6].”  Anselm saw the atonement in a way different then the popular Ransom theory.  Anselm believed that, for the atonement to be sufficient, then Christ had to be human and divine[7].  In regards to this theory Paul Enns writes, “God chose to resolve the matter (of sin) through satisfaction by the gift of his son[8].”  Since the honor of God was restored through the sacrifice of Christ sinners reap the reward of forgiveness of sins through faith.

From Anselm and Gregory the Great we now turn to 19th century liberal Protestant theology.  One of the leaders in this brand of theology was an individual by the name of Albrecht Ritschl.  He said to separate Christianity from science and separated it into two basic truth claims.  The claims in question are judgment of fact and judgment of value[9].  According to Ritschl Christ saved us by giving us the Kingdom of God on Earth.  This is done by humanity uniting themselves in love without a teaching about Heaven, Hell, or the afterlife.  In essence Christianity, according to Ritschl, is reduced to a system of moralism[10].  His system could be summed up by saying that the sacrifice of Christ changed men’s moral attitudes and caused them to accept God’s rule in their lives[11].

As previously discussed, in Anselm we find the Satisfaction theory of atonement.  Since man sinned then a sacrifice had to be made by a human, but the whole human race is tainted by sin.  The only acceptable sacrifice was Christ who was fully God and fully man.  Through Christ honor was restored to God.  The Protestant reformer John Calvin looked to modify Anselm’s theory.  John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, put forth the Penal Substitution theory of atonement.  This development stated that Christ died in our place, and he was punished where we should have been punished.  In regards to this John Calvin writes, “clothed with his righteousness, we can bravely surmount all the insults of the world: and as he replenishes us liberally with his gifts, so we can in our turn bring forth fruit unto his glory[12].”

What did Jesus do to save us?  Three individuals were looked at, and three theories were briefly discussed.  In regards to the theories of atonement touched on it is clear that evangelicals must reject the moral influence theory.  The theory is inadequate to describe the atoning work of the savior.  In regards to this the Franklin Johnson states, “The theory makes the death of Christ predominantly scenic, spectacular, an effort to display the love of God rather than an offering to God in its nature necessary for the salvation of man[13].”  In this theory Christ dies not to free man from the penalty of sin, but to bring about a new system of morality.  There is nothing about repentance, God’s holiness, God’s Justice, or God’s mercy in this theory.  The atonement and salvation are not a moral exercise because a proper confession comes before salvation[14].  Christ died for the sins of man, not to be a martyr for a morally superior society, though that should be a result of true conversion.

I now leave you with a few passages from scripture that help answer this question.

John 10:11- “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Galatians 3:13-“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”

Isaiah 53:4-6- “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray;     we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

1 Peter 3:18- “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”

2 Corinthians 5:21- “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

1 Peter 2:24- “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

Jesus died for our sins and his finished work on the cross is perfect.  When we trust him by faith we are clothe in his righteous robe.  Thank you Jesus for this awesome gift that I do not deserve.

 

[1] Erwin Fahlbrusch et al, ed., Encyclopedia of Christianity, vol. 2, (Boston, MA: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 471.

[2] Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 287.

[3] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1910), 786.

[4] Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 288.

[5] Ibid, 289.

[6] Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler, eds., Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2007), 157.

[7] Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 323.

[8] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 334.

[9] Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 548.

[10] Ibid, 548.

[11] J.D. Douglas and Philip Comfort, eds., Who’s Who in Church History (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 1992), 574.

[12] “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” Calvin College, accessed June 24, 2016, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iv.xvi.html.

[13] Franklin Johnson, The Fundamentals, ed. R.A. Torrey and A.C. Dixon, vol. 3, (Los Angeles, CA: Bible Institute Of Los Angeles, 1917), 68.

[14] Malcolm B Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2007), 191.

Irenaeus and the Rule of Faith

In the second century Gnosticism threatened to tear the young Christian church apart.  It was a heresy that taught that all matter was evil, Jesus was spirit, and that true salvific doctrine was passed down through a secret oral tradition[1].  To combat this growing problem the early church father Irenaeus wrote a lengthy treatise titled Against Heresies.  One of the methods used by the great church father was the rule of faith.  In describing the rule of faith Irenaeus writes, “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation [2].”  This rule of faith would lay the groundwork for what would become the Apostles’ Creed.  Ireneaus argues that the faith was given by Christ to the Apostles, and then to the bishops to whom the disciples appointed.

The rule of faith also shows that Christ was truly incarnate, and that matter was created by an eternal God and not evil.  The rule of faith was a vital part in combating gnostic teaching because it showed that they had no historical, scriptural, or apostolic support for the claims that they were making.  It helped expose their schismatic and anti-scriptural view of Christianity.  Irenaeus also appealed to Ephesians 1:10 in his refutation of Gnosticism.  That passage of scripture states, “That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him [3].”  The church was to be a unified body of believers with Jesus Christ as its head and the gnostic heresy was causing division.  It is linked with the rule of faith in that there was only one faith handed down from Christ.  There was not one faith for one group, and a special secret faith for a select few.  The faith in Christ is available to all people and in that we should be unified.

 

The rule of faith previously cited is a great tool in confronting false doctrines in our own times, and in our churches.  There is no shortage of false doctrine and some of these groups are outpacing evangelical churches in evangelization even though there number are smaller.  The rule of faith is a great tool because it shows that the faith is not a new invention, but was passed down by Christ himself.  It shows that Christ is God incarnate, and firmly teaching that the Trinity is one being with three distinct persons.  Many of these groups deny the Trinity and showing scriptural support, and that it was taught from the beginning is good place to start.   Whether it be in person, phone, or email dialogue about the truth can mean a lot to someone caught in false doctrine.  It gives them someone to ask questions to and the Holy Spirit can plant a seed.

 

Works Cited

1.  Olsen, Roger E.  The Story of Christian Theology:  Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform.  (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Academic, 1999), 29.

2.  Irenaeus.  Against Heresies.  Christian Classics Etherreal Library, retrieved May 19, 2016

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.ii.xi.html

3.  Ephesians 1:10, King James Version

Missions and the Early Church

Throughout the history of the church missions have played a vital role.  The Lord himself thought it was crucial and told the disciples to spread his message throughout the world.  They were told to teach, baptize, and to make other disciples.  Today we call this command the Great Commission.  The disciples came from a variety of backgrounds, and those in missions throughout the ages have continued to do so.  In regards to this Ruth Tucker writes, “They were ordinary individuals, plagued by human frailties and failures.  Super-saints they were not…they were willing to be used despite their human weaknesses [1].”

 

The early church is filled examples of those who were full-time missionaries, bi vocational, and layman.  Early church tradition says that some of the Apostles served as full-time missionaries to various parts of the world [2].  Though some of these traditions lack historical support Thomas is said to have gone to India, Thaddeus and Bartholemew to Armenia, and John Mark to Egypt [3].  The early church document known as the Didache, which was a type of instruction manual for new Christians, speaks of welcoming preachers who have come to instruct them.  Church history also shows and abundance of what we would call bi vocational missionaries today.  There were many and they mostly included “Bishops, teachers, philosophers, and monks [4].”  The bishop was given a church after a community had been evangelized, but there work was just beginning.  These men not only pastored churches, but also continued to preach the Gospel to those in their community.  This can especially be seen in the relationship between Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp.  While Ignatius was on the road to Rome to be martyred he wrote a letter to the Bishop Polycarp and implored him to continue the course so that all may be saved [5].  Justin Martyr is another noteworthy mention in this group.  Justin Martyr is one of the great early apologists of the early church, but he was a philosopher by trade.  He debated many about Christian truth, and some of his works we are blessed with today.  He went into the community and wrote letters debating and evangelizing those who opposed Christianity.  The monks were instrumental as many saw missions as way of fulfilling their monastic vows.    Layman were also vital in missions in the early church.  Though there was widespread persecution the Christians remained integrated in society.  Dr. Smither writes in regard to this, “In short. early Christians in the Roman Empire were ‘in the world but not of the world’ and testified to their eternal hope from their temporal place in society [6].”

 

So how does our knowledge of missions in the early church shape how we think of missionaries today.  The great missionaries of the past had a deep sense of urgency.  Regarding this urgency Ruth Tucker states, “Polycarp was an evangelist and missionary who conveyed a deep sense of urgency in his interaction with the pagan culture around him [7].”  Missions is just important today as it was in the days of old.  There are still many groups of people who have not heard the Gospel.  Another thing we can learn is that we are all missionaries in one form or another.  We may not be called to go to a foreign country, but we are all called to love our neighbor.  We think of being a missionary as a full-time vocation, and that is true, but we can be missionaries in our daily lives.  All of us are called to take the Gospel to everyone.

 

Works Cited

1.  Tucker, Ruth.  From Jerusalem to Iranian Jaya:  A Biographical History of Christian Missions.  2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2004), 13.

2.  Smither, Edward L.  Mission in the Early Church:  Themes and Reflections.  (Eugene, OR:  Cascade Books, 2014), 30.

3.  Ibid, 30.

4.  Ibid, 32.

5.  Ibid, 33.

6.  Ibid, 44.

7.  Tucker, Ruth.  From Jerusalem to Iranian Jaya:  A Biographical History of Christian Missions.  2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2004), 31.

Justin Martyr and the Landscape of 2nd Century Apologetics

grafito

In the second century Christians were still a minority among the general population. In spite of accusations and persecution the faith was growing at a rapid rate. One of the responses to the persecution taking place was the production of works of apologetics. These works were not apologizing for the faith, but apologetics gets its name from the Greek word apologia, meaning defense[1]. Justin Martyr was seeking to educate the population about the faith, prove they were no threat to people, and evangelize for the kingdom. Second century apologists, including Justin Martyr, used several strategies to defend and spread Christianity, many of which are effective today. Many were converts who came to the faith after much searching. They used terms that the general population would understand and used reason and philosophy as way of getting the Christian message out.

The Roman Government saw Christianity as a challenge to their way of life. As a result there were many charges levied against the Christians, but the following four took precedence: Incest, Cannibalism, Atheism, and conspiracy to overthrow the government. To the modern reader these accusations appear to be spurious and ridiculous, but to ancient Rome they were akin to a United States citizen joining the Taliban. All charges need some explaining, because in some cases the meaning is different in ancient times then it is today. For a complete understanding of the apologetics of Justin a background of the Roman charges is needed.

In Roman times, as in ours, Incest is defined as “Sexual intercourse between persons too closely related for normal marriage[2].” This charge from Roman officials stems from Christians calling each other brother and sister. Society today understands what Christians mean by this term, but in Ancient Rome, Christianity was in its infancy and words that Christians used were very often misunderstood. In regard to the charge of incest Everett Ferguson comments:

“Incest may have been suggested by Christians’ referring to each other ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ with men and women sharing the common table at the ‘love feast’[3].”

The charge of cannibalism is a more serious charge than that of incest. As we know cannibalism is the act of eating something of the same species. In the case of human beings it is the act of eating the flesh of another human being. The Roman belief is that the Christians ate the flesh of their God, and since Christ was also fully a man the charge of cannibalism came about. This charge is in relation to the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, in which the memorial of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are remembered with the breaking of bread. As we will see Justin Martyr will masterfully answer this charge[4].

The charges of incest and cannibalism, though misunderstood by the Romans in regard to the Christians, have a similar meaning today. However the charge of Atheism is one that needs some explanation. An atheist is one who does not believe in God. Apologist James Beilby takes it one step further and states

“An atheist has come to believe that God does not exist and that therefore all religious traditions are, at their core, false[5].”

The Roman government had state sanctioned gods that were to be worshipped. Among those gods were the emperor himself, which provides a whole other obstacle for Christians. It goes without saying that the Christians most definitely believed in God, but since they did not sacrifice to the pagan gods of the Roman Empire they were looked at as atheists[6]. In his First Apology, Justin Martyr puts it best when he says

“Hence we are called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists. So far as the gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness, temperance, and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity[7].”

The Christians were also charged with what amounts to treason today. Basically they were accused of wanting to overthrow the Roman government. Since they did not want to pay homage to the emperor, or sacrifice to the Roman gods they were considered dissenters. The Romans looked upon them as not wanting to participate in the basic functions of society. AS Everett Ferguson states,

“These and other charges were readily believed about Christians because they kept themselves removed from the normal functions of society[8].”

There were other charges levied against the Christians. The image shown at the top of this article is known as the Alexamenos graffito[9].

The image depicts a man with the head of a donkey hanging on a cross. There is another man raising his hand in worship. This image, found in Rome, depicted Christians as dumb because they are worshipping a man that was crucified. In addition, the image of the donkey was considered a pagan symbol at the time, and depicted that the Christian religion was closed unlike the pagan temples which were open to the public.

The Christian rebuttal to these charges came in a variety of ways. Many apologists rose to the challenge in the second century, but none as popular as Justin Martyr. To understand the apologetics of Justin an introduction to his life may prove beneficial. Justin was born in 100 A.D. to pagan Greek parents. He enjoyed a great education which included philosophy, rhetoric, poetry, and history[10]. He studied various philosophical systems including Stoicism, then Pythagoreanism, then Platonism, but he still was not satisfied and continued on his search for the truth.

He had heard of the Christian martyrs and he was intrigued by their willingness to die for their faith. The testimony of the martyrs planted a seed in the heart of Justin and his heart would be open to the Gospel. He came across a fellow philosopher who started talking to him about Jesus, and how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies set forth in the Jewish scriptures. He continued to wear the philosopher’s cloak because it allowed him to discuss Jesus with the towering intellectuals of his day. He engaged in debates with other philosophers, Jews, and non-Christians. He also opened a school in Ephesus and eventually Rome. His writings live on today and are great material for the church historian, theologian, and apologist. His writings include the First Apology, Second Apology, and Dialogue with Trypho[11]. He was tried, and executed along with six of his students for not denying the truth of the Christian faith[12].

The charge of atheism by the Roman Government was briefly described earlier. According to theologian and philosopher Peter Kreeft Atheism is defined as “The denial that God exists[13].” With this being said it seems ludicrous that the Christians should be accused of such a charge. However, according to the Roman Government the charge of atheism is valid if one does not worship the state pagan gods[14]. In short the definition of atheism had a different connotation then it does today.

In response to this charge Justin Martyr admits that Christians are atheists. In his First Apology he tells the emperor that Christians believe in one God who is the creator of all things, and Lord of all things[15]. Justin echoes this same sentiment is his Dialogue with Trypho which he states,

“There is no other God Trypho, nor was there from eternity any other but he who made the universe. Nor do we think there is one God for us and another for you, but that he alone is God who led your fathers out of Egypt. Nor have we trusted in any other, for there is no other, but him[16].”

For that reason they are called atheists and Justin says it is an unjust charge. However Justin echoes to the emperor what he told Trypho. If the Romans do not accept the Christian God then the Christians will proudly be called atheists.

Christians were also charges with incest. As previously states this sounds like an outlandish charge, but the landscape of the second century must be understood. Christianity was in its infancy and Christians, just as today, refer to each other as “brother” and “sister”. The Romans did not understand and saw married couples participating in this practice. The Romans often confused Christians with a Gnostic sect that was sexually immoral[17]. Justin Martyr took a different approach with this charge than he did with the charge of atheism. In his Second Apology Justin writes,

“For myself, when I learned of this wicked disguise which through false report was cast over the divine teaching of Christians by evil demons in order to turn away others, I laughed at this disguise and at the opinions of the multitude[18].”

His tone is much more serious and is obviously very dismissive. Christians refer to themselves in this way, not because they are related by ancestry, but by their spiritual ancestry. Christians are related by faith and not by the flesh. It is the blood of Christ that brings Christians into one family, and they are related to each other only in the manner in what Christ has done for them. Justin goes on to say that the Roman accusers should look at the morally upright lives that the Christians are living. If they do they will see that this charge has no merit. About the charge of incest R.C. Sproul explains,

“They were also accused of incest for calling one another “brother” and “sister” and for meeting in secret, though it was persecution that made private gatherings necessary. To answer these critics, Justin exhorted Emperor Antoninus Pius to look at how Christians lived. Since they feared God, Justin said, Christians could be trusted to obey Roman law lest they incur divine wrath. Justin also asked Pius to study Christian sexual behavior carefully, for the believers’ upright ethic proved their goodness[19].”

The charge of cannibalism was meant to be demeaning, and was a capital offense in second century Rome. The charge would go on to be used as proof of the historicity of Christianity in modern day apologetics. The charge of cannibalism stems from Eucharistic language about Christians eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ[20]. In a loving way Justin defends this charge in his First Apology. Without mentioning the last supper narratives or John chapter six he explains the Christian position. He not only makes a defense, but weaves in a Gospel presentation. It is almost as if his tone becomes more serious, though loving, when it comes to communion. He understands that he is speaking of the Lord’s Supper and the sacrifice for sin that it represents.

“For not by common bread nor common drink do we receive these: but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus[21].”

Justin masterfully describes why Christians are being charged, the deity of Christ, and his sacrifice in just a few short sentences. He does it in a way that non-believers would also understand. He explains why the charge of cannibalism occurred and that is that in the Lord’s Supper Christians partake in the memorial of the body and blood of Christ. He elaborates on his deity so the emperor understands that they are not eating a person during their assemblies. Justin also explains that the reason they do it is because it came from Christ himself as a command to do.

Another charge that was levied against the Christians is that of conspiracy to overthrow the government. These and other charges were exacerbated because Christians did not participate in everyday society. The popular events of the day such as politics and entertainment were intertwined with idolatrous acts, such as burning incense in homage of the emperor. Christians were trying to preserve their piety, lessen temptation, and stay safe during persecution. There assemblies were closed because only believers could partake in the Lord’s Supper. The exclusive nature of this event led to fears of conspiracy.

Justin Martyr, and other apologists of the second century, gave a clear account for the beliefs of the faith. Justin did not sit and let the beliefs of Christians be abused in the public square. He took accusations and gave a clear and reasonable explanation in an attempt to prove them false. He explained that there is only one God and Christians will refuse to worship the Roman gods. He explained the nature of the Lord’s Supper to combat the charge of cannibalism. Justin pointed to the morality of the Christian life as a way to falsify the charge of incest. Justin tells the emperor and Trypho that we are to emulate the life of the savior in everything we do because “Christ is King, Priest, God, Lord, Angel, and Man[22].”

So how can the apologetic style of Justin Martyr be of use to the church today? Justin Martyr was direct in that he did not try to go in circle to find time to formulate an answer. He answered directly even at the risk of offending. Often times people will respect us more if we are direct than if we are not. Justin explained the faith using the language of the people. He lived among philosophers and spoke about Christianity in a philosophical way. We must gauge our audience and not speak down at them, or speak above them. Justin explained the faith in a way that was easy to understand. This ensured that his audience knew exactly what he was saying and they could make the conscious decision to believe it or not. Lastly he lived what he believed. We can speak all day about Christ, but if we are not letting him affect out life others will see and may not believe. Justin and many Christians of the second century paid the ultimate price for their faith. They lost their lives, and that meant that they lived it.

In conclusion the methods that Justin Martyr employed to defend and evangelize are still useful today. Obviously the pagan Roman gods are not an issue, but the ever increasing popularity of the New Age Movement is. It is a system of Pantheism and is being touted as a way to get what you want if you just believe hard enough. Like Justin we can point to the immorality of those who claim to be divine and point to morality of Christians. Spreading the faith and using simple terms is more important than ever before. Justin used the language and style of the people and we must do the same. We must recognize that we are not dealing with fellow seminary students and many have not heard of the terms in which we have become familiar. Like Justin we must study our faith, live our faith, speak about our faith, and be willing to die for our faith. That is authentic and that is what this hurting world needs. They need more authentic Christians like Justin who are willing to live it and teach it.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Alexamenos Graffito,” religionfacts, accessed February 12, 2015, http://www.religionfacts.com/jesus/image_gallery/alexamenos Graffito.

“Justin Martyr: Philosopher, Apologist, Martyr,” anglican.org, accessed February 21, 2015, justin.anglican.org.

Akin, Jimmy. The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church. San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 2010.

Aquilina, Mike. The Fathers of the Church. 3rd ed. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2013.

Barry, John D., ed. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.

Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What it is and why we do it. Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2011.

Bettenson, Henry, and Chris Maunder, eds. Documents of the Christian Church. 4th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Coxe, Arthur Cleveland, ed. The Anti-Nicene Fathers Volume I. New York, NY: Cosimo Classics, 2007.

Dunn-Wilson, David. A Mirror for the Church: Preaching in the First Five Centuries. Grand Rapids, MI: W.b. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005.

Ferguson, Everett. Church History: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Foley, Leonard, and O.F.M. Believing in Jesus. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000.

Groothius, Douglas. Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2011.

Hall, Christopher A. Learning Theology with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2002.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. The Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 1994.

Martyr, Justin. Dialogue with Trypho. Washington, D.C: Catholic University Press, 2003.

McGrath, Alister E. Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. New York, NY: Harperone, 2009.

Papandrea, James Leonard. Reading the Early Church Fathers: From the Didache to Nicea. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2012.

Shaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

Sproul, R.c. “Justin Martyr.” Ligioner Ministries. Accessed February 18, 2015. http://www.ligioner.org/devotionals/justin_martyr.

Wall, Christopher A. Learning Theology with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2002.

W.h.mare. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

[1] Everett Ferguson, Church History: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 70.

[2] Holman Concise Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., s.v. “Incest.”

[3] Everett Ferguson, Church History: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 66.

[4] W.h.mare, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 647.

[5] James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What it is and why we do it (Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2011), 169.

[6] Everett Ferguson, Church History: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 66.

[7] Mike Aquilina, The Fathers of the Church, 3rd ed (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2013), 89.

[8] Everett Ferguson, Church History: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 66.

[9] “Alexamenos Graffito,” religionfacts, accessed February 12, 2015, http://www.religionfacts.com/​jesus/​image_gallery/​alexamenos Graffito.

[10] “Justin Martyr: Philosopher, Apologist, Martyr,” anglican.org, accessed February 21, 2015, justin.anglican.org.

[11] James Leonard Papandrea, Reading the Early Church Fathers: From the Didache to Nicea (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2012), 127.

[12] “Justin Martyr: Philosopher, Apologist, Martyr,” anglican.org, accessed February 21, 2015, justin.anglican.org.

[13] Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, The Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 1994), 129.

[14] Douglas Groothius, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2011), 246.

[15] Arthur Cleveland Coxe, ed., The Anti-Nicene Fathers Volume I (New York, NY: Cosimo Classics, 2007), 323.

[16] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho (Washington, D.C: Catholic University Press, 2003), 71.

[17] Alister E. McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York, NY: Harperone, 2009), 176.

[18] Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, eds., Documents of the Christian Church, 4th ed (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), 5.

[19] R.c. Sproul, “Justin Martyr,” Ligioner Ministries, accessed February 18, 2015, http://www.ligioner.org/​devotionals/​justin_martyr.

[20] Leonard Foley, Believing in Jesus (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000), 78.

[21] Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church (San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 2010), 691.

[22] Christopher A. Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2002), 35.

Book Review: Learning Theology with the Church Fathers

There are many books written about what the church fathers said and did. The Church Fathers, particularly the Patristics, had a connection to the very beginnings of Christianity. This connection gives them a different focus in their writing then that of someone writing in the 10th century. Christopher Hall does a great job in breaking down the theology of the church fathers in terms that a novice can follow.

Christopher Hall is provost of Eastern University and dean of its Templeton Honors College. He is the author of numerous books including Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, and Praying with the Church Fathers. He is also the editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary. Learning Theology with the Church Fathers will be the subject of this review. In this work Dr. Hall looks at the theological issues that the early church faced, their implications, and why they are relevant today.

In the preface Dr. Hall explains that the fathers “continually remind us that theology is at best broken speech about the transcendent, mysterious God who draws near to us in the incarnation of the Son and presence of the Spirit[1].” In the opening chapter Dr. Hall gives a describes to us what a church father is, and theological loci that surrounded the Church Fathers’ thinking; namely, the question of authority, the Trinity,

the incarnation, Christ’s work, question of humanity, question of the church, and the question of the future[2].” Each subsequent chapter has a theme and issue that is dealt with, along with great quotes from church fathers. The chapters are as follows: 2) Christ the Son, Begotten not Made, 3) The Mystery and Wonder of the Trinity, 4) Christ Diving and Human, 5) On the Holy Spirit, 6) Sin, Grace, and the Human Condition, 7) God’s Transcendent Providence, 8) God’s Wise and Loving Providence, 9) The Sacred Scriptures, 10) One Holy, Apostolic Church, and 11) The Resurrection of the Body and Life Everlasting[3].

In chapter two Dr. Hall goes into great deal about the Arian controversy. He outlines the idea that Arius though that Jesus was a created being, and the counter argument of Athanasius who argued that Jesus was coexistent and not created. In Chapter three the Trinity is discussed. Dr. Hall describes Gregory of Nazianzus and his perspective of describing the Trinity. Dr. Hall describes, “By this time, Gregory, you and I are tempted to scream. Our linguistic and spatial categories are proving incapable of adequately describing God, which turns out to be exactly Gregory’s point[4].” Dr. Hall shows how difficult the formulation of Trinitarian doctrine to be, but to prove the point he points to a sermon Augustine gave that points to the manifestation of the Trinity.

The reviewer could write much more on the content of the book, but will focus on these two areas. In regards to the Arian controversy, Dr. Hall does a masterful job of explaining what was going on at the time. The issue was if the Son was a created being or not. In other words was he begotten or made. In the mind of Arius if the Son was begotten, then there must have been a time when he was no begotten. Arius says Jesus is divine in some way, but cannot have the same nature as the Father. In regards to this Hall writes, “Frankly, Arius seems to want his cake and to eat it, too. On the one hand he wants to affirm that the Son is in some way divine. On the other hand, if Arius is to preserve God’s simplicity and indivisibility, he must affirm that the Son has a beginning[5].” To this the church fathers use scripture and philosophical terms at the council of Nicea to come up with the Nicean Creed. Athanasius was center stage theologically in this council to prove the errors of Arius.

As previously stated the Trinity is discussed in chapter three. Hall points out the intricacies of the Trinity have been debated from the fourth century, to the enlightenment, and in some cases even today. Hall points out that in some Christian circles a discussion of the Trinity is too esoteric, and some try not to discuss it[6]. The church fathers had issues in describing the Trinity as well, and at times it seemed to be an impossible, but very important task. Though it was difficult the Fathers developed Trinitarian doctrine because it was based on scripture. The defense of the Trinity paved the way for non-biblical terms to be used. Hall further explains, “A Trinitarian model, one founded on biblical exegesis but free to employ new terms not found in the Bible-among them homoousios-to explain and elucidate the implications of the biblical data concerning the Father, Son and Holy Spirit[7].”

As masterful as the work is in explaining the theology of the fathers the reviewer has a couple critiques of the work. The first is in relation to the Arian controversy and the divinity of Christ. The divinity of Christ and his relation to the Father had been brought up a century earlier by the Modalists. The Modalist view was that the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were successive modes of activity and revelation of the one God[8].” Dr. Hall, though thorough, did not touch on this controversy and it would have been a good background story for Arius. What is the eternal future of those who follow Arius? Though it is implied it is not implicitly stated.

In conclusion the teaching of the Church Fathers is important to the church today. These are not men, who were Christians that died centuries ago. They paved the way and dealt with many issues that we could not fathom today. It is upsetting to the reviewer that many Christians today are not concerned with their theology, and some have never even heard of them. They helped develop the doctrines that we proclaim today. Should we not make an effort to better understand them? Learning Theology with the Church Fathers is a great resource of pastors, teachers, and the average Christian who wants a better understanding of church history and theology. This is an excellent book and Dr. Hall is commended for his work. It is a very important book and should be on the bookshelf of every serious Bible student, pastor, and teacher.

Bibliography

Ferguson, Everett. Church History: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Hall, Christopher A… Learning Theology with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2002.

[1] Christopher A. Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2002), 10.

[2] Christopher A. Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2002), 18.

[3] Ibid, Table of Contents.

[4] Ibid, 59.

[5] Christopher A. Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2002), 36.

[6] Ibid, 54.

[7] Christopher A. Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2002), 55.

[8] Everett Ferguson, Church History: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 143.

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