Tag Archives: Early Church

Did the Jesus’ followers expect Messiah to rise from the dead alone, before the final resurrection?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

Why did the early church apply the word resurrection to Jesus? If they wanted to say that Jesus was alive and had triumphed over his enemies and was exalted by God, then why not say that? Why not say that he had been bodily assumed into Heaven and was now with the Father? The early proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead is a puzzle for naturalists, because it seems unexpected given what most Jews believed about the concept of resurrection. Jews didn’t have any concept of an individual resurrection before the day of judgment. Resurrection was something that happened to all the righteous at the end of the world. Not to one person.

Here’s a post from Tough Questions Answered to explain.

He quotes Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” so:

The report of Jesus’s resurrection would have also have been unthinkable to the Jews. Unlike the Greeks, the Jews saw the material and physical world as good. Death was not seen as liberation from the material world but as a tragedy. By Jesus’s day many Jews had come to hope that some day in the future there would be a bodily resurrection of all the righteous, when God renewed the entire world and removed all suffering and death.  The resurrection, however, was merely one part of the complete renewal of the whole world, according to Jewish teaching. The idea of an individual being resurrected, in the middle of history, while the rest of the world continued on burdened by sickness, decay, and death, was inconceivable.

[…]If someone had said to any first-century Jew, “So-and-so has been resurrected from the dead!” the response would be, “Are you crazy? How could that be? Has disease and death ended? Is true justice established in the world? Has the wolf lain down with the lamb? Ridiculous!” The very idea of an individual resurrection would have been as impossible to imagine to a Jew as to a Greek.

And there’s more in a second post (this is Keller quoting N.T. Wright):

Over the years, skeptics about the resurrection have proposed that the followers of Jesus may have had hallucinations, that they may have imagined him appearing to them and speaking to them. This assumes that their master’s resurrection was imaginable for his Jewish followers, that it was an option in their worldview. It was not.

Others have put forth the conspiracy theory, that the disciples stole the body and claimed he was alive to others. This assumes that the disciples would expect other Jews to be open to the belief that an individual could be raised from the dead. But none of this is possible. The people of that time would have considered a bodily resurrection to be as impossible as the people of our own time, though for different reasons.

Another reason to question whether the concept of resurrection could be applied to Jesus is because there is no expectation that the Messiah was even supposed to die, much less be resurrected.

Dr. William Lane Craig explains:

The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite almost every predisposition to the contrary. Three aspects of the disciples’ disposition following Jesus’s crucifixion put a question mark behind the faith and hope they had placed in Jesus:

  1. Jesus was dead, and Jews had no anticipation of a dying, much less rising, Messiah.
  2. According to Jewish law, Jesus’s execution as a criminal showed him out to be a heretic, a man literally under the curse of God.
  3. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead before the general, eschatological resurrection of the dead.

It is important to appreciate, with respect to the first aspect of their situation, that in Jewish expectation Messiah would conquer Israel’s enemies and restore the throne of David, not be shamefully executed by them. Jesus’s ignominious execution at the hands of Rome was as decisive a disproof as anything could be to a first century Jew that Jesus was not Israel’s awaited Messiah, but another failed pretender. Failed Messianic movements were nothing new in Judaism, and they left their followers with basically two alternatives: either go home or else find a new Messiah. These were no doubt hard choices, but nevertheless they were the choices one had. After surveying such failed Messianic movements before and after Jesus, N. T. Wright remarks,

So far as we know, all the followers of these first century Messianic movements were fanatically committed to the cause. They, if anybody, might be expected to suffer from this blessed twentieth century disease called ‘cognitive dissonance’ when their expectations failed to materialize. But in no case, right across the century before Jesus and the century after him, do we hear of any Jewish group saying that their executed leader had been raised from the dead and he really was the Messiah after all.

And here’s more support for the no individual resurrection point:

Finally, Jewish hope in the resurrection of the dead was invariably a corporate and eschatological hope. The resurrection of all the righteous dead would take place after God had brought the world as we know it to an end. Surveying the Jewish literature, Joachim Jeremias concluded,

Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event of history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the later Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to d o x aas an event of history.41

Even if the disciples’ faith in Jesus had somehow managed to survive the crucifixion, they would at most have looked forward to their reunion with him at the final resurrection and would perhaps have preserved his tomb as a shrine, where Jesus’s bones might rest until the eschatological resurrection. That was the Jewish hope.

But we know that that did not happen. Despite their having most every predisposition to the contrary, it is an indisputable fact that the earliest disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.

So I hope that enough has been said there for you to realize that talking about resurrection with respect to Jesus is a very weird thing for the early church to do – that is, unless it actually happened.

Christians have always believed in a romantic, committed, exclusive view of sex

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
The natural family is the only place where sexual activity makes sense

Consider this post from Michael Krueger about the history of Christianity with respect to sex, love and marriage.

Excerpt:

[I]n the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice.  And it didn’t like what it saw.  Christians were seen as strange and superstitious–a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of a decent society.  Christians were, well, different.

So, what was so different about Christians compared to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture?

[…]While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices.

For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need.  But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why does he say this?  Because, in the Greco-Roman world, it was not unusual for people to share their spouses with each other.

In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author goes out of his way to declare how normal Christians are in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society.  However, he then says, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7).  Again, this is the trait that makes Christians different.

We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides.  Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union” (15).

A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix.  In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:

Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all (31).

The genius of Christ-centered relationships is that both parties have to prove that they can be faithful and committed during the courtship. Both people have to work before the marriage to demonstrate their ability at marital roles (husband or wife, father or mother). It’s not just that this is the way that we have always done it, it’s that there are real reasons why chastity and fidelity are important for marriage success. You can’t just have fun, pick anyone you like, and have marriage “work out”. You have to be comfortable with chastity and fidelity, and the person you choose has to be comfortable with chastity and fidelity. Each person has to demonstrate that they are capable of self-sacrificial love for others, since that’s the main thing that marriage is about – at least the ones that last. Virtue is at the center of the Christian concept of marriage.

What did early church fathers think about abortion and infanticide?

Unborn baby scheming about early church traditions
Unborn baby scheming about early church traditions

This is from Birds of the Air.

Summary:

Recently I came across a reading of the Didache. “The what?” you may ask. The Didache is a book written somewhere in the first or second century. For a long time it was up for consideration as Scripture. It was believed to be the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Eventually it was agreed that the book was an excellent book, but not inspired Scripture. So I was pleased to be able to download this admirable book containing good teachings from the early Church fathers.

The book seemed to be largely a lot of quotes from Scripture. You’ll learn the basic rules of Christianity — “First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself.” You’ll learn that “grave sins” are forbidden, like adultery, murder, fornication, and so on. (They specifically include pederasty in the list.) There are instructions regarding teachers, prophets, Christian assembly, and so on. Lots of the normal, good stuff. But, since this was written sometime prior to 200 AD, I was somewhat surprised at this instruction: “You shall not murder a child by abortion” (Didache, Ch 2).

I got curious about what babies look like when they are just a few weeks old, so I went looking for pictures of them.

This post from Life News has ten excellent pictures of life inside the womb.

Here’s my favorite from 10 weeks:

Unborn Baby - 10 weeks old
Unborn Baby – 10 weeks old

This is a first trimester baby!

I decided to go hunting to see what is developed at this time, and found this list:

  • From this week until birth, the developing organism is called a fetus.
  • The fetus is now the size of a small strawberry.
  • The feet are 2mm long (one tenth of an inch).
  • The neck is beginning to take shape.
  • The body muscles are almost developed. Baby has begun movement.
  • While still too small for you to feel, your little one is wriggling and shifting.
  • The jaws are in place. The mouth cavity and the nose are joined.
  • The ears and nose can now be seen clearly.
  • Fingerprints are already evident in the skin.
  • Nipples and hair follicles begin to form.

The unborn baby is now called a fetus. Though the fetus is constantly moving, you will not be able to actually feel fetal movement for several more weeks. All of the organs, muscles, and nerves are in place and beginning to function. As the hands and feet develop fingers and toes, they have lost their paddle like look. The touch pads on the fingers form and already have fingerprints.

During this week of pregnancy the crown to rump length of the fetus is 0.9 inch to 1.2 inches (22 to 30mm), weight 0.07 ounce (2gm). They are now on the way to forming their testicles or ovaries, getting ready for the next generation. Until the ninth week of fetus development, the fetal reproductive apparatus is the same one for the both sexes. The head is still large and curves into chest.

Each week your uterus grows larger with the baby growing inside it. You may begin to see your waistline growing thicker by this time. A pelvic exam will detect that your uterus has grown from it’s normal, size of your fist, to a little bigger than a grapefruit.

Fascinating!

Christians have always believed in a romantic, committed, exclusive view of sex

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
The natural family is the only place where sexual activity makes sense

Nancy Pearcey tweeted this post from Michael Krueger, and it’s a must-read.

Excerpt:

[I]n the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice.  And it didn’t like what it saw.  Christians were seen as strange and superstitious–a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of a decent society.  Christians were, well, different.

So, what was so different about Christians compared to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture?

[…]While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices.

For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need.  But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why does he say this?  Because, in the Greco-Roman world, it was not unusual for people to share their spouses with each other.

In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author goes out of his way to declare how normal Christians are in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society.  However, he then says, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7).  Again, this is the trait that makes Christians different.

We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides.  Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union” (15).

A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix.  In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:

Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all (31).

I think that women should want men who believe in chastity before marriage and who believe in committing to you exclusively as protector and provider for a lifetime. And they should have to prove that they can be faithful and committed during the courtship, too. You can’t just take their word for it, they have to work before the marriage to demonstrate their ability as a husband and father. It’s not just that this is the way that we have always done it, it’s that there are real reasons why chastity and fidelity are important for marriage success. You can’t just have fun, pick anyone you like, and have marriage “work out”. You have to be comfortable with chastity and fidelity, and the person you choose has to be comfortable with chastity and fidelity. It takes two people with self-control to make a stable, exclusive and committed marriage.

There are Roman Catholics in my family but I’m not one: why not?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

In this post, I have a couple of challenges to Roman Catholic doctrine. The point of this post is not to piss off my Roman Catholic readers, it’s more to explain why I’m not Roman Catholic. And maybe to explain how Protestants like me think about religion.

Purgatory

Here’s the first article from Cold Case Christianity, by the Master of the Evidence J. Warner Wallace. He writes about the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, and his experience with studying and then rejecting it.

Here is his introduction:

The notion of purgatory assumes many of us die with unforgiven sins that need to be purged from our account; some of us are not good enough to go to heaven, but not bad enough to go to hell. Purgatory, therefore, is a temporary, intermediate place (or state of being) where good deeds and works can be performed in order to purge our impurity prior to our final destiny with God. Although millions of Catholics believe purgatory to be a reality, the idea needs to be tested in light of the Scripture. Is purgatory something we, as Bible believing Christians, should accept as true?

He’s got a stack of Bible verses to make two points against Purgatory: first, that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to atone for all our rebellion against God, and we don’t need to endure any suffering or punishment to supplement it. And second, the teaching about the afterlife in the Bible says that believers are immediately ushered into the presence of God after they die (without resurrection bodies, yet), while unbelievers are separated away from God.

Here’s what he says about the first point:

Our Salvation Isn’t Based On Our Good Works
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, forgiveness is not based on the good works of the believer. For this reason, deeds or works performed for those in purgatory are both unnecessary and ineffectual:

Romans 3:21-24, 27-28
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus… Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Romans 8:1
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.

Our Salvation Is Based On Jesus’ Work on the Cross
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, Jesus’ work on the cross (His blood) purifies us from allsin. For this reason, there isn’t a lingering sin problem requiring the existence of a place like purgatory:

Titus 2:13-14
…we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

1John 1:7b
…the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1John 1:9b
…he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1John 2:2
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Hebrews 10:14
…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Our Salvation Has, Therefore, Already Been Guaranteed
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, Jesus has already purified and purged believers of sin based on our faith in Him. For this reason, there is no need for a place like Purgatory where additional purging must be performed…

[…]The Biblical doctrine of Salvation clearly eliminates the need for purgatory.

I was never able to find anything in the Bible to support purgatory. It’s a very very late doctrine that was unknown to the early church until the late 2nd / early 3rd century, where it is spoken about by a handful of people. But lots of weird doctrines were creeping up on the fringe around that time, so we shouldn’t be surprised… the point is that they have no support from the Bible, and not in the community of believers for the first 150 years after the death of Jesus.

The bodily assumption of Mary

Anyway, my turn now. The Roman Catholic church teaches that Mary was “bodily assumed” into Heaven after her death, i.e. – she didn’t just stay in her grave. Let’s see if that is in the Bible or in the early church.

Here’s what I found:

  1. To be a Roman Catholic, you need to believe in Papal infallibility in matters of dogma.
  2. In 1950, the Pope pronounced the assumption of Mary to be infallible dogma.
  3. This pronouncement was solicited by a petition featuring over 8 million signatures.
  4. There is no historical record of this doctrine in the Bible.
  5. No early church father mentions the assumption until 590 AD.
  6. Documents dated 377 AD state that no one knows how Mary died.
  7. The assumption appears for the first time in an apocryphal gospel dated about 495 AD.

Data

I only cite Roman Catholic sources for my facts.

6. “But if some think us mistaken, let them search the Scriptures. They will not find Mary’s death; they will not find whether she died or did not die; they will not find whether she was buried or was not buried … Scripture is absolutely silent [on the end of Mary] … For my own part, I do not dare to speak, but I keep my own thoughts and I practice silence … The fact is, Scripture has outstripped the human mind and left [this matter] uncertain … Did she die, we do not know … Either the holy Virgin died and was buried … Or she was killed … Or she remained alive, since nothing is impossible with God and He can do whatever He desires; for her end no-one knows.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 78.10-11, 23. Cited by Juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed.,Mariology, Vol. II (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1957), pp. 139-40).

7. “The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus–narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these are apocryphal they bear witness to the faith of the generation in which they were written despite their legendary clothing. The first Church author to speak of the bodily ascension of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours.” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma(Rockford: Tan, 1974), pp. 209–210).

It should be noted that the apocryphal gospel in which the doctrine of the assumption of Mary first appeared was condemned as heretical by two Popes in the 5th and 6th centuries. However, I was not able to find a CATHOLIC source for this fact, so I deliberately chose not to use it in my case.

Conclusion

The first thing I want to say is that the Bible is not the only place you look to decide these issues. You also look in church history, and you are looking for a clear chain of custody of the doctrine as far back as it can go. Purgatory and the perpetual virginity of Mary have some track record, but the bodily assumption of Mary is just nowhere – not in the Bible, not in the Early Church fathers. So that’s the silver bullet against Roman Catholicism, since they made it “infallible”.

This post is more directed to non-Christians to sort of show you how we do our homework. I am the first Protestant in my family. We have half the family who is Muslim, and the other half mostly Hindu, with some Catholic. I had to debate all these people growing up, and I wiped the floor with them. It was not even close. I simply settled on the beliefs that allowed me to win every argument, every time. That’s how you do religion. If you have to go against your whole family in order to be right, you do it. It’s not good to be wrong about things just because that’s what your family believes. These things were not pushed hard on me by my parents, I studied them on my own in order to win arguments. After a while of winning, I found myself acting consistently with what I was arguing for. Although that might sound really weird to you, that’s probably the right way to do this. Don’t listen to parents and church, find your own way forward by winning arguments, and believing only what the evidence supports.

Although most people think that if I had kids, I’d bully them into my beliefs, I actually would not. Because that’s not what worked on me. What really works is fighting about evidence, welcoming questions, and allowing differences of opinion. Being free to pursue truth is more important in the long run than coercing your kids to act nicely.