Thursday, October 10, 2019

Stump the Priest: Jacob Wrestling an Angel


Question: "Why did Jacob wrestle with an angel in Genesis 32, what does it mean?"

To understand this passage, you have understand the story of Jacob and Esau from the beginning (which begins at Genesis 25:19). They were twins, and rivals. Jacob's very name means "usurper" or "supplanter," because he was born grasping the heel of his brother who was born first. He then gained Esau's birthright in exchange for a pot of stew, when Esau was hungry after a long hunt, and then usurped the blessing he would have received from their father Isaac by trickery, and with the help of his mother. So Jacob's very name pointed to a flaw in his character. He left Canaan to go to his uncle Laban because his mother feared Esau would kill him. While in Haran, Jacob found himself on the receiving end of trickery, when his uncle tricked him into marrying Leah after seven years of laboring for the hand of Rachel. After laboring seven more years for Rachel, and then laboring more to gain cattle, Jacob finally left his uncle, and began the journey home.

On his way to Haran, Jacob had an encounter with God at Bethel, which was the beginning of his spiritual journey. This incident happened the night before Jacob would meet, after so many years, the brother he had wronged. All his family and all that he owned had crossed over the river, and he remained behind this night. He justly feared for his life and the lives of his family. And so during this night Jacob wrestled with an angel, which the Fathers tell us was the pre-incarnate Christ.

St. Ambrose writes:
"Therefore Jacob, who had purified his heart of all pretenses and was manifesting a peaceable disposition, first cast off all that was his, then remained behind alone and wrestled with God. For whoever forsakes worldly things comes nearer to the image and likeness of God. What is it to wrestle with God other than to enter upon the struggle for virtue, to contend with one who is stronger and to become a better imitator of God than the others are? Because Jacob's faith and devotion were unconquerable, the Lord revealed his hidden mysteries to him by touching the side of his thigh. For it was by descent from him that the Lord Jesus was to be born of a virgin, and Jesus would be neither unlike nor unequal to God. The numbness in the side of Jacob's thigh foreshadowed the cross of Christ, who would bring salvation to all people by spreading the forgiveness of sins throughout the whole world and would give resurrection to the departed by the numbness and torpidity of his own body. On this account the sun rightly rose on holy Jacob, for the saving cross of the Lord shone brightly on his lineage. And at the same time the Sun of justice rises on the person who recognizes God, because he is himself the everlasting Light" (Jacob and the Happy Life 7:30, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. II, Mark Sheridan, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2002) p. 218f)).
St. Augustine writes:
"So what does it mean, Jacob's wresting and refusing to let go? The Lord says in the Gospel, "The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and those who act violently plunder it [Matthew 11:12]." This is what we were saying earlier on: struggle, wrestle, to hold on to Christ, to love your enemy. You hold Christ here and now if you have loved your enemy. And what does the Lord himself say, that is, the angel in the person of the Lord, when he had got the upper hand and was holding him fast? He has touched the hollow of his thigh, and it has withered, and so Jacob was limping. He says to Jacob, "Let me go, it is already morning." He answered, "I will not let you go unless you bless me.: And he blessed Jacob. How? By changing his name: "You shall not be called Jacob but Israel; since you have got the upper hand with God, you shall also get the upper hand with men." That is the blessing. Look, it is a single man; in one respect he is touched and withers and in another he is blessed. This one single person in one respect has withered up and limps; in another he is blessed to give him vigor" (Sermon 5:6, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. II, Mark Sheridan, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2002) p. 220)).
It is important to note that the Angel asked Jacob to state his name, which was in a sense a confession of his sinful past of usurpation and deception. He is given a new name, and this incident is an image of the spiritual purification and perfection that Christ can work in the lives of those who like Jacob, struggle for virtue, and prevail.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Stump the Priest: The Feast of Tabernacles


Question: "What is the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles?"

The feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) was one the three great feasts of the Old Testament, along with Passover and Pentecost (Deuteronomy 16:16; Exodus 23:14; 34:23). Passover is obviously connected with the Pascha ("Pascha" being the Greek form of the Hebrew word for Passover "Pesach" (פֶּסַח)) of the New Testament. And Pentecost, which commemorated the giving of the Old Law, is connected with the giving of the Holy Spirit. However, the connection between the feast of Tabernacles and a New Testament counterpart is not nearly as obvious.

Josephus gives a good summary of how the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated during the time of Christ:
"Upon the fifteenth day of the same month [the seventh month], when the season of the year is changing for winter, the law enjoins us to pitch tabernacles in every one of our houses, so that we preserve ourselves from the cold of that time of the year; as also that when we should arrive at our own country, and come to that city which we should have then for our metropolis, because of the temple therein to be built, and keep a festival for eight days, and offer burnt-offerings, and sacrifice thank-offerings, that we should then carry in our hands a branch of myrtle, and willow, and a bough of the palm-tree, with the addition of the pome citron: That the burnt-offering on the first of those days was to be a sacrifice of thirteen bulls, and fourteen lambs, and fifteen rams, with the addition of a kid of the goats, as an expiation for sins; and on the following days the same number of lambs, and of rams, with the kids of the goats; but abating one of the bulls every day till they amounted to seven only. On the eighth day all work was laid aside, and then, as we said before, they sacrificed to God a bullock, a ram, and seven lambs, with a kid of the goats, for an expiation of sins. And this is the accustomed solemnity of the Hebrews, when they pitch their tabernacles" (Antiquities of the Jews 3:10:4).
The historical significance of the feast was to recall the journey of the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. It also marked the end of the Harvest. Of all the feasts, this feast was celebrated with the greatest joy. Everyone spent the days of the feast outside in tents or booths, and there were celebrations that went late into the night. Every morning at the temple there was a drawing of water at the pool of Siloam by the High Priest, which was then carried in procession to be offered along with the appointed sacrifices and hymns (see The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, by Alfred Edersheim, Book 4, Chapter 7, for more detail), and this was the occasion for the events recorded in John 7The Mishna, which recalls many of the traditions from the period before the Temple was destroyed, records this statement about this morning service, and the festivities that followed it each day: "He who did not see the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life" (Mishna, Sukkah 51a).

The Venerable Bede, commenting on Nehemiah 8:13-17, explains the spiritual significance of the feast to Christians, which he sees as an image of the Christian journey through this life, on our way to our heavenly homeland:
"These matters are written about more fully in Leviticus [Leviticus 23:34-43], and it is also written that they were ordered to be done in memory of that very long journey, on which the Lord, leading his people out of Egypt, made them dwell in tabernacles in the desert for forty years, daily revealing to them the precepts of his law through Moses. Moreover it was ordered that the setting up of tabernacles (which in Greek is called skenopegia) was to be done every year for seven days, that is, from the fifteenth day of the seventh month to the twenty-second. It is well worth our while to make a thorough examination of the mystery of this observance through spiritual investigation, especially since in the Gospel the Lord deigned to attend the same feast and, as he addressed the people who gathered there, dedicated it with his most holy words [John 7:2-14]. Our ancestors too, therefore, were set free from slavery in Egypt through the blood of a lamb and were led through the desert for forty years that they come to the promised land when through the Lord's passion the world was set from from slavery to the devil, and through the apostles the primitive church was gathered and was led as it were through the desert for forty years until it came to the homeland promised in heaven, because in imitation of the forty-day fast that Moses and Elijah and the Lord himself fulfilled [Exodus 24:18; 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8; Matthew 4:2], the primitive church used to lead a life of great continence, thirsting always for its eternal homeland, and having set itself completely apart from all the distractions of this world, conducted its life as though in secret in daily meditation on the divine law. In remembrance of this time, we, too, ought to dwell in tabernacles leaving our homes, that is, having forsaken the cares and pleasures of the world, we ought to confess that we are pilgrims in this life and have our homeland in heaven and desire that we may arrive there all the more quickly; this, too, in a holy feast in the seventh month (i.e., in the light of celestial joy) when the grace of the Holy Spirit, which was commended by the prophet as sevenfold [Isaiah 11:2-3], fills our heart. We are ordered to remain in these tabernacles for seven days because during the entire time of this life, which we accomplish in as many days, we mus bear in mind that, like our ancestors. we are dwellers and pilgrims on earth in the eyes of the Lord" (On Ezra and Nehemiah 3:27, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. V, Marco Conti, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2008) p. 355f).  
The Prophet Zechariah foretold of a time when the gentiles would also celebrate this feast:
"And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain" (Zechariah 14:16-17).
St. Cyril of Alexandria explains the meaning of this prophecy in a way very similar to the Venerable Bede:
"After saying that those making war on the churches and directing a lofty and arrogant attitude against holy Jerusalem would be caught up in penalties befitting them, he forecasts adoration by those left in their wake -- namely, adoration in Christ through faith. It is he, after all, who is the "expectation of the nations" [Genesis 49:10 LXX], as the patriarch put it; he is also set to be "light of nations, a covenant for the race, to open eyes of the blind, and bring out from their bondage those who are bound, and from prison those seated in darkness" [Isaiah 42:6-7]. Accordingly, he makes clear that, on leaving the gloom of idolatry and having broken the bonds of the devil's knavery, those from the nations will come to the light of truth and hasten to the yoke of the Savior. He means that the survivors from those who were punished, or those fighting against the churches, who are innumerable, will come up year by year to worship the King, the Lord almighty, and to celebrate the festival of Tabernacles. The Law of Moses, remember, ordered the feast of Tabernacles to be celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when the harvest had been brought in to the storehouses from the fields; consequently, he calls the feast "finale" since work in the fields was now complete. They were bidden take "fronds of palm trees, fruit of a handsome tree, dense foliage of a tree, willow branches," drink water from a brook, and rejoice in it.
     While the Law cited as the basis of the feast Israel's dwelling in tents when rescued from the oppression of the Egyptians [Leviticus 23:34-43], the event was in fact a type of the mystery of Christ. We too, in fact, were rescued from oppression by the devil, called to freedom through Christ, as I said, and became subject to him, the King and God of all, spurning the knavery of those formerly in power. We celebrate the real feast of Tabernacles, that is, the day of Christ's resurrection, when the bodies of all, despite being dissolved in corruption and in thrall to death, become solidified in him, as it were. After all, he is the resurrection; he is the life, the spoils of the dead, so to say, and "first-fruits of those fallen asleep" [John 11:251 Corinthians 15:20], filling us with spiritual harvest and, as it were, causing the produce collected from the fields to be stowed in the storerooms on high. He it is who will rewards us with life and enjoyment in paradise  -- obviously of a spiritual nature -- now that we have conquered sin, exude spiritual fragrance, and bear the handsome and commendable fruit of the evangelical way of life by living in a pure and holy manner. A further sign of this would be having the palm fronds and fruit of a handsome tree combined with the other foliage. He is the brook of delights from which the God and Father has given us to drink; he is the fount of life and the river of peace, who directs to us those called from the nations [Psalm 35[36]:9; Isaiah 66:12].
     To these matters, however, there has been partial reference, by us in other places. Those coming up to worship the King, the Lord almighty, and to celebrate the festival of Tabernacles, therefore, are those who are justified through faith in Christ. Those not coming up, by contrast, he threatens with ruin and punishment equal to that sustained by the persecutors and abusers; those opting not to love will suffer the same fate as the enemy. In my view, this is the meaning of what Christ himself said, "He who is not with is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters" [Luke 11:23]" (The Fathers of the Church: St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Twelve Prophets, Vol. 3, trans. Robert C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2012),  p. 273f).
So the feast of Tabernacles is about our spiritual journey to the Kingdom of Heaven, and it may be that its full significance with be revealed when we come to the New Jerusalem:
"And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Revelation 21:3-8).

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Stump the Priest: Gehenna


Question: "What does the word "Gehenna" mean?"

Most English Bibles translate three different Greek words as "Hell," but these terms do not all mean the same thing.

The word "Hades" (ᾅδης) is the term that the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament normally used to translate the Hebrew term "Sheol" (שׁאול), which refers to the abode of the dead, whether righteous or unrighteous, prior to Christ's Resurrection. The Greek term itself is taken from Greek Mythology, because the concept of Hades and Sheol were roughly equivalent. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) shows us how Hades/Sheol was understood by Christ. Both righteous and unrighteous men were understood to go there, but they did not experience the same thing.

The word "Tartarus" (τάρταρος) is used only once in the New Testament, in 2 Peter 2:4. This word likewise comes from Greek mythology, where it refers to a place of torment for the wicked.

The term "Gehenna" (γέεννα) is found very frequently in the New Testament, but is not found in the Old Testament, though the idea of a final place of torment for the wicked certainly is (e.g. Isaiah 66:24). We also do not find the word in Josephus. Philo likewise does not use this word, but he does use the word "Tartarus."

The term comes from an association with the Valley of Hinnom -- but not the one usually repeated. The common explanation is that the Valley of Hinnom (which is on the southern edge of the old city of Jerusalem) served as the city garbage dump, and that there was a perpetual fire there to burn garbage. This explanation originated from Rabbi David Kimchi's explanation that dates to around 1200 a.d., but this explanation is not supported by either archaeological evidence, or literary evidence from before or after that time (see The Myth of the Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna).

The reason that the Valley of Hinnom became associated with the place of eternal torment is that this was a location in which child sacrifice was practiced (2 Kings 23:10; Isaiah 30:33Jeremiah 7:32Jeremiah 19:6).

Joachim Jeremias, in the entry for the word "Gehenna" (γέεννα) in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament explains:
"This name [Gehenna] was given to the Wadi er-rababi, in South Jerusalem, which later acquired a bad reputation because sacrifices were offered in it to Moloch in the days of Ahaz and Manasseh (2 King 16:3; 21:6). The threats of judgment uttered over this sinister valley in Jer. 7:32; 19:6, c.f. Isaiah 31:9; 66:24, are the reason why the Valley of Hinnom came to be equated with the hell of the last judgment...."  (The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 1, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1964-1976), p.657).
No one is currently in Gehenna. The wicked go to Hades when they die, and experience a foretaste of the judgment that awaits them. They experience this apart from their bodies. At the Resurrection, they will be raised with their bodies, and will experience what is called "the second death," in Gehenna:
"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29).
"And death and hell [hades] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death" Revelation 20:14.
"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).
So when we think of Hell, we are generally thinking of what the term "Gehenna" is referring to, and that term is equivalent to the terms "Tartarus," and "Lake of fire."

The saints, after Christ's Resurrection are with Him in Paradise. If one dies in a state of sanctity they do not go to Hades. However, if someone dies in a state of repentance, but without having had a chance to bring forth all the fruits of repentance, we believe that they are not ready to enter immediately into the presence of God, but that at some point, through the prayers of the Church, they will be. They are given some period of time by God to grow in grace. They also experience a foretaste of what awaits them, before they actually enter into the presence of God.

For more information, see:

Stump the Priest: Prayers for the Dead in the Bible and in Tradition

Stump the Priest: Does Hades still Exist?


Thursday, September 05, 2019

Stump the Priest: Liturgical Colors


Question: "Why do we change colors of vestments and Icon stand covers? I know these are done according to church practices. However, could you explain each color's meaning and when they are changed?"

In the Typikon, which is a text that lays out how the services are supposed to be done, there are only references to light and dark vestments. The use of a color scheme came into use in the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1500's, and then were incorporated into Russian practice, though with changes. Eventually, these colors have been more or less adopted by other local Orthodox Churches, but not always used in the same way.

There are too many different practices to try to encompass all of them in a short article, but here is the color scheme generally used in the Russian Church:

1. Gold is generally used for lower-rank feasts of the Lord, and on weekdays and Sundays outside of Lent that do not have another seasonable color.

2. Blue is used for feasts of the Mother of God and the bodiless hosts, because blue is the color of the sky, and the Theotokos is the Queen of Heaven. Blue is also used for the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, which is in some sense a feast of the Lord, but also a feast of the Mother of God.

3. White is used for certain great feasts of the Lord: Nativity, Theophany, Pascha, Ascension, and Transfiguration.

4. Red is used for feasts and days commemorating the Cross of Our Lord, the Martyrs, and also for the Nativity Fast, the Apostles Fast, and the beginning of the Dormition Fast. It is also used on Holy Thursday, which commemorates the institution of the Eucharist.

In Russia, it has become the usual practice to wear red throughout the Paschal season. This was originally a Moscow practice, but in post-revolutionary Russia, it has become the norm throughout Russia. In the Russian Church Abroad, we do not follow this practice, but continue to wear white. However, because of this practice, in Russia, they wear a bright red for Pascha, but a darker red on all the other occasions that call for red.

Red obviously represents the Blood of Christ and of the Martyrs. When used during a fast, it is used as a darker color, but not so dark as the purple and black of Lent. For Pascha, it is because the Russian word for red (красная) is the related to the word for beautiful (красивая).

5. Green is used for Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, and Pentecost. In the case of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, it is related to the color of the palms and the leaves on the branches strewn before the Lord on his way from Bethany to Jerusalem. For Pentecost, it represents the new life of the Spirit.

6. Purple is worn on Saturdays and Sundays of Great Lent, and also on some minor feasts during Lent. It represents the royal purple of Kings, because this is a season dedicated to Lord.

7. Black is worn on most weekdays of Great Lent, because black is a color of mourning, and during this time we weep over our sins, in preparation for the joy of the Feast of Pascha.

The color of a feast is usually worn not only on the day of the feast, but on the forefeast and during the afterfeast, and on the apodosis.

These same colors are also used for different classes of saints, but there tends to less uniformity and more variety of practice. There is a chart that is fairly complete, which notes the usual practice in ROCOR, but also notes some of the more common differences in Russian practice. See: Colors of Liturgical Vestments (from the St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar)


Friday, August 30, 2019

Moral Heresy?


We have previously discussed Aristotle Papanikolaou's strange notion that, unlike the dogmas of the Church, Orthodox Christian morality is open to dispute and change (see The Living Church 2.0). In the wake of a recent conference in Oxford of Orthodox "scholars, pastors, clinicians, and other experts" who gathered to "dialogue" about LGBTQP+ issues, Papanikolaou has asserted that never in the history of the Church has the term "heresy" been used to describe a false teaching on a moral issue.

In the course of a Twitter exchange about the problems with this conference, I commented:
"It's the idea that holding the position that homosexual sex is not inherently sinful is within the bounds of acceptable opinion in the church that is the problem. That's not acceptable. That's heretical. St. Paul says it is contrary to sound doctrine."
Papanikolaou made two similar comments, in response:
"Never in the history of the Church has ‘heresy’ been used in relation to morality.  That’s how much you know as you pontificate (irony) on who’s a heretic and who is not.  Say what you will about us, but at least we don’t throw that word around."
"The more you talk the more it’s clear you don’t know what you are talking about and borrowing western categories.  Heresy was never, ever applied to morality, esp. not by St Paul and Jesus.  What surprises me is smart people who like your tweets."


So let's consider the facts here:

1. St. Paul and Moral Dogmas:

Does St. Paul teach that moral teachings of the Church are dogmas and doctrines? He most certainly does.

To understand St. Paul's teachings, we need to go back to the very first Council of the Church, the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15. The question in dispute was to what extent ought gentiles be held to obey the Mosaic Law. On one side, there were those who argued that gentiles had to become Jews, and live according to all of the ceremonial and moral laws of Moses. However, the Apostles said that gentiles were to be held instead to the basic laws God gave to Noah for all of mankind (see Genesis 9:1-17), and to the Moral Law of God, particularly with regard to sexual morality. They wrote to the gentile converts:
"...it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well" (Acts 15:28-29).
Some will object that Christians do not observe what the Apostles wrote with regard to eating the blood of animals, but while this is generally true of the heterodox, it is not true of the Orthodox (See Stump the Priest: The Council of Jerusalem on the Blood of Animals).

And when the text speaks of "fornication," the word is porneia (πορνεία), which refers to any sex which is unlawful, and in the Jewish and Christian context, this means any sexual relations forbidden by the moral law of God, as expressed in the Scriptures, including homosexual sex (see The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 6, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1964-1976), p. 587-595) .

So is this decree of the Apostles, that all Christians must refrain from sexual immorality, dogma? Well the Scriptures say that this is exactly what it is. The Apostles obviously did not post their epistle to their website. The way this epistle was disseminated to gentile converts was by people like St. Paul himself. We are told in the chapter immediately following the record of the Council of Jerusalem that St. Paul and his companions delivered this epistle as they went on their next missionary journey:
"And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decrees, that were ordained by the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem" (Acts 16:4).
And what is the Greek text for "the decrees"?  "τα δογματα" ta dogmata (i.e. the dogmas).

St. Paul also does in fact number sexual immorality (fornication) in general, and homosexual sex in particular, among a number of things that are contrary to "sound doctrine":
"But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites [αρσενοκοιταις], for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust" (1 Timothy 1:8-11).
If a sin is contrary to sound doctrine, then teaching that this sin was not actually a sin would obviously be heretical. Falling into a sin is sinful, but not heretical. However, teaching that a sin is not really a sin is both sinful and heretical. It is in fact a very serious heresy, because people cannot repent of a sin that they do not believe to be a sin, and this effectively shuts the doors of repentance in the face of sinners who are misled by this error.

2. A Moral Heresy Condemned By Christ Himself

One of the very earliest heresies in the first century Church was the heresy of the Nicolaitans. In the second chapter of Revelation, in Christ's epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, after warning the Ephesians about their having lost their first love, he praised them on one count: 
"But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Revelation 2:6).
Then, in His letter to the Church at Pergamos, he writes:
"But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate" (Revelation 2:14-15).
So, the first question is did the Fathers of the Church understand Christ to be speaking of a heresy, and was that heresy with regard to their teachings on morality?

St. Andrew of Caesarea (563–637), wrote what is indisputably the most authoritative commentary on the book of Revelation; and commenting on Revelation 2:6, he says:
"Anyone who comes upon the works of the Nicolaitans, which are hated by God, will know their detested heresy" (Andrew of Caesarea, trans. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Andrew of Caesarea, Commentary on the Apocalypse, (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2011), p. p. 64, emphasis added).
Reading just the text of Revelation 2:14-15, you might think that here Christ is speaking of two different, though perhaps related, heresies, but in fact, "the doctrine of Balaam" is referenced directly with regard to the Nicolaitans:
"So it seems this city [Pergamos] had possessed two difficulties: First, the majority was Greek [i.e. Pagan], and second, among those who were called believers, the shameful Nicolaitans had sown evil "tares among the wheat" [Matthew 13:24-30]. For this reason he recalled Balaam, saying who in Balaam taught Balak, through these words signifying that the Balaam of the mind, the devil, by means of the perceptible Balak, taught the stumbling block to the Israelites, fornication and idolatry. For by means of that pleasure they were thrown down into performing this to Beel-phegor" [Baal of Peor, Numbers 25] (St. Andrew of Caesarea, Ibid., p.68).
Oecumenius (who wrote around late 6th or early 7th century) likewise sees the reference to Balaam as applying to the Nicolaitans, rather than to some other group in Pergamos (Oecumenius, Ancient Christians Texts: Greek Commentaries on Revelation: Oecumenius and Andrew of Caesarea, trans. William C Weinrich, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2011) p. 13).

What else about the Nicolaitans can we find in the writings of the Fathers?

St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170–235) wrote that this heresy originated with the deacon Nicolaus that we read about in Acts 6:5:
"But Nicolaus has been a cause of the wide-spread combination of these wicked men. He, as one of the seven (that were chosen) for the diaconate, was appointed by the Apostles. (But Nicolaus) departed from correct doctrine, and was in the habit of inculcating indifferency of both life and food. And when the disciples (of Nicolaus) continued to offer insult to the Holy Spirit, John reproved them in the Apocalypse as fornicators and eaters of things offered unto idols" (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 7:24).
St. Irenaeus (c.130–c.202) writes along the same lines:
"The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. (Irenaeus. Against Heresies, 1:26:3)
Clement of Alexandria (150–215), on the other hand, excused Nicolaus himself, and wrote that the heresy originated from a misunderstanding of the things Nicolaus taught:
"Such also are those (who say that they follow Nicolaus, quoting an adage of the man, which they pervert, “that the flesh must be abused.” But the worthy man showed that it was necessary to check pleasures and lusts, and by such training to waste away the impulses and propensities of the flesh. But they, abandoning themselves to pleasure like goats, as if insulting the body, lead a life of self-indulgence; not knowing that the body is wasted, being by nature subject to dissolution; while their soul is buried in the mire of vice; following as they do the teaching of pleasure itself, not of the apostolic man" (The Miscellianes 2:20).
And Eusebius ( c. 260– c. 340), agreed with Clements on the origins of this heresy:
"At this time the so-called sect of the Nicolaitans made its appearance and lasted for a very short time. Mention is made of it in the Apocalypse of John. They boasted that the author of their sect was Nicolaus, one of the deacons who, with Stephen, were appointed by the apostles for the purpose of ministering to the poor. Clement of Alexandria, in the third book of his Stromata, relates the following things concerning him. “They say that he had a beautiful wife, and after the ascension of the Saviour, being accused by the apostles of jealousy, he led her into their midst and gave permission to any one that wished to marry her. For they say that this was in accord with that saying of his, that one ought to abuse the flesh. And those that have followed his heresy, imitating blindly and foolishly that which was done and said, commit fornication without shame. But I understand that Nicolaus had to do with no other woman than her to whom he was married, and that, so far as his children are concerned, his daughters continued in a state of virginity until old age, and his son remained uncorrupt. If this is so, when he brought his wife, whom he jealously loved, into the midst of the apostles, he was evidently renouncing his passion; and when he used the expression, ‘to abuse the flesh,’ he was inculcating self-control in the face of those pleasures that are eagerly pursued. For I suppose that, in accordance with the command of the Saviour, he did not wish to serve two masters, pleasure and the Lord" (Eusebius, Church History 3:29:1-3).
There is no doubt that the Nicolaitans were considered heretics, and that their heresy consisted in teaching that it was acceptable for Christians to engage in sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols... both things being specifically contrary to the dogmas of the Council of Jerusalem.

So yes, there have been moral heresies in the history of the Church. There haven't been many moral heresies, because even heretics have generally not dared challenge Christian morality, because it is so clearly taught in Scripture. But the folks at "Public Orthodoxy," and those cheering them on, are pushing a type of heresy that even most heretics would not have stooped to.

For more information, see:

The Living Church 2.0

Sermon "To the Church of Pergamos" (Revelation 2:18-29)

Friday, August 23, 2019

Stump the Priest: Sacraments and Sinful Priests

St. Augustine arguing with Donatists

Question: "I have a recent convert friend who is worried about the validity of his chrismation after the priest left the Church. What should we say to people who received sacraments from priests who either apostatize later or turn out to be grossly immoral, and so now doubt the validity of those sacraments?"

The validity of the sacraments do not depend on the personal worthiness of the priests. This is an issue that was dealt with very early on in Church history. When the dust was settling from the last great Roman persecution of the Church, there was a controversy that arose in North Africa, because there was a bishop, Felix of Aptunga, that was accused of having been a traditor, which means that he was accused of having handed over sacred texts to the Romans to be burned, in order to avoid further persecution. This bishop denied the charge, but the Donatists believed him to be guilty, and therefore declared that any sacraments performed by him were invalid. The Church condemned Donatism as a heresy.

Of course, if a clergyman really is guilty of a sin that warrants he be removed from his office, this should happen, and there are canons that lay out that process. But imagine, for a moment, if we accepted the claims of the Donatists. You could never know for sure if you had received a valid sacrament, because you could never be sure that the priest or bishop performing that sacrament was worthy enough to have performed it. You could never be sure if you were really married sacramentally. You could never know for sure that when you received Communion, that you were really receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. You could never be sure that you were even really baptized. And even if your parish priest was a saint, if the bishop who ordained him was secretly immoral, even his own sanctity would be no guarantee that he was even a real priest.

What the Church teaches is that so long as a clergyman performs sacraments while they are in good standing with the Church, the sacraments he performs are true sacraments. After all, the clergy preside over the sacraments, but they do not perform them alone. They act on behalf of the Church, and the prayers of the entire Church and the grace of the Holy Spirit that is present in the Church ensure that the sacraments are grace-filled.

The teaching of the Church on this subject is not only reassuring to the laity, it is also reassuring to the clergy. I am sure most clergy have a sense of personal unworthiness, and if the validity of the sacraments depended on their personal worthiness, they could not in good conscience attempt to perform them.

It is instructive to consider the prayer that the priest says during the singing of the Cherubic Hymn at the Liturgy:
"None is worthy among them that are bound with carnal lusts and pleasures, to approach or to draw nigh, or to minister unto Thee, O King of glory, for to serve Thee is a great and fearful thing even unto the heavenly hosts themselves.  Yet because of Thine ineffable and immeasurable love for mankind, without change or alteration Thou didst become man, and didst become our High Priest, and didst deliver unto us the ministry of this liturgical and bloodless sacrifice, for Thou art the Master of all.  Thou alone, O Lord our God, dost rule over those in heaven and those on earth, art borne upon the throne of the Cherubim, art Lord of the Seraphim and King of Israel, Thou alone art holy and restest in the saints.  I implore Thee, therefore, Who alone art good and inclined to listen: Look upon me, Thy sinful and unprofitable servant, and purge my soul and heart of a wicked conscience, and, by the power of Thy Holy Spirit, enable me, who am clothed with the grace of the priesthood, to stand before this Thy Holy Table, and to perform the sacred Mystery of Thy holy and immaculate Body and precious Blood.  For unto Thee do I draw nigh, bowing my neck, and I pray Thee: Turn not Thy countenance away from me, neither cast me out from among Thy children, but vouchsafe that these gifts be offered unto Thee by me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant: For Thou art He that offereth and is offered, that accepteth and is distributed, O Christ our God, and unto Thee do we send up glory, together with Thine unoriginate Father, and Thy Most holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages."

Friday, August 16, 2019

Stump the Priest: Did Christ quote from the Septuagint?


Question: "I have heard that Christ quoted the Septuagint. Is there a listing of these quotes?"

It is a generally recognized fact that "the writers of the New Testament used almost exclusively the Greek Septuagint" (Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the making of the Christian Bible (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 850. And we find this in quotations of the Old Testament from Christ as well.

For example, when Christ entered into Jerusalem before his Passion, and the chief priests and scribes were expressing their disapproval of the children crying "Hosanna to the son of David!", Christ said:
"Yea; have ye never read, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?"" (Matthew 21:16).
This is a reference to Psalm 8:2, which according to the Masoretic Hebrew text, reads:
"Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger" (Psalm 8:2 KJV).
Which is close, but significantly different when it comes to the very reason why Christ quoted from this Psalm in the first place. However, when you look at the Septuagint text, we find the text exactly as Christ quoted it:
"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou perfected praise, because of Thine enemies, to destroy the enemy and avenger" (Psalm 8:2, LXX).
The Greek text of Matthew 21:16 and the Greek text of Psalm 8:2 in the Septuagint are identical:
"ἐκ στόματος νηπίων καὶ θηλαζόντων κατηρτίσω αἶνον."
You can find a list of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, which compares the Hebrew  and Septuagint readings here:
Table of Old Testament quotes in the New Testament, in English translation, by Joel Kalvesmaki
You can find a similar list, with the differences highlighted, by R. Grant Jones, by clicking here.

Update: As to the question of whether Christ actually quoted from the Greek Septuagint, or simply from the Hebrew text-type that was behind the Septuagint, there is no way to know. Perhaps there was a little of both, but in either case, His quotations match the Septuagint in substance.

For more information, see:

Stump the Priest: The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Recommendations on Editions of the King James Version


The first question to ask before you get a Bible is what translation you should use. For an article on that question, see An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible. But if you want to get a copy of the King James Version, you have a lot of options. There are several factors to consider when you are considering which edition to buy: 1. the text itself (font size, paragraphing, etc), 2. the notes, 3. the appendices, 4. the binding, and 5. the cost. There are more options out there than would be practical to cover in one article, so I am going to focus on the options I would most recommend.

1. Cambridge New Paragraph Bible with the Apocrypha

The all around best text of the KJV, despite the font size (in my opinion), is the Cambridge New Paragraph Bible with the Apocrypha. This is the only edition of the KJV that includes the deuterocanonical books that is currently in print. It uses modern spelling, punctuation and paragraphing, it has the original KJV margin notes, but no cross references. It is also only available in black text (i.e., no red letter editions).

You can get it in a hard back version (for about $38); or you can get in a nice calfskin cover (for about $118). The shortcoming of this text is that it is printed in an 8.5 point font. You can still get the text in a 10 point font in calfskin if you contact Cambridge directly, but this is the original edition which had a few fairly minor typos that were corrected in the current edition. If you are interested in that text, click here for details. These editions have no appendices, maps, or a concordance, but it does have the full dedicatory epistle to King James, as well as the introduction of the translators to the readers (which was included in the original editions of the KJV, but which is normally omitted in most editions currently available). This edition is, I believe, especially useful when you are teaching your children to read, because the spelling, punctuation, and the layout of the text will not throw them (see How to teach your children to read and understand the King James Version of the Bible).

A review of the hardback edition of the Cambridge New Paragraph Bible

An edition that is somewhat similar, but which does not include the deuterocanonical books, or have the revised spelling or punctuation, but which is laid out in modern paragraph format, is the Cambridge Clarion KJV. It is in an 8.75 point font, and has a "Readers Companion", which has a number of useful features. Click here for a video review.

2. Cambridge Cameo KJV with Apocrypha

If you don't mind 8 point font, the Cambridge Cameo with Apocrypha has the advantage of having the full margin notes and cross references throughout the text, including the deuterocanonical books. It is available in calfskin currently for about $133.00. How long it will be available is unclear, because it is listed as being out of stock on several websites, including Cambridge. This text is the traditional Cambridge KJV text with double columns and center column references.

Review of the Cambridge Cameo KJV with Apocrypha

3. The Cambridge Turquoise

There are a number of other Cambridge editions to consider, but what I like about the Turquoise is that it has the traditional Cambridge KJV text, with the original KJV margin notes, and standard Cambridge Cross references. It has maps and a concordance in the back, and the dedicatory epistle and translators introduction to the reader at the beginning. And what I like best about this particular edition is that it is in 11 point font, which is very easy on the eyes. It does not include the deuterocanonical books, but the margin cross references frequently reference them. You can get either a black text only, or a red letter edition.

You can get this in a top of the line goatskin cover from Cambridge for around $200, or a calfskin for about $140. However, if you want the same text from another source, you can save money by getting it from Church Bible Publishers in a calfskin cover, for $75. Cambridge Bibles are printed on the best paper, and are bound very well, and so the quality from them is a little bit better, but Church Bible Publishers produce very high quality Bibles as well, and because this edition is public domain, it is essentially identical to the Cambridge edition between the covers, and is about half the price. Church Bible Publishers is a non-profit ministry, and so they sell their Bibles at close to the actual costs of production.

A review of the Cambridge Turquoise Reference Bible

This review compares the Cambridge Turquoise and the Church Bible Publishers Turquoise

Update: Church Bible Publishers has come out with a new edition of their Turquoise KJV that increased the font to 12 point. It is still $75.

4. The Westminster Reference Bible

The Westminster Reference Bible is produced by the Trinitarian Bible Society, which like Church Bible Publishers, is a non-profit ministry. This edition is a fairly recent computer setting, and so the font is very crisp and clear. You can get it in a large print 11.8 point font (which is what I would recommend), in a mid-size 9.6 point font, or a compact 7.3 point font. The large print text comes in a proportionately large size Bible, but personally I like it -- though some people do find in a bit unwieldy. If you don't mind the smaller size fonts, the other editions are closer to typical bibles in size. This edition has the original KJV margin notes, and the most extensive cross references of any edition of the KJV. It also provides definitions in the margins of any obscure words, or words that have change in meaning since the KJV was translated. It has 4 columns per page, and so the reference columns are specific to a text column, and so it is easy to see which references go with which text. It does not include the deuterocanonical books, and there is no red letter option, but it does have color maps. You can get the large print edition in a calfskin cover for about $81.00.The mid-size is very manageable, and readable, it sells in the calfskin cover for about $70.00. You can also get it in large print hardback for about $27; and the mid-size hardback for $18. The mid-size edition has a concordance, but the larger and smaller sizes do not. This Bible also has an introduction which explains how the column references work (which most bibles do not), and each chapter has a chapter summary at the beginning, as did the original King James version. Aside from the fact that it does not have the deuterocanonical books, this edition has a lot to recommend it, and because it defines obscure words in the margins, even people who are not used to the KJV text could start reading this text and do so without a great deal of difficulty.

Review of the Large Print Westminster KJV

5. The Thomas Nelson Premier KJV

If you want a goatskin Bible, but you don't want to pay $200 to get one, this is a great option. It does not have the deuterocanonical books, the original KJV margin notes, or the translator's introduction to the reader, but it is in a new comfort print typeface, and in 12 point font, which is very easy on the eyes. It has a good concordance. It also defines obscure words and phrases in the margin notes... and does so a bit more thoroughly than the Westminster does, though I often find the margin notes explain words and phrases that are not really obscure to me; however, this is also a text that even someone unfamiliar with the KJV could begin reading without difficulty, as a result. The quality of the binding is amazing, and it feels very good in the hand when you read it. You can get it from Christian Book Distributors for $85.49, which is amazingly cheap, given the quality of the text and binding. Because they use red ink for verse numbers, and book titles, there is no version of this with the words of Christ in red.

Review of the Thomas Nelson Premier KJV

6. Giant Print KJV

If you need a larger font than the editions above offer, Local Church Bible Publishers (yet another non-profit ministry), publishes an edition in an 18 point font, with a fairly bold text. It does not have the deuterocanonical books, or much else other than the text itself, but it is nicely bound in cowhide, and is a red-letter edition. It is available for $72 dollars.

Local Church Bible Publishers Giant Print KJV

7. Bi-Lingual Editions of the KJV

There are many bi-lingual editions that include the KJV. For example, if you want a KJV with a parallel Russian Synodal Bible, you can get it from Amazon for $45.95. You can get a parallel KJV Reina Valera Bible from a number of sources. And this is probably true of most major languages.

If you are interested in getting a Bible imprinted with a name, either for yourself or as a gift, Christian Book Distributors and EvangelicalBible.com both offer that as an option. I think this is especially a good idea for parents when giving a good quality Bible to their children when they reach young adulthood. It is something they will keep for the rest of their lives, and if you teach them well, they will use it too.

8. Deuterocanonical Texts

One solution to the problem of KJV editions that lack them is to buy a copy of "The Rest of the Old Testament," By Rdr. Peter Gardner, as a supplementary text. This text cost $14.95.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Beauty and the Bible

A Cambridge Cameo King James Bible, produced in the 70's

Beauty in a Translation Matters

For a number of years now, the best selling translation of the Bible in English has been the New International Version (NIV). Generally the King James Version (KJV) has maintained second place, however, this past month (according to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) it was actually in third place, with the new-comer, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) in second place --though this is probably because it is a new version.

However, if instead of asking which translation is selling the most, we ask which translation is the most used, by people who actually read their Bibles, a very different picture emerges. In 2014, The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, conducted a study, entitled: "The Bible in American Life," and what they found was that of those who actually read the Bible, 55% used the KJV, 19% use the NIV, 7% use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), 6% used the New American Bible (NAB), 5% use the Living Bible (TLB), and 8% use some other translation.

I am sure that there is not just one reason that accounts for this entirely. I would imagine that some stick to the KJV because it is more deeply rooted in the culture, and their religious tradition. However, I think a good part of the reason for this is beauty. The KJV is simply a far more beautiful translation than any other. There is not even a close contender on that front.

Personally, I have been making a point of doing some of my personal Scripture reading out of the Orthodox Study Bible, because I want to be more familiar with its Old Testament translation. The Orthodox Study Bible uses contemporary English -- but it does preserve some of the cadence of the KJV, because it's Old Testament text used the New King James Version (NKJV) as its starting point, and in the New Testament, it is identical to the NKJV. However, despite the fact that it is one of the better examples of a contemporary English translation, reading that text compared to reading the King James is a bit like the difference between eating a hot dog and eating a good steak. A hot dog is better than nothing, and can even be enjoyable on some level, but when given a choice, most people will go with a steak. I make a point of reading the Orthodox Study Bible first each day, simply because I have found doing the least pleasant tasks first, and holding back on the more pleasant tasks, as a reward, is the best way to get them all done. I thoroughly enjoy reading the KJV, and look forward to it very much. And often, I will read it outside of my normal reading plan, later in the day, just because it is a joy to do so. And compared with the NIV, the Orthodox Study Bible is the Sistine Chapel.

People often buy other translations, because they are not used to reading the KJV and they have been convinced that it is too hard to read, but while reading a text like the NIV may be easier on the front end, it has all the beauty of reading a car repair manual, and about as much in it that resonates in the soul or inspires the reader. I think this explains why so many people buy that text, but so few people, comparatively, actually read it with any regularity.

I still have a copy of the NIV that I acquired not long after that translation was first published. And I did read it for a few years, but I have not even cracked it open in close to two decades. On the other hand, I have a copy of the KJV that my mother gave me a year or two earlier (identical to the one pictured above), and I still use it.

For More Information, See:

An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible

King James English and Orthodox Worship

How to teach your children to read and understand the King James Version of the Bible

Friday, July 26, 2019

Stump the Priest: The Deuterocanonical Books in the New Testament

The Maccabean Martyrs, which we read about in 2 Maccabees 7
who are also referenced in Hebrews 11:35

Question: "Does the New Testament quote from the deuterocanonical books?"

There are no direct, complete quotations from the deuterocanonical books in the New Testament, but this is also true of several books in the Hebrew Old Testament canon, such as Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Esther, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and several of the Minor Prophets. So obviously this is not proof that these books are not Scripture.

However, direct quotations are not the only way that the New Testament makes use of Old Testament texts. Often we find allusions to these texts, that would have generally been picked up by those familiar with them, and there are many allusions to the deuterocanonical books in the New Testament.

Here are some of the clearer examples:

1. In the sermon on the mount, Christ says:
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matthew 6:19-20).
The parallel passage in Luke says:
" Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth" (Luke 12:33).
There is nothing parallel to this text in the Jewish canon, but there is in book of Sirach:
"Lose thy money for thy brother and thy friend, and let it not rust under a stone to be lost. Lay up thy treasure according to the commandments of the most High, and it shall bring thee more profit than gold. Shut up alms in thy storehouses: and it shall deliver thee from all affliction. It shall fight for thee against thine enemies better than a mighty shield and strong spear" (Sirach 29:10-13).
2. In both Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21, we find Christ using the phrase "Lord of heaven and earth" in prayer. This is a familiar phrase to us now, but it is not found anywhere in the Old Testament, except in Tobit 7:18.

3. In Matthew 27:43:, we find the chief priests, elders, and scribes mocking Christ as he hung on the Cross, and saying:
"He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God."
You find margin references in most Bibles that point you to Psalm 22:8 [21:8 in the LXX], which says:
"He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him."
Now this passage is close, and certainly this is a prophecy of this mockery, but the assumption of these mockers is that God coming to Christ's aid would vindicate that he is in fact the Son of God, which is not specified in that psalm. However, it is specified in the Wisdom of Solomon:
"For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies" (Wisdom 2:18).
4. In the John 10:22, we find a reference to the "feast of the dedication" (better known to us as Hanukkah, which was established during the Maccabean period, and we find the establishment of that feast recorded in 1 Maccabees 4:59:
"Moreover Judas and his brethren with the whole congregation of Israel ordained, that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu, with mirth and gladness."
5. In Romans 1:20-32, if you have a Cambridge KJV with margin notes, you will see that they reference all of Wisdom chapters 13 through 15 as parallel to this passage, but this is most obvious in the first part of each of these respective sections:
"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:20-21).
"Surely vain are all men by nature, who are ignorant of God, and could not out of the good things that are seen know him that is: neither by considering the works did they acknowledge the workmaster" (Wisdom 13:1).
And further on in that section, St. Paul makes the connection between falling into idolatry and sexual immorality, which clearly parallels Wisdom 14:12,24-27:
"For the devising of idols was the beginning of spiritual fornication, and the invention of them the corruption of life. They kept neither lives nor marriages any longer undefiled: but either one slew another traitorously, or grieved him by adultery.... So that there reigned in all men without exception blood, manslaughter, theft, and dissimulation, corruption, unfaithfulness, tumults, perjury, disquieting of good men, forgetfulness of good turns, defiling of souls, changing of kind, disorder in marriages, adultery, and shameless uncleanness. For the worshipping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil." 
6. In Ephesians 6:13-17, where St. Paul speaks of putting on the armor of God, there are definite parallels with a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon, which speaks figuratively of armor actually worn by God Himself, and this connection is also noted in the Cambridge KJV margin notes:
"He shall take to him his jealousy for complete armour, and make the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies. He shall put on righteousness as a breastplate, and true judgment instead of an helmet. He shall take holiness for an invincible shield. His severe wrath shall he sharpen for a sword, and the world shall fight with him against the unwise" (Wisdom 5:17-20).
Most directly parallel is the reference to the "breastplate of righteousness," which in the Greek text of Wisdom is "ἐνδύσεται θώρακα δικαιοσύνην"" and in Ephesians it is "ενδυσαμενοι τον θωρακα της δικαιοσυνης."

7. In Hebrews 11:35, as St. Paul recounts the heroes of the Faith of the Old Testament, we read:
"Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection."
In the original 1611 King James text, there were not nearly as many margin cross references as in later editions, but for this verse, it refers the reader to 2 Maccabees 7, in which we read about seven brothers who were tortured to death for their faith, and were encouraged to not give in by their mother, and notably, in verse 14, we read:
"So when he [the fourth brother] was ready to die he said thus, "It is good, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by him: as for thee [Antiochus], thou shalt have no resurrection to life"" (2 Maccabees 7:14).
For More Information, See:

Stump the Priest: What is the "Apocrypha"?

Stump the Priest: The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text


Friday, July 19, 2019

Stump the Priest: What is the "Apocrypha"?


Question: "What do the terms "apocrypha" and "deuterocanonical" mean, and how does the Orthodox Church view them?"

The question of the Biblical canon is a somewhat complicated one, because it developed over a very long period of time, and there certainly have been some historical disagreements on the matter. The word "canon" comes the Greek word κανών, which means a measuring rod, or a rule. And so when we speak of the canon of Scripture, we are speaking of the lists of books that affirmed to be Scripture.

Christians have a precisely defined New Testament Canon, about which there is no dispute... at least not since the 4th century, and this is due in part because of a heretic by the name of Marcion who produced a very truncated New Testament canon, which included only the Gospel of Luke and some of the Epistles of St. Paul, which he edited to fit his heretical views. And then there were also heretical books that claimed to be written by Apostles, but which were not which the Church wanted to clearly reject. There was never any dispute about most of the books of the New Testament, but there were a few books that were not immediately accepted throughout the Church, but were eventually.

When it comes to the Old Testament canon, there is a precisely defined core canon, and fairly well defined next layer, and then less clearly defined edges. So why the precision in the case of the new, but not the Old? This is partly because there was not nearly as much controversy on the question, which is not to say that there were no disagreements, but the level of concern over these disagreements did not rise to nearly the same level. It was not until the time of the Protestant Reformation that this question did become a bigger issue, because for Protestants who generally took a low view of Tradition, whether or not a book was really part of Scripture became almost an all or nothing question. Either the book was Scripture, in which case it had all authority; or it was not scripture, in which case it had essentially no authority, though it might be a matter of some historical interest.

When we speak of the Canonical books of the Old Testament, or the "Protocanonical" books as Roman Catholics put it, we have general agreement. These books are the same as the books recognized by the Jews as Scripture. The only difference you find is that in some canonical lists the books of Baruch is sometimes listed as part of these books, and Esther is not.

But what are the names used for the "extra" books that are not part of the undisputed Old Testament Canon? Many early Fathers simply made no distinction, and referred to them as Scripture. Then you have some sources that refer to these books as "non-canonical"... but we will need to consider further what they really mean by that. St. Athanasius the Great referred to these books as "readable" books -- books not included in the Jewish canon, but which could be read in Church in the services. Then you have the term "Deuterocanonical," which is, I think, a useful term, but it is a Roman Catholic term that came into use to counter the Protestant rejection of these books. The implication of this name is that these books comprise a second Old Testament Canon, or you could say a list of canonical books which were known not to have been accepted by the Jews, but which were accepted by Christians. Then you have Protestants who labeled these books as "Apocrypha." To these terms we could add the term "Pseudepigrapha", which is a label applied to many texts that are almost universally rejected, but which claim the names of Old Testament saints as their authors.

There is a very interesting comment by Origen in his letter to Africanus (ANF v. IV, pp 386ff.), in which he responds to Africanus, who had asked him why he quoted from the portion of the book of Daniel which contains the story of Susanna, which is not found in the Hebrew text. Origen responds that he was not unaware of this fact (after all, he produced a six column text of the Old Testament,  the Hexapla, which was the first critical edition of the Old Testament, and which compared the Hebrew text with various Greek editions). Origen defended the authenticity of this portion of Daniel. His response is detailed, but let me highlight a few points:
"And, forsooth, when we notice such things, we are forthwith to reject as spurious the copies in use in our Churches, and enjoin the brotherhood to put away the sacred books current among them, and to coax the Jews, and persuade them to give us copies which shall be untampered with, and free from forgery!  Are we to suppose that that Providence which in the sacred Scriptures has ministered to the edification of all the Churches of Christ, had no thought for those bought with a price, for whom Christ died; whom, although His Son, God who is love spared not, but gave Him up for us all, that with Him He might freely give us all things?
In all these cases consider whether it would not be well to remember the words, “Thou shalt not remove the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set.” Nor do I say this because I shun the labour of investigating the Jewish Scriptures, and comparing them with ours, and noticing their various readings.  This, if it be not arrogant to say it, I have already to a great extent done to the best of my ability, labouring hard to get at the meaning in all the editions and various readings; while I paid particular attention to the interpretation of the Seventy, lest I might to be found to accredit any forgery to the Churches which are under heaven, and give an occasion to those who seek such a starting-point for gratifying their desire to slander the common brethren, and to bring some accusation against those who shine forth in our community. And I make it my endeavour not to be ignorant of their various readings, lest in my controversies with the Jews I should quote to them what is not found in their copies, and that I may make some use of what is found there, even although it should not be in our Scriptures. For if we are so prepared for them in our discussions, they will not, as is their manner, scornfully laugh at Gentile believers for their ignorance of the true reading as they have them.  So far as to the History of Susanna not being found in the Hebrew."
Two important points are made here: Christians should use the texts preserved by the Church, and not feel like we have to go cap in hand to the Jews to find out what the Bible is. However, it is important for us to know what texts they accept and do not, so that when speaking to them, we not appear to be ignorant, and thus harm our witness to them.

Skipping further on in the text we find Origen saying that the reason for many of the omissions in the Hebrew texts are because the Scribes and Pharisees omitted things that made them look bad:
"But probably to this you will say, Why then is the “History” not in their Daniel, if, as you say, their wise men hand down by tradition such stories?  The answer is, that they hid from the knowledge of the people as many of the passages which contained any scandal against the elders, rulers, and judges, as they could, some of which have been preserved in uncanonical writings (Apocrypha).  As an example, take the story told about Isaiah; and guaranteed by the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is found in none of their public books."
Here Origen gives an interesting meaning to the term "Apocrypha" (hidden books). His argument is that the story of Susanna was omitted in the Hebrew text because it made the Jewish elders look bad. If you look at the Wisdom of Solomon, you could see how they might also have had incentive to have hidden this book too.
"Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. He was made to reprove our thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men's, his ways are of another fashion. We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected" (Wisdom 2:12-20).
This is a very clear prophecy of the attitude which the Jewish leaders would take toward Christ. This text was used very effectively by Christians in the Early Church, and the Jews had good reason to want to dismiss it.

I think Origen puts his finger on the reason why many Fathers made a distinction between the "canonical" books of the Old Testament which the Jews accepted, and the books which they did not accept. Even to this day, you still find these books referred to as "non-canonical" by contemporary Orthodox writers, who mean by that only that they are not in the Jewish canon.

For example, Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy, in The Law of God, wrote:
"Besides the canonical books, a part of the Old Testament is composed of non-canonical books, sometimes called Apocrypha among non-Orthodox. These are books which the Jews lost and which are not in the contemporary Hebrew text of the Old Testament.  They are found in the Greek translations of the Old Testament, made by the 70 translators of the Septuagint three centuries before the birth of Christ (271 B.C.). These book have been included in the Bible from ancient times and are considered by the Church to be sacred Scripture. The translation of the Septuagint is accorded special respect in the Orthodox Church. The Slavonic translation of the Bible was made from it. 
To the non-canonical books of the Old Testament belong:
1. Tobit
2. Judith
3. The Wisdom of Solomon
4. Ecclesiasticus,  or the Wisdom of Sirach
5. Baruch
6. Three books of Maccabees
7. The Second and Third book of Esdras
8. The additions to the (Book of Esther,) II Chronicles (The Prayer of Manasseh) and Daniel (The Song of the Youths, Susanna and Bel and the Dragon)” (Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, The Law Of God: For Study at Home and School (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1996), p. 423).      
While generally, not much is made of a distinction between the "canonical" and "deuterocanonical" books in the Orthodox, some writers continue to argue that there is a distinction, such as Fr. Michael Pomazansky:
"The Church recognizes 38 books of the Old Testament. After the example of the Old Testament Church, several of these books are joined to form a single book, bringing the number to twenty-two books, according to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. These books, which were entered at some time into the Hebrew canon, are called "canonical." To them are joined a group of "non-canonical" books-that is, those which were not included in the Hebrew canon because they were written after the closing of the canon of the sacred Old Testament books. The Church accepts these latter books also as useful and instructive and in antiquity assigned them for instructive reading not only in homes but also in churches, which is why they have been called "ecclesiastical." The Church includes these books in a single volume of the Bible together with the canonical books. As a source of the teaching of the faith, the Church puts them in a secondary place and looks on them as an appendix to the canonical books. Certain of them are so close in merit to the Divinely-inspired books that, for example, in the 85th Apostolic Canon the three books of Maccabees and the book of Joshua the son of Sirach are numbered together with the canonical books, and, concerning all of them together it is said that they are "venerable and holy." However, this means only that they were respected in the ancient Church; but a distinction between the canonical and non-canonical books of the Old Testament has always been maintained in the Church (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, trans. Fr. Serpahim (Rose), (Platina, CA: St. Herman Press, 1984), p. 26f).
Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), on the other hand, says:
     "In contemporary editions of the Bible the books of the Old Testament are subdivided into those books that are canonical and those not canonical. Those books that fall under the canonical category are understood to be those of the Hebrew canon. This canon (i.e. the list of books recognized as holy in the Jewish tradition) was formed over centuries and was finally solidified in the year 90 CE by the Sanhedrin in the Galilean city of Jamnia. The canonical texts differ from the non-canonical in their antiquity; the former were written in the period between the fifteenth and fifth centuries BCE, while the latter were written between the fourth and first centuries BCE. As for the number of non-canonical books concerned there are the books of Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, 2 and 3 Esdras, the letter of Jeremiah, Baruch and 3 Maccabees, and also the Prayer of Manasseh at the end of 2 Chronicles, as well as various parts of the book of Esther, Psalm 151, and three fragments from the book of the Prophet Daniel (3.24-90, 13, 14).
     The Protestant Bible does not include the non-canonical books of the Old Testament, and in this way it differs from the Orthodox just as from the Catholic Bible. The Catholic Bible includes the non-canonical books under the category of "deuterocanonical" (this term was coined by the Council of Trent in 1546). For the Orthodox Christian, the difference between the canonical and non-canonical books of the Old Testament is of a conventional character inasmuch as the question is not about an Orthodox or Christian canon, but is about the Jewish canon, completed independently from Christianity. In the Orthodox Church, the basic criterion for the specific canonicity of this or that book in the Old Testament is its use in the divine services. In this regard one cannot consider the Wisdom of Solomon and those fragments of the book of Daniel which are absent from the Hebrew canon, but which hold an important place in Orthodox services, to be non-canonical. Sometimes the non-canonical books, from the viewpoint of the Hebrew canon and the "deutercanonical" Catholic canon, in Orthodox usage are called by the Greek term anaginoskomena, αναγινώσκωμένα (i.e. acknowledged, recommended reading).
     While all of the canonical books of the Old Testament are written in Hebrew, the basis of the Old Testament text in the Orthodox tradition is the Septuagint, a Greek translation by the "seventy interpreters" made in the third to second centuries BCE for the Alexandrian Hebrews and the Jewish diaspora. The authority of the Septuagint is based on three factors. First of all, though the Greek text is not the original language of the Old Testament books, the Septuagint does reflect the state of the original text as it would have been found in the third to second centuries BCE, while the current Hebrew text of the Bible, which is called the "Masoretic," was edited up until the eighth century CE. Second, some of the citations taken from the Old Testament and found in the New mainly use the Septuagint text. Third, the Septuagint was used by both the Greek Fathers of the Church, and Orthodox liturgical services (in other words, this text became part of the Orthodox church Tradition). Taking into account the three factors enumerated above, St. Philaret of Moscow considers it possible to maintain that "in the Orthodox teaching of Holy Scripture it is necessary to attribute a dogmatic merit to the Translation of the Seventy, in some cases placing it on equal level with the original and even elevating it above the Hebrew text, as is generally accepted in the most recent editions" (Orthodox Christianity, Volume II: Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church, (New York: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2012) p. 33f).
To complicate matters further, if you look at the Russian Synodal Bible and compare with the standard Orthodox edition of the Bible in Greek, there are some books that included in one that are not in the other (the Greek Bible included 4th Maccabees, and the Russian Bible includes 2nd Esdras (also called 4th Esdras in some editions), and so what should we make of all of this?

If you think of the Tradition as a target, with concentric circles, you could put the Gospels in the middle, the writings of the apostles in the in the next ring, maybe the Law of Moses, in the next, the prophets in the next, the writings in the next, the deutrocanonical books in the next, the wrings of those who knew the Apostle in the next, the Ecumenical Canons in the next, etc. The only debate would be which ring to put them on... and ultimately, is that the most important question? For a Protestant, this is a huge question. For the Orthodox, it is not so much.

For most of the books in the Orthodox Bible, there is no question that they are Scripture in the full sense. The Deuterocanonical books are certainly Scripture as well, though some Fathers and some writers would argue that they have secondary authority. Then there are some books that are included more along the lines of being appendices to the Scriptures (4th Maccabees and 2nd Esdras). They all are part of the larger Tradition, and they all have to be understood within the context of that larger Tradition -- and that is the key thing to keep in mind.

For more information, see:

Stump the Priest: The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

This discussion with Gary Michuta (a Roman Catholic apologists) is of interest:


He has also written a book entitled "The Case for the Deuterocanon: Evidence and Arguments," which has a lot of useful information on this subject.