Here I Am to Worship!

In preparation for our Old Testament Survey class, I have read pages 266 to 291 of Reading the Old Testament by Rev. Fr. Lawrence Boadt, C.S.P. This chapter discusses Israelite worship and prayer, particularly the nature of the book of Psalms. The author described the development of Israelite worship beginning with the book of Genesis to the time of King David. He then compared the same to the different methods of worship of the pagans surrounding the land of Canaan with special emphasis on their respective holy places, which, for the Jews, culminated in the temple built by Solomon. Attention was likewise given to the major types of sacrifices found in the book of Leviticus and the various feast days observed by the Jews as commanded by God through Moses.

The second part of this chapter dealt with the Psalms and Israel’s prayer life. According to Fr. Boadt, the Psalms seemed to be grouped in small collections, namely: (1) Davidic hymns; (2) northern collection of hymns; (3) collection from temple singers; (4) psalms from a royal collection; and (5) a second and expanded Davidic royal collection. He noted that each of these divisions is marked by a special prayer and blessing of praise. Moreover, the Psalms are further made up of different literary genres such as praise, thanksgiving, individual laments, community laments, liturgical, wisdom, trust songs, royal psalms of the king, Zion hymns, and royal psalms of Yahweh as King. Aside from these, there also some psalms for special occasions like weddings, victories, and personal piety.

Reading the Psalms can truly be a source of blessing and inspiration as it gives us an idea on how the ancient Israelites approached God in prayer and worship. Likewise, we can use it today in our own respective church services or personal prayers. It shows us that we can indeed approach God with both our triumphs and pain, in short, God receives and meets us in whatever circumstances we may be in. May the Lord be praised forever!

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Eusebius of Caesarea

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“Looking westward or eastward, looking over the whole earth, and even looking at heaven, always and everywhere I see blessed Constantine leading the same Empire.” (Eusebius of Caesarea)

Eusebius of Caesarea was a Christian historian from whom we learn about half of what we know about the life of the early Christians up to the time of Constantine the Great. Although Eusebius has sometimes been depicted as a puppet of Constantine and compromiser of the Christian Faith, he is in fact one of the most learned Christians of his time. In fact, it was only after Constantine’s death in A.D. 337 that Eusebius wrote his lines of highest praise for the ruler who had brought peace to the church, thus belying any claim that Eusebius was merely a kiss-ass to the emperor.

A disciple of Pamphilius of Caesarea, who in turn studied the works of Origen while in Alexandria under Pierius, Eusebius and Pamphilius collaborated on a five volume Defense of Origen, to which Eusebius added a sixth book after his teacher’s martyrdom during the reign of Maximinus Daia.

Eusebius saw in Constantine a fulfillment of the promise of peace by Christ due to the latter’s abatement of hostilities towards the Christian religion. Eusebius met Constantine when the latter visited Palestine with Diocletian’s court. Then also at Nicea, at the time of the Council, he saw the emperor seeking the unity and well-being of the church. Since Eusebius was convinced that Constantine had been raised up by God, he did not hesitate to support the emperor. Eusebius is famous for his seminal work, Church History. This work, which he later revised, is, according to historian Justo Gonzalez, of great importance for later church historians for without it, a great deal of the story that we have been telling would have been lost.

The final draft of his Church History however did not simply seek to retell the various events in the earlier life of the church but was really an apology or defense that sought to show that Christianity was the ultimate goal of human history, particularly as seen within the context of the Roman Empire. In support of that thesis, Constantine’s conversion was the keystone. The new situation was living and convincing proof of the truth of the Gospel, to which all humanity pointed.

Constantine the Great

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Throughout history, there have been many questions regarding the genuineness and sincerity of Constantine’s so-called conversion to Christianity. However, what scholars and historians all agree about is the effect of this supposed conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine. The most widely known story is that during the battle at Milvian Bridge against Maxentius, Constantine saw a vision of the “Chi-Rho”, the first two Greek letters of the name of Christ, along with the instruction “in this sign you shall conquer”. So, as the story goes, Constantine had the shields of his troops painted with this sign and thereafter indeed won the battle. Therefore, Constantine issued the historical Edict of Milan which put an end to the Christian persecution. As a shrewd and wise statesman, Constantine knew that outright persecution of the pagan religion would earn him disfavor among the leaders of society, majority of who were still pagans. As discussed in my earlier article, the Christian population was largely limited to the lower echelons of the Roman Empire, with a few exceptions of course.

Notwithstanding this, Constantine still continued thereafter to serve and offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. Moreover, as emperor, he serves as the high priest of paganism, who later on after his death was even declared a god himself. In fact, throughout his entire life, he never placed himself under the direction of Christian teachers or bishops, although Christian leaders such as Lactantius formed part of his entourage and Hosius, bishop of Cordova, became for a time his liaison with other ecclesiastical leaders.

After he became the overall ruler of the Roman Empire, he moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople, then Byzantium and now Istanbul, Turkey. Hence it was also known as the Byzantine Empire. According to Justo Gonzalez, the impact of Constantine’s reforms can still be felt up to as late as the twentieth century. One of the most significant developments during his time was the adoption of an “official theology” as best exemplified by the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, which sought to unify Christendom with a common doctrine or creed against the teachings of Arius, a presbyter, who taught that Jesus was a created being and not God co-eternal with the Father. Furthermore, the official recognition of Christianity as a valid religion also brought some changes to Christian worship in that during its early years, Christians gathered to worship in private homes. However, with the construction of elaborate houses of worship, churches, basilicas and cathedrals, Christian worship soon came to be regarded with more pomp and majesty. The same can likewise be seen from the changes in the way officiating ministers dress, who until then had worn everyday clothes. From that time on and even until today, Catholic and Orthodox priests, and Protestant ministers now wear luxurious vestments with intricate designs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, certainly deserves majestic worship.

Finally, this era also marked the beginning of official commemoration of a martyr’s death, which then extended to the saints who have passed away. Thus, the impact of Constantine.

The Interpreter

According to Dr. M.W. Klein, in biblical hermeneutics, the interpreter himself has is a huge factor in determining the direction of interpretative process. In his book, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, he provides certain qualifications an interpreter of Sacred Scripture must possess, namely, faith, obedience, illumination, membership in the church, and appropriate methods: (a) Faith, because as St. Paul makes it clear, the ability to apprehend God’s truth in the fullest sense belongs only to the “spiritual person” (1 Cor. 2:14); (b) obedience, because the interpreter must be willing to put himself “under” the text, to submit one’s will to hear the text and obey its Author; (c) illumination, because as W. Swartley says, “In the co-creative moment, text and interpreter experience life by the power of the divine Spirit. Without this experience, interpretation falls short of its ultimate potential and purpose”; (d) membership in the church, because we do not work in a vacuum as we are not the first ones to puzzle over the meaning of the Bile. As Bible interpreters, we must be wary of the trap of individualism by recognizing our membership in the Body of Christ, the Church; and (e) appropriate methods, because we need methods that are appropriate to the task of interpretation, which requires diligence, commitment, hard work and discipline.

In addition to the above, we must likewise recognize the presuppositions that the interpreter brings into the text. An acronym popularized by the computer industry makes the point well, i.e. GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). For Bible interpreters, there are good presuppositions and bad presuppositions. Among the good and necessary ones regarding Scripture are that it is: (a) inspired revelation; (b) authoritative and true; (c) a spiritual document; (d) characterized by both unity and diversity; and (e) an understandable document. Other presuppositions include the nature of the interpreter, methodology, and the goal of hermeneutics.

Finally, Klein discussed about the nature of preunderstanding. D.S. Ferguson defines preunderstanding as “a body of assumptions and attitudes which a person brings to the perception and interpretation of reality or any aspect of it.” A good contemporary example of this is the way homosexual marriage advocates such as Rev. Ceejay Agbayani interpret Scripture. Being a homosexual himself, his preunderstanding of Scripture is filtered by his prior experience, training, and thinking. That is why Thiselton argues that “the goal of biblical hermeneutics is to bring about an active and meaningful engagement between the interpreter and the text in such a way that the interpreter’s own horizon is re-shaped and enlarged.”

The above considerations are just but a few things we should keep in mind when approaching Sacred Scripture as its interpreters. The apostle Paul stressed to the Philippian church that they, including all Christians, must continue to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in them (and us) to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose (2:12-13). Simply put, we must approach the Word of God with reverence and awe and not just like any other ordinary book. We should let the Scriptures shape us and not the other way around. May God help us!

The Early Christians

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“…not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many of noble birth; but…God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27)

We usually hear some preachers declare that today’s modern churches do not resemble the early church we can read about in the book of Acts. And they are right in saying so. However, we would also hear these same preachers instruct the modern, or should we say post-modern, church to return to its biblical roots by imitating the practices, culture, traditions, methodologies, and government systems of the church in Acts. To be sure, it is imperative to take note of what the early church was really like in order to determine whether or not we can truly become like that once more.

The pagan writer Celsus described Christians during the second century as ignorant folk whose teaching took place, not in schools or open forums, but in kitchens, shops, and tanneries. According to Dr. Justo Gonzalez, “Although the work of Christians such as Justin, Clement, and Origen would seem to belie Celsus’ words, the fact remains that, in general, Celsus was telling the truth.” Most Christians at that time belonged to the lower echelons of society. Moreover, taking into account their stage of technological advancement, indeed it seems that the world we live in and its civilization today is quite different from that of the early church.

The area of contention nowadays is the style of Christian worship. This is one area of Christian life where we can see more similarities to the 21st century church. The early Christians had the custom of gathering on the first day of the week for the breaking of bread. This is still practiced by the body of Christ today with some exceptions, particularly the Messianic Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists and Seventh-Day Baptists, who still (wrongly) cling to the Old Testament Jewish Sabbath. Interestingly, throughout most of its history, the Christian church has seen in communion or the Eucharist its highest act of worship. Only at a relatively recent date, especially with the rise of evangelicalism, has it become common practice in many Protestant churches to focus their worship on preaching rather than on communion. These two facets of Christian worship are more popularly referred to as the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, respectively. A common characteristic of these early communion services was that only baptized Christians could attend. Converts who have not yet been baptized we allowed only in the early part of the service such as the readings, sermons and prayers but were sent away at the time of the communion proper. It was only until a few decades ago, during the Second Vatican Council, that this practice was changed in that unbaptized Christians, in fact, even non-Christians, are no longer sent away during the communion portion of the Mass. However, if we are to base our worship services from the book of Acts, we would not see any prescription on whether preaching or communion should be the main focus. Personally, I think it should be both.

Who Needs Hermeneutics Anyway?

According to Moises Silva, the very use of the term hermeneutics raises an important question: Why would Bible readers be expected to study principles of interpretation? He said that “the difficulties surface especially when we try to read a book produced in a different culture or time, as some examples from Shakespeare can make clear. In the case of ancient documents written in other languages, we need to make a special effort to take into account their original setting through a method known as grammatico-historical exegesis. Moreover, the divine character of Scripture suggests that we need to adopt some special principles that would not be relevant to the study of other writings.”

Hermeneutics is traditionally defined as the discipline that deals with principles of interpretation. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, hermeneutics is not only limited to biblical interpretation but to all kinds of interpretation such as law, which lawyers refer to as statutory construction. A good number of Bible readers, especially the laity, criticize the study of biblical hermeneutics for fostering a sort of elitism in church. They would normally point out that since the Bible is God’s Word to His children and that as Christians, each of us have the Holy Spirit’s guidance as our indwelling Teacher, then there is no need for tedious academic methodologies. Although however we believe in the perspicuity or clarity of Scripture, the fact is, we need hermeneutics precisely because in addition to being a divine book, the Bible is likewise a human book. Just like Jesus Christ, the Scriptures also have a dual nature in that God is the author of the Bible but written by and through human knowledge and skill. This is significant because human language, by its very nature, is largely equivocal, that is, capable of being understood in more than one way.

There was in fact a famous book that came out a few decades ago bearing a very peculiar title: How to Read a Book. It was written by Mortimer J. Adler. This book was one of our very first assigned readings during my first year in college for our English class. My classmates and I were even laughing about the title, not knowing that it was actually a classic book on hermeneutics. Adler discussed the various kinds of reading materials such as newspapers, history, science and poetry, and how each of them should be read in a different manner. In the same way, the Bible is not only a single book but actually a library containing books with various literary genres. Therefore, to be able to properly understand its meaning, we need to learn the discipline of hermeneutics.

Against Heresies

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As I study the history of Christianity, I came across some of the significant heresies that arose during the second and third centuries. I also read about the apostolic church fathers who defended the Faith from the heretics while at the same time clarifying its doctrines. Two of the major heresies during that time were Gnosticism and Marcionism. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning knowledge. Proponents of this heretical teaching posit that there are only certain persons who are endowed with a special mystical knowledge from God thereby entrusted with some special revelation. Moreover, they came to the conclusion that all matter is evil, or at best unreal. Gnosticism was a very dangerous as it denies several crucial Christian doctrines such as creation, incarnation, and resurrection. Among the most significant, if not the most significant, findings of the previous century were the manuscripts located inside the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea, from which it gets its name, The Dead Sea Scrolls. Archaeologists believe that these were the domicile of either the Jewish sect known as the Essenes or the Gnostic monks. Along with the oldest extant manuscript of Isaiah, were also found copies of Gnostic scriptures.

The other heresy of the period, variations of which still linger in the 21st century, is Marcionism whose founder was Marcion, a son of the bishop of Sinope in Pontus. Similar to the Gnostics, he had a profound dislike towards both Judaism and the material world. After gathering a following, he founded his own church, which lasted for several centuries as a rival to the orthodox Christian church. Marcion was convinced that the material world is evil and that its creator is likewise evil or ignorant. Thus, Marcion claimed that the God of the Old Testament is different from the Father of Jesus Christ, the God of what we now refer to as the New Testament.

The rise of these heresies necessitated the response of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This response came in the form of a canonized Scripture, creed, and apostolic succession. In fact, a close scrutiny of what we call the “Apostles’ Creed” shows that this early creed is directed against Marcion and the Gnostics, specifically when it referred to God as the “Almighty” (Gk. “pantokrator), not to mention its extensive paragraph dealing with the nature of the Son, Jesus Christ.

It was therefore during period that certain leaders of the Church, those we refer to as the early “apostolic church fathers”. These church fathers include Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage and Origen of Alexandria. As bishops, pastors and teachers of the church, they wrote extensive expositions of the orthodox Christian Faith in response to the heretical teachings of the Gnostics and Marcion. Thus, we could say that the presence of heresies and heretics drove some church elders to expound on the orthodox doctrines of Christianity thereby enriching the deposit of Faith for the benefit of not only those who were alive during that time, but to those of us who call ourselves Christians in the 21st century and beyond.

 

Warning!!!

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“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2, ESV)

Quite recently, I had the opportunity to call out on a supposedly fellow-Christian worker regarding certain false teachings. As Christians and heralds of the Gospel, we this is our prophetic duty for we are the ambassadors for Christ, as if God is making His appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:20). Some people might find it harsh and unloving, but I did not feel like it was. In fact, I felt that it was by calling a person’s attention to wrong doing or teaching that I am able to show love and concern, not only to that person but also to those whom he influences. The apostle Paul instructed the young bishop Timothy to “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16, NIV).

Long ago, God called Jonah call out and warn the inhabitants of the city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, that God will decimate their city after forty days in order for them to repent and change their ways. However, Jonah did not want to do so and instead tried his best to escape from God, not because he was afraid of the Assyrians, but because he knew that if they repented then god would have mercy on them and withdraw His punishment. Very truly, it is quite difficult to desire salvation for our enemies, especially for those who persecute us or those who obstinately lead others astray. Just like King David, we may just want to pray those imprecatory psalms against them. Nevertheless, our Lord Jesus Christ has called us to love and pray for our enemies, not for their destruction or damnation, but for their salvation.

Studying the Old Testament

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I have read pages 13-37 (Introduction) of An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman and Raymond Dillard as well as pages 89-108 (The Pentateuch) of Lawrence Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament. Longman and Dillard discussed the purposes of writing such an introduction. According to both books, such an introductory work would greatly aid students and readers of the Bible in understanding the historical, geographic, archaeological and literary background of the Old Testament. Longman and Dillard divide their work into three major topics, to wit: historical background, literary analysis, and theological message. Each of these topics is covered in the analysis of each of the Old Testament books under consideration following this introductory chapter beginning with Genesis.

It is worth noting that Longman and Dillard write from an Evangelical perspective while Boadt writes from a Catholic perspective. What this means is that the biblical text is treated as the church has received it, while not denying the possibility of sources and the history of development of individual biblical books. More specifically, the focus of their work will be squarely on the finished form of the canonical text. On the other hand, while many Catholic scholars were attracted to the possibilities of critical methods, they did little with them until the 1940’s because of the crisis of modernism. Finally, in 1943, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical entitled Divino Afflante Spiritu that gave Catholic biblical scholars encouragement to examine the ancient sources and literary forms in order to deepen the understanding of the sacred texts. From that time on, Catholic scholars such as Boadt have pursued a sober use of source and form criticism as seriously as do most Protestant and Jewish scholars.

The Defenders of the Faith

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Last week, a news article on “e-cigs” or “vaping” was posted on the GMA News Facebook® page. It warned of the possible dangers of same, even mentioning that there was a certain study conducted on e-cigarettes or personal vaporizers published in a German publication. According to the news article, e-cigs contain formaldehyde among other harmful chemicals; so much so that even inhaling second-hand smoke or better yet, vapor, is dangerous. A similar warning was likewise issued by the Department of Health. However, there was one thing those warnings had in common: they failed to adequately cite any conclusive scientific study regarding their claims. Surely, mere mention that a certain study was conducted is not and will not be enough. As with all cultures and ages, the fear of the unknown haunts us.

A similar predicament was Christianity under during its early centuries. Although, according to Dr. Justo Gonzalez, there was no systematic persecution of Christians, it was nevertheless illegal to be a Christian. It was very easy though to cause any Christian to be arrested and punished; all it took was to present an accusation, no matter how frivolous or fantastic it is. Among those false accusations against Christians were insubordination, anti-patriotism, treason, sexual orgies, incest, human sacrifice, and worst of all, cannibalism. However, these accusations were not totally without reason. Christians services during that time were also called “love feasts”, much like “The Feast” gatherings of Bro. Bo Sanchez of the Light of Jesus Family, and they also called each other “brother” or “sister”. To make things worse, other people thought that Christians were eating infants during their gatherings because the former heard that the latter eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus Christ! Since all of these things were done in private and only Christian initiates were admitted, there was really no way for the pagans to verify the rumors that they have been hearing.

Thus, a new breed of Christians, called “apologists” or “defenders” arose to address and dispel these misunderstandings. Among them were Quadranus, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Origen, Mincious Felix, Tertullian and Tatian. But the most famous of the early apologists was Justin, whose martyrdom earned him the moniker “Martyr”, such did he come to be known, St. Justin Martyr. Only two of his works still exist: The Apologies (consisting of two parts) and a Dialogue with Trypho, a Jewish rabbi.

It was during those turbulent times that some of the most remarkable theological works of Christianity were produced. According to Dr. Gonzalez, it is by reading and studying these ancient works that we can know the main objections pagans raised against Christianity, as well as the manner in which the most cultured members of the Church responded to them, and how Christian theology developed in the very act of responding to pagan objections.