Through the Bible: Luke 1:24-45

We are working from Tatian’s Diatessaron, a harmony of the Gospels put together around the year 160. The introduction to the Diatessaron was done a few days ago.

The next section we are covering is Luke 1:24-45. Once again, I will be putting it in more modern English and writing it out here.

After those days Elizabeth [Zacharias’] wife conceived, and she hid herself five months. Then she said, “The Lord has done this to me in the days when he looked upon me, to remove my reproach from among men.”
   In the sixth month Gabriel the angel was sent from God to Galilee to a city called Nazareth to a virgin given in marriage to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel entered to her and said to her, “Peace be to you, you who are filled with grace. Our Lord is with you, you blessed among women.”
   She, when she beheld, was agitated at his word and pondered what this salutation could be. The angel said to her, “Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You shall now conceive, and bear a son, and name him Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He shall rule over the house of Jacob forever and to his kingdom there shall be no end.”
   Mary said to the angel, “How shall this happen to me when no man has known me?

Mary’s question was apparently different than Zacharias’ question. In the last post, we read that Zacharias had questioned Gabriel in almost the same words that as Mary used. Zacharias was struck dumb for his question, but Mary is answered.

The difference is not hard to figure out. Zacharias was doubting; Mary was not. Mary just wanted an explanation. We know this because of the angel’s reaction, which we are about to read. But let’s pause for a minute.

As I write this, I am sorely tempted to use “messenger” rather than “angel” because “messenger” is what the Greek word angelos means. My favorite example of the use of angelos in reference to humans is when John sent men to ask Jesus if he was really the “the one who is to come” in Luke 7:19-24. Verse 24 calls them “messengers,” but the Greek word is angeloi, the plural of the word generally translated angel.

In other words, “angel” is not really a word. It is just the Greek word angelos brought into English without translation. Angelos has a translation; it is “messenger.”

So all those angels you read about in the Bible, even the “archangels,” are really messengers. The place this is most important, I think, is in Revelation 1-3, where Jesus has stars in his hand that represent angels/messengers. Everyone is confused about who those “angels” might be, but if you know that they are messengers, then there is no question at all. Each church had a messenger who could read and write and who was in charge of receiving letters and sending letters on behalf of the church.

There’s some early Christian evidence for that idea, too, but I don’t have time to hunt the passages down today.

“Messengers” is not the only word Bible translators hide from us, and I will be pointing those out to you as we run across them.

The angel [messenger] answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come, and the power of the Most High shall rest on you. Therefore he that is born from you will be pure and will be called the Son of God. And lo, Elizabeth your kinswoman, she also has conceived a son in her old age. This is the sixth month with her, the one that was called barren, for nothing is difficult for God.
   Mary said, “Lo, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” And the messenger departed from her.

Exciting, huh? She is going to be the mother of the Son of God! She is going to be the mother of the Messiah, and her Son’s kingdom will have no end. How could anything be more majestic than this?

I have to express my thanks to Megan Rebekah Cupit for making something very real that I may have thought about but certainly never dwelt upon. Megan wrote a short book about the birth of Jesus from Mary’s standpoint. She writes well, so I was pulled right into the story. The announcement from Gabriel that she would birth the Messiah, the Son of the living God (cf. Matt. 16:16; Jn. 20:31) was a mountaintop experience. Showing a swelling belly to the town of Nazareth without being married was a valley of the shadow of death experience.

God saved her by the kindness of Joseph. He could have screamed “adultery,” and Mary would surely have been stoned on the spot. He was engaged to her, and that is surely what many furious Jewish fiances would have done. Instead, he chose to break the engagement quietly and spare the poor girl’s life.

Then Mary arose in those days and went in haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, entered into the house of Zacharias and asked for the health of Elizabeth.

I brought up Joseph and the scandal of a pregnant unwed teenager in first-century Nazareth, but when Mary went to Elizabeth’s house, Joseph did not know yet. Elizabeth’s pregnancy was six months ahead of hers, and the scandal did not have to be faced yet. It’s possible that no one knew she was pregnant except Mary herself.

I mentioned Megan’s book above and how much I loved it. The highlight of that book is Mary’s arrival at Elizabeth’s house. I am the one who published her book after reading the story in a series of posts on her blog. In the story, by the time Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s house, everything Gabriel told her is riding on the arrival. Is Elizabeth really pregnant, like the messenger said? How will she react when Mary tells her she is pregnant.

Elizabeth takes care of all that in her greeting. Megan’s book pulls the reader into the story, and it has helped me feel the shivers that must have run down Mary’s spine when Elizabeth announced …

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s salutation, the babe leaped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried with a loud voice, saying to Mary, “Your are blessed among women, and blessed is the fruit that is in your womb! From where do I have this privilege, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? When the sound of your salutation reached my ears, the babe in my womb rejoiced with great joy! Blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her from the Lord would be fulfilled.”

As Jesus said to Peter is true of Elizabeth as well. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to her (Mark 16:17). Elizabeth’s revelation came from our Father in heaven. The life that would transform the earth and the human race had arrived on earth, landing in the womb of the most blessed of all women, Mary.

This is just too spectacular. Yes, this glorious announcement and confirmation of Gabriel’s words would be greatly overshadowed by the actual events that led to the death and resurrection of God’s Son, but what a moment.

God gave this moment to women, as he has given so many moments to women. It is not just the birth of the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) that was announced by women, but the birth from the dead of the New Man was witnessed and announced by women first as well (Matt. 28:1-10).

Mary’s response to Elizabeth will have to wait for the next post. That will be a fun discussion.

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Through the Bible: Luke 1:7-23

The next section of Tatian’s Diatessaron comes from Luke 1:7-23. I am going to spare you having to read it in the 120-year-old translation of Reverend Hogg (translator acknowledgment), and put it in more modern English here.

In the days of Herod the king there was a priest whose name was Zacharias, of the family of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous before God, walking in all his commands and in the uprightness of God without reproach. They had no son, for Elizabeth was barren, and they had both advanced in age.
   While he was discharging the duties of priest in the order of his service before God, according to the custom of the priesthood, it was his turn to burn incense. He entered the temple of the Lord, and the whole gathering of the people were praying outside at the time of incense.

There was a table of incense in front of the entrance to the Holy of Holies in the temple (Ex. 30:6). The priests were to burn incense before the Lord every morning and evening upon that table (Ex. 30:7-8). The incense was to be of an exact mixture (Ex. 30:9,34-38).

A lot of people think Zacharias … Let’s explain his name real quick.

This translation of the Diatessaron uses “Zacharias” because the original was written in Greek. The Gospel of Luke, from which this section is pulled, was also in Greek, but a lot of our English Bibles prefer to use names closer to how they sound in Hebrew, so most will use “Zachariah.”

Ok, a lot of people think Zacharias was doing the cleansing of the incense table which is done every year on the Day of Atonement. Rumor has it that the Levites tied a rope around the ankle of the priest when he entered the temple with blood each year on that day. I have never confirmed that rumor, but I don’t doubt it is true. It is irrelevant, however, because this was a morning or evening standard burning of the incense. It was not the Day of Atonement, and he was not bringing blood into the temple. Zacharias was just lighting the incense.

I say “just,” but the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says that burning incense in the temple was “the loftiest and most coveted of priestly functions.” It gives a description of the process as well (right column). The part of that description that is important for Luke’s story here is that “The people waited outside in the Court of Israel praying in deep silence.” As it turned out, they would have to wait extra long that day.

The Angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, standing at the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be agitated, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. You shall have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth. He shall be great before the Lord and shall not drink wine nor strong drink. He shall be filled with the Holy Spirit while he is in his mother’s womb. He shall turn back many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He shall go before him in the spirit and in the power of Elijah the prophet to turn back the heart of the fathers to the sons and those that do not obey to the knowledge of the righteous, to prepare a perfect people for the Lord.”

What an awesome event! If Zacharias felt privileged to be chosen by lot to bring the incense before the Lord, how much more to be greeted by the Angel of the Lord. Breathtaking! Majestic! Glorious!

Let me take a quick pause from expressing awe at this event to tell you a small tidbit about translating from ancient Greek. The translation we are using for the Diatessaron is from an Arabic translation of Tatian’s original Greek, but from what I am seeing from Rev. Hogg’s translation, my small tidbit must apply to tranlating ancient Arabic, too. It certainly applies in translating the New Testament.

Ancient Greek did not have punctuation, and it was written in all capital letters. Worse, it sometimes did not have spaces between the words! Without punctuation, Greek writers had to separate their sentences with conjunctions like “and,” “but,” “or,” “therefore,” etc. If you get a chance, look up Ephesians 1:3-13. It is all one sentence in Greek. I just glanced at the English Standard Version, and it breaks up that passage into only two sentences.

Modern English has punctuation, so as I copy the text from Rev. Hogg’s translation (linked in the first paragraph), I am reducing the size of the sentences, replacing the ands and buts with commas and periods unless they are necessary for meaning.

Ok, back to the glorious appearance of the Angel of the Lord in the temple next to the altar of incense.

Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this, since I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years?”

No, Zacharias, no! Bad idea! You should “know this” because there is an angel of the Lord standing in the temple of the Lord. He appeared out of nowhere. We Christians know, because Paul told us, that Satan can appear as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), but come on, Zacharias! You are standing in the temple of God; how likely is it that this being who just appeared in front of you is a counterfeit?

The angel didn’t appreciate his question, either.

The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands before God. I was sent to speak to you, and give you tidings of this. From now on, you shall be speechless. You shall not be able to speak until the day in which this shall come to pass because you did not trust this my word, which will be accomplished in its time.

The mistakes written about in the Bible are there to teach us. It is a good thing to believe a messenger of God when you can be sure it is God speaking through him. Don’t toy with it. Embrace it.

The people were standing, waiting for Zacharias, and they were perplexed at his delaying in the temple. When Zacharias went out, he was not able to speak to them, so they knew that he had seen a vision in the temple. He made signs to them and continued dumb. When the days of his service were completed, he departed to his dwelling.

That’s it for today. For what happened to Zacharias next, see the next post.

See previous post.

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Through the Bible: John 1:1

As pointed out a few days ago, this “through the Bible” session is going to begin with Tatian’s Diatessaron, a harmony of the four Gospels put together around the year 160. This will let us go through all the Gospels at once and cover the parables and stories of Jesus just once rather than three times. (Matthew, Mark, and Luke share a lot of the same parables and stories.)

The Diatessaron appropriately begins with John 1:1-5. While John was the last Gospel written, the existence of the Word of God separate from God the Father precedes any reference to his birth on earth.

In future posts, you might find it easier to follow my commentary by opening the Diatessaron with the link in the first paragraph. It will open in a new window. In this post, I am focusing on just John 1:1, so you won’t need to keep referring anywhere.

Translating John 1:1

First, let’s get the translation of John 1:1 right. In my first Greek class, I learned that the Greek of John 1:1 literally says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word.” Modern versions translate the last phrase as “the Word was God” because of an advanced Greek grammar rule. That rule says that in a phrase like the one we are addressing, the noun with “the” is the subject and the noun without “the” is being used as an adjective.

Of course, reading “the Word is God” does not make it sound like “God” is an adjective, so my Greek teacher suggested “the Word has the character and nature of God” as a better translation.

As it turns out, a lot of Greek scholars agree! I found a web site that discusses John 1:1 the way my Greek teacher did. He writes, “… the fact that the word ‘God’ is used first in the sentence actually shows some emphasis that this Logos (Word) was in fact God in its nature.” Cory Keating, the author of that web page, then lists a group of Greek scholars who agree (under “Consulting with Other Well Respected Greek Scholars and Grammarians”).

I am not a Greek scholar, but I do speak English pretty well. Rather than odd constructs like “the Word has the character and nature of God” or “the word was in fact God in its nature,” I suggest the English word that is actually “God” used as and adjective: divine. “The Word is Divine.”

No matter how we translate it, in verse 1, John is trying to teach us about the relationship between the Father and Son. In doing so, he tells us that the Son, in the beginning was the Word. In Greek he uses the word Logos. This, in my opinion makes him the first to describe “Logos theology.”

Logos Theology History

As I describe Logos theology, try to think of the Greek word Logos, not the plural of the English word logo. I am going to help you by continuing to italicize the word.

Logos theology is out of favor with Protestants and Catholics, but for the most awful of reasons. Historian Nathaniel Hill explains the rejection of Logos theology in these words:

This is known as ‘subordinationism’, since although it recognizes the divinity and unity of all three Persons it regards the Father as the source of the Trinity and therefore as greater than the other two members. It would not be until the 4th and 5th centuries, with the work of Augustine, that this legacy of Logos theology would finally be laid to rest.(Hill, 2003, bold & italics mine).

This quote brings up “subordinationism,” a term even more abhorred than Logos theology! Hill is commenting on a teaching by Tertullian, a Christian lawyer in Carthage who was a prolific writer around the turn of the third century. He also says of Tertullian, “Tertullian still lives in the thought world of Justin and his followers” (ibid., location 683).

Justin and his followers would include Tatian, Theophilus, and Irenaeus. Tatian we have looked at, and he created a gnostic sect of his own later, so we can ignore him, but not the others. Justin was a noted defender of the Christian faith around 150. Theophilus was the bishop of Antioch during the last half of the second century. Irenaeus would be the most important of them all! He grew up in the church at Smyrna under Polycarp, who, according to Eusebius’ Church History, was instructed by apostles.

In my opinion, it takes a lot of audacity to suggest that a theology held by all the major Christian writers from Justin Martyr to Tertullian, from AD 150 to 210, needed to be “laid to rest” by Augustine, especially when it is so solidly supported by John 1:1.

Logos Theology Explanation and Defense

Basically, the Logos doctrine teaches that before the beginning God, in some mysterious way we cannot understand, begat a Son, his Word. This Son was not created, he was literally the Word/Reason/Wisdom of God generated from out of himself. Athenagoras, another apologist from the era that supposedly needed to be corrected by Augustine 250 years later, explained the Logos this way:

We acknowledge … a Son of God. Don’t let anyone think it ridiculous that God should have a Son. … The Son of God is the Logos of the Father … He is the first product of the Father, not as though he was being brought into existence, for from the beginning God, who is the eternal Mind, had the Logos in himself. (A Plea for the Christians 10)

Simply put, if you asked Christians about the Trinity in the second century, Christians would tell you that God has a Son. It was as simple as that, except that they would add that the Son was not created, but that he came out of the Father and was of the same essence, and thus the same divinity, as the Father. You can see dozens of quotes from before the time of Augustine on my Trinity quotes page, and even more in my book, Decoding Nicea.

I hope you have caught that I do not think Augustine corrected anything. The idea that God generated a divine Son before the creation is both biblical and was universally believed in the second century. In 325, almost a century before Augustine, Logos theology was agreed to by all the churches of the Roman empire at the Council of Nicea. For some reason, modern historians don’t seem to recognize Logos theology in the Nicene Creed, in its most basic form, reads, “We believe in one God, the Father … and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God … and in the Holy Spirit.”

Some verses that agree with the “subordinationist” Logos theology of the second-century Christians—besides John 1:1-3 which directly teaches it—include:

  • John 1:18: “No man has seen God at any time. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained him.”
  • John 17:3: [Jesus praying] “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
  • 1 Corinthians 8:6: “For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
  • Colossians 1:15: “[He] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

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References:

Hill, Jonathan (2003-08-22). History of Christian Thought (Kindle Locations 686-688). Lion Books. Kindle Edition.

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Introduction to Tatian’s Diatessaron

Today I am working from the introduction page to Tatian’s Diatessaron. As I said yesterday, it is a harmony of the Gospels written around the year 160. If you follow the link, Point 20 talks about the translation of the Diatessaron. I will get back to the translation after this short history.

Tatian was a disciple of Justin, who is more commonly known as Justin Martyr. Justin wrote a number of works. His most famous is probably his First Apology. It has a description of a baptism and a Sunday morning church service. Both are the earliest descriptions knownand were written around AD 150. (If you start with the baptism link, which goes to chapter 60, and use the next button until you get to chapter 67, The Weekly Worship of the Christians, you will get an excellent short introduction to second century Christianity.)

He also wrote a book called Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew. I would regard the Dialogue with Trypho as the closest a Christian can come to walking the Emmaus road with Jesus and the two disciples (Luke 24:13-35).

Tatian was a Syrian. He had delved deeply into Greek philosophy when he met Justin in Rome. It would be easy to encounter Justin because he went around in the robes of a philosopher (par. 5 of link). Justin introduced him to Christ.

Being strongly opposed to the wild ways of the Greeks, Tatian was extremely ascetic. Eventually this would lead him into heresy. The gnostics influenced him, and he developed his own sect with rules so strict that they were known as Encratites. “Encraty” refers to the control of one’s desires. You can read more about him in the introduction to his works at CCEL.org.

Interestingly enough, Tertullian would become influenced by Tatian’s writings. Tertullian was the first of the early Christian Latin authors. He lived in Carthage, and he wrote numerous treatises, several of them complaints about loose living in the churches. He, too, advocated rigorous discipline, and he eventually joined the Montanist movement. Montanus was a prophet from the last half of the second century. His prophecies were rejected by the churches, and he started his own movement, teaching that the Holy Spirit had put new rules on the church now that it was more mature. These rules included forbidding remarriage for everyone, even widows. They also prevented people who committed major sins, like murder, adultery, or lapsing from persecution from being readmitted to the church even if they repented. Tertullian.org has a short introduction to Tertullian and a brief description of the Montanists.

My second shot at “Through the Bible” is going to begin with Tatian’s harmony of the Gospels, so I thought it would be both good and interesting to know something about him. The page I mentioned in the first paragraph lets us know that what we have today is not exactly what Tatian wrote in the second century. There have been additions over the centuries to add in things Tatian left out. What we have to work with is certainly close enough for a run through the Gospels in preparation for Acts afterward. We’ll begin our stroll through the Bible with the next post.

Or see previous post.

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Through the Bible … Revived

Years ago I started a “Through the Bible” series of posts. For some crazy reason, I decided to start this two days before I started radiation in preparation for a bone marrow transplant. Somehow, I managed to get about halfway through the Bible over the next six months before I just couldn’t do it anymore.

This time, I am going to do it slower. The general goal is one chapter per day, but at the start it will be impossible to define one chapter. When someone asks me where to start in the Bible, I direct them first to Luke and Acts. Acts is the continuation of Luke by the same author, so the two books make one long history from the birth of Jesus to the end of Paul’s life. With the story of Jesus and his church understood, it becomes much easier to understand the letters of the New Testament.

For this trip through the Bible, however, I want to start with Tatian’s Diatessaron. It is a harmony of the four Gospels written around the year 160. I don’t know how long it will take us to go through it, but I’ll cover whatever the Lord will allow me to cover as often as the Lord will let me.


Borg MS of Tatian Diatessaron

Borg Manuscript of Tatian’s Diatessaron, public domain

I really feel like this is the Lord’s idea, and I hope you will be blessed by it.

Tomorrow I will briefly discuss the history of the Diatessaron. I am not going to try to be a historian on the subject. I will simply introduce the text enough so we know what we are reading. If you want something deeper, there is a long introduction by the translator here. I find it fascinating that some of the translation work was done by his wife, who was fully involved in the whole work.

It seemed cool to me that we could read what is both the Scriptures—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John combined in one document—and an early Christian writing because it was compiled by a relatively well-known figure from the second century.

The translation we will be using is from 1895, but it seems easy enough to read. The link in the third paragraph goes to Section 1 of the text.

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Protestant vs. Roman Catholic vs. Orthodox: How Does a Christian Find a Church?

I put the following comment on an article at Conciliar Post, a very interesting interfaith, multi-author blog. My comment is not fully thought out, but I did not fix it because it is meant to prompt discussion at Conciliar Post and now here. Here’s what I wrote:

“A friend was lamenting the lack of interfaith (i.e., Catholic-Orthodox-Protestant) discussion on Conciliar Post of late, so I will comment for the sake of giving this post a boost and perhaps provoking a little conversation.

“I was raised Catholic, but I quit at age 12 or 13 because it didn’t work. By that, I mean I found no power to serve God in it. I found no relationship with God in it. Confirmation was my final disappointment. I had set my hope on it to provide the power to make me a soldier of God, as promised by the pamphlet I was given. It didn’t happen and I gave up. My mother tried to rescue me by giving me Protestant material, which I devoured. I laid on my back night after night for a month, hoping to expose my heart to God better in that position, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart. When that didn’t work, I gave up on Christianity and got involved in mystical eastern religion, now generally called New Age.

“At 21, God hunted me down. If I told the story, it would not seem nearly as miraculous to you as it seemed to me. I realized Jesus really was the Son of God, and the first time I admitted it, I was transformed. The whole world changed, and I have gotten up every morning wanting to serve Jesus with all my heart for 34 years straight, something over 12,500 days in a row. That happened in a Protestant church, but it didn’t take long to get fed up with Protestant dissension and their preference for tradition over Scripture. It’s humorous because they love tradition as much as Roman Catholics, but at least the Catholics admit and defend their position! Protestants pretend that the Bible is their sole rule of faith and practice, but it takes very little time in their midst to find that this is almost never true.

“So here I am. I completely agree with your post on justification from a Catholic perspective. Most Protestants can’t because Luther and Calvin’s teaching is more important to them than Scripture. They cling tightly to eternal security despite the fact that the entire book of Hebrews was written to refute it!

“Yet I can’t be Roman Catholic because the papal claim to “full, supreme, and universal authority over the church” (Lumen Gentium, 1964, ch. 3, sec. 22) is outrageous, and I could never stop attacking it (book coming in the next few months). The removal of the third of the ten commandments testifies to the Roman Church’s guilty conscience over its use of images. (It is not just the Protestants, but the Orthodox as well who would charge the RCC with changing the ten commandments.)

“Perhaps I have brought up too much, but I am not alone. There are many who, like me, do not want to be called a Protestant, but can find no home in Catholicism of Orthodoxy, either, because of questionable (or objectionable) doctrines that are required of their members. This calls for a discussion of the definition of ‘church.'”

Reference:

Lumen Gentium. “Dogmatic Constitution of the Church.” Solemnly Propagated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964. Ch. 3. Sec. 22. Retrieved 5 November, 2016 from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html. This wording is repeated in the Catholic Catechism. par. 882.

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Growing in Christ in a Maze of Confusion

1. Depart from iniquity
2. Find pure-hearted people
3. Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with them

Here are two verses that are critically important in this modern era:

“The solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and ‘Let everyone who names the same of Christ depart from iniquity.'” (2 Tim. 2:19, Orthodox Study Bible)

“Flee also youthful lusts, but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22, OSB)

The reason these verses are critically important today are apparent with a little consideration. With thousands of Protestant denominations claiming to be scripturally accurate, and the Catholics and the Orthodox claiming traditional authority over your faith, many are confused.

Nonetheless, the solid foundation of God stands. It has not disappeared. You have a simple charge from him. God knows his own, but you … you depart from iniquity.

Secondly, with whom should you be fellowshipping? Since the first century it has been true that you should pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. They exist. Find those. You will probably never find the answer to your prophecy and end-time questions with them. You may never find a church that satisfies you in this era, though I hope you do. You can, however, grow in righteousness, faith, love, and peace with people who have pure hearts.

Depart from iniquity.
Find pure hearts.
Pursue holiness with them (cf. Heb. 12:14).

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The New Covenant at a Glance

I was asked: “What exactly is the New Covenant, and where is it described in the Bible.”

Great question.

The short answer is that the New Covenant is mentioned and described in Jeremiah 31:31-34. That passage is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-11.

If you want a passage that gets right to the point in explaining the New Covenant and the difference between it and the Old Covenant, that passage can be found in Acts 2:14-38. If you want a description of the power of the New Covenant, read Acts 2:39 through the end of chapter 4.

Paul explains the difference between the Old and New Covenants in 2 Corinthians 3 as well as in Galatians 4.

The biggest difference between the Old and New Covenants? Perhaps the most important difference is that everyone who enters the New Covenant receives the Spirit of God, as Peter explains in Acts 2:14-38, quoting Joel 2:28-32. Under the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit was not promised, and only great people like Daniel, David, and others like them received the Holy Spirit.

There are other differences, too. We have the promise of resurrection was never given under the Old Covenant. We have this promise because Jesus rose from the dead. We get complete forgiveness for our past, good and bad, because in baptism God regards us as having died and risen again in Jesus. We really are risen again, or reborn, because he gives us the Spirit and we thus possess the life of God inside of us.

Great promises! Better, they are offered free in Jesus so that all of us can be made together into a holy people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14), and so that we can fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law by living our lives by the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-14).

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Early Christianity in a Nutshell

I’ve been looking for a way to describe the Christianity I see in the early church fathers for many years. In the midst of a discussion with a friend, this outline came to me.

1. The Gospel: They preached total surrender to Jesus as King. Their Gospel centralized on bodily resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus proved he was King, and our resurrection to eternal life is the reward promised to those who obey him.

2. Baptism: Baptism is the entrance rite into the church. Before the baptism, the convert renounces the devil and all his pomp. He renounces the world. He is then baptized, his sins are washed away, and he is thus buried and born again.

3. Laying on of hands: This was done right after baptism by the elders as they prayed for the Spirit to come upon the new convert. They didn’t necessarily expect any manifestation.

4. Extensive catechizing (basic instruction) in the teachings of Scripture.

5. Faith and works: They understood that baptism and being born again required only faith and repentance because there is no more that a slave to sin can offer. After baptism and the laying on of hands converts are both pure and empowered. At that point they can, and must, offer to God obedience and good works.

6. Most teaching centered on continuing in the faith and obeying God. The warning passages in the NT were much more heavily utilized than they are today.

Two other points should be emphasized. One, the Eucharist was a big deal to them and was eaten at least every week. It was never a cracker and a thimble of grape juice, but a meal, or at least part of a meal. Two, the church was seen as the reservoir of salvation. In it, people were saved. Outside of it there was no salvation.

It’s hard to bring that last point into the modern era. We don’t have the one church that existed in the second century. It was a big deal to the early church, however, and the Scriptures, too, emphasize the unity of the church and the fact that the church and the church alone is the pillar of truth.

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Decoding Nicea Interview!

I am excited to announce that I am going to be interviewed on the Seminary Dropout podcast. Shane Blackshear has interviewed such notable Christians an N.T. Wright and Max Lucado. I will be interviewed this Wednesday, August 10. You don’t have to listen to it live (and you may not be able to). Simply go to the link above to listen to it after the interview. It’s in reference to my book, Decoding Nicea, and I am very excited.

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