Thursday, May 15, 2008

"...the image and glory of God..."

By Xavier

Divine rule.

In the first creation account the emphasis is on the divine rule God has endowed the first human being [adam[1]] with, reflected in the phrase “image and likeness”. Divine rule [radah = “subjugate”] allows adam to exercise divinely appointed dominion “over all the earth”[2]. In the context of Ancient Near Eastern culture, this places adam not only as the direct representative of God on earth, but as His “son”[3] [cf. Lu 3:38]. He is also made image-bearer, since “both terms[4] obviously refer to a relation between man and his Creator: a ‘likeness’ between man and God [as] the high point of the whole creation”. This is also “described in the preceding verses of Genesis”[5].

God is “Spirit” [John 4:24] and “invisible” [Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17] and as such, He is especially concerned how His image-bearer represents Him, especially when he partakes of the Divine Nature[6] [cp. Gal 5:22-23; Eph 5:9].

This adam is the first model, patterned [demuth] to project God’s unique and perfect [sinless] being[7]. Once equipped with these godly attributes, adam is able to act as God over his inherited world. Within this view, the text alludes to the fact that God had big plans for him, as big as anything we can imagine for someone crowned with “glory and splendor” [hadar=majesty], “made a little lower than gods” [elohim[8]; Psa 8:4-8]. But, with his “fall”, this initial purpose was lost. God immediately promised another “seed” [9] [Gen 3:15] who would set about in restoring it. So “just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man[10]” [1 Cor 15:49].

Relationship through names.
In the second account we have the creation of “relationship” through the use of names[11]. The woman is named “Eve” [Gen 3:20; “mother of all living”[12]], created as a “suitable helper” [ezer neged] and in this capacity, reflects the likeness of adam [as his “counterpart”; cp. Gen 2:20]; pointing to a preservation of the divine “image”. The words imply “that woman complements man, supplements him, completes him…supplies his deficiencies and fills his needs”, since neither is complete without the other[13].

The implication of names will eventually establish a “global community” of survival, identity and fulfillment. This is established by the singular, personal name of God, YHWH, first used in this account [Gen 2:4; 10 times in this chapter alone][14]. The word YHWH has been defined as “Redeemer”[15] and the closest form of the name has ties to the pre-Islamic root HWY, in Arabic meaning the desirous, passionate One[16]. So that the divine name captures something of the essence of the life that is named [identified], as well as the first biblical reference for speech and conversation when Adam names “each living creature” [v. 19-20].

Studying both elohim and YHWH shows that God as elohim is the Creator and YHWH is His name in relationship to those with whom He has entered into some kind of commitment or covenant. Elohim is a more impersonal title, while YHWH establishes God’s covenant relationship with mankind. The once generic name of adam assumes the dignity of a proper name [Gen 2:19]. As though “Adam” can now become personally involved in the continuation of creation: God’s co-worker.

The phrase created in the image of God is “to be understood as a relationship within which man sometimes stands, whenever like a mirror he obediently reflects God’s will in his life and actions…The image of God, according to this view, consists of man’s position before God, or, rather, the image of God is reflected in man because of his position before him.”[17]

This relational understanding has until now found new supporters[18], as opposed to the definition of the imago Dei [image of God] as understood by medieval “Church Fathers” [19] and imago by Reformists[20]. And though we have two creation accounts, they both tell us the same “origin” story. So, “in becoming, being and perishing, all creation is wholly dependent on the will of the Creator.”[21]

The function and purpose of humanity found in the 1st account comes via elohim, the sum of all creative powers, which He alone “causes to be” [cp. Ex 3:14; YHWH][22]. To be created in God’s image points towards a personal relationship, dealt in more detail in the 2nd account. The declaration that “it is not good for the man to be alone” reveals the personal name of God as a way into this exclusive relationship. In Genesis immortality is an option but eventually forfeited, human history beginning in the newly created struggle between life [sinlessness] and death [sin]. But, because “Adam” was specifically made to reflect God so he could share of His Divine Nature, “mortality [death] will be [one day] swallowed up in victory” [Isa 25:1, 8; cp. 1 Cor 15:54-57; Eph 1:11][23]. This is to be accomplished through “the promised seed” [Gen 3:15], “the image of God” being restored, completing the destiny originally designed for the first adam, which he willfully forfeited[24]. So that humanity is guided back to the “image and likeness” of God; human history as we know it [life & death struggle] coming to an end, fulfilled by the initial plan and purpose of an eternal relationship with YHWH elohim, the LORD our God!


[1] The Hebrew word adam literally means “red earth”, an economical way of describing man whose body is essentially dust with blood coursing through it.

[2] Furthered expressed by the Hebrew word kabash, which means to “overcome”, “subdue”.

[3] “It is a designation for a creature indicating a special relationship with God. In particular, it denotes God’s representative, God’s vice-regent. It is a designation of kingship, identifying the king as God’s son.” Colin Brown, ‘Trinity and Incarnation: In Search of Contemporary Orthodoxy’, Ex Auditu, 1991, p 88.

Image: Heb = demuth = “model” = in the pattern of; Likeness: Heb= tselem = metaphorically = “shade, phantom”.

[5] G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, pgs. 69-70.

[6] By Divine Nature I refer to the modern concepts that have arisen within Western and Jewish theology regarding the “Godhead”. This terminology has been relegated to the notions of: Greek Neo-Platonism, Medieval Rationalism, Jewish Kabbalah and modern-day Christian mysticism. The latter “involves going beyond all that we speak of as God—even the Trinity—to an inner ‘God beyond God,’ a divine Darkness or Desert in which all distinction is lost…The notion of the hidden Godhead was renewed in the teaching of Jakob Böhme, who spoke of it as the Ungrund—‘the great Mystery’, ‘the Abyss’, ‘the eternal Stillness’. He stressed the fact of divine becoming (in a non-temporal sense): God is eternally the dark mystery of which nothing can be said but ever puts on the nature of light, love, and goodness wherein the divine is revealed to human beings.” Christianity, Negative mysticism: God and the Godhead, Encyclopedia Britannica. Also see: Personal Christianity a Science: The Doctrines of Jacob Boehme the God Taught Philosopher 1919, Jacob Boehme, Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

[7] “As a mirror reflects, so man should reflect God”. See section under: “The Image of God: A Theological Summary”, pg. 67, Hoekema, Created in God’s Image.

[8] Occurring more than 2,600 times in the OT, designates the one true God when paired with His unique name YHWH [alt. Adonay, trans. “LORD”]. Although the form of this word is plural [eloh-im], it is frequently used as if it were singular-that is, with a singular verb (Gen 1:1-31; Exo 2:24).

[9] The seed of Israel is a seed of God or a divine seed (Mal 2:15) through its union with God (cf. 2Pe 1:4). The author of Genesis describes the seed of Abraham, the promised seed, referring to Isaac, Jacob, and his 12 sons (Gen 12:7; Gen 15:3). The word is used 21 times in this setting (Exo 32:13; Deu 1:8). The seed of the royal line of David was crucial to Israel's existence, and the term is used 9 times to refer to David's offspring or descendants (2Sa 7:12). The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary

[10] Jesus Christ was God’s second attempt at creating a masterpiece, the ultimate representation of that “masterpiece race” made in the image of God. There was nothing “mere” about the first adam as conceived by God, and nothing “mere” about the “second adam”, Jesus, who was made according to the same design.

[11] Note the introduction of capital letters by bible translators to the generic term of “adam”.

[12] Hebrew chavvâh meaning "living, making alive" (Gen 3:20). In Gen 2:23, she was designated as a woman (’iššāh)…both sharing [a] common humanity. As her name indicates, she then gave birth to the human race (Gen 4:1-2). The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary

[13] Created in God’s Image, pg. 77

[14] In Jewish tradition, the divine name YHWH is written Adonai, since pronouncing it is considered sinful. This has been variously translated as “LORD” or “Lord” [the generic elohim “god” or “gods”]. The combination of “LORD God” [YHWH elohim] refers to the Creator Himself, “the God of Israel. It is attested about 450 times in the OT…Adoni [is] addressed to human beings (Gen 44:7; Num 32:25; 2 Kings 2:19, etc.). We have to assume that the word Adonai [which has a plural ending] received its special form to distinguish it from the secular use of adon [i.e. adoni]. The reason why [God is addressed] as Adonai [with long vowel] instead of the normal adon, adoni or adonai [short vowel] may have been to distinguish YHWH from other gods [elohim] and from human lords [adoni]”. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, p.531

[15] “The most significant name for God in the OT; It has a twofold meaning: the active, self-existent One (since the word is connected with the verb “to be,” [Ex. 3:14]) and Israel’s Redeemer (Ex. 6:6)...especially associated with God’s holiness (Lev. 11:44-45), His hatred of sin (Gen. 6:3-7), and His gracious provision of redemption (Isa. 53:1, 5-6, 10).” Ryrie Study Bible, note on Gen 2:4.

[16] Dictionary of Deities and Demons, pgs 910-920

[17] Paul Ramsey, Basic Christian Ethics, p 255.

[18] Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption; Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, A Conversation in Spiritual Theology.

[19] For a detailed study see Aquinas, Summa Theologiae: 1a. 90-102: “is there an image of God in man? It seems that God’s image is not to be found in man. For Isaiah says, 'to whom then will ye liken God? Or what likeness will ye compare unto him?' [Isa 40:18]”

[20] The original man, at first in a right relationship with God, was also in harmony with himself; his will remaining subject to his reason, which in turn had a right knowledge of God’s will. Luther best exemplifies this tradition: “His intellect was the clearest, his memory the best and his will was the most straightforward…Moreover, he had greater strength and keener senses than the rest of the living beings”. Lectures on Genesis, a Commentary upon the 15 Psalms, pp. 129ff

[21] Created in God’s Image, pg. 5

[22] “The First Foundation is to believe in the existence of the Creator…a Being that is complete in all ways and He is the cause of all else that exists…It is inconceivable that He would not exist, for if He would not exist then all else would cease to exist as well, nothing would remain…Independence and mastery is to Him alone…for He needs nothing else and is sufficient unto himself. He does not need the existence of anything else. All that exists apart from Him [the angels, the universe and all that is within it] all these things are dependent on Him for their existence. This first foundation is taught to us in the statement, "I am HaShem your God..." (Shemos = Ex 20:2, Devarim = Deu 5:6).

The Second Foundation is the unity of HaShem to believe that this Being, which is the cause of all, is one. This does not mean one as in one of a pair nor one like a species [which encompasses many individuals] nor one as in one object that is made up of many elements or as a single simple object which is infinitely divisible….a unity unlike any other possible unity. This second foundation is referred to when [the Torah] says, “Hear Israel! HaShem is our God, HaShem is one". [Devarim, Deu 6:4]. The 13 Foundations of the Ramba’m

[23] Proleptically the bible speaks of its eventuality through the resurrection of the dead [cp. 1 Cor 15:20-28].

[24] This “changing of the guard”, as it were, is furthered alluded to in the NT where Satan is continually referred to as: “ruler”, “prince” and “god [theos]” of the “world” [kosmos or “present age, eon]”; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 6:12; 1 John 4:4; 5:19] So, even though Satan is the “father of all lies”, there is some truth in the exchange he has with the person he perceives as the “son of God” [and “God’s new vice-regent”] at Lu 4:6: “…this authority and their glory…to me has it been delivered [paradidōmi = ”surrendered, yielded”] and I give it to whomever I wish”.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

True Christian Teaching

By Xavier
“‘Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher’…The Jews were amazed and asked, ‘How did this man get such learning without having been trained?’ Jesus answered, ‘my teaching is not my own but His who sent me’… [Nicodemus] came to him by night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Luke 6:40; Mat 10:24-25; John 7:15-16; 3:2
This essay will focus on how “the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher”. The initial outline explores some the meaning, function and goal behind this Christian understanding of education. The process by which we come to a full understanding of what the inspired word of God teaches, in view of becoming “imitators” of the greatest teacher of all, Jesus the Christ.

Christian education is not religiously, socially or politically motivated: inclusive and not exclusive. This is shown by the fact that Jesus taught to all peoples from different backgrounds [Mat 15:21-28]. Politically motivated teaching is usually dominated by external forces of self-interest, money and human expedience, followed by apostasy in times of troubles. It is not about removing oneself from the world, instead calling to “preach to all peoples” [“races = ethnos” = Lu 24:47]. The biblical observance of “cleansing” and “purging” should not be understood as a literal means to an end. If anything, scripture makes the point that this is to be understood as a “spiritual” keeping of our person in relation to the world [kosmos = “orderly decoration”], which in turn will perish [1 John 2:15-17].

The most succinct example is evident in the personal sacrifice of Jesus, who died so we could live, crucified so that he might resurrect the “image and likeness” of God, lost through Adam’s disobedience [Gen 1:26; 3]:
“The world still worships false gods, though it reaches out for Truth… [We seek] a state of consciousness, a consciousness of good, of joy and harmony…seeking to rid ourselves of the consciousness of evil, with its sin, its decease and death…Salvation is not from evil realities, but from the false sense of evil, even as Jesus taught and proved… [We have] to think as Jesus did—not yielding our mentalities daily to a hodgepodge of mixed thoughts of good and evil…”[1]
This requires a personal sacrifice on the part of both teacher and student; meaning that neither is exempt from trials [John 15:18-20]. Just as in death there is life, so in personal sacrifice there is fulfillment and devotion to be found. This makes the learning process neither boring nor predictable since, by becoming “imitators” of Christ, we are able to do what he did and “even greater things than these” [John 14:12].

The Greek word translated “imitator” is mimetes [the root for mimic] which means: following with intent to copy. This signifies a prolonged relationship between the teacher and student. Christian education seeks not only to invest people with knowledge but, for the pupil [mathetes; related to the English word for “mathematics”]” to eventually mimic and “become like the teacher”. The word mathetes indicates thought followed by action [one who learns in order to do]. This also has the meaning of one who adheres, holding fast to what is taught. So as Jesus figuratively says to us that whomever sees him also sees the Father [John 14:8-11[2]], we ourselves are endued [enduo] with and told to “put on” the person of Christ [Gal 3:27; Rom 13:14].

Through this disciplined training we are able to come into a position of being mentored so trust can be built up. This involves time, patience and practice, stretching beyond what the individual thinks they can do by way of testing. The duty of care of the teacher is to continually examine the student in order to equip them in all things. This disciplined education and learning is called paideia, the classic Hellenistic “model for Christian instructions of higher learning”[3]. The significance of this word retains the exclusive [and inclusive] aspect of the teacher and student relationship, closely tied to the biblical notions of “Father and Son” [Eph 6:4]. It has to be this close and personal in order for a true Christian education to be able to reach not only our minds but [more importantly and what God has always wanted] our hearts [cp. Mat 13:15].

2 Tim 3:16-17 teaches that “all scripture” is helpful for the man of God to be “fully equipped” [artios exartízō] in every good work. The use of exartízō and its root, ártios, appears redundant but actually conveys a subtle nuance. Paul states that inspired Scripture can make the man of God ártios [made perfect as in: competent, proficient, adept or capable]. This is followed by a subordinate clause containing the perfect passive particle of exartízō, which is not simply an intensive form of ártios, as though Paul were saying, "that the man of God may be competent having been made very competent". The inspired word used here [exartízō] means to equip, outfit, furnish. God's word is that which gives one the necessary skills and tools to be capable of performing every good work, so that we might serve our individual and destined purpose

These words emphasize the need for the student not only to be “instructed” [didaskalia] but most importantly “convinced” [elegchos] of the education they are receiving [2 Tim 3:16; cp. Rom 12:1-2][5]:
“…that intimacy between the knower and the known…between God and the soul—and the participation of knower and known in each other is the blessing of being known, knowing and learning. God is blessed by our knowing him; we are blessed by knowing Him. Research and education are inevitably instruments of formation (paideia)…When we are blessed with understanding…it becomes intimate with us so that aspects of it cling to us…Something like absorbing the aroma of God is what the tradition means by contemplating divine things.”[6]
The inherent expectation that the student must eventually mimic the teacher reveals levels of delegation and authority. Showing a process whereby trust is combined with an ability to nurture it. The Christian environment should involve action, training and exercise [see one; do one; teach one]. This is learning and training in lieu of doing it yourself. This was the model Jesus used amongst his followers. He not only taught with simple words, but involved them in acting out their lessons.

The first of these levels of delegation of authority is “instruction”, the exemplar being Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” [Mat 5-7]. We see in this account the need people have for a teacher and most of all guidance. These arose in their hearts because they were conscious that to go and hear an “unschooled” and simple son of a carpenter would not be looked upon kindly by the authority figures of the time [the Pharisees]:

“The Sermon on the Mount…allows us to hear the voice of Jesus the wise teacher…it deals with true happiness, the proper interpretation of the Law and the Prophets, genuine piety, wise attitudes and behavior in everyday life, and the need to translate wisdom into action. As a Jewish wisdom instruction, it expresses the wisdom of Jesus.”[7]

The next level in delegation and authority is activation, putting in practice what has been taught with a very specific set of instructions [Mat 10]. We see this in the account of the “feeding of the 5000” in John 6:1-14. The last level is empowerment and authority in the dispensation of individual teaching, seen in the “sending out of the 70” [Mat 28:19].

These levels define a mental and spiritual maturity towards specific goals: responsive relationships where we can mimic God Himself [Eph 5:1]. This is the purpose filled goal and practice Christian teaching has in mind: love, forgiveness and healing like He does. So, what does it take to mimic God? By following those who followed God; who in turn were “fully equipped”, instructed and convinced in all things.

The choice starts in our head, the “divine” mental capabilities unique to those made in the “image of God”. By hearing, seeing and sensing what God did through Jesus and his disciples. We are then able to discern truth from tradition, right from wrong, good from evil [1 John 4:1-6].This leads to the heart, where the hard work is done and true decision making takes place. This example of heart and mind will hopefully reflect in our personal actions. The greatest of these is in expressing God’s love [John 13:34-35]. This has to be the manner of our living and doing.

In Jesus we see how his personal reenergizing was made through periods of solitude and silence in order to learn to listen to God. This required: turning to God through prayer [so we can grow in the relationship He wants with us], fasting [“discipline (the) body like an athlete, training it to do what it should… (and) through the power of the Spirit…put to death the deeds of the body”; 1 Cor 9:27; Rom 8:13], study and “search out” the word of God in order to become ártios exartízō [cp. Pro 25:2]. The purpose is to keep His word in our hearts, so that we might not fail Him [Psa 119:11]. Always remembering to utilize what we learn in living for others “for many are called but few are chosen” [Mat 22:14]. In the same way that a worker or teacher is “fully equipped” for any set task, so the Lord does the same before sending us out to “all peoples”.

However, the teacher is not exempt from continuing to learn, since by constant nurturing we will continue to grow in God’s harvest [Heb 12:1-3; cf. 1 Cor 8:1ff-3]. This involves humility and submission in the absolute confidence and conviction [elegchos] of the teaching and faith once received [Heb 11], because “God opposes the proud but favors the humble” [1 Pe 5:5]. This will help us to accept and understand that testing builds our trust in God by showing us the mentoring relationship He wants us to have [John 13:13-15].

The student “who is fully trained” in such a way will inevitably be able to “become like the teacher”. But with the warning that, we all should not “presume to be teachers [since] we who teach will be judged more strictly” [James 3:1]. So it is important to build people up to a “full” and “perfect” [exartízō] understanding of the word of God, as taught by His one and only Son, Jesus the Christ:

“As a result, we are no longer to be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church…and the head of Christ is God.”
Eph 4:14-15; 1 Cor 11:3 [cp. 1 Cor 3:23; 15:28]


[1] Charles F. Stocking, Carmen Ariza, Trafford Publ. 2004, pg. 417 [emphasis added]

[2] The exact same language about being “in” is used many times of Christians. When the same exact language is used both of Christ and of Christians, it needs to be understood the same way. We are “in” Christ, and Christ is “in” us (cp. John 14:4-7; 17:21, 23, 26). When used in the sense of “in God,” or “in Christ,” the word “in” refers to a close communion, a tight fellowship. It was part of the covenant language of the day, when people spoke of being either “in” or “cut off from” the covenant. For further study see: E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Baker Books, 2004

[3] Encyclopedia Britannica, Ultimate Reference Suite, 2008.

[4] The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary

[5] The Apostle Paul reiterates this simple yet fundamental lesson of life when he is inspired to dictate: “For now we see but through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Cor 13:12

[6] Alan G. Padgett, Patrick R. Keifert, But is it all true? : The Bible and the question of truth, pg. 166, Eerdmans, 2006.

[7] Daniel J. Harrington, James F. Keenan, Jesus and Virtue Ethics: Building Bridges between New Testament studies and Moral theology, pgs. 61-62, Rowman & Littlefield, 200.

To what extent is Gnosticism evident in the writings of the NT?

By Xavier

The ascetic notion of immediate revelation through divine knowledge sought to find an absolute transcendence in a Supreme Deity. This concept is very important in identifying what evidence there is pertaining to Gnosticism
[1] in the NT, which would go on to influence Christian orthodox teaching[2]. Main Gnostic beliefs that differ from Biblical teachings include:
  • the creator as a lower being [‘Demiurge’] and not a Supreme Deity;
  • scripture having a deep, hidden meaning whose true message could only be understood through “secret wisdom”[3];
  • Jesus as a spirit that “seemed”[4] to be human, leading to a belief in the incarnation[5].
The traditional “formula which enshrines the Incarnation…is that in some sense God, without ceasing to be God, was made man…which is a prima facie [‘at first sight’ a] contradiction in theological terms…the [NT] nowhere reflects on the virgin birth of Jesus as witnessing to the conjunction of deity and manhood in His person…the deity of Jesus was not…clearly stated in words and [the book of] Acts gives no hint that it was”[6]. This philosophy[7] was known by the so-called “Church Fathers” such as Origen, Irenaeus, and Tertullian[8].

At its core, Gnosticism formed a speculative interest in the relationship of the oneness of God to the ‘triplicity’ of his manifestations. It seems to have taken Neoplatonic metaphysics of substance and hypostases [“beings”][9] as a departure point for interpreting the relationship of the “Father” to the “Son”[10] in its attempt to define a new theology[11]. This would point to the infamous theological controversies by Arius[12] against followers of the Greek Alexandrian school[13], headed by Athanasius[14].

The discovery of the ancient Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt in the 1940s shows how varied this movement was. The writers of these manuscripts considered themselves ‘Christians’, but due to their syncretistic believes, borrowed heavily from the Greek philosopher Plato. The find included the hotly debated Gospel of Thomas, which parallels some of Jesus’ sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. This may point to the existence of a postulated lost textual source for the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, known as the Q document[15]. Thus, modern debate is split between those who see Gnosticism as a pre-Christian form of ‘theosophy’[16] and those who see it as a post-Christian counter-movement.

NT scripture was largely unwritten, at least in the form of canon, existing in the practices, customs and teachings of the early Christian community. What largely was communicated generation to generation was an oral tradition passed from the apostles to the Bishops and from Bishops and priests to the faithful through their preaching and way of life[17]. Constantine’s call for unity in the building of the new Roman Church led to his request for Eusebius to produce some 50 copies of manuscripts. These were approved and accepted by the emperor, which later influenced the final stages of canonization[18].

The best known origin story in the NT comes in the person of Simon the ‘mage’ [Acts 8:9-24]. Although, nothing is historically known about this figure, his first disciple is said to have been Basilides[19].

Paul’s epistles to Timothy contain refutations to “false doctrine [and] myths” [1 Tim 1:3-5]. The importance placed here, as in most NT scripture, is to uphold the truth since through such knowledge God hopes for “all men” to be saved [1 Tim 2:4]. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians has a lot to say regarding false teachers (2 Co 11:4), “spiritualists” [pneumatikos1 Co 2:14-15; 15:44-46] and their gnosis [knowledge]. Warning against the “wisdom of the wise” and their “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (1 Co 1:19; 2:5—NIV; cp. Col 2:1-10; 2:8). These are seen as the clearest texts to early Gnostic evidence. Likewise, the book of Jude contains scripture exhorting believers to seek the true faith (Jude 3) and it is nowhere more influential than in telling us who Jesus was.

But the writings attributed to the Apostle John contain the most significant amount of content directed at combating the progenitors of heresies[20]. Most Bible scholars agree that these were some of the last parts of the NT written and as such, can offer the most insights into a 1st century perspective[21]. The writer’s repeated adherence to true knowledge (“hereby we know”—inherent in Jesus’ ministry) and nature[22] seem to challenge other speculative and opposing believes.

The 2nd epistle of John is only 13 verses long but it makes strong emphasis on Christological matters[23]. From its context we see the importance placed on “knowing…walking” and loving the truth (v. 1-4), on the humanity of the man Jesus (v. 7-11) and adherence to “teaching [the doctrine] of Christ” [cp. John 7:14-18]. These point to false teachers who claimed to bring some supposedly "higher" teaching [gnosis] than what the apostles taught[24].

From the evidence at hand, it seems that early Christian apologists used their biblical faith to teach a pagan audience how best to adopt the new religion. Wrapping their understanding of scripture and worldly wisdom in the process and taking their lead from such Jewish apologists like Philo of Alexandria. Whether even without Philo the ‘Fathers of the Church’ would have attempted to harmonize scripture and philosophy is a plausible assumption. Whether the result of their harmonization would have been the same as it is now is a matter of conjecture. But it happens that Philo came before them and it also happens that all kinds of evidence show the influence of Philo upon early Gentile-Christian churches[25].

It is hard to sift through what actual evidence there is regarding Gnosticism in the NT due to their historical synchronicity. The Hammadi library find contains Pagan, Jewish, Greek and early Gnostic influences[26], further reinforcing the need to tread lightly. The antiquity of the find being of utmost importance since it shows primary evidence of texts that may also have influenced the process of NT canonization[27].

If any conclusion is to be made at this point is that Gnosticism was considered a real enough threat by the apostles themselves, showing us how early it started to infiltrate the Church, through which several of its undercurrents were to strongly influence later ‘orthodox’ doctrine[28].


[1] First coined in Plato’s Politikos [‘Statement’] as gnostikoi [‘those capable of knowing’], and linking it with knowledge [episteme] (Introduction to Politikos; Cooper, John M. & Hutchinson, D. S. [Eds.] (1997)

[2] What is understood as “orthodox” and “Gnostic” teachings in this early period [1st-2nd century] needs to be redefined due to the complexities now unfolding regarding their historical and doctrinal similarities. Ed. Note.

[3] The terminology has ties to the passage in Pro 8:23, taking a well known Hebraic-concept of ‘personification’ and applying it to Christ as the “wisdom of God” [1 Co 1:24]. This metaphor was common and understood by most church fathers like Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, Epiphanius and Cyril. (Racovian Catechism, pp. 73-75)

[4] From the Greek dokein, hence Docetism (Dictionary of the Later NT & its Developments, Intervarsity Press, 1997)

[5] Jesus was Sui Generis, the doctrine of the “pre-existent” Christ accepted by some Gnostics and ‘orthodox’ Christians. Hanson R. P. C, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381 A.D. Edinburgh T. & T. Clark, 1988.

[6] New Bible Dictionary, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub., Grand Rapids, MI, 1975), pp. 558-560. Furthermore, scripture teaches that this is not in line with Hebraic [Rabbinic] teaching, something Jesus himself adhered to [Luke 2; John 4:24; Phil 3:3-4]. Also see, Nuesner, Jacob, The Modern Study of the Mishna, 1997; & Mishne Torah.

[7] In Platonism the soul [psuchē] was self-moving, indivisible; degenerated and eternal, existing before the body which housed it, and longing to be free from its earthly imprisonment, leading to the Docetist-dualist concept of ‘good’ & ‘evil’ matter. Ed. Note.

[8] Their own ‘heresiology’ would later be attacked as heretical. See, Holt, Reinhard, The Western Heritage of Faith and Reason, Winston N.Y., 1971), p. 382; Alastair H. B. Logan, Gnostic Truth and Christian Heresy (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 1996)

[9] “Was the Lord’s prayer addressed only to the hypostasis of the Father as ‘our Father’ and the Father of the Son, or to the entire ousia of the Godhead?” Pelikan, Jaroslav; The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol. 1, the Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1971.

10] A new theological vocabulary capable of explaining this doctrine was created [e.g. homoousios = same essence]. Adopting an idea of Origen’s that easterners would appreciate in their own Sabellianism. Hanson, Search, pp. 687-688.

[11] The crisis of the later Roman Empire and move towards the east brought a “new realism” which may have inclined Christians to accept the new theological doctrine. Ed. note

[12] Arius preached that, “before Christ, God was not yet a Father…there was a time when he [Jesus] was not.” Since most of his works are lost, the accounts are based on reports of others. Hanson, Search, pp. 5-8.

[13] Alexandria had long been a hotbed of theological innovation and debate where high ranking Christian thinkers used methods from Greek philosophy as well as Jewish and Christian sources for their teachings. Ed. note

[14] Although, he took his monotheism seriously, he later taught that the only way to save mankind from moral and physical extinction was for God to do the unthinkable, descend into human flesh. Athanasius, “On the Incarnation of the World”, in Phillip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 4, Athanasius: Select Works and Letters (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994)

[15] See Goodacre, Mark. The Case against Q: Studies in Marcan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002); Robinson, James, M. The Nag Hammadi Library, HarperOne, 1990.

[16] The word becoming familiar to Greeks in the 3rd century with Ammonius Saccas and the Alexandrian Neo-Platonists [or Theurgists] and was adopted in 1875 by H. P. Blavatsky and others associated with the Theosophical Society (Blavatsky, H. P. The Secret Doctrine, the synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy, Theosophical Uni. Press, first published 1888)

[17] Its formulation coinciding with the period most strongly associated with Gnosticism [4th-6th centuries]. See, Eusebius Hist. Eccl; McDonald, L. M, The Formation of the Biblical Canon (rev. and exp, ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995).

[18] Dictionary of the Later New Testament, pp. 135-143.

[19] One of the earliest & best known Gnostics (Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, Intervarsity Press, 1993, pp. 350-351)

[20] Even though the author makes it clear why the gospel was written in John 20:31. Ed. Note.

[21] Scholarly debate lies in placing the letters between 70-90A.D. & 90-110A.D. (Dictionary of the Later NT & its Developments, Intervarsity Press, 1997)

[22] “In the beginning the Word existed. The Word existed in the presence of God, and the Word was a divine being.” John 1:1. A Contemporary English Translation of the Coptic Text, late 2nd century C.E based on the texts of George William Horner. The Coptic version of the NT in the southern dialect, otherwise called Sahidic and Thebaic, 1911.

[23] The Apostle states that in light of the continual battle by Satan against God and His Christ, it’s not surprising that “our gospel is veiled…the god of this world” blinding people, as per 2 Co 4:3-4 (NRSV)

[24] It is not surprising to see that John is in harmony with Paul’s own teachings regarding the “true doctrine” in his pastoral letters (cp. 1 Tim 6:3-4; 2 Co 11:4). Ed. Note.

[25] H. A. Wolfson, ‘Notes on Patristic Philosophy’, Harvard Theological Review 57, no. 2 [Apr. 1964] p. 124.

[26] “Both pagan mythologies and Platonic philosophical traditions…extensive use of the early chapters of Genesis…the obvious centrality of Jesus Christ [and apostolic figures] in many texts.” Dictionary of the Later New Testament, p 410

[27] See Everett Ferguson, "Factors leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon," in The Canon Debate. eds. L. M. McDonald & J. A. Sanders (Hendrickson, 2002); Lindberg, Carter (2006) A Brief History of Christianity. Blackwell Publishing

[28] The Council at Nicaea [325 A.D.] went on to condemn “those who say…that He [Jesus] came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance…these, the Catholic Church and apostolic Church anathematizes”. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, pp. 215-216. Kelly translates ousia as “substance” here, and the creed as recited today translates homoousios as “consubstantial”—of the same substance.

"Quid est Veritas"

“’You are a king then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered…’for this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’ Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’…” John 18:37a-38a

It is striking to note that this question Pontius Pilate posed rhetorically to the battered and bloody man standing before him, Jesus called the Christ, was left unanswered. All other human definitions since have presupposed to answer it.

The word ‘truth’ has been defined as “a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality… [In] Christian Science: God”[1]. In Scripture, the Greek word translated ‘truth’ is aletheia, which means “the unveiled reality lying at the basis of and agreeing with an appearance; the manifested, the veritable essence of matter”[2]. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that “all credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses”[3]. Some people may find their answer within one of these statements but none of them is yet to be accepted as the ‘truest’ of meanings. So, what is truth?

In today’s world the very concept of ‘truth’ itself is being dismissed by many who are caught up in ‘post-modern’ thinking. This is the mindset that holds ‘truth’ as being only a construction created by one’s culture or the individual so that, what may be true for one is not true for another. Thus, truth is relative. This means that words are not fixed but a function of interpretation, so that each person can construct his own meanings. Therefore, our fundamental commitment to what we hold as constituting reality is malleable, an outlook otherwise unprecedented in human history.

The answer to the question [‘a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma!’] may be two-fold: doctrinal and practical, or propositional and relational. The man, Jesus, gives both sides of the answer by stating that “your word is truth” (John 17:17) and “I am the truth” (John 14:6). In him is revealed a God who has designed truth to first be grasped by the human mind through the Holy Scriptures. But God desires that it go deeper than that, and be held in the human heart, as per Psalm 51:6.

But some point to the fact that this is part of one’s personal, religious belief, something equated to the oftentimes alien concept of religious "faith". James Sire notes that “religious belief…has nothing to do with matters of truth and falsity”[4] . This ‘post-modern’ view is one of extreme tolerance exercised as ‘political correctness’. Aristotle’s concept that the sum of all knowledge is dependent on one’s understanding of the physical world has permeated this outlook. This may be the result of 2 successive World Wars that not only changed worldview as we know it (both externally and ‘internally’) but whose scars have left deep divisions in the way we define, teach and interpret what is ‘true to us’. This is indicative of the personal truth within, as evidenced by one’s words and deeds.

Eph 4:15 is perhaps God’s most poignant plea as to how He wants us to relate to the truth, where the expression "speaking the truth in love" is awkwardly translated from the Greek alētheúontes, meaning to endeavor to express the truth in a loving manner. In Gal 4:16, it means not only speaking the truth but presenting an action as the truth and not counterfeit. Again, God’s goal is that we live the truth.

Scripture does make it clear that the option of truth is a personal choice. Some people “refuse to love the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10); some “distort the truth” (Acts 20:30); and some “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). But it nonetheless makes it clear that “we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor. 13:8).

Jesus contrasted truth with “tradition”. Replying to the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders who criticized his disciples for failing to adhere to one of the many extraneous requirements they had added to God’s Word, he said:
“Thus you nullify [do away with] the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Mat 15:6)
What originates from the minds of men and contradicts truth “nullifies” the Word of God. That means that believing error does not bring one the benefits of believing truth, and may well bring consequences instead. We can deduce the same thing from the best known biblical expression in John 8:31-32:
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
What is the converse to this? Wouldn’t it be that believing error puts you in bondage to some degree? Yes, and that is how “tradition” nullifies truth. Truth works in life, traditions don’t.

But if truth, as defined by scripture, is something not to be denied yet something we can choose, does this make our concept of a ‘post-modern’ truth valid in any way? Does this uphold the existentialist concept of man alone existing since his “Being is distinguished by the open-standing standing”[5]?

Søren Kierkegaard, ‘the father of Existentialism’ and a stout Christian himself, wrote that “a man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him”

Thus, truth is a snare: you cannot attain it in its fullest meaning without catching you. It is relative in this ‘post-modern’ respect since whatever we may learn from hearing will always be an opinion, not a fact, and everything we might see a perspective and not a truth. In its biblical implications it is a claim to certainty, since all religions in the world, while they may differ in some respects, unitedly proclaim that nothing lives in this world but truth alone.
“The truth is so completely lost through faulty translation and the debris of human tradition that only by appealing to the internal evidences of the Word in its purity do we hope to establish this revelation of God in the hearts of His people.” Adlai Loudy, God’s Eonian Purpose, (Santa Clarita, Concordant Publishing Concern, First edition, 1929, Second Printing, 1991) pp. 101-103.


[1] Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary.

[2] The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary.

[4] The Discipleship of the Mind: Knowing and Doing; pg. 101.

[5] Existentialism: Blind alley Beliefs; pg. 56.

[6] Excerpt from Either/Or (Enten - Eller); 1843.

The impact on the Christian movement of the conversion of Constantine

The impact Constantine’s alleged conversion[1] had on Christianity are seen in light of the imperial mandates made in the edict of Milan and first Christian [ecumenical[2]] council convened at Nicaea in 325[3]. The edict terminated the persecution of Christians, guaranteeing freedom of worship, and all properties confiscated or destroyed to be returned [or else the victims reimbursed for their loss[4]. This policy showed support for both Christians and pagans alike[5], since it’s likely that until his conversion Constantine was a regular worshipper of the sun-god as supreme deity[6]. As a result, new converts poured into newly built churches within the empire. Constantine’s commitment to his new faith, and leading role in church affairs, extended to the many theological disputes the movement now faced.

Following the death of Jesus Christ, the progress of the new Christian faith was very slow due to intense, violent persecutions by the Romans. Although static and inefficient, these persecutions wounded the early Church in ways that made later conflicts within its community inevitable[7]. But the later decline of Roman fortunes, and strategic withdrawal from the west to the east, signaled a turning point that included the conversion of large sections of the upper, governing Roman class[8].

At the time of Constantine, the Roman Empire was under the rule of Emperor Diocletian[9]. Any positive acclaims that may be attributed to Diocletian’s 20-plus year reign were completely overshadowed by his savage persecutions, starting in 297-298[10]. This first and real systematic attempt by an Emperor to halt Christianity was enforced to varying degrees across the Empire. The western provinces, presided by Constantine, were scarcely affected. He nevertheless won favor for shielding them under successive anti-Christian edicts[11]. Eusebius’[12] Vita Constantini[13] (Life of Constantine—c. 324AD) provides our main historical source for this period[14].

As emperor, Constantine acted as judge in the conflict between Donatists[15] and the mainstream churches of North Africa in 316[16]. But more significantly, his advisors called his attention to a controversy centered on the heretical teachings of Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria[17]. The subject was an old one, concerning the relationship of the Son, Jesus Christ, to God the Father[18]. Arius’ “subordinationist theology”[19] was accepted by many Christians in the east, although western churchmen generally rejected it. The outcome of the months’ long council ended in the creation of the doctrine of the Trinity. As one of the bishops, Gregory of Nyssa succinctly described it: “God is three individuals sharing one essence. Both the unity and the tripartite division of the Godhead are real. If this seems paradoxical, so be it”[20]. Most of the bishops agreed with what became known as the Nicene Creed and signed it[21], whilst others [Theonas of Marmarica, Secundus of Ptolemais and Arius] refused and were unceremoniously excommunicated by the emperor[22].

The Council as a watershed represents the last point at which Christians with strongly opposed theological views acted civilly towards each other before these same colleagues saw themselves as sinful, corrupt, malicious and even satanic adversaries. Constantine’s involvement in such theological themes was as a spectator at best, functioning as a referee among his more “enlightened”, quarreling visitors. The emperor [by nature an impatient and decisive man] hoped for a quick resolution to the debates. His goal was to unite the empire’s diverse, quarreling people in one huge spiritual fellowship[23]. He saw an opportunity to strengthen the Church’s position in his ‘new Rome’ by unifying it doctrinally and helping to reorganize it internally. This served as a precursor to the ‘infallible’ role the Papacy would later try to create.

Constantine’s achievements began the process for Christian legalization that created a new, imperial governing class which permanently ended the period of persecution begun by the Romans. The result was the growth, in later centuries, of a specifically Christian-Byzantine and Western-Medieval culture. The success of which remained with successive emperors protecting and favoring the policies Constantine steadfastly held until his death in 337. His zeal of approval gave the highest sanction of civil authority to a religious movement that had silently and imperceptibly wrought in public opinion for almost 300 years.

[1] The character of Constantine is difficult to assess and so are his motivations. Much is veiled behind partisan eulogies like Eusebius’. There is no reason to doubt his sincere religious conviction but he was first and foremost a propagandist, gifted military commander and unscrupulous, determined manipulator. See, Barnes, T.D., Constantine and Eusebius, Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1981.

[2]Ecumenical, from the Koine Greek oikoumenikos, literally meaning worldwide but generally assumed to be limited to the Roman Empire; the earliest extant uses of the term for a council are found in Eusebius' Life of Constantine 3.6, c. 338 [σύνοδον οἰκουμενικὴν συνεκρότει=”he convoked an Ecumenical council”], Athanasius' Ad Afros Epistola Synodica in 369, and the Letter in 382 to Pope Damasus I and the Latin bishops from the First Council of Constantinople. Ed. Note.

[3] Constantine convened the council with his new eastern ally and brother-in-law, Licinius who was seen as both a liberator of the eastern provinces [from persecutions by Maximinus Daia in 313], to arch enemy of the great hero Constantine in 324. The historical accounts pertaining to Licinius are bias towards a man who patronized pagan philosophers and exercised toleration towards his Christians subjects. His influence, if any, is thwarted by the shadow of his partner’s vastly superior and more ambitious goals. See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History X. 8.

[4] Christian rejoicing proved premature, however, when in 316 Licinius started a new persecution, which Constantine finally ended via two key battles in Asia Minor in 324. Ed. Note.

[5] Imagery of the sun-cult appears on his coinage up to the year 320. “[Constantine] was [also] very much influenced by the theology of Origen…whose library he inherited”. (Eusebius, Life of, p 2)

[6] This concept of a nebulous supreme deity lying behind the traditional religion, also shared by Aurelian and other soldier-emperors before him, was not too far removed from the Christian notion of a single omnipotent God. Ed. Note.

[7] “Nothing suggests, however, that Christianity was a formidable movement before the reign of Marcus Aurelius [161-180AD].” Frend, The Rise of Christianity, p. 179

[8] “It is highly likely that women were a clear majority in the churches of the 3rd century.” Fox, Pagans and Christians, p. 310. For more on this subject, see Brown, Peter, The Body and Society, pp. 145-154.

[9] A man described by the Christian polemicist, Lactantius, as the, “author of crimes and a deviser of evil [who] could not even keep his hands from God” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 7

[10] Diocletian reorganized the provincial structure of the empire by: separating civil & military power and abandoning Rome as a major imperial residence, establishing new centers nearer to the troubled frontiers [at Trier & Milan in the west; Thessalonica & Nicomedia in the east]. Ed. Note.

[11] Apart from Eusebius and Lactantius, Constantine also received good accounts from pagan writers such as Eutropius. Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity; New York: Atheneum, 1976.
[12] The Bishop of Caesarea & not to be confused with Eusebius, the Bishop of Nicomedia, who was very active around this time. Ed. Note.

[13] “Eusebius seems to have left [this work] unfinished or unrevised when he died himself in May 339” Eusebius, Life of Constantine, introduction, translation and commentary by Averil Cameron & S. G. Hall (Oxford, 1999) p 3

[14] Including “many other works of biblical scholarship, Christian apologetic and contemporary religious debate” Ibid. p 1

[15] The movement was led by Donatus who upheld the powers of the priest and denied communion to those laypeople who had lapsed during Roman persecutions. Ed. Note.

[16] This virtual civil war would not end until the 5th century, when invading Vandals suppressed all the churches, Donatist and orthodox alike. Ed. Note

[17] “We are persecuted because we say that the Son had a beginning, but that God was without a beginning…because we say that he [Jesus] is created from nothing. And this we say because he is neither part of God, nor any subjacent matter.” [Arius defense letter to Eusebius] Quasten, Johannes. Patrology Vol. 3, The Golden Age of Greek Patristic Literature from the Council of Nicaea to the Council of Chalcedon. Utrech/Antwerp: Spectrum Publishers, 1960.

[18] This is an ongoing ‘Christological’ dispute even within modern Church community today. See Navas, Patrick, Divine Truth or Human Tradition?: A Reconsideration of the Roman Catholic-Protestant Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, Authorhouse, 2006. Holt, Brian, Jesus-God or the Son of God? A Comparison of the Arguments, Tellway Pub, 2002; Dunn, D.G. James, Christology in the Making: A NT Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, SCM Canterbury Press, 1989 [Ed. Note]

[19] Rather than asserting that Jesus was divine by nature, Arius emphasized that he had earned his “adoption” as Son and his “promotion” to divine status through moral growth and obedience to God. Greeg, Robert C. & Groh E. Dennis, Early Arianism—A View of Salvation (Philadelphia Fortress Press, 1981

[20] Hanson, R. P. C. The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381AD (T & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1988), pp. 723-724.

[21] What is known about the Council is based on fragmentary comments by a few bishops who attended the meetings. Description of it are to be found, inter alia, in Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 3d ed., pp 205-262; Hanson, Search, pp 152-207; Barnes, Constantine & Eusebius, pp 208-223

[22] Encyclopedia Britannica articles on Nicene Creed, Arius, Vol. 16, 1991.

[23] “[His] chief concern was that a divided church would offend the Christian God [bringing] divine vengeance upon [Rome and himself]…Schism [he believed], was inspired by Satan”. The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 16, Macropaedia: Knowledge in Depth, 1991, pp. 688-689.
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