Saturday, March 28, 2009

Melito and the Eastern Canon (2)

In the previous post Melito’s canon list was suggested as good insight into the earliest canonical tradition of the Christian Church. His Old Testament list is the oldest among Christians and in content is curiously close to the Protestant and Hebrew canon. None of what Protestants call apocryphal books are present and only gradually become evident in lists later on. While this is the case, it is important for me to be clear that while Eastern canonical lists tend to be more conservative, this does not mean there was no canonical confusion at the time (after all, this is why we have Melito‘s list in the first place), nor does it imply that the early Jews had their canon firmly fixed by a council- though I hold that the Jews in Palestine were for the most part without confusion over what comprised inspired writings.

The importance of Melito’s list is mainly two-fold. 1) It gives us insight into the mindset and tendencies of the early Church and 2) offers understanding of what the Jews considered as canonical. What if Melito’s list did contain what Protestants call an “apocryphal” book? This would not only mean that the earliest Christian list of canonical books of the Old Testament contained one, but that the Jewish canon Melito was influenced by did as well which could potential lead us to consider a wider Jewish canon than first thought- though perhaps only by one book.

Disagreements center on a phrase in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 4.26.14 where some scholars take the Wisdom of Solomon to be included and others think “his Wisdom” is just another name for Proverbs. In this post I will present what I think is the best case for the inclusion of the Wisdom of Solomon in Melito’s list before giving a case against it. While much research, discussion and annoying of professors has gone into this, I understand my knowledge to be limited and am willing to even altar my posts or extend the discussion based off of good insight or more relevant information on this particular question.

Case For: The Inclusion of the Wisdom of Solomon

Overall, the case for the inclusion of the Wisdom of Solomon in Melito’s list seems to focus on the books popularity and use within Christendom and its presence in other lists or arrangements- including an Irenaeus citation by Eusebius himself who preserved Melito’s list. Scholars who believe in the inclusion of the book are: De Wette, Lake, McDonald and possibly Sanders. The following case is the product of my interactions with the third as well as the examination of key literature: 1) The Wisdom of Solomon was popular in early Christendom: it is often cited with Proverbs in ancient lists, used by the early Church and cited as Scripture by some Church fathers. 2) The language seems to indicate a separation leading us to think two books are being referred to and 3) Wisdom of Solomon is referred to elsewhere by Eusebius in the same work as the passage under question.

The Wisdom of Solomon was popular in early Christendom and we should not be too surprised to discover its appearance in early canonical lists. Its presence can be found in numerous sources. Some of which are: middle to late fourth century Codex Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and fifth century Alexandrinus (with books in between) as well as Augustine’s De Docrina Christiana 2:13. All of these include both Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon. The book itself is also cited in 1 Clement 27:5 (Wisdom 12:12) and alluded to in Irenaeus Adv. Haer. 4:38:3 (Wisdom 6:19). Clearly, it was treasured from an early time, but beyond treasured it was cited in the same way Scripture was cited by both Origen and Augustine.

The language in the Eusebius passage itself appears to indicate a separation between Proverbs and Wisdom. After all, the passage reads “the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon and his Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job…” ect. Proverbs and Wisdom are separated by kai (and). On the face of it there seem to be two different books referenced and is said to be a stretch to equate Proverbs and Wisdom of Solomon. It doesn’t make sense that Melito would say more than Proverbs since this was the common designation. It is more likely he is referring to two separate books.

Wisdom of Solomon is referred to elsewhere by Eusebius in the same work as the passage under question. When citing Irenaeus in an unknown book, Eusebius mentions Wisdom (Hist. Eccl. 5:26).

“Besides the works and letters of Irenaeus which we have mentioned, a certain book of his On Knowledge, written against the Greeks, very concise and remarkably forcible, is extant; and another, which he dedicated to a brother Marcian, In Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching; and a volume containing various Dissertations, in which he mentions the Epistle to the Hebrews and the so-called Wisdom of Solomon, making quotations from them. These are the works of Irenaeus which have come to our knowledge.”

Altogether, what has been presented indicates that the Wisdom of Solomon was popular among Christians- perhaps even considered inspired and one should not be surprised to see it appear in early lists. Also, given Eusebius’ early use of Wisdom and the construction of the passage under question, this view sees a reference to both Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon as two separate books to be the most likely interpretation.

Personally, I have found this case to be extraordinarily week. At the beginning of my research and discussions I was uncertain due to other considerations. For instance, I had heard that the other position was in the minority and that the interpretation was so straight forward. Only after digging deeper and speaking with Dr. Finely did I discover quite the opposite to be true.

I think that overall, this position is successful in casting doubt on another view that equates Proverbs and Wisdom. Even still, there are a few more merits to the position mentioned in this post which I hope to bring out once the position against the presence of the Wisdom of Solomon in Melito's list is given. I will critique each view from the opposing perspective though my view is quite obviously against the inclusion- and for good reason.

Apologies for the delay...I have been distracted with other subjects and the arguments and information have just been resting in my folder.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ignatius and the Eucharist (3)

I have been asked what John’s message would have meant to the readers of his time (some soon after who perhaps thought the bread and wine literally turned into the body and blood of Christ). It is true we should be mindful of the audience and historical context in which an ancient work is created. Still, this does not mean we ought to let this be our entire interpretive grid. The only thing this information might tell us is the mindset of the time. The writer may very well be drawing upon something within his context for support, developing his own twist off of an existing concept, or- commenting on it so as to correct a misunderstanding. In the case of John, it seems he makes the reality of the matter evident without overstating it. After all, considering the context, outright attacking a misunderstanding of this kind might detour from John’s purpose.

What is John's purpose? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I Am the bread of life.” Towards the end of the gospel, John tells us, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ignatius and the Eucharist (2)

The last most crucial part of this discussion comes from Scripture. As important as Ignatius is, he is no substitute for an apostle or those writing directly on their behalf. The words of Ignatius are fallible though it is his task to encourage those in the Church to “all run together in accordance with the will of God.” It is not outrageous to suppose that as a fallible person he too was mistaken in some of his practice and theology as those throughout the New Testament are prone to- even with the direct influence of the apostles (consider 1 Corinthians).

As for the “body and blood” of Christ, there are multiple passages referring to it. These are: Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, 1 Corinthians 10:16 and John 6:26-64. All more or less contain the same statements which the Church has interpreted and ironically brought more division than Christian unity.

While some may appeal to certain Protestant apologetics against the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic interpretations, I think it is unnecessary to bring out all of them. Perhaps it is my own naivety speaking but I do not see why it is a great crime for one to believe the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ- though I would take issue with those who wish to confine one’s salvation and growth in Christ to partaking of the elements in certain churches. Instead, I will be taking the position that Scripture does not indicate a literal transformation and does give indication to think otherwise. Whether or not the elements do go into the sort of transformation the EO and RC believe it does will not be addressed.

For now, the John passage will be considered and some of the intricacies will be ignored. The John passage is extremely helpful in the overall discussion because more of an explanation is given behind this language and John's influence was closer to Ignatius' time.

In the beginning of the John passage, Jesus has just fed the crowd and because of this they are looking for Him. Once He is found He recognizes that they are searching for Him because of the food He gave them earlier. He tells them they should instead be working for the food that gives eternal life which the Son of Man will give them. When asked how, Jesus tells them “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” They ask about the bread Moses gave them out of heaven and He attributes it to the Father and tells them He is the bread and that “he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe…For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” He then tells them they must eat His flesh and blood or reject eternal life. This caused many of the Jews to stumble since the idea of eating flesh and blood was abhorrent to them. Jesus tells them “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe…”

In this passage, Jesus tells them they must believe in Him in order to have life. They must eat His flesh and drink His blood. They are told that the words He has spoken to them are spirit and life…though some do not believe. There are no elements in this passage. He has already long fed them mirroring the gift of manna out of heaven. Now He tells them He is the bread out of heaven and that the words He speaks to them are life. His central message seems to be belief in Him and His words.

How does this play into the sacrament? It would seem as though Jesus is central to the sacrament. If a Protestant believes directly in Him and believes His words, it seems reasonable to suppose they will have partaken of Him just as those with whom Jesus was speaking to could have without any element around to partake of.

Still, what about the Jewish reaction? Does this indicate Jesus meant something literal? Not at all. Actually, throughout John up until this point in the book people have been mistaking His words for something literal. In John 2 Jesus declares, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews miss the point entirely, taking His words to be of the literal temple in Jerusalem. Or, take Nicodemus in chapter three. When Jesus tells him “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus replies back, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” This pattern continues to repeat as the Samaritan women wrongly assumes Jesus is speaking of water when He is referring to Himself or when soon after, the disciples think he went and got food since after all, He said He had food they did not know about. Sure enough, next in the sequence is our passage- which ought to now be interpreted literally? This would go against the flow of the passage and adds something that has been continually contradicted when Jesus gives one adequate explanation of what He means.

A Change of Heart:
Some time after this post was created I have changed my mind about the seriousness of the Roman Catholic belief about the body and blood being literal. It has been pointed out to me by a Roman Catholic that it is worshiped. If it is worshiped and is not Christ then the conclusion of idolatry is inescapable. I am not pleased with this idea but find this conclusion inescapable given what I hold to be true so far. It is my sincerest hope that I can be proven wrong on this point.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ignatius and the Eucharist (1)


A good question has recently been posed to me by a highly respected Eastern Orthodox friend. He asked about the Eucharist, which those that were outside of the Church in Ignatius’ time were not to partake of since they did not believe it to be the body and blood of Christ. This seemed to mirror the situation of the Protestants who were outside of the Eastern Orthodox Church and did not partake for the same reasons.

Unfortunately, due to a time limit I was not able to give a complete answer. I will try and do so here without going into every issue the Ignatius passages bring out (such as whether Protestants really ought to follow the “bishop”). Still, perhaps there will be an upcoming post on the subject once I complete some posts on Melito and one on Qumran.

The passage at the center of this question is the following: “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered four our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Symrnaeans Ch. VII).

Some would claim Protestants are in trouble according to Ignatius. After all, they do not accept the Eucharist to be the literal body and blood of Christ. Still, I think there are several things that need to be taken into consideration within the cultural context, the passage itself, and most importantly, Scripture.

First, it is necessary to remind readers that there is a larger framework to consider. At this time, there is no idea of a separation between the outward sign and its meaning. The two were tied together. For example, the question of whether or not one could be “saved” and not be baptized never occurred to these people. If one refused baptism, it most likely meant they did not want to be converted. Throughout Acts, we constantly see the two together whether or not the people were filled with the Holy Spirit before or after baptism. My point in all of this is to say that we are asking a question that would not have occurred to Ignatius. We must consider his context.

Second, Ignatius is existing in a context where those outside of the Church are actually denying Christ. The East and West have not split yet- further dissolving Christian unity and bringing about the Reformation. There are not people outside of fellowship who affirm Jesus came in the flesh, died and was resurrected. This is not a reality. Those outside are outside because they deny these things.

When speaking about the bishop and Church unity in him Ignatius adds, “and indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you, Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth” (Ignatius to the Ephesians). Ignatius isn’t speaking of some Protestant sect but of the heretics who have now successfully infiltrated the Church.

Third, it is key to know what the Eucharist meant to Ignatius. While it certainly stood at the center of Church unity, why was this? Because Christ stands at the center of the Church. He is what makes the Church the Church. In the passage cited above, Ignatius described the body of Christ. We see the essential tenants. Christ “suffered for our sins,” and “the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” The heretics deny this. In chapter V. of his epistle, Ignatius says of them:

“some ignorantly deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being advocates of death rather than of the truth. These persons neither have the prophets persuaded, nor the law of Moses, nor the Gospel even to this day, nor the sufferings we have individually endured. For they think also the same thing regarding us. For what does anyone profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death. I have not, however, thought good to write the names of such persons, inasmuch as they are unbelievers. Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to [a true belief in] Christ’s passion, which is our resurrection” [emphasis mine].

The heretics were not merely denying the Eucharist because they were not so sure it was actually the body and blood of Christ. They completely denied Jesus came in the flesh! This came out of a true denial of His passion and resurrection. As Ignatius reported in the other quote, they are the ones who abstained from the Eucharist and prayer and for this very reason. They denied the center of the faith- Christ. Since they did this, they denied the Eucharist as well.

Additional Passages to Wrestle With:

“Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses (Mat_18:19) such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resisteth the proud” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians Ch.V).

Also, “It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect18 has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth” (Ch. VI).