Emperor Marcus Aurelius & Fronto vs. The Early Christians

8 Dec Marcus Aurelius

CORNELIUS FRONTO 

An interesting account we have of early criticism towards Christianity has been preserved for us by Marcus Minucius Felix, circa 210-230 AD.  It can be read in the Ante-Nicene Fathers 4.02.01-04 and it is about a Christian named Octavius Januarius debating a pagan named Q. Caecilius Natalis. 

Marcus Cornelius Fronto (100-166 AD) was a Latin rhetorician and a tutor of Marcus Aurelius. Most scholars agree that we have a fragment of Fronto’s words on Christianity preserved in Minicius Felix’s Octavius (31.1-2; cf. 9.5-6), via the anti-Christian speeches from the character named Caecilius.

It is a brief piece of slander that claims Christians feast once a week until the “flame of impure lust and drunkenness has been lit”. Then, Fronto via Caecilius claims those gathered entice a dog that has been tied to a lampstand to “jump and dance by a little cake tossed beyond the area of its tether”. This has the intended effect of extinguishing the light and then people of all ages – including family members – have sex with the first person they bump into in the dark. As Fronto reports, they “embrace one another in their unspeakable lust as chance brings them together and … all alike are incestuous…”. In the second century, the charge of incest was a common one against Christians and could even be found on the lips and pens of educated Romans.

Caecilius accused Christians of all sorts of mischievous behavior: secret signs, clandestine meetings, arrogance, ignorance, exclusivity, gullibility, anti-social tendencies, boorish, uncultured, rude, sexually promiscuous, drunken party animals, infant killers and cannibalism. The following are notable: “I hear that they adore the head of an ass” and “some say they worship the genitals of their priests”, although he does admit he is unsure if these rumors are true. Caecilius even used a primitive form of Hume’s “wicked or weak” argument against the Christian god in light of human pain and suffering (especially amongst the Christians themselves!).

Caecilius made fun of the idea of resurrection and was especially annoyed with the idea of this nosy and bossy (omnipresent and omniscient) god. Many of these critiques were nothing new; for similar arguments were most likely found in the now lost works of Fronto (see Edward Champlin, Fronto and Antonine Rome. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980, 64-66).

More basic were Fronto’s put downs (again, via Minicius Felix’s character Caecilius) towards Christians as people “who lack education and culture, and are crude and ignorant”[Octavius 12] and who propagate “sick delusions”, a “senseless and crazy superstition”, and an “old-womanly superstition”. The crucifixion also finds its way into Fronto’s critical cross-hairs: “To say that their ceremonies center on a man put to death for his crime and on the fatal wood of the cross is to assign to these abandoned wretches sanctuaries which are appropriate to them and the kind of worship they deserve” [11.1; 13.5; 9.4.].

FOR THIS SECTION, I AM INDEBTED TO STEPHEN BENKO’S CHAPTER ON “PAGAN CRITICISM OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY AND ETHICS”, 140-162.
-For great overview of this narrative, cf. Henry Wace and William C. Piercy A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography: A Reference Guide to Over 800 Christian Men and Women, Heretics, and Sects of the First Six Centuries (Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 727-730 and for a commentary on this literature, see G.W. Clarke, The Octavius of Minucius Felix (NY: Newman Press, 1976), especially pages 1-14.
-For a helpful discussion on a terminus a quo on Octavius, see Michael E. Hardwick, Josephus as an Historical Source in Patristic Literature through Eusebius Brown Judais Studies 128 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), pages 20-23.

MARCUS AURELIUS

words-from-marcus-aurelius

Fronto’s former pupil, Marcus Aurelius, became emperor in 161 AD. He reigned until 180 AD. Marcus was a Stoic philosopher critical of Christianity.  There are a few citations against Christian practices in his Meditations (1.6; 3.16.1; 7.68; 8.48; 8.51.2; 11.3) but Meditations 11.3 is the most explicit. 

Marcus begins by saying it is “admirable” for the soul to be ready when facing death. He says “this readiness must come from its own decision, not from mere opposition like the Christians, but rationally, religiously, and so as to persuade others, without dramatics”. Marcus admires the person who looks death calmly in the face – but not out of sheer force of will but despises the Christian who dies with excessive flair out of an irrational and contrarian compulsion. His view of Christian martyrs was they were “playing the tragedy-hero” and in doing so “are immature and insincere” (Robert M. Grant, Greek Apologists of the Second Century. Philadelphia, Westminster Press: 1988, p 78). Marcus thought the reason Christians faced death with such eagerness was non-sensical, unattractive, and done more out of the rebellious nature of their religion than of any individualistic determination.
Marcus persecuted the church during his reign and had probably witnessed his fair share of martyrs. Most likely he was annoyed by the bible verses, prayers and preaching that often came before the Christian’s last breath.

Lucian of Samosata: THE FIRST ANTI-CHRISTIAN SATIRIST

24 Nov

Lucian of Samosata (circa 115-200 AD) was a Greek satirist. He wrote On the Death of Peregrinus, also translated as Passing of Peregrinus.  Lucian parodies what he sees as the inherent naïveté in Christians and in their doctrine; he depicts Christians as lackeys and dolts. Lucian directs no small amount of mockery towards Christians, calling them “poor wretches” who have “persuaded themselves that they will be immortal”.

lucian

Lucian says Christians are gullible and accept “all their doctrines without accurate demonstration”. In fact, “any charlatan or trickster” who comes to them “quickly becomes rich by imposing on simple people”. Lucian’s satire features Peregrinus Proteus – one such huckster who takes advantage of the Christians stupid generosity. The Cynic-philosopher-turned-religious-hustler lives it up for a while until he is caught eating (forbidden) food that was sacrificed to idols; this results in his expulsion from the community.

Lucian says the Christians “revered him as a god … next after that other whom they still, worship, the man crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world”. The “him” in this passage is the character Peregrinus who had infiltrated the Christian community in order to take advantage of these “misguided creatures”.

In another portion of the work, Lucian tells the story of the fraud leader Peregrinus being imprisoned. Lucian says the Christians rushed to help him immediately and “at daybreak one could see aged widows and orphan children waiting by the prison”. It is interesting Lucian specifically mentions these two groups of people (widows and orphans) as comprising the church, especially when Lucian tells us that Peregrinus gets rich off the church. Lucian says the church officers bribed the guards to sleep in the prison with Peregrinus.

Lucian speaks of Christ as “their first legislator” who convinced them that “once they have transgressed by denying the Greek gods” then they “are all brothers of one another”. Lucian says the Christians “have thrown over the gods of Greece”, instead “worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws” (Peregrinus 13). 

One reason why this sarcastic satirist’s works are noteworthy is his word for crucifixion: anaskolopisthenta. This word does not mean “crucified” but rather “impaled”, which technically can be said of a crucifixion victim. This word is not the same word used in the gospels for crucifixion, which was usually stauroo (σταυρόω). This shows Lucian may have received his information from a non-Christian source. It is also one more subtle way for Lucian to parody the silliness of this simple superstition based around a sophist who had been crucified in Palestine.

Lucian is an interesting critic because he almost has more sympathy than disdain for Christians. He portrays them as generous, gullible, and guileless except for their leaders, who are comprised of sophists and charlatans. Even more notable, though, is the fact that he “thought his readers would have heard something about Christians and would enjoy a story told at their expense” (Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003, 490).

For more on Lucian, see Francis G. Allison, Lucian: Satirist and Artist (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1963) and H.W Fowler, The Works of Lucian of Samosata (Oxford: Clarendon, 1905).

 __________________________________________________________________________________________

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vocab Malone is a semi-retired hip hop artist and slam poet. He is Pastor of Teaching  and Evangelism at Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot. He has been married for 10 years and has adopted three boys. Vocab and his wife enjoy going to Comicon in full cosplay. He can be heard every Sunday night on Backpack Radio on 1360 KPXQ. Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone

Early Critics of the Ancient Church: Epictetus & Galen

24 Nov

THE EARLIEST PAGAN CRITICISM OF THE ANCIENT CHRISTIAN CHURCH IS THE MOST INSIGHTFUL OF ALL PERIODS.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to write mini-blurbs about some of the main pagan critics from that early period. Most of my selections come before The Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. Church historian J.G. Davies comments on the late fourth century: “With Theodosius’ victory on 6th September 394 the pagan resistance collapsed and the unsuccessful struggle for a lost cause came to an end” (The Early Christian Church: A History of its First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980 reprint), 215). 394 AD can be delineated as a sort of terminus ad quem for paganism proper, as Christian orthodoxy became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius. Eventually, Theodosius even prohibited most pagan forms of religious expression (see Charles Freeman, A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State. New York: The Overlook Press, 2009). 

I have not included every single negative statement uttered by any pagan critic; some statements are either so brief or cryptic as to barely warrant much notice. Some of these include Crescens, the Cynic philosopher who called Christian “atheistic” and “impious”, per Justin Martyr; Apuleius, the North African author of the Golden Ass (ca. 127-171 AD); possibly Juvenal, where he says that “Syrian Orontes flows into the Tiber”; and maybe even the historian Dio Cassius. There are also minutes from court proceedings where the prosecutors make disparaging remarks against the plaintiff’s Christianity. I  survey some of the criticisms of key figures, especially those who wrote whole works against Christianity. Here are some of the guys I will cover:

 Epictetus, 135 AD
Galen, 199 AD
Fronto, 160 AD
Marcus Aurelius, 166 AD
Lucian of Samosata, 200 AD
Celsus, 170 AD
Porphyry, 300 AD 

 ImageEpictetus the Moralist

Epictetus (died circa 135 AD), an ex-slave who became a Stoic moralist, refers to Christians once (that we know). In a lecture recorded by a student named Arrian, Epictetus makes this statement: “If madness can produce this attitude toward these things, and also habit, as with the Galileans, can no one learn from reason and demonstration that God has made everything in the universe, and the whole universe itself, to be unhampered and self-sufficient, and the parts of it for the use of the whole?”

Epictetus is observing that Christians are crazed and live a lifestyle reflective of a detached attitude towards material things, family ties, and even life itself (this is the context of the discussion surrounding these comments in Discourses 4.7.6).

ImageGalen the Physician

The philosopher physician Galen (130-199 AD) viewed Christianity as a school in which blind faith triumphed over evidence and reason: “the followers of Moses and Christ order them to accept everything on faith…” (as quoted from an Arabic version of On the Prime Unmoved Mover in Richard Walzer, Galen on the Jews and Christians. London: Oxford University Press, 1949, 13-15.) For this reason, Galen says it is pointless to talk to people like this. In his indictment he lumps physicians with unprovable theories in with both Jews and Christians (De Pulsuum Differentiis 2.4; 3.3). In one place, Galen says the cosmogony of Moses is better than that of Epicurus but he still condemns the former’s reliance on intelligent design as a sort of “god of the gaps theory” (this is my slightly anachronistic reading of section 11.4 in On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body, circa 170 AD).

Even though Galen is critical of many biblical ideals, he is more curious than hostile. Galen even pays Christianity a philosophical compliment (of sorts) by viewing it more as a school of philosophy rather than a deranged foreign cult (like some of his contemporaries). Galen has a smidgen of begrudging respect for its practitioners: “…we now see the people called Christians drawing their faith from parables and miracles, and yet sometimes acting in the same way as those who practice philosophy. For their contempt of death and of its sequel is patent to us every day, and likewise their restraint in cohabitation.” He goes on to say this includes both men and women and says they have “self-discipline and self-control in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a pitch not inferior to that of genuine philosophers” (from Galen’s Libr. Ord. as quoted in Walzer’s Galen…, p 15). From this, it is clear Galen respected the moral lifestyle of many Christians but found their underlying reasons ignorant and blind.

 _________________________________________________________________________________________

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vocab Malone is a semi-retired hip hop artist and slam poet. He is Pastor of Teaching  and Evangelism at Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot. He has been married for 10 years and has adopted three boys. Vocab and his wife enjoy going to Comicon in full cosplay. He can be heard every Sunday night on Backpack Radio on 1360 KPXQ. Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone

Atheism, Evolution and Worldview Consistency

12 Nov

by Pastor Vocab

Many of the New Atheists tell us science can explain everything – except when it can’t. They rely on empiricism – except when they can’t. Both happen more often than you might think. For example: on evolution, what’s the proof that there are other values besides survival for the surviving evolved? We don’t need more descriptions of human behavior from atheists, we need paradigm consistent answers.

Press the atheist on this and you will quickly receive what amounts to a quasi-admission that evolution has no explanatory power for the way real people actually live. Sam Harris often refers to ‘moral emotions’. What are ‘moral emotions’ – from a biological standpoint? Can you measure them and tell us their place among the laws of physics?

Likewise, I always shake my head when I see that Dawkins quote about rebelling against the tyranny of our genes – right after he talks about how we’re programmed by our DNA. It almost sounds like Romanticism or Existentialism; I don’t know what to call this brand of whimsy. But what is Dawkin’s evolutionary reason for stating we can conquer our evolutionary reasons?

Either way, I’m not sure if Daniel Dennett (see his ‘evolution as acid’ motif) or Stephen Hawking (Mr. ‘Philosophy-is-Dead’-so-now-I-can-do-bad-philosophy) got the memo about the limits of science – or most atheists when they are debating Christians. What’s the point of Sam Harris’ book on morals, anyway? Science can answer moral questions. 

If an atheist tells me science is not the only way to know things, then I ask: can you give a list of your other authoritative inputs, then? Do you have a bullet-point hierarchy, perhaps? Just boil it down; maybe one or two words for each authoritative category. I want to know: what are your other, non-scientific epistemological venues and your other, non-empirical knowledge tools. Why? To better understand what you claim. And it just may help you work out some very knotty knots in your non-systematized ‘system’.

As I discuss this with folks, I keep running into atheists who resist the idea of worldview. Why? It seems their reason is they don’t want to be pegged down. Why? I guess so they can remain inconsistent in applying their axioms. But don’t atheists need to apply what they believe in a rigorous manner? I ask you: if you think evolution is irrelevant for your moral decisions, than what role does it play in how you, as a product and believer in it, live? If it does not factor in, then it has no real application to human behavior and is powerless. 

Worldview is your philosophical construct. For the Christian, the concept may be a rough corollary to the Biblical concept of “heart” (Hebrew ‘leb‘ or ‘lebab‘, which occurs 855 times in the OT). Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) first used ‘worldview’ (Weltanschauung) in Critique of Judgment (1790). Others explored it: Wilhelm Dilthey, G.F.W. Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michel Foucault, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, James Olthuis, Albert M. Wolters, and John H. Kok. Kiekegaard says a ‘life-view’ (his word instead of worldview) results in one understanding one’s life backwards through the idea retrospectively. It makes no sense to say people don’t have ways in which they view the world. 

I have yet to meet the consistent atheist. Or consistent evolutionist. Or consistent empiricist. Or consistent rationalist. Or consistent secular humanist. Most modern atheists seem blissfully unaware of the trail blazed through modernity to land them in the cultural and epistemological milieu they sit in so comfortably. It seems too facile, this atheism. Too non-reflective. Too easy.

I just want more. An axiomatic-aware atheism. A robust rationalism. A self-conscious secularism.

Where is it?

‘It is the transfer of broken elements of the imago-content into secular ethics which actually leads to the major inconsistencies in those systems. Not even the ethics of self-conscious revolt against God and objective morality can fashion its system of morals without borrowing something, even if inadvertently, from the ethics of creation. And the spokesman for anti-God and anti-morality lives closer to the imago than does his system of ethics. For the imago is a subjective phenomenon of human life and can nowhere be totally pulled out by the roots.’

-Carl F. Henry, Christian Personal Ethics (p 159).

 _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

195

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vocab Malone is a semi-retired hip hop artist and slam poet. He is Pastor of Teaching  and Evangelism at Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot. He has been married for 10 years and has adopted three boys. Vocab and his wife enjoy going to Comicon in full cosplay. He can be heard every Sunday night on Backpack Radio on 1360 KPXQ. Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone

PERSECUTION and CRITICISM of the EARLY CHURCH

1 Nov Polycarp-Martydom

Towards the end of John 15, as part of the Farewell Discourse (John 15:18–16:4) , Jesus told his disciples that they will be hated by the world for his names’ sake. Gentiles disliked Jews for some of the same reasons for why they disliked Christians: both groups were exclusive. In a multi-cultural world filled with gods and various philosophies, Christians were called ‘The Way’. But the idea of Jesus being The Way to the Father (John 14:6) is offensive to the unregenerate mind. The exclusive claims of Jesus and his followers were/are viewed as simplistic, backwards, ignorant, naïve, arrogant, bigoted, and even hateful. The Christians preached there was only one name under heaven by which men could be saved (Acts 4:12). They told the  Gentile pagans they were wrong and challenged them to recognize Christ alone as God and Savior (Acts 17). 

Christians would not burn a pinch of incense and swear by the genius of the Caesar. They were not willing to simply add their neighbor’s deities to a pantheon, as a sort of a cultural common courtesy. The early church would not go this direction, despite the many cultural obstacles in front of them; least of which was the fact they followed a convicted criminal (see Martin Hengel, Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977). Simultaneously, the leaders of  Judaism steadfastly denied – and even attacked them. In John 16, Jesus told his followers they would be cast out of the cultural centers of worship (the synagogue) and even killed by people who thought they were performing an act of service to God by killing them. NOTE: Here is a sermon I preached on martyrs from the Gospel of John called “I HEART HATERS”

 The result of the earliest Christians rigidness was twofold: many martyrs and many conversions. In the now famous words of Tertullian, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”(Apologeticus, Chapter 50). I give an example of one such account in this brief video here.


THE MOB

“Christians”, writes Robin Lane Fox, “attracted blackmail and slander”. Fox goes on to say that “‘atheism’ was the basic cause of their maltreatment” – the pejorative term atheist being applied to Christians is generally not seen as the mob literally thinking the Christians believed in no god(s) but rather that they rejected all the officially recognized gods – essentially reducing their faith to a godless or an atheistic one. An example may be the trial under Domitian, circa 70 AD, where Flavius Clemens and his wife Flavia Domitilla are executed for “atheism” and “Jewish practices” (Dio Cassius 67.14.1-3; Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.18.4). There is some question whether they were Jewish or Christian but the weight of the evidence seems to favor the latter. The “Christians refused to concur” with the “forms of contemporary cult” and to the average Roman, “their lack of respect was intolerable”. To make matters worse, Christians not only mocked the gods (in the vein of the prophet Isaiah) but equated them to demons. 

polycarp

This could be dangerous because “if a god was dishonored, he might send his anger against the community” by withholding good things or sending bad things, as in “famine, plague, or drought”. Fox relays that in the fourth-century “no rain, because of the Christians” was “proverbial” (see Pagans and Christians: Religion and the Religious Life from the Second to the Fourth Century A.D., When the Gods of Olympus Lost their Dominion and Christianity, with the Conversion of Constantine, Triumphed in the Mediterranean World (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), 425). There is reason to believe that Christians were faulted for catastrophes in Asia Minor, specifically earthquakes (152 AD) and plagues (165 AD). Similarly, an Imperial decree (circa 166-168 AD) “to offer sacrifices to the gods so that the empire could survive a plague and invasions by German tribes may have led to mob reactions against Christians in certain locations” (see “Persecution” by Mark Reasoner in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, ed. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 910).
 
Many local Roman officials could care less what Christians did in their spare time; they just wanted the Christians to comply with such gestures as offering a pinch of incense to the gods and saying a few words in honor of them. Others were more forceful:  they demanded the Christian to also curse Christ. For example, see the Martyrdom of Polycarp, (8.2; 9.2; 10, 1), circa 155 AD. For the most part, though, they could still worship Jesus as they liked; what they could not do was display a rebellious attitude towards their rulers or a disrespectful attitude towards the gods of Rome. These actions were unpatriotic – even treasonous – and could have a negative impact on the cohesion and long-term survival of the Roman Empire.
 
The mobs were especially concerned with the anger of the gods. To some politicians, this was notion was merely the superstition of the crowds. Marcus Aurelius – who despised Christians – thought this way. Many followers of the gods had their favorites and could be quite passionate in their zeal towards the deities. According to some scholars, association or affiliation with Jesus (as in the name ‘Christian’) coupled with rejection of the gods is what may be seen as the “two outward marks” identifying “the earliest Christians”. This “refusal to worship set a clear boundary between [them] and their neighbors” (Paul Corb Finney, The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art (New York: Oxford, 1994), 105). The Christians disrespect towards the gods and the state was an extreme affront to Roman religious and political sensibilities – especially if it resulted in (super)natural disasters. Tertullian has a classic quote to that effect: “If the Tiber rises as high as the city walls, if the Nile does not send its waters up over the fields, if the heavens give no rain, if there is an earthquake, if there is famine or pestilence, straightway the cry is, ‘Away with the Christians to the lion!’” (Apology chapter XL. Translated by S. Thelwall).

THE EMPERORS

One of the main reasons early Christians were persecuted was because they refused to burn incense to a statue of the Emperor and swear by his “genius”. They were viewed as subversive and unpatriotic, which helped put them on the fast track to martyrdom. Because they didn’t take part in what historians call the Cult of the Emperor, they were suspect. The Emperors demanded to be called Lord but no Christian would call them by this title – as it was reserved for Jesus alone.

Traditionally, historians have labeled ten different periods prior to Constantine as ones of persecution. The last one under Diocletian lasted from about 303 to 313 AD and was the only one that was Empire wide and systematic. Some of the Emperors ignored or even tried to protect Christians, such as Trajan (53-117 AD) in Epistles 10.97 and his successor Hadrian (76-138 AD) in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 4.9.1-3.

The first period of persecution was under Nero. After the Great Fire in Rome, Nero needed a scapegoat because the populace (wrongly) thought Nero was responsible. Nero (rightly) assumed Christians were hated enough to take the blame. Tacitus speaks of the Christians as a class of men hated for their incendiarism but even more so for their antisocial ways and their hatred of mankind. Suetonius, in a much shorter passage, speaks of Christians as people following a depraved superstition. Tacitus describes how Nero lit Christians on fire in his garden, dragged them around in chariots, threw them in bags with snakes, crucified them, placed them in animal skins on them and threw them in arenas with wild beasts. It is likely that during this time, approximately 67 AD, that both Peter (crucified) and Paul (beheaded) were martyred in Rome. The Neronian persecution was centered in Rome and although it was intense, did not last long.

Another Roman Emperor, Domitian, pursued a policy of persecuting Christians and may have even been alluded to in the Book of Revelation, circa 96 AD. We see a glimpse of persecution from the letters of Pliny the Younger, writing around 112 AD. Pliny was a governor in Asia Minor and was writing to the Emperor to help forge a policy for prosecuting Christians. 

Things intensified in 249 AD when Decius became Emperor. Decius desired to restore Rome’s glory but a great hindrance in this area was that Rome had abandoned her gods. This line of thought led Decius to order that worship of the gods was now mandatory. To obey, people were now required to sacrifice burn incense before a statue and receive a certificate. This policy was enforced off and on in the following years and in different degrees of intensity throughout the Empire. 

JULIAN the APOSTATE

As far as pagan critics of the ancient church, Flavius Claudius Julianus was the last (pagan) man standing. Julian was an undercover pagan who came out of the proverbial closet when he took the purple (he reigned from 361-363 AD). Rodney Stark describes Julian as a “puritanical, ascetic, and fanatical pagan” (Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006), 194). Julian sincerely loved the old gods and despised the ‘Galileans’, whose “haughty ministers neither understood nor believed their religion” (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1 (London: Penguin Press) 1776, 1994 … 2.23.864.). Julian saw Christianity as an innovation and its founder as insufficient. An example of this attitude comes from one of Julian’s letters, in which he tells of his plan to pen a paper panning the “divinity falsely ascribed to … that new-fangled Galilean god” (Epistles 55.). True to his word, Julian found the time to write a three-volume polemic against Christianity: Against the Galileans (This work was destroyed. Portions were preserved in Cyril of Alexandria’s rebuttal, Contra Julianum, written between 412-444 AD).
ejta
Julian did not execute any Christians directly but he did allow mass executions of Christians to take place in Syria (Pierre Chuvin, A Chronicle of the Last Pagans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 44) and Alexandria (Polymnia Athanassiadi, “Persecution and Response in Late Paganism: The Evidence of Damascius” in The Journal of Hellenic Studies 1993, 113:1-29, 13.). In Heliopolis, some pagans ripped a group of Christian virgins from limb to limb and then tossed their remains to swine (Johannes Geffcken, The Last Days of Greco-Roman Paganism (Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing, 1920/1978), 144.). Julian did nothing about these injustices and even gave the Imperial nod to the torture of some bishops and others he personally ordered into exile. Julian reinitiated pagan celebrations, complete with mass sacrifices (H.A. Drake, Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 434-436) and he eliminated funding for churches while financially supporting pagan institutions. He switched out Christian with pagans in many government jobs and outlawed teachers who were Christians to instruct in the classics, saying: “if they think the classics wrong … then let them go and teach Matthew and Luke in the church” (Epistles 36; the text of this order is in Codex Theodosianus 13.3.5). 
julian-the-apostate-08
Emperors prior to Julian had wielded Roman law against the Christians but these men were all conservatives trying to maintain the status quo; most of them had very little knowledge of the Christian faith and were not well-informed critics. Julian was different in that he knew about Christianity, hated it, wanted to stamp it out, and longed to see a pagan revival in its stead. However, when all was said and done, Julian failed to revive paganism. Even though he only reigned for 18-months, he will forever be known as Julian - the Apostate.

Summary of pagan criticism:
-          The doctrine of the resurrection is absurd
-          There are contradictions in the Scriptures
-          Atheism is widely held
-          Christianity is the worship of a criminal
-          Christianity is a novelty
-          Christianity evidences a lack of patriotism
-          Christians practice incest
-          Christians practice cannibalism
-          Christianity leads to the destruction of a society

For more on this, here is a Backpack Radio episode we did on THE TOP 10 CRITICS of the EARLY CHURCH. (This list is from the helpful “The Arguments of the Apologists” in Robert C. Walton’s Chronological and Background Charts of Church History, revised and expanded edition (Grand Rapids, MI: 2005), Chart 15.)

From this recap, we can get a good sense of why Paul said what he said in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[66] All this raises the question: what resources did the early Christians have to offer potential converts other than the promise of persecution or at the very least extreme ridicule? In the physical, the answer is nothing. But John 16:33 and Hebrews 11:35–40 provide some of the answer. This fact only serves to dispel the notions of people become Christians to make their lives easier (the only caveat: if by “easier” one means more fulfillment, joy, and peace, then OK). 
martyrdom-of-polycarp
Christianity has always had its critics – and it always will. Celsus, an early opponent of Christianity, wrote: “Like all quacks they [the Christians] gather a crowd of slaves, children, women and idlers. I speak bitterly about this”. Early Christianity was largely comprised of the lower classes, women, and especially slaves. Only later did members of the aristocracy join because it was fashionable, due to Emperor Theodosius I making Christianity the state religion at the very end of the 4th Century. The church of Christ has withstood all of these attacks – and it always will. 

TIMELINE

This list is by no means exhaustive. I selected some events I felt were interesting and noteworthy. 

03 AD-The Birth of Christ brings the Head of the Church to the world
30 AD-The Death, Burial, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. Pentecost fire from the Holy Spirit falls on the 120 gathered in Upper Room
44 AD-James is martyred by the way of beheading under Herod Agrippa II
46 AD-Paul’s 1st Missionary
49 AD-Paul’s 2nd Missionary
50 AD-Jerusalem Council solves the “Gentile problem”
53 AD-Paul’s 3rd Missionary
59 AD-Paul’s 4th Missionary
64 AD-Burning of Rome by Nero, who blames it on the Christians
65 AD-Persecution of the misunderstood Christians under Nero intensifies
68 AD-Paul’s martyrdom by way of the sword under Nero
70 AD-Fall of Jerusalem by the Roman General Titus
95 AD-More Roman persecution under Domitian
132 AD-Jews rebel against the Romans under Bar Kochba
135 AD-Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans
150 AD-Gnosticism, a heretical teaching that plagued the early church, reaches its peak
250 AD-persecution goes from local movements to widespread (universal)
300 AD-Christianity spreads to 10%-15% of the whole Roman Empire
303 AD-The Great Persecution. Diocletian issues first edict for official persecution of the Christians and presided over the most extensive persecution of Christians to date
313 AD-Edict of Milan by Constantine & Licinius legalizes Christianity, grants toleration
325 AD-Nicaea: Ecumenical council initiated by Constantine to deal with Arianism, other divisive issues; solves Easter controversy. Golden Age of the Church Fathers (apologists and polemicists) commences
311-400 AD: The Donatism Controversy Schism in N. Africa regarding how to properly deal with church members who were seen as “traitors”
361 AD-Emperor Julian “The Apostate” embraces Neoplatonism
367 AD-Athanasius’ Easter Letter Festal letter outlined our New Testament canon
370 AD-Basil of Caesarea popularizes the monastic life
381 AD-Council of Constantinople declares Montanists pagans; Christianity state religion

 _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

195

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vocab Malone is a semi-retired hip hop artist and slam poet. He is Pastor of Teaching  and Evangelism at Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot. He has been married for 10 years and has adopted three boys. Vocab and his wife enjoy going to Comicon in full cosplay. He can be heard every Sunday night on Backpack Radio on 1360 KPXQ. Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone

‘Lil’ Wayne’ Speaks on Sola Scriptura this Saturday! [Dr. Grudem=]

29 Oct

This Saturday Backpack Radio is hostingimpute pic
a conference on SOLA SCRIPTURA with Dr. Wayne Grudem of Phoenix
Seminary. It a
ll goes down 9am-12pm at Roosevelt Community Church. To show
you that hip hop and ‘Lil’ Wayne’ can go together, here are several theological
rap videos I did before class when I had Systematics with Dr. Grudem.

Sola Scriptura conference. Saturday, November 2, 2013 @9AM. check out the free concert Friday night November 1, 7PM | Downtown Phoenix |Roosevelt Community Church | REGISTER: http://solascriptura.eventbrite.com

Vocab and Emayus Eschatology Freestyle

Sacraments Rap

Heaven and Hell Rap/Poem

Pop Culture Jesus Poem

 

MORE RAP VIDEOS FROM DR. GRUDEM’S CLASS:

Complementarian Rap VIDEO

Resurrection Rap VIDEO

Backpack Radio and Roosevelt Community Church presents: Sola Scriptura
Wayne Grudem will be joining us on November 2nd to discuss Scripture alone.
Doors open at 8am for registration and light breakfast. Conference begins at 9am
Cost is $15 includes books and materials.
Register early to secure your spot!
Email: arts@rooseveltchurch.org for questions or additional information

The God of Truth

26 Oct truth

THE GOD OF TRUTH

by Pastor Vocab

Christians must testify to the truth of the Gospel in a way the world will understand.  Problem: by and large, they no longer believe there is truth (mainly when it comes to “spiritual” things). If “true truth”, as Francis Schaeffer put it , is important, then we must strive to show our culture there is such a thing as real truth. And the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only place to find it. The following article gives the foundation for the fact that there is a such a thing as Truth; Truth with a capital “T”.

 I once preached a sermon on the Triune God of Scripture as the bedrock for the concept of truth (link: THE TRUE NATURE OF TRUTH). God’s truthfulness or the doctrine of God’s veracity is closely related to God’s faithfulness. God’s truthfulness can be described as an absolute attribute, as a moral attribute, or just as a general communicable attribute – the classification is mainly a matter of emphasis. 

 

Wayne Grudem places it under the subsection of God’s mental attributes. Grudem says “God’s truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth” (Systematic Theology, p 195). Millard Erickson describes the same attribute of God in this way, “Divine veracity means that God represents things as they really are. Whether speaking of himself or part of his creation, what God says is accurate” (Christian Theology, 2nd ed., p 316). The great Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge, also spoke about truth in relation to God: “The true is that in which the reality exactly corresponds to the manifestation. God is true, because He really is what He declares Himself to be; because He is what He commands us to believe Him to be; and because all his declarations correspond to what really is (Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 437). God is the “truest Truth” there is. 

Colossians 2:2-4 is a particularly unique passage about God being truth: “attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.” The stand out line here is “Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” This is one more verse showing that God’s veracity is the foundation for all reality. Louis Berkhof comments: “He is the source of all truth, not only in the sphere of morals and religion, but also in every field of scientific endeavor” (Systematic Theology, 4th ed., p 62). We can extrapolate this truth out: the truthfulness of Christianity must touch on and have something vital to say about every single area of reality and human existence.

An interesting passage on God’s veracity comes from the lips of the “for-profit prophet” (Balaam) in Numbers 23:19, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” Here we clearly see the close connection between God’s truthfulness and his faithfulness.

One other way in which the Triune God of Scripture relates to truth: He is the only true God. God is, metaphysically speaking, the only God who is “really there” over against the false gods of the nations whom Scripture designates as “lies.” Robert Reymond (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 201) gives three verses for this point: John 17:31 John 5:20 and Jeremiah 10:10, which declares, “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.”

I have heard people say that the Bible (especially in the Torah) assumes other gods exist when it says things such as “have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2). Many liberal scholars or critics of Christianity say this language is a leftover from the polytheistic mindset of some of the writers. A good response is to demonstrate the solidarity assumed in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and the whole Creation account. There is one God who is creating every single thing in the Universe and he is doing it simply by speaking – where is there even metaphysical “room” for other “gods” to exist? Whenever Scripture speaks of other “gods,” the sometimes unstated (and sometimes stated) underlying premise is that they are all false gods.

THE SCRIPTURE ON TRUTH

The truth of God’s Word is grounded in the nature of God. God is a morally perfect being. Part of moral perfection includes speaking only what is true; God cannot lie. What God says is true because the content is grounded in or comes from a morally perfect being. In other words, the grounding for the Christian belief that the Bible is true is because it came from a source who is morally perfect. Thus, God’s Word is true because God is Truth (for some resources on this, see the notes at the end of this post). Here are some pertinent Scriptures…
In 1 John 4:6, the apostle John talks about knowing the difference between “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error”. Within the span of John’s three tiny epistles, he mentions the word truth 16 different times. Paul told a young pastor in Ephesus named Timothy that increasingly people “will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:4) and they will “always [be] learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). Paul’s remedy? To “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) so you can “gently correct those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:25). In John 18:37, Jesus states his earthly mission in these terms: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth”.

THE TRUTH IN THE TRINITY

All three persons of the Trinity are described as truth. Theologian Rolland McCune (A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, Vol. 1, 254) talks about this: “As the self-contained, self-consistent Ontological Trinity, God is the source of all truth. David suggests this when he says, ‘You have ransomed me, O Lord, God of truth’ (Ps 31:5)”.
The ESV translates the phrase Yahweh el emet as ‘faithful God’ in this passage. Emet is a Hebrew word meaning the following: ‘firmness’, ‘faithfulness’, ‘truth’, ‘sureness’, ‘reliability’, ‘stability’, and ‘continuance’. In the New Testament, the main Greek word used for truth is alethes and it has the following meanings: ‘constant’, ‘valid’, ‘genuine’, ‘proper’, ‘upright’, ‘trustworthy’, ‘reliable’, ‘sincere’, ‘honest’, ‘real’, and ‘true’. These definitions help us discern what Scripture means when it describes the Triune God as true. In fact, this word is applied to each person of the Trinity:

THE FATHER: John 3:33 “He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true.”
THE SON: John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'”
THE HOLY SPIRIT: 1 John 5:6b – “It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”

From this we can ascertain the high significance of God’s truthfulness. The Father is truth, the Son is truth and the Holy Spirit is truth. Therefore, the Triune God-breathed Scripture is true and correct in all that it affirms. 

 THE APPRECIATION OF TRUTH

These Scriptures on God as truth reveal how God is the source of truth. This means the laws of logic – upon which intelligibility is predicated – are a reflection of the mind of God. Reymond’s Systematic (p 201) has a helpful comment: “In other words, as the God of truth, for him the laws of logic, which are laws of truth, are intrinsically valid because they are intrinsic to his nature.” John Frame (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p 253) says that “logic is an attribute of God.”

This means the more rational we are, the more we mirror God’s mind. However, the natural man’s mind is inherently irrational due to the noetic effects of sin. This simply means the doctrine of total depravity applies to the unregenerate person’s mental faculties. Romans 1:21 demonstrates this truth clearly: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Therefore, even though the ability to reason is a gift of God to man, we should not assume man’s reason is autonomous. No matter how intelligent an unbeliever is, their self-constructed logical propositions and truth axioms are not an ultimate authority unto themselves. Unbelievers can learn a lot of truth – in fact, they often do – but to do this, they must operate as if they are living in God’s universe (one that is rational and predictable). They ultimately end up in a place of foolishness because they refuse to recognize their Creator and therefore are left with silly theories and unworthy objects of worship to fill the void. God’s Word is the only sure foundation of truth and must be the final standard. This is not to say Christianity will be illogical, on the contrary, it is the only possible completely cogent system.

truth

THE LOGOS AND SCIENCE

What then, is the relationship between the Logos and Science?

 The Logos is a full-bodied concept; I will not do it justice nor discuss all its aspects here  but one aspect of the Logos is an understanding that the Triune God is wise.  His mind  is perfectly ordered and intellectually beautiful; supreme knowledge without  end. Rational thought  requires using  the laws of logic. But the laws of logic are not material; they are eternal,  unchanging,  necessary, immutable, true and cannot be disproved (for to disprove logic you must  employ logic).
But how does logic “work” in a strictly material universe? If theism is false, from whence does logic arise? Logic can’t be thought of as merely a descriptive label or just a useful tool or a societal convention or a product of neurochemicals – all these things negate the concept of logic in some way. If the universe is the product of a gravitational hiccup caused by another universe within the multiverse, or if our universe is the result of a chance set of events (the first of which defies the law of cause and effect and the principle of sufficient reason), then how does logic hold? It has no real foundation, no place for a source, no ability to be what it must be for the very laws of the physics to work.
Jumping forward, we know that products of evolution cannot produce real logic because brains just produce what they must produce according to DNA and various chemicals. But this is not what logic is; it is abstract yet real. Additionally, logic is not a material thing – no material thing produces it.
Logic is a description of the way God’s mind works; it is how he thinks. Logical thought is a reflection of the completely truthful mind of God Himself. Logic is a “mirror” of God’s thought process. I am speaking in analogical terms, but we see that for scientific investigation to even be possible, the laws of logic must first be in place. Otherwise, there is no guarantee the laws of physics will work, there is no guarantee words make sense, there is no guarantee the present will be like that past (uniformity of nature), nor is there any guarantee that empirical data is legitimate or sensory perception is “actual” in any sense.
These are broad philosophical assumptions and assertions but this argument has been fleshed out in great detail by Christian philosophers such as Greg Bahnsen, Cornelius Van Til, Alvin Plantiga, John Frame and Gordon Clark (among others). It is sometimes called the Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence. It demonstrates that without God, there is no logic and therefore no science. In short: the existence of God is what makes science possible.

OBJECTIONS TO THE DOCTRINE

Sometimes atheists ask if God’s omnipotence means He can do anything. It is a trick, of course, because if I were to say “yes,” then they will ask me if God can lie. If I were to say “no” then they would counter with “well, I guess God’s not omnipotent, then!” God can not do anything inconsistent with his own nature. Hebrews 6:18 tells us “it is impossible for God to lie.” God would not want to lie and he never could lie, anyway. Titus 1:2 is explicit: “God, who never lies.” A more well-known passage is Romans 3:4: “Let God be true though every one were a liar.” This is one reason why God’s revelation is true and his word is the final standard (Job 37:16 and John 17:17 also speak to this).

One objection I sometimes hear in regards to Yahweh being the only true God is by Jehovah’s Witnesses. In their desire to make Jesus “a” god, they purposefully obfuscate the issue by saying that Moses (Exodus 4:16) and Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4) are also both called gods. The passage about Moses says he shall be as God to Aaron, not actually God! The verse about Satan is simply saying that he does indeed have power in this age but by definition one can not be God if they are only called “the god of this world.”

Another common objection in our so-called postmodern era is an outright rejection of objective truth. Some people assert that no one can actually know truth with any certainty. Prolific apologist Norman Geisler provides a good response to this line of thinking (Christian Apologetics, p 135):

No statement about all truth can disavow all truth implications, and the skeptical proposal is a statement about all truth. Even working presuppositions about truth must be cognitive and meaningful. And whatever is meaningful must be subject to truth or falsity via the law of noncontradiction, for apart from noncontradiction one cannot even know what the statement means. But if the skeptical proposal is subject to the truth test of noncontradiction, it cannot avoid being offered as a truth statement. In short, to disclaim the possibility of knowing any truth is indeed a truth claim of the highest and most serious kind. Truth cannot be denied unless some truth is being affirmed.

This means that denying truth is a self-refuting exercise. Still, what does it mean to apply the truth that has been revealed to us? This is the practical challenge we face in our daily lives.

christian-quotes_truth_blaise-pascal

APPLICATION OF TRUTH 

One application that comes out of this is we should trust God’s Word as true. It is an accurate description of reality over and above all competing claims. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

 

An example would be if certain neurologists with naturalistic presuppositions claimed that they have discovered a gene which causes people to believe in God and then they say people who lack this trait will not believe in God due to their genetic makeup. We know this is a lie, for Romans 1:20 tell us that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived … so they are without excuse.”

A closely related application to this is that we should work to defend the truth against attacks. We should also care about accurately explaining the truth so people can understand it better (1 Peter 3:15). These duties would be directly applicable in the area of apologetics, evangelism and teaching/preaching. Pastors and teachers must recognize this reality and focus on truth issues and engage in the discipline of apologetics in a new way.

One prerequisite for explaining truth is first knowing it. This means we should strive to learn more of the truth (Proverbs 18:15). Since everything that is actually true flows directly from God’s own mind, as we learn more truth we are actually thinking a little more like him. This glorifies him because we reflect more of who he is to the world. This enables us to “see” him a little more clearly. As we see him more clearly, we will cherish and treasure him more and even desire to know him better. This is a common theme in many of John Piper’s writings (the first book that comes to mind is God is the Gospel; I am echoing some of its ideas here).

A more obvious application is we should never lie (Exodus 20:16). Even more than that, we should be as absolutely accurate as possible (Colossians 3:9). We should be preoccupied with truth telling – I word it this way because it seems more emphatic than just “don’t lie” (Ephesians 4:25). Theologian Millard Erickson talks about this in his section dealing with God’s veracity (Christian Theology, p 317): “Paul makes clear that ‘we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God’ (2 Cor. 4:2). A God of truth is best served by presentation of the truth.”

This even has certain implications for how we present the Gospel to people and what methods we will – and will not – use when evangelizing. For example, certain things that could be used to artificially bend the will of the hearers – such as emotional rhetoric, strategic lighting and manipulative music – should not be used carelessly … and maybe not at all.

Lastly, all real morality is based upon God’s character. John Feinberg (No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, p 373) comments,

“In saying that God’s rules match what he knows to be the objective standards of right and wrong (rules based on his own moral perfection), the biblical writers simply say his commandments are true. Not only do God’s moral rules conform to objective moral law, but Scripture also tells us that God’s actions are what they should be; they correspond to the moral law he has revealed.”

In conclusion: God’s people can trust God to fulfill all of His promises. God’s truthfulness is a fantastic blessing indeed.

NOTES:
Cornelius Van Til, In Defense of the Faith Vol. I, The Doctrine of Scripture
Bahnsen, Autographs, Amanuenses and Restricted Inspiration
Bahnsen, Inductivism, Inerrancy, and Presuppositionalism
Bahnsen, The Inerrancy of the Autographa
Bahnsen, The Concept and Importance of Canonicity


 _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________195

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vocab Malone is a semi-retired hip hop artist and slam poet. He is Pastor of Teaching  and Evangelism at Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot. He has been married for 10 years and has adopted three boys. Vocab and his wife enjoy going to Comicon in full cosplay. He can be heard every Sunday night on Backpack Radio on 1360 KPXQ. Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: