Through the Bible: Luke 1:67-79; Zacharias’ Prophecy

We are going through the Gospels using Tatian’s Diatessaron. Today we are covering Luke 1:67-80, which is the prophecy from Zacharias, father of John the Immerser (or Baptist), after John was born. It is found at the bottom of the page I just linked. You don’t have to go there, though, because I will be writing it out below.

If you are just joining us, I did the introduction to the Diatessaron on April 22. I am also in the process of making a list, with links, of all the “Through the Bible” posts I have ever done.

I will be printing the text from the Diatessaron on the post today, updating it to modern English as I go. Again, you can also read it in your Bible at Luke 1:67-79.

The Horn of Salvation

Zacharias [John’s] father was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied and said, “Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, who has cared for his people and made salvation for them and has raised for us the horn of salvation in the house of David his servant, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from eternity.”

Thanks to the internet, we can access a whole bunch of commentaries all at once. In this case, there seems to be agreement that “horn of salvation” is a reference to the power of salvation and that it includes the idea of overthrowing enemies. This is because horns are used for battle by animals and are a symbol of strength. I also ran a search for horn throughout the Old Testament, and like the Expositor’s Greek Testament on the page I just linked (top right column), I think “horn of salvation” also refers to the horn of anointing oil used to anoint Israelite kings (e.g., 1 Kings 1:39).

The Messiah

That he might save us from our enemies and from the hand of all them that hate us.

Zacharias has the Messiah in mind when he says this. He is picturing deliverance from the Romans who ruled Palestine and from all others that had ruled them. Among the most horrific things you can read are the books of the Maccabees. They are found in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, and of course they can be found online. A read through them gives you an idea of the vicious attacks on the Jews that happened after Alexander the Great came through the Middle East. Reading the Maccabees is worse than reading Judges. After every victory, a new army comes through wreaking havoc in Judah again.

As he prophesies, Zacharias has in mind all the devastation that the Jews had been through since their return from Babylon in the fifth century BC. The Messiah, when he came, would end all that. He would subject all the nations, and he would destroy those nations that would not submit (Ps. 2).

The Jews were actually expecting two Messiahs, one a suffering servant and the other a conquering king. Naturally, in their subjugated state in the first century and the destruction they had faced over the previous centuries. it was the conquering king they were hoping for. Now, through his encounter with the messenger Gabriel and the stories from Mary about her encounter with Gabriel, Zacharias’ hopes were high.

The Scripture calls these words prophecy, so it is not just Zacharias’ hopes that are up, but the joy of heaven is being revealed in preparation for the entrance of the Word of God into the earth in bodily form.

Of course, we know that Jesus was both the Suffering Servant and the Conquering King. What Zacharias did not know, but which the Holy Spirit did know, is that there are much worse enemies to be conquered than the Roman army. Rome and many others have oppressed people. Kim Jong-un is oppressing North Korea today. Such oppression is awful, but in the midst of it, Jesus shows us how to overthrow the oppressions of the devil so that despite earthly oppression there can be a heavenly joy and deliverance.

The Messiah’s power turned out to be great enough that the Gospel, the announcement of the reign of Jesus the King and Son of God, prospers under the worst oppression. I read once that the world held its breath during Mao Zedung’s reign in China, but when he died it turned out that the number of Christians had multiplied under his reign. To this day illegal churches in China may soon help give it the largest Christian population in the world.

As Tertullian famously said, “The oftener you mow us down, the more of us there are. The blood of Christians is seed” (Apology 50). In fact that statement is preceded by a boast: “Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us.”

The one Messiah, Jesus, will return as Conquering King one day, and the governments of the earth will lose all their power to him. Because he came as Suffering Servant, however, the governments of this earth have already lost their power over us who neither love this world nor even cling to their own lives, instead gladly losing them for the sake of the Gospel.

Deliverance Without Fear

He has performed his mercy toward our fathers and remembered his holy covenants and the oath which he swore to Abraham our father, that he would give us deliverance from the hand of our enemies. Without fear we shall serve before him all our days with equity and righteousness.

Again, this has been fulfilled in glad style throughout Christian history. Listen to this boast from the second century:

It’s a beautiful thing to God when a Christian does battle with pain. When he faces threats, punishments and tortures by mocking death and treading underfoot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his freedom in Christ as a standard before kings and princes; when he yields to God alone, and—triumphant and victorious—he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced the sentence upon him … God finds all these things beautiful. (Minucius Felix, The Octavius, ch. 37)

You can find other quotes like this on my martyrdom quotes page, which has consistently been one of the favorite pages of my Christian history web site. Christians love the idea of triumphing over their persecutors by not loving their lives to the death.

But it is not just persecutors over whom we have been given power to triumph, but all the lusts that have typically enslaved those who previously longed to be righteous (Rom. 6:14, 2 Pet. 1:3-4, etc.). By the Holy Spirit, we have been given power to overthrow our slavery to sin and addictions and to live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23, ESV).

The Knowledge of Salvation

As for you, O child, you will be called prophet of the Most High. You shall go forth before the face of the Lord to prepare his way, to give the knowledge of salvation to his people for the forgiveness of their sins, through the mercy of the compassion of our God, with which he cares for us. [He will] appear from on high to give light to them that sit in darkness and under the shadow of death and to set straight our feet in the way of peace.

I find the phrase “to give the knowledge of salvation to his people for the forgiveness of their sins” poignant. In fact, I find it so poignant that I will end this post, which is already 1200 words long, and go over this paragraph in the next post.

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Through the Bible: Luke 1:47-66; The Magnificat & Birth of John

We are working through Tatian’s Diatessaron, a harmony of the Gospels written back in AD 165. Last time we covered Luke 1:24-45, where Mary goes to meet Elizabeth, her cousin and the soon-to-be mother of John the Baptist. We went through Elizabeth’s greeting and the effect it must have had on Mary.

Today we will go through Mary’s reply. It is often called the Magnificat. I believe the word just means “praise song,” but it is amazing, not just because it came from Mary, the mother of our Lord, but because of its contents.

I do have to pause to make one point I have not made yet. Tatian’s Diatessaron is the most certain proof we have that the churches, at least in the Roman empire, had decided very early upon which Gospels were going to be accepted among the apostolic churches (meaning the churches that were founded by and continued to follow the teachings of the apostles). In the Diatessaron, we don’t have to wonder if a certain phrase is a citation from Matthew or another is a citation from John, etc. This is a collection of our four Gospels and our four Gospels only. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not Peter, Mary Magdalene, Judas, and Thomas. Contrary to the rumors that abound on the internet, the Gospels were not decided upon at the Council of Nicea in 325, they were settled in the first half of the second century at the latest.

The Diatessaron also refutes claims made by National Geographic’s “Gospel of Judas” program. It claims that Irenaeus, around the year 180, chose the four Gospels because there are four directions of the wind and four points on the compass (in this video, 34:00 – 34:30 & 39:00 – 40:00). In doing so, they say, Irenaeus was arguing for four Gospels from over thirty that were in circulation among the Christians.

This is not true. Irenaeus does argue that it is right that there should only be four Gospels because of the four winds, the four living creatures, and the four points of the compass (jstor.org, “Irenaeus and the Four Gospels”), but he is explaining why the four already accepted Gospels are four rather than one or twenty. He is not choosing four Gospels, then establishing them with his argument. He would have no authority to do so, anyway! (See his discussion against changing or adding to the faith.)

It is obvious Irenaeus couldn’t have established the four Gospels on his own authority and argument because Tatian already knew about four Gospels, and had harmonized them into one book, some twenty to thirty years before Irenaeus wrote his book Against Heresies. They are also presented as accepted by all churches in the Muratorian Fragment, which is a list of books accepted by the apostolic churches from the same time period as Tatian and Irenaeus. You will also find that in church writings from the first half of the second century, it is the same four Gospels that are cited regularly.

Beware, folks. Just because a famous magazine or authority is speaking does not mean you are hearing everything they know. Well-trained and knowledgeable people are capable of withholding things from you on purpose. I promise you that I will never do that to you. Even if it weakens my argument, I will always give you all the evidence as well as I know it.

The Magnificat

In the Diatessaron we are reading an English translation of an Arabic translation of Tatian’s original Greek. So, as best as we know it, this is Tatian’s second century rendering of Mary’s hymn of praise. Tatian is pulling this from Luke 1:47-55.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, who has looked upon the low estate of his handmaiden. Lo, from now on all generations shall pronounce blessing on me. For he has done great things for me, the One who is mighty, and holy is his name! His mercy embraces them who fear him throughout the ages and the times. He accomplished the victory with his arm and scattered them that prided themselves in their opinions. He overthrew them that acted haughtily from their thrones and raised the lowly. He satisfied the hungry with good things and left the rich without anything. He helped Israel his servant and remembered his mercy, just as he spoke with our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.

Mary’s song of praise expresses one thought loud and clear and in many ways: it is God alone who produces victory. Further, he is not victorious for the rich, the royal, and the proud, but for the lowly, the hungry, and for his people to whom he has proclaimed his promises.

Mary is pulling from ancient promises, not merely recent ones. Psalm 2 proclaims that there shall be an Anointed King and that God would call that King his Son. That Psalm was written by David (according to the church at Jerusalem–Acts 4:25). Thus, the promises in it belong to around 900 BC. God had begun to prophesy the coming Messiah even before that, but the full announcement of this coming King was 900 years old by the time it was being fulfilled in Mary.

As Peter tells us at the end of his second general letter, we should not give up on God’s promises. God, being both timeless and merciful, will come through. Just as Jesus came as the Suffering Servant at just the right time, so he will return as conquering King at just the right time, a time reserved in the counsel of God (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7).

The Birth of John the Immerser

We will talk about why I call John “the immerser” in later posts. Today, let’s just set up Zacharias’ prophecy by covering Luke 1:57-66, which I am not going to write out here. Again, here’s the link, and you can find the section I’m referencing by finding “[57]” in the numbers down the left side.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, which is until John was born. Here we find the word of the messenger fulfilled, and Zacharias obediently named his child John. Once he followed through on Gabriel’s command, his voice was restored to him, and he let forth a brilliant prophecy from the Holy Spirit, which we will cover in the next post.

I do want to point out one curious occurrence. When Elizabeth wanted to name the child John, the others present thought it was strange since the family had no relatives named John. Therefore they asked the father. Notice, though, how they asked Zacharias. They asked him with signs. As far as we know, Zacharias wasn’t deaf, just mute. Do you think they were just making the traditional mistake many of us make, thinking that if a person can’t talk, they must not be able to hear either? Or was he possibly deaf as well?

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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.

Posted in Uncategorized

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.

Next post

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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.

Posted in Church, Modern Doctrines, Protestants, Roman Catholic & Orthodox, Unity | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

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).

Posted in Evangelicals, Holiness, Modern Doctrines, Protestants, Roman Catholic & Orthodox, Teachings that must not be lost | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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).

Posted in Gospel | Tagged , | 1 Comment