What Happened to the Apostles?

Apostolic Fathers IconWhile Christians often think about the death (and resurrection!) of Jesus, many Christians (especially Protestants) rarely consider how the earliest followers of Jesus lived out their last moments on earth. In part, this is because–unlike with Jesus–we have relatively few historically credible accounts of the death of the earliest leaders of the Jesus Movement. What we do have are various church traditions and accounts of the martyrdoms and deaths of the Apostles and Evangelists. Below are short renditions of some of the more widely attested accounts of the testimonies of the deaths of the apostles.

Perhaps the most widely known tradition concerning apostolic martyrdom is that of Peter who is said to have been crucified in Rome upside down during the reign of the Emperor Nero (typically dated around 64 CE). According to tradition, Peter felt unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Jesus, and thus was apparently crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross. Continue reading

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The Trinity in the Early Church (Part II)

Holy SpiritHistorian J.W.C. Wand argues that the orthodox belief of the early church included the deity of the Holy Spirit, as it was essentially argued along with the deity of Christ in the Christological debates and was held as popular belief among Christians.[8] Yet as Rebecca Lyman argues that one cannot merely accept popular opinion as orthodoxy, for while popular belief in the church did play an important role in the defeat of Arianism, popular piety was a more divisive factor in later historical Christological debates, such as that between Cyril and Nestorius.[9] While one certainly cannot unwittingly conflate popular opinion as orthodoxy, the uniformity that existed between the orthodox Church Fathers and the general Christian population seems to indicate that worship and theology were intricately related in early Christianity, that belief and formalized doctrine were the same confession.[10] Often times the “differences” in doctrinal belief were simply a matter of use of “mutually confusing theological terms.”[11] Early Christians then used worship as the locus of their theological beliefs – how they worshiped is what they confessed. Continue reading

The Trinity in the Early Church (Part I)

Icon of the Holy Trinity (Rubilev)

Icon of the Holy Trinity (Rubilev)

The doctrine of the Trinity–espoused by the Cappadocian Fathers as “God is one object in Himself and three objects to Himself”–is commonly understood to be one of the more difficult concepts to grasp in Christian theology. Much of Early Church history revolved around debates concerning the Person of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Father, and doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit was often not explicitly discussed. However by the time of the Cappadocian Fathers and Augustine, an explicit doctrine of the Trinity was emerging in Christendom (Kelly, 252). In her essay entitled “Why Three?” Sarah Coakley engages the Maurice Wiles’ perspective on the Trinity as espoused in his The Making of Christian Doctrine. Continue reading

Investigation and Scripture

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syrian Christianity.

Investigation and Scripture in Ephrem’s Hymns on Faith 1-9

Open BibleEphrem scholar Jeff Wickes contextualizes the Hymns on Faith as essentially belonging to the post-Nicaea “homoean” camp that remained anti-subordinationist while problematizing the language of Nicaea.[1] This characterization, I believe, proves most helpful for explicating Ephrem’s theology. Here we see that Ephrem’s unique perspective and approach to this stage of the Christological controversies demonstrates his attempt to reset the paradigm of the debate. For Ephrem, theological investigation needs to be done appropriately—there is a certain way to “do” theology. The Hymns on Faith are therefore not just a critique of subordinationist Arian theology, but of a way of doing theology.[2] This reflection examines Hymns on Faith 1-9, arguing that the Christian scriptures serve as Ephrem’s formative theological paradigm and the basis for all proper investigation of God. Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Tertullian (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
Tertullian of Carthage

Tertullian of Carthage

From Tertullian’s writings emerge several implications for Marcion’s conceptions of scripture, canon, and authority. First, from his Prescription against Heresies it seems that Marcion in some way undermined the existing authority structures of the Catholic Church by appealing to sources of authority outside those which were typically employed. These sources at least appear to be sources imbued with philosophical thought that moves away from what Tertullian references the teachings of Christ and ‘rule of faith.’ Second and also from Prescriptions, Marcion appears to have used and distorted existing Christian scriptures. This could mean a number of things, but from Tertullian’s claims that Marcion rejected the apostolic and Jewish roots of Christian faith it seems to indicate that Marcion had rejected some writings and manipulated others in an attempt to present a unified authoritative corpus of some sort. Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Tertullian (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
Tertullian of Cathage

Tertullian of Cathage

In comparison to all other extant ancient works, the writings of Tertullian of Carthage against Marcion remain the fullest and most precise rejection of Marcion’s theology. Tertullian composed as least six works against Marcion, including his Prescription against Heresies and Five Books against Marcion which are extant today.[37] In the Prescription against Heretics, Tertullian made a number of accusations concern Marcion’s use of scripture, canon, and authority, perhaps the most clear being that Marcion had induced a schism within Catholic church authority.[38] Writing somewhat generally, Tertullian wrote that Marcion introduced new material to the Christian faith,[39] formed a theology based on philosophical thought that moved beyond the teachings of Christ and the ‘rule of faith,’[40] twisted and distorted Christian scriptures,[41] and had moved Christian faith away from its Jewish and apostolic roots to a new theology.[42] Continue reading

Deaths of the Apostles

The Twelve ApostlesIt’s Holy Week for Christians, the week we remember the last days, Passion, Death, and (ultimately) the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The vast majority of all Christian knowledge about the death and resurrection of Jesus comes from the four canonical gospel accounts, each of which records in some detail the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. And since that historic Friday almost 2,000 years ago, a great deal has been written (and drawn, painted, scripted, and produced) about the passion of the Christ. And despite what some scholars and news outlets claim this time of year, most scholars conclude that its safe to say that we know a good deal about the events surrounding the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. Continue reading

ECA: Second Clement

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Early Christian Authority.
The Apostolic Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers

The Second Epistle of Clement represents the oldest extant non-canonical Christian homily, a sermon that urges followers of Christ to recognize their debts to God and repent of their sins while displacing themselves from the sinful world and committing themselves to self-control and good works. This writing’s identification with Clement of Rome appears to have come from the letter’s connections with the Corinthians church, its early composition (understood generally as coming from the early second century), and perhaps with the shared quotation of an unknown scriptural source (see I Clement 23.3-4 and II Clement 11.2-4). In the extant texts Second Clement tends to follow First Clement, as in Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Hierosolymitanus and likewise follows the pattern of First Clement  in attributing the homily to Clement of Rome. Many scholars have rejected this view based primarily upon stylistic and citation differences and Second Clement’s relatively uncommon usage in the early centuries, especially among proto-orthodox fathers. As such, the author of this work is unknown, as is the place of its writing. Common suggestions place its composition in early second century Corinth or Alexandria. Continue reading

ECA: Gnostic and Anti-Gnostic

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Early Christian Authority.

Nag Hammadi CodicesSome of the clearest indications that the early Church faced disagreements and divisions have been preserved in the writings on Gnostic Christian traditions and writings opposed to such movements. While various strands of Christian thought differed in their use and interpretation of extant Jewish and Christian writings, both orthodox and gnostic groups seem to have claimed for the scriptures as a form of authority. The diverse knowledge of and use of such writings demonstrates that each group sought to preserve the uniqueness of their movement by the utilization of extant texts and traditions. In today’s post, we examine four extant works of the Gnostic/anti-Gnostic genre of literature, including the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, Epistle of the Apostles, Third Letter to the Corinthians, and Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora. Continue reading

Book Review: The Drama of Scripture, 2E (Bartholomew and Goheen)

The Drama of Scripture, 2EVery few books are must reads, especially for busy, sleep-deprived, tired-of-reading-books-for-class college students (or their even more taxed cousins, the grad student). Rarely does something come along that clearly and concisely explains complex issues with clarity and precision. Ten years ago, one such book came along: The Drama of Scripture, captivating readers and shedding much need lucidity on discerning the Biblical narrative. Now, ten years later, Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen have done it again, updating and revising the second edition of The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Baker Academic, 2014). Continue reading