Reflections on Ephrem’s Commentaries

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

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Though said to have written a commentary on every book of the Bible, the only authentic and extant prose commentaries of Ephrem the Syrian are those on Genesis and (part of) Exodus. These commentaries, following the more traditional “text and gloss” approach, represent a distinct departure from Ephrem’s approach in his Hymns to commentary and theology. This essay offers several reflections on these commentaries, concluding that they represent an important part of any attempted reconstruction of Ephrem’s conception of scripture and theology. Continue reading

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What About People Who Died Before the Incarnation?

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

A while back, a friend wrote me and asked, “How do you justify [and explain] the people who died before Christ came [i.e., Abraham, Moses, David]?” This struck me as an important and insightful question. In our rush to talk about and theologize heaven and hell, we often pay little attention to people who would have lived and died before the time of Christ. So how do we think about those people? One place to being thinking about this topic is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16, which has been used to reflect on questions of salvation and Paradise since at least the time of Ephrem the Syrian (4th century). Continue reading

Milton and the Divine Plan, Part II

This is the second and final post in our series considering John Milton’s conception of the Divine Plan.
John Milton

John Milton

When thinking about the God and his control over the universe, a topic which weighs heavily on everyone’s mind is death. If God has a plan, why must it include death? Milton addresses such questions in his great pastoral elegy Lycidas, written on the passing of Edward King. In this poem Milton expresses surprise and disdain that King, a man who had given up the ‘high life’ of the educated for the vocation of preaching, should perish at such a young age. “Where were ye nymphs when the remorseless deep/ Closed o’er the head of your loved Lycidas?” (Lycidas, 50-51) Milton asks. Where was God when this man died? Why was it that a man so committed to the work of the Lord died at such a young age? “What hard mishap hath doomed this gentle swain?” (Lycidas, 92) How could God let such a thing happen? Milton seems to be asking these questions, not only for King’s sake, but for his own sake as well. The death of King seems to have collapsed Milton into the realm of doubt: If God let Edward King die before he fulfilled his purpose in life, then why should he not expect the same to happen? Continue reading