A Brief History of Communion: Origins

Christians of all sorts partake of some form of communion. Known by different names—the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Holy Communion, Breaking of Bread, Mass—and taken at different frequencies—daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly—this practice involving bread and wine stands as a testament to both Christian unity as well as divisions. What do contemporary Christians believe about the Lord’s Supper? To begin answering this question, we must first look at the history of communion, beginning today with what the early Church said about the practice and meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Continue reading

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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

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

Scripture in 1 Clement: Composite Citation of the Gospels (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the function and use of scripture in the early Christian writing known as 1 Clement.

Clement of Rome

Clement of Rome

In all, six basic options have been offered regarding the source of 1 Clement 46:8: (1) Matthew 26:24, (2) Luke 17:1-2, (3) Matthew 18:6,[1] (4) Mark 9:42, (5) a combination of any or all of these sources, or (6) an extra-canonical and non-extant source such as Q.[2] Table 1 outlines a textual comparison of these synoptic passages with 1 Clement 46:8. Continue reading

Scripture in 1 Clement: Composite Citation of the Gospels (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the function and use of scripture in the early Christian writing known as 1 Clement.

The Four Evangelists (Book of Kells)

The Four Evangelists (Book of Kells)

Clement’s relationship with written Christian texts remains far more difficult to parse than his near constant reliance on Jewish scriptures. Arguments have been made for this epistle’s use of nearly every writing now in the New Testament, [1] although in no place does Clement introduce a possible reference to these writings with anything other than a “he says/said” introduction.[2] Clement’s lack of clear citations to Christian literature contributes to the major divergence of scholarly opinion regarding this letter’s possible use of materials from the Synoptic Gospels.  Commonly noted possible parallels include the sayings on mercy and forgiveness found in 1 Clement 13.2,[3] the reference to the Parable of the Sower found in 1 Clement 24:5,[4] and the quotation of Isaiah 29:13 in 1 Clement 15:2, where Clement agrees with the form found in Matthew 15:8 and Mark 7:6 over LXX Isaiah.[5] Continue reading

The Day That Jesus Died

When students are first introduced to the historical, as opposed to a devotional, study of the Bible, one of the first things they are forced to grapple with is that the biblical text, whether Old Testament or New Testament, is chock full of discrepancies, many of them irreconcilable…. In some cases seemingly trivial points of difference can actually have an enormous significance for the interpretation of a book or the reconstruction of the history of ancient Israel or the life of the historical Jesus.”—Bart D. Ehrman1

Bart D. Ehrman

As this statement from contemporary (and popular) New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman indicates, there those who study Christianity—its scriptures and history—who argue that the canonical gospels2 do not present a historically accurate account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Around Easter every year, scholars and journalists of this perspective often pen pieces on the ”Why the Resurrection Story is a Myth” or ”Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” In more nuanced versions of these discussions, the credibility of early Christian accounts of Christ’s passion and resurrection is called into question, even on facts as seemingly mundane as the day on which Jesus was crucified.3 Such is the position of Ehrman, who argues that the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and Gospel of John portray Jesus as being killed on two different days, thus revealing their historical inaccuracy and untruthfulness.4 As is my Good Friday custom, in this post I examine this claim and explain why the canonical gospels indicate that Jesus died on the same day: Good Friday. Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Conclusions

This post is the final post in a series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.
The Four Evangelists (Book of Kells)

The Four Evangelists (Book of Kells)

What then can we conclude concerning claims that none of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the events that they describe? First, on one level it must be admitted that this position could be correct—none of the gospels bear explicit identification of the author or date of writing— and it bears repeating that none of the writers had to be an eyewitness for the gospel accounts to be authoritative. Second however, it must be remembered that the goal of undermining the historical reliability of the canonical gospels does not necessarily follow from any conclusion concerning the eyewitness status of the events recorded. As modern studies concerning trial testimony has demonstrated, eyewitnesses can be wrong. Each gospel account must stand or fall on its own historical merits. Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? John

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

fourth-gospelThe Fourth Gospel, traditionally referred to as the Gospel According to John, provides the closest example of explicit reference to authorship, though it too remains originally anonymous. Church tradition has long linked the Fourth Gospel with three early epistles and the Apocalypse, which bears the author’s name, John.[1] While debated (as all good scholarly truth claims are), there exists a good deal of evidence (vocabulary, structure, grammar, theology) indicating that the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse were written by the same individual. Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Luke

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

Gospel of LukeIt should be noted that Luke’s gospel immediately indicates that the author is likely NOT an eyewitness of the events that are recorded afterward. The introduction to the account reads, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”[1] Luke assures Theophilus that while he himself is not an eyewitness of the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, he has done his research as a historian to demonstrate the veracity of the story that he is telling. Continue reading