Between the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), many controversies erupted from the Alexandrian and Antiochene positions on the person of Christ. The Council of Constantinople (381 AD) condemned the belief of Apollinarius that Christ only had one will, that of the divine. While the Church believed that Christ had a divine will, there was too much scriptural and philosophical support for the position that Christ had a human will as well. How else can one explain Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), and other verses that seem to indicate that Christ had a human will? For God to be the redeemer of man, He needed to include full humanity as Irenaeus and Tertullian had emphasized years before. Continue reading
C. S. Lewis once said that if the incarnation happened, “it was the central event in the history of the earth.” What is the incarnation? And why has it been such an important area of theological consideration since the earliest days of Christianity? The term ‘incarnation’ may be defined as “a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or quality.” For the Christian tradition, the man who has been understood as deified has been Jesus of Nazareth; but the Christian claim of Jesus as God, not merely as one who embodied God, historically presented a plethora of questions to the early Christian theologians.
In determining what the incarnation means for Christians, the Early Church Fathers sought to determine more concerning the person Jesus. Maurice Wiles writes that “the heart of Christian faith is the person of Christ and what God has done in him.” The orthodox Christian Church has always professed monotheism based upon the Jewish tradition and the scriptures. Given this monotheistic belief however, the early Church viewed Jesus not as a simple messenger of God, but worshiped Him as the Son of God. This is especially evident in the writing’s of Irenaeus, who refers to Jesus as “the Word, the Son of God.”  Continue reading
Most early Christians seem to have lived with a fairly basic understanding of soteriology. Beginning with Tertullian of Carthage, however, deeper investigation into specific aspects of soteriological doctrine began to circulate within the Church. Philosophical language and concepts began to find more frequent use among the Fathers, and soon after the Fathers began teaching that “Christ suffered for our sins, healing our wounds and destroying death by His blood, and that we have been restored to life and our sins purged by it.” In the East, theologians such as Origen and Methodius debated the effect of Adam’s fall and its impact on human freewill, death, and the new Adam of Christ. This eventually coalesced into statements indicating that, “sin called for a propitiation, and Christ stepped forward as ‘a victim spotless and innocent,’ propitiating the Father to men by His generous self-oblation.” The developments in thought, influx of philosophical language, and challenges of geographic distance eventually led to different Christian centers processing different (at least slightly) beliefs regarding the person and work of Christ in human salvation. Continue reading
By the early fourth century, the Christianity had spread across the Roman world with surprising speed, tenacity, and relative uniformity of belief. While the early Church was by no means completely uniform in doctrine, belief, or practice, the vast majority of Christians professed what has become known as Christian Orthodoxy. Heresies such as Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism, while threatening the fledgling Church, were never serious threats in the way that the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries were. Chief among the divisions in the fourth century was the question of the deity of Jesus of Nazareth: was the founder of the Church human? Was He divine? Was He somehow both? The answer to this question was important for historical reasons, but was even more important for its soteriological implications. Continue reading
While the influence of Pauline writings on early Christianity remains widely recognized, few studies investigate the particulars of Paul’s theological and exegetical influence on ante-Nicene Christianity. Beginning this immense task of studying the specific reception histories of Pauline pericopes is Jennifer Strawbridge’s The Pauline Effect, winner of the 2014 SBL-De Gruyter Prize for Biblical Studies and Reception History. This volume examines how Paul and his letters—particularly the texts of 1 Corinthians 2.6-16, Ephesians 6.10-17, 1 Corinthians 15.50-58, and Colossians 1.15-20—shaped early Christian theology and practice. Among the contributions of this volume is the argument that early Christian use of Paul reveals definitive development of Christian formation as “progress from one level of wisdom to another” (4). Continue reading
This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.
In “The Role of Martyrdom and Persecution in Developing the Priestly Authority of Women in Early Christianity: A Case Study in Montanism,” Frederick Klawiter contends that from its beginnings Montanism enabled women to rise to ministerial status through their roles as confessor-martyrs. After offering a broad overview of the New Prophecy and its divisive influence in second century Asia Minor, Klawiter considers why the movement came to be viewed as heretical, suggesting that New Prophecy placed too great an emphasis on martyrdom. This Klawiter connects with the rise of martyr-minsters in Rome (ca. 190 CE), whose integrity before God elevated them to the rank of presbyter. It was this elevated status that Montanists extended to confessors even after their release, as with Alexander and Themiso, who called themselves martyrs even after their release from captivity. Continue reading
Gregory Thaumaturgus—the Wonderworker—remains a scantly studied figure of the late antique Christian Church. This is neither because he lacked pizzazz—he once moved an immovable boulder through prayer to convert a pagan priest—nor for his lax literary output. In all likelihood, Gregory (c. 210-270/5 ce) remains relatively neglected because he lived in a time when his theologizing about the nature of God took a back seat to surviving Roman persecution. Although Gregory lived through the Decian torments, he did so by leaving both his post as bishop of Neocaesarea in Pontus and the fervent example of his teacher Origen. Yet Gregory has much to offer for today, as Michael Slusser makes clear in his Fathers of the Church compendium on Gregory’s life and works. Continue reading
Some time ago I published a brief reflection titled “Bible Translations, Not Inspired,” in which I argued that we must not assume that our contemporary Bibles—because they are translations—are the same thing as the inspired (inherent) words of God. While I don’t want to disagree with that post, I do want to reflect upon the inspiration of the scriptures, spurned on by Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It?, which I’ve been reading the past couple of days.
Occasionally I will run into someone who holds an unusually high view of a certain version or translation of the Bible. This is true across denomination lines: Catholics have the Apocrypha and the Vulgate, the Orthodox have the Septuagint, and various Protestants have their Scofield Reference Bibles, the King James Version, or the dearly-beloved ESV. And because we have our version of the best Bible, clearly our theology must be more fully informed (and therefore accurate). Continue reading
Few queries surrounding the New Testament are as well known as the question regarding the authorship of Hebrews. Since the early centuries of Christianity—indeed, long before the New Testament canon was finalized—inquisitive readers have investigated who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Eusebius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Harnack (to name but a few) have theorized and argued about the identity of Hebrew’s author. No less a list than Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, Silas, Peter, Clement of Rome, Priscilla and Aqulia, Ariston, Philip, Jude, Epaphras, John the Apostle, Timothy, and Mary (the Mother of Jesus) has been suggested as to whom this figure might be. In recent decades, those studying Paul have increasingly problematized claims that the Apostle’s authored Hebrews, making it less likely that the long-assumed writer of Hebrews actually penned the work. And despite the copious number of theories concerning other potential authors of Hebrews, rather little has been offered by way of solid conclusions. To address this noteworthy issue, a couple of years ago came David L. Allen’s Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010. 416 pgs). Continue reading
C. S. Lewis once said that if the incarnation happened, “it was the central event in the history of the earth.” What is the incarnation? And why has it been such an important area of theological consideration since the earliest days of Christianity? The term ‘incarnation’ may be defined as “a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or quality.” For the Christian tradition, the man who has been understood as deified has been Jesus of Nazareth; but the Christian claim of Jesus as God, not merely as one who embodied God, historically presented a plethora of questions to the early Christian theologians. Continue reading