Monday, October 11, 2010

Early Christian Teachers: Philo of Alexandria c15 B.C. to c. 50 A.D.

Okay. Philo was not a Christian, but a Jewish philosopher and interpreter of the Torah. However his ideas of studying would greatly influence the early Christians.

Philo was a Hellenistic (Greek) Jew. He was one of the first to combine the logical processes of the Greeks with the truths of Judaism. He was a Stoic. Stoicism was a type of Greek philosophy founded in Athens in the early 3rd century B.C. They believed that strong emotions resulted in errors in judgment and strove to separate themselves from such emotion. They were very interested in the free will of humanity compared to the gods, or God. They sought to use logical processes to understand the cosmic universe.

Philo regarded the Torah as the "source not only of religious revelation, but also of philosophic truth." ( He wrote commentaries on Jewish law and he also wrote in allegory searching for the inner truths and meanings of the Torah, not just the literal ones. In fact, he often rejected any literal sense of scriptural passages if it raised any type of factual contradiction. He also pointed out that what the scriptures didn't literally state was also important, and that a single word is often the key to true interpretation. He believed that each word should be studied for the inner meaning or truth of the passage.

"According to Philo, God transcends all first principles, incorporeal and cannot even be said to occupy a space or place; He is eternal, changeless, self-sufficient and free from all constraint or necessity (cf. Tripolitis 1978, pp. 5-6 ff.). God freely willed the creation of the cosmos, first in a purely intellectual manner, and then, through the agency of His Logos (Philo's philosophical term for the Wisdom figure of Proverbs 8:22)....Philo calls the thoughts of the Logos "rational seeds" (logoi spermatikoi), and describes them as having a role in the production of the cosmos which, he insists, was brought into being out of non-being by the agency of God." []

Christians took to the idea of the Logos. In fact the introduction of the Book of John in the New Testament has seeds of Philo's writings such as using the term "Word" translated as "Logos." He also taught that God helps His followers based on their love and devotion to him and their fellow man.

Many early Christian teachers would follow his Hellenistic example of understanding the verses through Allegory, word meanings, and the silence of the scriptures. These included Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine.

It should be noted that many of the Jews of Judea did not accept his teachings as they were opposed to the teachings of the Pharasees at that time.

What does all this mean? Human beings have struggled to understand the Bible for thousands of years. Some view a literal interpretation of everything in it. Some look for the allegorical truths, while others debate the meanings of the words. I think all of this together in the Weslayan tradition should be studied, prayed over, and the truths sought out.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why Were the Early Christians Hated and Persecuted?

The early Christians of Jerusalem, as I've already discussed, were seen as a Jewish sect. Paul came to the Jerusalem Council and argued to allow Gentiles (non-Jews) to become Christians. As more gentiles joined the fold, many true Jews were upset, and they were angry with some of the teachings of the Christians. Remember the martyrdom of Stephen. Following the Stephen's murder, the Christians fled Jerusalem and spread the Gospel throughout Judea and into Asia-Minor (Turkey) and North Africa, as well as throughout the Roman Empire.

The Romans worshipped and sacrificed to many gods, while the Christians denied the existance of any god, but the one true God. The Christians practiced Communion in secret, and rumors developed about Christians being cannibals (eating the body and drinking blood). Christians also stood against the status quo and were revolutionary with their teachings such as Love your enemies, and that slaves could be rewarded equally with the rich and the nobles in Christ's service. In fact in Galatians 3:28, Paul stated that there was neither Jew nor Greek, neither "slave nor free, there is neither male nor female." This type of talk was very offensive to the castes of the Romans.

The Romans were also fed up with the Jewish zealots and revolts throughout Judea that had been occurring for almost a hundred years. Around 50 A.D. during a Passover ceremony, a Roman guard "mooned" the Jewish elect and chaos and rioting resulted. When all was over, nearly 30,000 Jews were killed. Eventually Jewish zealots attacked Roman outposts and Nero sent General Vespasian to end the problem. Soon after, Vespasian was crowned the Roman emperor. On August 5, 70 A.D. the Romans conquered Jerusalem and burned the temple mount to the ground. Following this tragedy the Jewish leaders of the Diaspora (the time of scattering througout all the lands of the world), began to exclude other groups, such as the Christians. Timothy Paul Jones, a modern scholar and minister, writes that by "90 A.D. the weekly synagogue prayers included a curse against" the Christians.

Emperor Domitian (son of Vespasian) continued persecuting all Jewish groups, including the Christians. Then Emperor Trajan also persecuted the Christians. Christians were considered outlaws and criminals and were hunted down, killed in the arenas, burned, and crucified. Many of the early Christians began to believe that they could earn their way to Heaven by dying as martyrs, though most of the leaders of the Church taught against this early "heresy." By the mid-100s, many Christian leaders became known as apologists, as they argued to prove that Christians were not criminals or outlaws.

The Christian God was different from the Roman ones. He was a personal savior. He had suffered and died. He understood human suffering and loss. Despite all the persecution and violence, Christianity continued to grow throughout the Roman Empire, as people sought this personal relationship with a loving God. It has been said the Church grows more when it is persecuted. This may be true, it certainly was in the Roman days.

God did not promise anything in this life, but peace and joy of the soul in relationship with Him. To the early Christians, that was enough.

The Apostles

The 12 Disciples of Jesus were chosen to experience his ministry first hand and following his crucifixion and resurrection the 11 remaining were caught up in the Holy Fire of the Holy Spirit and set out to work in his service.

Christians are not promised success, wealth, or even good health in this life. Sorry to the mega success churches out there, but they got it wrong. The proof. Here is what happened to the Apostles:

1. Simon-Peter: The Fisherman who was chosen by Jesus to the the Rock of his Church (to establish Christianity), the only human to ever walk on water (though he ultimately failed when he took his eyes off Jesus), the one who swore to never deny Christ, though he did three times in one night, and after the ressurrection-it was Peter who Jesus told to "Feed my sheep." He eventually made his way to Rome where he was crucified during Nero's persecution of the Christians. Nero blamed the Christians for setting Rome on fire in 65 A.D., making them scapegoats for what many believe was his plan to rebuild Rome. Peter refused to be crucified as Jesus had been, "I'm not worthy." Instead tradition states he was crucified upside down and suffered a horrible death.

2. James-Son of Zebedee, one of the first chosen by Jesus, and witness to the transfiguration. Following the first wave of anti-Christian rioting with the murder of Stephen, James is said to have traveled to Spain, then after a vision, returned home to be beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in 44 A.D.

3. John-Son of Zebedee, one of the first chosen by Jesus, witness to the transfiguration, member of the Jerusalem ruling council, and the only disciple to remain with Jesus' mother at the foot of the cross watching Jesus die. John is the one "Jesus loved," though he obviously loved them all. He lived to be very old and died in 100 A.D. after recieving many prophetic visions. He was the only Apostle that died of natural causes.

4. Andrew, brother of Simon-Peter, an original follower of John the Baptist and then Jesus, and later he spread the Gospel to north of the Black Sea, and to the new city of Byzantium. He was crucified in Patras in Greece. Like Simon-Peter, he begged not to be crucified as Jesus had been, but instead was tied to a cross that made an X now known as Saint Andrew's Cross.

5. Philip. He preached to the Hellenistic (Greek) Jews. Tradition states that he converted the wife of the Roman Proconsul in Heirapolis. The Proconsul was so angry he had Philip, Bartholomew, and Mariamne tortured and then crucified Philip and Bartholomew upside-down, but Philip continued to preach from the cross. The crowd, converted, and released Bartholomew, but Philip refused to be released and died on the cross. Another legend has him beheaded in Hierapolis. Either way, he was probably killed there for his teachings.

6. Bartholomew (Nathaniel). The Apostle usually linked with Philip. Following the resurrection, tradition states he traveled to India through Mesopotamia and Armenia. Stories tell that he was flayed alive, and crucified, head downward by the brother of the King of Armenia after he converted the King to Christianity. Other stories state he was beheaded in Armenia.

7. Matthew. He followed Jesus and was a witness to the resurrection and ascension of Christ. He lived in the upper room with Mary and other Christians in Jerusalem. He preached the Gospel throughout Judea and later to Ethiopia, Greece, and Persia. He may have died of natural causes, but the Catholic church claim he died a martyrs death.

8. Thomas, the one who doubted. He may have also been known as Judas (no not that one, he is listed later). It is believed he traveled to India and preached the Good News until about 72 A.D., when he upset Madai, a local king at mylapore. Madai ordered Thomas to be taken to a nearby mountain, be allowed to pray, then they stoned and stabbled him to death.

9. James the lesser, the Just. According to tradition he may have been a early leader of the Christian sect in Jerusalem following the Ascencion of Christ. Tradition states he was martyred by being beaten to death by a club at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt while preaching the Gospel.

10. Jude, possibly also known as Thaddeus. According to Armenian tradition he was martyred in 65 A.D. in Beirut, Lebanon.

11. Simon the Zealot. He wanted to free Israel from the Romans and like Judas Iscariot, probably wanted Jesus to be a warrior king rather than the Prince of Peace. After the Ascension, Simon evangelized with Jude in Egypt, Persia, and Armenia. There are many traditions about his death and possible martyrdom. Justus Lipsius writes that Simon was sawed in half at Suanir, Persia. Others state he was martyred in Spain, Britain, or even was killed in the Jewish revolt against Rome. Only one states he died peacefully in Edessa.

12. Judas Iscariot. The Betrayer of Christ. He may have committed suicide after the betrayal, some traditions state his innards burst out of his body, some state he grew enormous and was crushed by a chariot, and one even states that the other disciples stoned him to death. I go with the Gospel of Matthew and believe he killed himself, probably by a sword or dagger to the gut (hence the field of blood reference).

13. Matthais. Judas Iscariot's replacement following the Ascension. An early historian, Nicephorus wrote that Matthais taught in Judea, then in the modern region of Georgia (no not the state, the nation near Russia) where he was crucified in Colchis. Another tradition states he was stoned in Jerusalem by the Jewish rulers and beheaded.

So. Only one for sure, and possibly two of the original Apostles lived a long life and died of natural causes. We are not assured of peace, health, or success in this life. We are assured that we are saved in the next life with Jesus in eternal worship and joy. We are promised earthly joy in Christ. If you have a personal relationship with the Lord, the Holy Spirit will comfort and guide you, and your earthly days will be a monument to His grace, love, and forgiveness.

De Colores.