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:
" 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 Clement 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 one of only two edition of the KJV that include 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 $20. 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.

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 Deacon Peter Gardner, as a supplementary text. This text cost  is 45.00 in hardback, $14.95 for the paperback edition.


If you are interested in getting a Bible imprinted with a name, either for yourself or as a gift, Church Bible PublishersChristian Book Distributors, and all 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.