“Didache,” “Epistle to Diognetus” and “Martyrdom of Polycarp”

Didache, Epistle to Diognetus and Martyrdom of Polycarp give readers valuable insights to the life of the Early Church. For example, Didache portrays a strong emphasis, commitment and dependence on the teachings of Jesus, especially on Jesus’ sermon on the mount (cf. Did. chs. 1, 2, 8, 16 ; Matt 5-7), and on the teachings of the Apostle Paul (cf. Did. chs. 5, 6, 15; Gal 5:19-21, 1 Cor 8, 1 Tim 3:1-13), but there are also many allusions to the teachings of other New Testament writers and to the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. Did. ch. 2; Ex 20).  

Didache reveals an emphasis by the Early Church on the broken body and shed blood of Jesus by giving instructions on the eucharist ( i.e. chs. 9,10,14). This appears to be central to the Lord’s Day gathering (ch. 14), and a vital part in experiencing the ongoing presence of Jesus among the faith community.  

Furthermore, Didache provides instructions regarding traveling teachers and Christians (chs. 11,12) which gives readers a glimpse into the robust itinerant missionary activity of the Early Church but also of the challenges of false teachers. Overall, Didache presents as an Early Church catechism, and so it demonstrates the Early Church’s commitment to providing instructions about Jesus and about the life of “the Way” (John 14:6; Acts 9:2, 22:4).

Epistle to Diognetus and Martyrdom of Polycarp help readers understand the contextual background and some of the issues that confronted the Early Church. Epistle to Diognetus addresses the Greco-Roman culture’s emphasis on the gods and idols. The writer explains that the Christians are distinctly different because they refuse to acknowledge and worship the Greco-Roman gods, and while they live within the Greco-Roman world, their citizenship is in heaven. Due to these differences, the writer explains that “persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks” (5:17). Likewise, Martyrdom of Polycarp depicts Polycarp being compared to an “atheist” (3:2) because he refused to endorse and worship the gods as well as bow down to Caesar as lord (8:2). The Christian distinctive of neglecting to worship the gods and refusing to say “Caesar is Lord, and offering incense” (8:2)  ultimately led to Polycarp’s martyrdom (15:1-18:2). Therefore, both of these writings tell of the harsh persecution that confronted the Early Church.

Early Church Councils: Part 3 Council of Chalcedon

The Council of Chalcedon met in 451 C.E. and over 500 bishops were in attendance. The focus of the council was to develop a definitive understanding and definition of the incarnation. The majority of bishops did not want to announce a new creed but rather uphold the Nicene Creed. However, Emperor Marcian thought that there was a need for a new creed due to recent contrasting views about Jesus. Responding to the views of Eutyches was the primary focus of the council.[1] Eutyches advocated a newly revamped Apollinarianism (or monophysitism).[2] Eutyches argued that Christ had one nature after the union, meaning that the human nature had merged with the divine nature “as a drop of honey mingled with the ocean.”[3] The Council of Chalcedon condemned the views of Eutyches and confirmed and strengthened the statements about Christ as read in the Nicene Creed. The council declared Christ’s two natures— that he is perfectly God and perfectly man at the same time.[4] Christ is the God-Man “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and substance.”[5] From the Council of Chalcedon, the Chalcedon Creed was formed and this creed continues to be the Christological standard for most Christian traditions.

[1] T.G. Weinandy, “Chalcedon, Council of” in New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (NDT) eds. Martin Davie et al. (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [2] H.D. McDonald, “Monophysitism” in NDT, EPUB edition. [3] McDonald, “Monophysitism,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [4] D.Demarest, “Creeds,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [5]“The Chalcedon Formula” http://anglicansonline.org/basics/chalcedon.html

Early Church Councils: Part 2 Council of Constantinople

In 381 C.E., the newly appointed emperor, named Theodosius, called to order the First Council of Constantinople. This council was smaller in size, compared to its predecessor at Nicea, with only 150 eastern bishops in attendance.[1] The council primarily met in order to readdress lingering Arian views, to debate the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the doctrine of the Trinity and to confront the views of Apollinarius.

First, the council reaffirmed the results of the Council of Nicea regarding the deity of the Son, thus emphatically closing the door on Arianism and semi-Arianism.

Second, the council determined that what was said about the deity of the Son should be applied to the Holy Spirit. The creedal statement regarding the Holy Spirit states that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father” and is to be “worshipped and glorified.” Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus were dissatisfied with such statements regarding the Holy Spirit because they thought that the statements were not strong enough in identifying the deity of the Holy Spirit. They preferred an explicit statement that the Holy Spirit was ὁμοούσιος (homoousios) “of the same substance” with God-the Father and God-the Son.[2] Nevertheless, the council agreed on the deity of the Holy Spirit.

Third, the council addressed the Trinity controversy which at one point involved the views of Sabellius who argued that “God as a single monad is manifest in three distinct and successive operations of self-revealing.”[3] Thus, God-the Father revealed Himself in the temporary modes of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.[4] The council decided on the Trinity by proclaiming that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are of one essence (Gr. ούσια, ousia) in three persons (Gr. ὑπόστασες, hypostases defined with Latin personae).[5]

Fourth, the council rejected and condemned the views of Apollinarius who denied that Jesus had a human mind or spirit. He believed that if Jesus was totally divine, his human nature must have been replaced with the divine logos. Thus, Apollinarius repudiated Jesus’ fully human existence. However, the council agreed that the scriptures teach that Jesus was the God-Man—fully God and fully man.[6]

The Council of Constantinople produced the revised Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed that is presently used throughout Christendom and is simply referred to as the “Nicene Creed.”

[1] T.A. Noble, “Constantinople, Council of” in New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (NDT) eds. Martin Davie et al. (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic,2016), EPUB edition. [2] Noble, “Constantinople, Council of” in NDT, EPUB edition. [3] H.D. McDonald, “Monarchianism,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [4] McDonald, “Monarchianism,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [5] González, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt. 2, ch. 20, “Gregory of Nazianzus.” [6] H.D. McDonald, “Apollinarianism,” in NDT, EPUB edition.

Early Church Councils: Part 1 Council of Nicea

Throughout the development of the Early Church, false and heretical teachings began to form within the church. In response, church councils were organized and held in order to address and debate theological topics or church functioning topics, and from these councils, creeds were formed, which became another standard for orthodox doctrine. The Early Church councils of Nicea (C.E. 325), Constantinople (C.E. 381), and Chalcedon (C.E. 451) played major roles in combating heresies.

The Council of Nicea

One of the theological controversies of the 4th century was focused on the Son. A teacher in Alexandria, named Arius, argued that the Son was not God but was created by God as the first of His creations. From this perspective, the Son was not coeternal with the Father, and so Arius’ motto was “once the Son was not”[1] indicating that the Son was a creature or lesser being than God. Arius explained that in order to keep the monotheistic view of God intact, the divinity of the Son had to be rejected. He believed in the pre-existence of the Son before the incarnation but emphatically argued that at some point before the incarnation, the Son was created. According to Arius, the created Son through the incarnation paved the way for salvation by being obedient, even unto death, to his creator.[2]

The bishop of Alexandria, named Alexander, clashed with the views of Arius by  arguing that the Son was divine and coeternal with God-the Father. Therefore, the Son was not created before the incarnation, but rather God-the Son became incarnate in Jesus. Alexander believed that Jesus was the God-Man and argued that the earliest Christians worshipped Jesus as God and not as a created being. Alexander argued that God-the Son achieved the salvation of humans by entering into human history through the incarnation.[3]

194329-004-b1674e7cAs a bishop, Alexander condemned Arius’ teachings and removed Arius from church leadership in Alexandria. Arius and others protested the decision which caused unrest in the Eastern church. With the threat of a split of the Eastern church, Imperial Constantine got involved and ordered the arrangement of the Council of Nicea (C.E. 325).[4] Approximately three hundred bishops attended the Council of Nicea where the primary debate centered on two Greek words: ὁμοούσιος (homoousios) and ὁμοιούσιος (homoiousios). Those who followed Alexander described the Son in relation with the Father by using the term ὁμοούσιος (homoousios), meaning of the same substance with the Father. Those who followed Arius described the Son in relation with the Father by using the term ὁμοιούσιος (homoiousios), meaning of similar substance with the Father.

The Council of Nicea determined that the Son was ὁμοούσιος (homoousios) “of the same substance” with the Father. Thus, the council was in favor of Alexander’s views of the Son being consubstantial, coeternal and coequal with the Father. The council declared the divinity of the Son and condemned Arius’ views. From the Council of Nicea, the Nicene Creed was formed and was the foundational creed for the church and for other church councils.[5]

[1] M. Ovey, “Nicea, Council of” in New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (NDT) eds. Martin Davie et al. (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic,2016), EPUB edition. [2] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 1, “The Outbreak of the Controversy.” [3] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 1, “The Outbreak of the Controversy.” [4] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 1, “The Outbreak of the Controversy.” [5] Robert C. Walton, Chronological and Background Charts of Church History, Revised and Expanded ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), Chart 28.

Kant’s Objection to the Ontological Argument

Immanuel Kant rejected the existence of God on empirical grounds, but he then tries to double down by attacking an a priori (theoretical) argument by arguing against the necessity of existence. He argues that an absolute necessity of a statement does not form the absolute necessity of a thing. For example, to describe triangles as having three sides does not mean that triangles necessarily have to be real or exist. Thus, to describe a maximally greatest being does not mean that such a being necessarily has to be real or exist. When Kant argues this way, he is rejecting the use of existence as general predication. He does not think that people can say that God is exist. In other words, exist does not stand in a general predicated position by telling something about God or describing an attribute like in the statement the man is tall.

While I understand the reasoning here, and maybe I’ll grant that to use “exists” as predication does not make sense for things that we know are real, like triangles or a man, but I argue that when we are talking about possibly existing things, like a maximally greatest being, it is intelligible to ask whether existence is one of its ontological attributes. Thus, existence can be used in a general predicated way. In other words, an attribute of the maximally greatest being is that it exists.

The Ontological Argument, the Theo-Drama and an Evidential Apologetic

Many theists use a cumulative case approach to argue for the existence of God. They appeal to several theistic arguments including the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the contingency argument, the fine tuning argument, the moral argument, the reformed epistemological argument, etc. These are valid theistic arguments that can be used to present good reasons to believe that God exists. With a cumulative approach, I think we can argue by ‘inference to the best explanation’ that the existence of God is the most powerful explanatory story of the universe, humanity, morality and eschatology. However, because I use a narrative theological method, I prefer Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God, which I find conducive to storytelling.

I’ll explain.

The ontological argument is a metaphysical argument that emphasizes the nature of “being” (gr. ὄντος, ontos) and draws upon logic rather than empiricism. Thus, the ontological argument appeals to “a being that which nothing greater can be conceived,”[1] and that this being “exists both in the understanding and in reality.”[2] The deductive argument posits that things can exist in understanding alone or in both understanding and reality, but that to exist in reality is greater than to exist in understanding only; thus, if a being only existed in understanding, then it would not be the greatest possible being “since a being that existed in reality would be greater.”[3] The ontological argument follows Anselm’s line of thinking regarding the existence of the greatest possible being and concludes that this being is God, and so God exists. Another feature of Anselm’s thought is that God’s existence is a “necessary existence” or “a matter of logical necessity.”[4] He wrote, “God cannot be conceived not to exist. God is that, which nothing greater can be conceived. That which can be conceived not to exist is not God.”[5]

With the help of this argument, I prefer speaking ontologically that God is the greatest being, and then I prefer to transition into speaking narratively about the Theo-drama of redemption that culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus, which then enables me to appeal to an evidential apologetic approach that presents the historicity of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

I think that a progression from the ontological argument to the Theo-drama to the evidences of Jesus’ redemptive life and ministry gives a strong unified, explanatory argument for the existence of the Judeo-Christian God. This is the story that Christians have told throughout the centuries. That there is an ultimate being who many have appealed to as “an unknown God,” (Acts 17) but this greatest being has acted and revealed himself in the Theo-drama of redemption throughout the storied history of Israel and the Church. Christians proclaim the eyewitness stories of Jesus’ redemptive life, death, resurrection and ascension, and they tell the future eschatological story of the return of King Jesus, who will establish his eternal kingdom.

[1] Anselm Proslogium 2, in Internet Medieval Soursebook <www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/ anselm-proslogium.html#CHAPTER%20II> quoted by Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics : A Comprehensive Case for Biblical (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 187. [2] Anselm, Proslogium, 2 quoted by Groothuis, Christian, 188. [3] Groothuis, Christian, 188. [4] Groothuis, Christian, 195. [5] Anselm, Proslogium, 2 quoted by Groothuis, Christian, 194.

Blaise Pascal and Apologetics

Blaise Pascal presented a challenge against a rational defense of the faith based on 1 Corinthians 1-2. He argued that the gospel should be and will be deemed foolish to unbelievers and any attempts to make it reasonable are misguided. In view of Pascal’s challenge, a examination of Paul teaching to the Corinthians is needed.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church explaining that when he visited them, he did not use secular rhetorical techniques or think in secular ways or impart secular wisdom (1 Cor 1-2), but rather he imparted words “taught by the spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor 2:13 ESV). He explains that Christians have the mind of Christ, and so they can understand spiritual and theological themes; whereas, the secular person is left to their own natural cognitive devices, and so can not understand the things of God. Paul refutes the “godless intellectualism”[1] that was being promoted in Corinth. The people of Corinth were overly fixated on human wisdom and the wisdom of the world, and they became culturally arrogant and addicted to power, wealth, style and sophistication. Thus, when Paul preached to them the message of Christ crucified, some considered it folly because the truth of the cross can not be grasped by the best of human thinking or rhetorical strength, but it is received as a gift  by faith and trust.[2] Paul did not compromise the gospel message by changing it to the whims and tastes of the secular Corinthians because that would be to follow the expectations of fallen and sinful humanity.[3]

In view of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians, Christians should not attempt a rational defence of the faith by primarily following the tenets of secular thought processing. Christians should not rely on their own human epistemological ecumen. Christians run the risk of presenting a “different gospel” than that which they “received” (Gal 1:6-9) if they set out to give an apologetic in their own strength and according to the wisdom of the world. Martin Luther said many provocative statements during his lifetime, but one that particularly stands out is his comment when referring to the magisterial use of reason as “Aristotle’s whore.”[4] He railed against the magisterial use of reason because it presides over the gospel like a magistrate judging on whether its claims are true or false. Luther endorsed the ministerial use of reason which submits to and serves the gospel and is guided by the Holy Spirit.[5]

This is the crux of Paul’s argument—the wisdom of God must be pursued by the Spirit of God. Thus, he endorses a Christ-centered and Holy Spirit led apologetic. Christians must defend the faith with a Christlike heart posture that “labors to communicate the truth in love and with wisdom”… “so that others may hear it, believe it, and live it.”[6] As the Holy Spirit moves Christians in their Christ-centered apologetic, unbelievers will be drawn to the knowledge of God and their sinful resistance and faulty arguments will be removed.[7]  

[1] Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians. NIVAC (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 56. [2] John Polhill, “The Wisdom of God and Factionalism: 1 Corinthians 1-4,” RevExp 80 (1983): 330 cited in Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 57. [3] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, 1 Corinthians (Wilmington, NC: Glazier, 1979), 14 cited in Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 56. [4] William Lane Craig, “The Classical Method” in Five Views on Apologetics. ed. Steven B. Cowan (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000), 36. [5] ibid., 36-37. [6] Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics : A Comprehensive Case for Biblical (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 29. [7] Craig, “The Classical,” 54.