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Showing posts with label early Christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label early Christianity. Show all posts

Monday 26 October 2015

Supernatural Evil in the Apostolic Fathers (7): Papias of Hierapolis

Papias of Hierapolis wrote a five-volume work about the sayings of Jesus around 110-130 A.D.1 Papias' work is lost, but fragments of it survive in quotations by later writers. Papias was 'above all a collector of traditions.'2 Hill refers to Papias' work as the Expositions of the Dominical Logia, and describes its contents as having to do with 'interpretations and oral traditions relating to things Jesus had said in certain written Gospels'.3 However, there is an ongoing scholarly debate as to whether Papias' work was primarily an account of Jesus' sayings or an interpretation thereof. Bauckham, who favours the former view, notes that the operative word in the Greek title of the work (Exēgēsis) can mean either 'account, report' or 'interpretation'.4

Any attempt to reconstruct Papias' theological views will necessarily be tentative for several reasons. First, the vast majority of Papias' work is lost. Second, those fragments which survive must be interpreted in the absence of important contextual information. Third, in some cases it is unclear where the quotation from Papias breaks off. Fourth, the authenticity of some of the fragments is disputed.

There are two fragments which contain information relevant to the subject of supernatural evil. Somewhat confusingly, there are different numbering systems for the fragments of Papias. Following the nomenclature of Holmes, we are concerned with fragments 11 and 24. Both of these fragments are preserved in a commentary on Revelation by Andrew of Caesarea, a bishop whose tenure is of uncertain date but located by most scholars in the late sixth or early seventh century.5

Fragment 11 reads as follows in Holmes' translation:
But Papias says, word for word: ‘Some of them’ – obviously meaning those angels that once were holy – ‘he assigned to rule over the orderly arrangement of the earth, and commissioned them to rule well.’ And next he says: ‘But as it turned out, their administration came to nothing. And the great dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, was cast out; the deceiver of the whole world was cast down to the earth along with his angels.’6
The authenticity of this fragment is undisputed.7 However, what is disputed is which exact words are from Papias and which are from Andrew. It can be seen that the final sentence is a direct quotation of Revelation 12:9. Holmes includes this in the quotation from Papias, as does Bauckham (apparently).8 However, other scholars think the quotation of Revelation 12:9 is Andrew's.9 As Shanks points out, the quotation of Papias occurs within Andrew's comments on Revelation 12:7-8. Hence, a quotation of Revelation 12:9 would be a logical transition to the next portion of the commentary.

Also uncertain is whether the explicit reference to 'angels' is a gloss from Andrew (as Holmes' punctuation implies) or part of the 'word for word' quotation from Papias.10

Whatever the case, most scholars regard the fragment of Papias as having to do with a fall of angels.11 Shanks goes as far as to assert that the fragment comes from "a text in Papias' writings regarding Satan's fall."12 Bauckham argues that four of the extant fragments of Papias (including this one) "seem quite unrelated to Gospel traditions" but "all relate to Genesis 1-3."13 On this basis he proposes that "Papias began his work with an account of the primeval history, giving it a christological interpretation."14 If so, then Papias' lost work would have been an important witness to the Satanological myth which seems to be presupposed throughout the New Testament but is never narrated in full.

It is impossible to be certain as to how Papias related this statement back to Jesus and his sayings, or whether Papias himself related the fall of angels to Satan. What can be said with some confidence, however, is that Papias believed there had been a primeval fall of angels. To conclude otherwise, one would have to argue firstly that the reference to 'holy angels' is a gloss from Andrew rather than part of the fragment, and secondly that Andrew has misunderstood Papias' referent. This would be an unduly skeptical position to take in the absence of evidence, which is probably why no scholar (to this writer's knowledge) has advocated such a position.

The second fragment relevant to this study is fragment 24 (again, under Holmes' nomenclature). Holmes translates as follows:
And Papias spoke in the following manner in his treatises: ‘Heaven did not endure his earthly intentions, because it is impossible for light to communicate with darkness. He fell to earth, here to live; and when humankind came here, where he was, he led them astray into many evils. But Michael and his legions, who are guardians of the world, were helping humankind, as Daniel learned; they gave laws and made the prophets wise. And all this was war against the dragon, who was setting stumbling blocks for men. Then their battle extended into heaven, to Christ himself. Yet Christ came; and the law, which was impossible for anyone else, he fulfilled in his body, according to the apostle. He defeated sin and condemned Satan, and through his death he spread abroad his righteousness over all. As this occurred, the victory of Michael and his legions, the guardians of humankind, became complete, and the dragon could resist no more, because the death of Christ exposed him to ridicule and threw him to the earth. Concerning which Christ said, ‘I saw Satan fallen from heaven like a lightning bolt.’ In this sense the teacher understood not his first fall, but the second, which was through the cross, and this did not consist of a spatial fall, as at first, but rather of judgment and expectation of a mighty punishment…15
This fragment is also from Andrew of Caesarea's commentary on Revelation, but it is absent from the Greek text and is extant only in the Armenian version of the commentary. Because of this, the authenticity of the fragment "has been questioned."16 Those who regard this fragment as authentic include Siegert,17 Kürzinger,18 (apparently) Holmes,19 Shanks,20 and Lourié.21 Schoedel seems cautiously optimistic, noting only a 'possibility' that it does not come from Papias.22 Those who do not accept its authenticity include Körtner23 (whose arguments Dehandschutter accepts),24 (apparently) Ehrman,25 and Norelli26 (whose arguments Bauckham accepts).27 The most comprehensive defense of the fragment's authenticity is unfortunately inaccessible to this writer since it is a Russian-language paper by Lourié.28 Based on English-language works of Lourié which refer to this paper,29 it seems the main arguments are (1) that one phrase from the quotation does appear in the Greek version of Andrew's commentary (where, however, it is not attributed to Papias); (2) that all five Armenian manuscripts of Andrew's work "are identical in the part relevant to our Papias quote",30 and (3) that the contents of the fragment do not fit a seventh-century context.

We will proceed with the caveat that any inferences about Papias' theology taken from this fragment rest on an uncertain attribution to him.

A second issue is that, as with fragment 11, it is disputed where the fragment breaks off. While Holmes, Siegert, Kürzinger and Shanks end the Papias fragment with the quotation of Luke 10:18,31 Lourié breaks it off earlier, after 'made the prophets wise'.32 Schoedel merely notes "some question about the length of the quotation" without offering an opinion.33 If Lourié is correct then the fragment provides far less detail about Satan than if the quotation extends to the citation of Luke 10:18. However, given its context in Andrew's work, the subject of the beginning of the quotation can still be none other than Satan.

Hence, if fragment 24 is authentic then it is clear that Papias' work did refer explicitly to a mythological Satan figure. Although (as noted above) Bauckham rejects the authenticity of this fragment, its contents actually support his hypothesis that Papias' work began with a primeval history.

In conclusion, there is strong evidence that Papias believed in a primeval fall of angels. Conclusions about his view of Satan can only be tentative due to the issues discussed above concerning the length and authenticity of these fragments. However, at least this much can be said: there is some evidence that Papias believed in a mythological Satan figure, and there is no evidence that he did not.


  • 1 Hill, C.E. (2006). Papias of Hierapolis. The Expository Times, 117(8), 309-315. Here 309.
  • 2 ibid.
  • 3 op. cit., p. 310.
  • 4 Bauckham, R. (2014). Did Papias write history or exegesis? Journal of Theological Studies, 65(2), 463-488. Here 463.
  • 5 "Although in the past scholars have placed Andrew's episcopal tenure as early as the fifth century and as late as the ninth century, today most locate him in the second half of the sixth century or early seventh." (Constantinou, E.S. (2013). Guiding to a Blessed End: Andrew of Caesarea and His Apocalypse Commentary in the Ancient Church. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, p. 47.
  • 6 Holmes, M.W. (2007). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 749.
  • 7 Dehandschutter, B. (1988). [Review of the books Papias von Hierapolis und die Evangelien des Neuen Testaments by J. Kürzinger and Papias von Hierapolis by U.H.J. Körtner]. Vigiliae Christianae, 42(4), 401-406. Here 405.
  • 8 He describes the fragment as a "statement about the fallen angels, with allusion to 'the ancient serpent'" (Bauckham, op. cit., p. 474.)
  • 9 Ehrman, B. (2003). (Ed. & trans.). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 2). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 111; Shanks, M.A. (2013). Papias and the New Testament. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, pp. 229-230.
  • 10 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 111, shares Holmes view. Constantinou, however, evidently takes the reference to angels to be Papias', translating thus: "And Papias says in these words: 'To some of them, that is, the divine angels of old, he gave [authority] to rule over the earth and commanded [them] to rule well.' And then says the following: 'And it happened that their arrangement came to nothing.'" (op. cit., p. 246).
  • 11 "Andrew preserved a fragment of Papias regarding the fall of some of the angels" (Constantinou, op. cit., p. 304); Schoedel summarizes the content of the fragment thus: "Wicked angels misrule nature" (Schoedel, W.R. (1993). Papias. In W. Haase (Ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.27.I (pp. 235-270). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, p. 239); Bauckham summarizes it as a "statement about the fallen angels" (op. cit., p. 474).
  • 12 Shanks, op. cit., p. 230. He does not explain his reasoning, but perhaps the inference is that Andrew considered Papias' words relevant to Rev. 12:7-8 because Papias himself had already made the link between the primeval fall of angels and this text from Revelation.
  • 13 Bauckham, op. cit., p. 474.
  • 14 ibid.
  • 15 Holmes, op. cit., p. 763.
  • 16 Hill, op. cit., p. 311.
  • 17 Siegert, F. (1981). Unbeachtete Papiaszitate bei armenischen Schriftstdllern. New Testament Studies, 27(5), 605-614.
  • 18 Kürzinger, J. (1983). Papias von Hierapolis und die Evangelien des Neuen Testaments. Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet.
  • 19 Holmes, op. cit.. Holmes does not discuss the fragment's authenticity but his inclusion of it implies that he regards it as authentic.
  • 20 Shanks, op. cit., p. 249.
  • 21 Lourié, B. (2012). An Unknown Danielic Pseudepigraphon from an Armenian Fragment of Papias. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, 21(4), 323-339.
  • 22 Schoedel, op. cit., p. 260.
  • 23 Körtner, U.H.J. (1983). Papias von Hierapolis: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des frühren Christentums. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
  • 24 Dehandschutter, op. cit., p. 404.
  • 25 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 89, notifies the reader that he is not including the Armenian or Arabic fragments in his text. He refers the reader to Kürzinger without commenting on their authenticity himself.
  • 26 Norelli, E. (2005). Papia di Hierapolis: Esposizione degli oracoli del Signore, i frammenti. Introduzione, testo, traduzione e note. Milan: Paoline, pp. 406-407.
  • 27 Bauckham, R. (2008). [Review of the book Papia di Hierapolis: Esposizione degli oracoli del signore. I frammenti. Introduzione, testo, traduzione e note, by E. Norelli]. Journal of Theological Studies, 59(1), 333-337.
  • 28 See reference in Lourié, op. cit. A translated title of this essay, published in 2008, is: "A Quotation from Papias within the Armenian Version of the Commentary on Apocalypse of St Andrew of Caesarea: Translation and Study in the History of the Exegesis".
  • 29 Lourié, op. cit.
  • 30 Lourié, B. (2013). A Danielic Pseudepigraphon paraphrased by Papias. In R. Bauckham, J.R. Davila & A. Panayotov (Eds.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Vol. 1) (pp. 435-441). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 436.
  • 31 So Shanks, op. cit., p. 249.
  • 32 Lourié, 2013, op. cit., p. 441.
  • 33 Schoedel, op. cit., p. 260.

Monday 12 October 2015

Supernatural Evil in the Apostolic Fathers (6): The Epistle of Barnabas

The Epistle of Barnabas (henceforth Barnabas) is an early Christian text generally dated to the 130s A.D., around the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt.1 Although traditionally ascribed to 'Barnabas', the document itself does not claim to have been written by Barnabas and never mentions Barnabas. There is near-universal agreement that the author was not Paul's companion of that name mentioned in the New Testament. The author and work will be referred to as Barnabas for sake of convenience.

This document is perhaps best known for its idiosyncratic answer to the question of why Christians are not bound to literal observance of the statutes of the Torah. In contrast to Paul, who had argued that literal Torah observance played a preparatory role in anticipation of Christ, Barnabas (who does not seem to be familiar with Paul's writings) holds that the Torah is eternally valid but was never meant to be followed literally.2 Moreover, he claims that God abrogated the Sinai covenant due to the golden calf incident and appears to hold out no enduring privileges for the Jewish people.3 These positions are unique among patristic writings.4 However, that Barnabas was regarded as generally theologically sound and valuable is evident from its inclusion after Revelation in Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest surviving complete New Testament manuscript.5

Paget stresses the writer’s use of Jewish exegetical methods6 and even allows the possibility that the writer was Jewish,7 although Skarsaune thinks his knowledge of rabbinic haggadah is only second-hand and that he was certainly Gentile.8 His antagonism toward Jews and Judaism should be understand in the context of fierce religious competition between the Church and Synagogue, and the probability that the former was losing proselytes to the latter.9 Horbury concludes that compared to Justin Martyr's writings, this document is 'more strongly Jewish as well as anti-Jewish.'10 It seems probable that he knew the Gospel of Matthew but otherwise shows no dependence on writings from what would become the New Testament.11

Barnabas is an important witness to the early Christian understanding of supernatural evil. Satan plays a prominent role in his theology, and he also refers to demons and bad angels.

Satanological Terminology in Barnabas

Barnabas uses a number of different terms to refer to Satan. Some are known from earlier Christian tradition. ho satanas (Satan; Barn. 18.1) is, with ho diabolos, the most widely used Satanological term in the New Testament.12 ho ponēros (the evil one;13; Barn. 2.10; 21.314) also occurs frequently in the New Testament as a designation for Satan.15 Barnabas' notion of Satan as a ruler is also commonplace in the New Testament.16 He refers to Satan as ho ponēros archōn (the evil ruler; Barn. 4.13) and as ho archōn kairou tou nun tēs anomias (the ruler over the present age of lawlessness; Barn. 18.2).

Other Satanological terms are used by Barnabas which do not occur in the New Testament. These include ho energōn (literally 'the one who is at work', Barn. 2.1), ho melas (the black one, Barn. 4.10; 20.1), and ho anomos (the lawless one, Barn. 15.5).

tou energountos (in lexical form, ho energōn) is a participial form of energeō. This verb is frequently used to refer to 'divine or supernatural action'17 in patristic literature. Gokey states that the use of energeō and its corresponding noun energeia 'for superhuman evil powers is common to the pagan, Jewish and Christian Hellenistic world.'18 On NT usage specifically, Gokey states that energeō, when used in the active voice, has a superhuman personal subject in all but one instance.19 As for the noun cognate, 'In the NT energeia only appears in Paul, where it always refers to the mystic supernatural power of divine or evil origin.'20 Forms of energeō or energeia are linked to Satan by Paul in Eph. 2:2 and 2 Thess. 2:9, and also by Justin Martyr in Dialogue with Trypho 69.1.21

One major lexical authority appears to take ho energōn in Barn 2.1 to refer to God.22 However, it is more likely that it refers to Satan,23 given the emphasis on 'evil days' just prior. Ehrman translates Barn. 2.1a, 'Since, then, the days are evil and the one who is at work holds sway.'24 Gokey renders ho energōn as 'the Agent'.25

The reference to ho energōn having exousia (power or dominion) in Barn. 2.1 parallels several New Testament texts which explicitly or implicitly attribute exousia to Satan.26

As for ho melas, Barnabas seems to be the first Christian writer to associate this term with Satan. What is the source of the imagery of Satan as 'the black one'? Based on the likelihood that Barnabas was written in Alexandria, where black-skinned Ethiopians would have been present, Byron argues that the use of this term for Satan 'as a trope within the ethno-political rhetorics about vices and sins.'27 However, Byron acknowledges that Barnabas never refers to 'blacks' as an ethnic group, and so his reconstruction of the background of ho melas is pure conjecture. Peerbolte is more likely correct that 'The use of melas for Satan originates in its use as a synonym of ponēros.'28 Hermas uses melas as a symbol of vice repeatedly in his Similitudes, with no hint of an ethnic connotation.29 Moreover, it is surely noteworthy that in Barn. 20.1, 'the path of the Black One' (tou melanos hodos)30 is explicitly contrasted, not with the colour white but with 'the path of light' (hodos tou phōtos) in Barn. 19.1, 12. The use of light/darkness imagery to draw a dualistic contrast is, of course, common in the New Testament, especially in the writings of John and Paul.31

Finally, tou anomou (in lexical form, ho anomos) in Barn. 15.5 could conceivably mean 'the lawless one' generically (as in Ezek. 18:24 LXX), or 'the lawless one' par excellence, i.e. Satan or the Antichrist. The expression ho anomos is used by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:8 of the Antichrist, whom Paul distinguishes from Satan but explicitly links with his activity.32 That Barnabas' tou anomou refers to Satan is probable for two reasons: firstly, generic wicked humans are referred to in the next phrase in the plural (krinei tous asebeis), making it unlikely that they are also referred to in the singular with a generic use of the article. Secondly, Satan is explicitly linked to 'the present age of lawlessness' in Barn. 18.2 as its ruler. The phrase 'age of lawlessness' or 'age of the lawless one' closely parallels the 'age of the lawlessness of Israel' (en kairō tēs anomias) mentioned in Testament of Dan 6.633 (a passage which also mentions 'Satan and his spirits'), suggesting some correspondence of thought.

Two main conclusions can be drawn from Barnabas' Satanological terminology. Firstly, while in certain respects his phraseology is unique (e.g. ho melas), broadly speaking his language and ideas about Satan closely parallel what we find in the New Testament. Secondly, it is clear that Barnabas regarded Satan as a supernatural, personal being. Further confirmation of this is seen in Barnabas' Two Ways material in Barn. 18.1-2, where he describes Satan as having angels who are set over against the angels of God.34

Other supernatural evil beings in Barnabas

Besides Satan, Barnabas knows of other supernatural evil beings. These include the angels of Satan just mentioned, as well as an evil angel (angelos ponēros) who, according to Barnabas, misled the Jews into practicing physical circumcision instead of spiritual (Barn. 9.4).35 Barnabas may be dependent upon the reference to angelōn ponērōn in Ps. 78(77):49 LXX for his terminology here.

Barnabas makes one mention of demons in the context of an argument spiritualising the Temple:
And so I conclude that a temple exists. But learn how it will be built in the name of the Lord. Before we believed in God, the dwelling place of our heart was corrupt and feeble, since it really was a temple build by hand; for it was full of idolatry and was a house of demons, because we did everything that was opposed to God. (Barn. 16.7)36
Gokey notes the 'strong affinities' between this passage and the Synoptic parable of the unclean spirit which goes out of a man and returns later to the 'house' with 'seven other spirits more evil than himself' (Matt. 12:45; Luke 11:24-26).37 By internalizing the temple of God within the heart, Barnabas' thought also closely parallels Paul's doctrine of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit.38 Wahlen states, 'The thought seems to be that demons, which rule the Jews as truly as they rule the Gentile nations, are expelled from the heart of the forgiven believer.'39 This contrasts with Kelly, who states that here 'there is no real indication that baptism has an exorcistic meaning.'40 Along the same lines, Russell thinks the idea expressed here is that of temptation from without, not demon-possession.41 Whatever the case, it is apparent that Barnabas believed in the real existence of demons.

Concluding observations

Two other observations will help illustrate how Barnabas uses language pertaining to supernatural evil. Firstly, despite his clear belief in supernatural evil beings, Barnabas also regards evil as having an anthropological dimension. He refers to 'the purification of our hearts' (8:3), to 'the one who is sick in the flesh' who is 'healed by the foul juice of the hyssop' (8:6). He writes of those who 'are reputed to perform a lawless deed in their mouth because of their uncleanness' (10:8), to those who 'received his words according to the desires of their own flesh' (10:9), to those 'full of sins and filth' (11:11), to those 'completely filled with sins' and 'hearts that were already paid out to death and given over to the lawlessness of deceit' (14:5). Moreover, Barnabas' main teaching on how to overcome Satan is not magical but ethical. This is evident from the extended ethical instruction which follows the pronouncement that Satan is set over the path of darkness (Barn. 19.1-12; 21.1-9).

Secondly, Barnabas offers no attempt to explain or justify his ideas about Satan, bad angels, and demons. He simply offers a series of passing allusions to these concepts. Evidently, these ideas are part of the Christian worldview which he can assume his audience shares with him, not a controversial claim for which he needs to make an argument. This suggests that Barnabas' beliefs about Satan and demons are not innovative but taken over from earlier Christian tradition. Further corroboration of this conclusion is found in the close conceptual and terminological parallel between Barnabas' beliefs and those in the New Testament, despite little evidence for Barnabas' direct dependence on New Testament writings.


  • 1 Paget, J.C. (2006). The Epistle of Barnabas. The Expository Times, 117(11), 441-446. Here p. 443.
  • 2 Skarsaune, O. (2002). In the shadow of the temple: Jewish influences on early Christianity. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 218.
  • 3Horbury, W. (1992). Jewish-Christian Relations in Barnabas and Justin Martyr. In J.D.G. Dunn (Ed.), Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135 (pp. 315-345). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 327-328.
  • 4Hvalvik, R. (1996). The Struggle for Scripture and Covenant: The Purpose of the Epistle of Barnabas and Jewish-Christian Competition in the Second Century. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 331.
  • 5 Note: the Shepherd of Hermas is also included in this manuscript after the Epistle of Barnabas.
  • 6 'It has long been noted by scholars that Barnabas consists of material of a strongly Jewish character.' (Paget, J. C. (1996). Paul and the Epistle of Barnabas. Novum Testamentum, 38(4), 359-381. Here p. 377.)
  • 7 Paget, 2006, op. cit., p. 442.
  • 8 Skarsaune, op. cit., p. 220.
  • 9 Hvalvik, op. cit., pp. 324-326; Evans, C.A. (2000). Root Causes of the Jewish-Christian Rift from Jesus to Justin. In S.E. Porter & B.W.R. Pearson (Eds.), Christian-Jewish Relations through the Centuries (pp. 20-35). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, p. 22.
  • 10 Horbury, op. cit., p. 332.
  • 11 Hvalvik, op. cit., pp. 32-34.
  • 12 36 occurrences: Matt. 4:10, 12:26 (twice), 16:23; Mark 1:13, 3:23 (twice), 3:26, 4:15, 8:33; Luke 10:18, 11:18, 13:16, 22:3, 22:31; John 13:27; Acts 5:3, 26:18; Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 5:5, 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11, 11:14, 12:7; 1 Thess. 2:18; 2 Thess. 2:9; 1 Tim. 1:20; 5:15; Rev. 2:9, 2:13 (twice), 2:24, 3:9, 12:9, 20:2, 20:7.
  • 13 Byron suggests that ho ponēros here 'could refer to the devil, or more specifically to the Roman emperor Trajan' (Byron, G.L. (2002). Symbolic blackness and ethnic difference in early Christian literature. New York: Routledge, p. 64). In support of the latter proposal, he notes that Trajan is referred to as the 'evil one' in the Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah 5.1, 55B: 'In the time of Trogianos, the evil one (טרוגיינוס הרשע), a son was born to him on the ninth of Av...' (ibid., p. 155 n. 68). He is dependent on Modrzejewski, J. (1997). The Jews of Egypt: from Rameses II to Emperor Hadrian. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 209 (see also, e.g. Neusner, J. (Ed.). (1988). The Talmud of the Land of Israel (Vol. 17). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 118; Saldarini, A.J. (1975). The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan. Leiden: Brill. 68; Goldberg, D. (1970). The Leaven of Judaism. Woodbridge: Twayne, p. 164.) In fact, not only Trajan but also Titus is referred to in Jewish literature as 'the evil one' (the latter for entering the Holy of Holies). However, two observations reduce the significance of this parallel with the satanic designation ho ponēros. In the first place, when applied to Trajan or Titus, 'the evil one' accompanies the emperor’s personal name: it is 'Trajan the evil one' or 'Titus the evil one'. 'The evil one' does not function as a stand-alone designation for either emperor. Secondly, הרשע need not even function as a substantive in these texts; one could also translate it as an attribute adjective: 'the evil Titus' or 'Trajan the Wicked' (Modrzejewski, op. cit., p. 207; Neusner, op. cit., p. 118; Dershowitz, N. & Reingold, E.M. (2008). Calendrical Calculations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 101; Alon, G. (1980). The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 383; Attias, J.-C. (2014). The Jews and the Bible. Redwood City: Stanford University Press, p. 38; Feldman, L.H. (1996). Studies in Hellenistic Judaism. Leiden: Brill, pp. 3-4; Holder, M. (1986). History of the Jewish People: From Yavneh to Pumbedisa. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, p. 29; Finkel, A.Y. (trans.) (1999). Ein Yaakov: The Ethical and Inspirational Teachings of the Talmud. New York: Aronson, p. 425; Zinberg, I. (1977). A History of Jewish Literature. New York: KTAV Publishing, p. 31.). In view of this, it is unlikely that the substantive ho ponēros in Barnabas or any other early Christian text refers to the Roman emperor. It is rather a designation for Satan.
  • 14 The gender of tō ponērō in Barn. 21.3 is ambiguous so this could refer to 'the evil one' or 'evil' abstractly. Only in Barn. 2.10 do we have unambiguous masculine usage. Holmes mistranslates to ponēron in Barn. 19.11 as 'the evil one' (Holmes, M.W. (2007) The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 437.). This expression is neuter and so can only refer to evil abstractly (Ehrman, B.D. (2003). The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 2. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 79.)
  • 15 Certainly in Matt. 13:19; 1 John 2:13, 2:14, 5:18; probably in Matt. 5:37, 6:13, 13:38; Eph. 6:16; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 John 3:12, 5:19; possibly in Matt. 5:39.
  • 16 For the term, see Matt. 12:24-29; Mark 3:22-27; Luke 11:15-21; John 12.31, 14:30, 16:11; Eph. 2:2; for the concept, see Luke 4:5; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19.
  • 17 Lampe, G.W.H. (1961). A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 473.
  • 18 Gokey, F.X. (1961). The Terminology for the Devil and Evil Spirits in the Apostolic Fathers. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, p. 104 n. 1.
  • 19 Ibid.
  • 20 Ibid., p. 103 n. 1.
  • 21 For other early Christian texts where these words are used of demonic activity, see Lampe, op. cit., pp. 472-473.
  • 22 Arndt, W., Danker, F.W. & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 335.
  • 23 So Gokey, op. cit., p. 99; Ehrman, op. cit., p. 15 n. 1; Prostmeier, F.P. (1999). Der Barnabasbrief. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, p. 182.
  • 24 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 15. Holmes, op. cit., p. 383 offers an identical translation of ho energōn.
  • 25 Gokey, op. cit., p. 99.
  • 26 Luke 4:6; 10:19; 22:53; Acts 26:18; Eph. 2:2; Col. 1:13.
  • 27 Byron, op. cit., p. 65.
  • 28 Peerbolte, L.J.L. (1996). The Antecedents of Antichrist: A Traditio-Historical Study of the Earliest Christian Views on Eschatological Opponents. Leiden: Brill, p. 191.
  • 29 Hermas, Similitudes 9.1.5; 9.6.4; 9.8.1ff; 9.9.5; 9.13.8; 9.15.1, 3; 9.19.1; so Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 626.
  • 30 Since the gender of tou melanos is ambiguous, it is possible to render this as 'the path of blackness', which may make more sense given that the antithesis is impersonal ('light') (cf. 'the path of darkness' in Barn. 18.1). However, in Barn. 4.10 ho melas is unambiguously masculine and so refers to a personal being.
  • 31 e.g. John 3:19; 12:35; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Thess. 5:5.
  • 32 It is not clear whether Barnabas' theology includes an eschatological Antichrist figure and, if so, whether this individual is distinct from Satan himself, as in 2 Thessalonians, or is Satan himself, as in the Ascension of Isaiah.
  • 33 Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 86.
  • 34 For New Testament parallels to the idea of Satan having angels, see Matt. 25:41; 2 Cor. 12:7; Rev. 12:7-9.
  • 35 Paget takes this evil angel to be the devil himself (Paget, J.C. (1994). The Epistle of Barnabas: Outlook and Background. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 183). However, Russell more plausibly takes it to be an unspecified evil angel since it lacks the article (Russell, J.B. (1981/1987). Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, p. 39 n. 23).
  • 36 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 73, trans.
  • 37 Gokey, op. cit., p. 108 n. 5.
  • 38 Ibid.
  • 39 Wahlen, C. (2004). Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits in the Synoptic Gospels. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 63.
  • 40 Kelly, H.A. (1985/2004). The Devil at Baptism: Ritual, Theology, and Drama. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, p. 52.
  • 41 Russell, op. cit., p. 40.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Supernatural Evil in the Apostolic Fathers (5): The Martyrdom of Polycarp

The Martyrdom of Polycarp is a theologized account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (whose Epistle to the Philippians was the subject of the previous post in this series). This is the earliest extant example of the 'martyr-acts' genre in Christian literature.1 Probably the majority of scholars date the work to the mid-150s A.D.,2 which would be very soon after the events it describes (some scholars date the work as late as 177).3 If the majority view is correct, then the document was probably written by members of Polycarp's own flock in Smyrna,4 people who knew him and his teachings very well. Thus, as was noted previously, the view of Satan reflected in the Martyrdom is a useful proxy for interpreting Polycarp's own reference to Satan in his Epistle to the Philippians 7.1.

What then is the view of Satan reflected in the Martyrdom of Polycarp? This document contains two references to Satan, one under the familiar title ho diabolos ('the devil') and a second under the title ho antikeimenos ('the opposing one') and, possibly, ho ponēros ('the evil one') along with some modifying adjectives (see below).

Martyrdom of Polycarp 2.4(3.1)

The first reference occurs in Martyrdom of Polycarp 2.4 (or 3.1),5 which reads as follows:
And in a similar manner those who were condemned to the wild beasts endured terrible punishments: they were forced to lie on sharp shells and afflicted with various other forms of torture in order that he might, if possible, by means of the unceasing punishment compel them to deny their faith; for the devil (ho diabolos) tried many things against them. 6
That ho diabolos refers to the devil here and not to some human accuser is an interpretation that appears to enjoy unanimous support among scholars.7 As Ehrman writes, in the Martyrdom "the struggle between antagonistic pagan mobs and Christians is actually a cosmic battle between the devil and God." 8 Hartog explains:
In Mart. Pol’s perspective, the devil himself lies in the shadows behind the persecution (2.4-3.1). This view, that the devil (or demons) incited persecution, was not uncommon in the period.9
In support of the last sentence, Hartog cites Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 5.57; 63; 2 Apology 8; Dialogue with Trypho 18.39; 131.2 (texts which are roughly contemporaneous with the Martyrdom of Polycarp). To these could also be added 1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 2:10, 12:17, 13:7;10 Ignatius, Magnesians 1.2, Romans 5.3, 7.1; and Ascension of Isaiah 11.41.11 In short, there is considerable precedent for the theological concept that the devil was responsible for persecution of Christians.12 As Russell explains,
The early church perceived martyrdom as a struggle of the athletes of Christ against the servants of the Devil. The Devil was generally believed responsible for the attitude of both the government and the mob.13
The oddity in the above text is that the 'he' who hoped to compel the Christians to deny their faith has not been mentioned previously. It would be stylistically awkward to refer to an unnamed individual and only subsequently identify him (as the devil). In the Greek there is no pronoun standing for 'he'; it needs to be supplied in translation because there is a third person singular verb with no explicit subject. Interestingly, though, in all but one Greek manuscripts of the Martyrdom, a subject is explicitly mentioned here: ho turannos ('the tyrant'). The two most recent critical texts of the Martyrdom both agree that ho turannos was not part of the original text but was added, perhaps to smooth out the stylistic awkwardness mentioned above.14  

That ho turannos could be the original reading cannot be discounted: this is the view taken in Lake's older critical text15 and is more recently noted as a possibility by Lieu.16 If this were the case, however, it would not imply that no supernatural devil is in view. Lieu thinks that in this case 'the tyrant' would be a title used of the devil. In support of this, one can point to a passage in the Martyrium of Lyon, another second-century martyr-acts, which also refers to 'tyranny' in the context of a reference to the devil's role in persecution.17

A second possibility (if ho turannos is authentic) is that it refers to a human persecutor (presumably the proconsul mentioned later in 3.1) whose torments are given a theological interpretation: the devil was ultimately behind them. This is exactly the idea stated by Russell above. As we will see, this "notion of the devil acting through a human agent"18 is also present in the second reference to the devil in this document.

Hence, the possible reference to 'the tyrant' in Martyrdom of Polycarp 2.4 gives us no reason to doubt the scholarly consensus that ho diabolos in this text carries its usual technical meaning, 'the devil'.

Martyrdom of Polycarp 17.1

The second reference to Satan in this document occurs at 17.1, which is translated by Ehrman as follows:
But the jealous and envious Evil One (ho de antizēlos kai baskanos ponēros), the enemy of the race of the upright (ho antikeimenos tō genei tōn dikaōn), having seen the greatness of Polycarp’s death as a martyr and the irreproachable way of life that he had from the beginning – and that he had received the crown of immortality and was awarded with the incontestable prize – made certain that his poor body was not taken away by us, even though many were desiring to do so and to have a share in [Or: to commune with; or: to have fellowship with] his holy flesh.19
The following two verses elaborate how the Jews instigate the magistrate not to hand over Polycarp’s body lest the Christians begin to worship him, and explain that Christians worship the Son of God and not martyrs.

In the mid-twentieth century there was considerable scholarly debate over the internal integrity of the Martyrdom of Polycarp. However, recent scholars have tended to argue that the book is "a unified whole, written at one time by one author"20 with the exception of the epilogue of chapter 22 and possibly 21.  Schoedel notes that "although serious doubts have been entertained about the integrity of MartPol, critical opinion is now moving in the opposite direction."21 One of the passages which has been seen as likely a later interpolation is Martyrdom of Polycarp 17.2 or 17.2-3.22 However, to my knowledge not one scholar has argued that 17.1 is an interpolation. Indeed, the fact that nearly suggested interpolations begin at 17.2 implies that the authenticity of 17.1 is regarded as unimpeachable.

There are, however, several textual variants in 17.1a, where the Satanological language is found.23 However, the fact that the critical texts of Holmes24 and Ehrman25 agree perfectly in this clause apart from the kai prior to ponēros (retained by Holmes but omitted by Ehrman) suggests we can have some confidence in the original wording.

Gokey notes four possibilities for translating the first clause.26 (1) Antizēlos and baskanos could be attributive adjectives modifying the substantive ho...ponēros: "the jealous and envious evil one…" (2) ponēros and baskanos could be attributive adjectives modifying the substantive ho antizēlos: "the jealous one, envious and evil…" (3) All three terms could be predicative adjectives: “the jealous and envious and evil,…” (4) All three could be substantives: "the jealous one and envious one and evil one…" 27

In any case, the presence of the article, together with the emphatic, multifaceted designation, indicates that the individual referred to is the jealous, envious and evil one par excellence; the enemy of Christians par excellence. ‘Evil one’ is a relatively common designation for Satan in early Christian texts.28 By contrast, the terms antizēlos and baskanos do not occur in the NT. Baskanos "often occurs as a modifier of δαίμων on sepulchral inscriptions… and has common associations with magic".29 Bartelink suggests that "the same terms that were earlier applied to demons [by pagans] could be taken over without any difference and be applied to evil spirits which were known to Christendom."30

On the background to ho antikeimenos, see the previous post on 1 Clement 51.1. However, one further significant parallel should be noted here: the Martyrium of Lyon. This text is quoted at length in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 5.1. It purports to be an encyclical letter from Gaul and is "generally dated 177"31 and thus temporally near to Martyrdom of Polycarp (see above for parallel to MartPol 2.4-3.1). Goodine & Mitchell note that "scholars have overwhelmingly viewed it as authentic."32 Dehandschutter states, "Some correspondences [in the Martyrium] with [Martyrdom of Polycarp] are uncontroversially explained as the influence of the latter on the former."33

Significantly, the Martyrium refers to the instigator of the Gallic martyrdom three times as ho antikeimenos (5.1.5; 5.1.23; 5.1.42),34 and also as tou ponērou (5.1.6), tou diabolou (5.1.25; 5.1.27 [twice; anarthrous in the second instance]), diabolikou (5.1.35),35 tou satana (5.1.14; 5.1.16),36 and, possibly, argiou thēros (5.1.57).37 The way these terms are used leaves no doubt as to their supernatural referent.38 The ferocity of ho antikeimenos gives the Christians a foretaste of his imminent advent, doubtless a reference to the eschatological trial or antichrist event.39  Human persecutors are the "followers" of ho antikeimenos.40 The Christians’ unbelieving servants make false accusations against them because they are "ensnared by Satan."41  Ho antikeimenos had been vanquished by the sufferings of Christ.42 The Satanology of the Martyrium, read in light of the parallels with Martyrdom of Polycarp (probably written only two decades earlier), portends a strong likelihood that the language in Martyrdom of Polycarp 2.4 and 17.1 was understood by its earliest readers to refer to Satan.

Within MartPol 17.1, a further indication that ho antikeimenos is a supernatural figure is 
…having seen the greatness of Polycarp’s death as a martyr and the irreproachable way of life that he had from the beginning – and that he had received the crown of immortality and was awarded with the incontestable prize…
This portion of text, which contains no textual variants, states that ho antikeimenos had seen Polycarp’s way of life from the beginning, which consisted of 86 years in Christ’s service (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9.3). It further states that ho antikeimenos had seen that Polycarp had received immortality. Obviously neither of these statements could be made concerning the Roman proconsul or any other human but only concerning a transcendent being.43

Hence, despite uncertainties surrounding the integrity and text of Martyrdom of Polycarp 17.2-3, we can conclude that the referent of Martyrdom of Polycarp 17.1a is not "unclear".44 The referent is Satan, as most scholars agree.45

The Martyrdom of Polycarp is yet another witness to early Christian belief in a supernatural devil. It occurs in a document written by the church shepherded by Polycarp, probably very soon after his death. We thus have a chain of tradition from Ignatius to Polycarp to Polycarp's flock to Lyon (and, indirectly, Irenaeus) showing that this belief was widely held in the second-century church.


  • 1 Middleton, P. (2011). Martyrdom: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Bloomsbury. p. 6; Rhee, H. (2005). Early Christian Literature: Christ and Culture in the Second and Third Centuries. New York: Routledge, p. 40. .
  • 2 Ehrman, B. (2003). (Ed. & trans.). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 362.
  • 3 ibid.
  • 4 Indeed, the prescript of the Martyrdom of Polycarp states that it is addressed by the church of Smyrna to the church of Philomelia.
  • 5 Note that the clause which mentions ho diabolos falls within 2.4 in Holmes’ text but commences 3.1 in Ehrman’s (op. cit., p. 371).
  • 6 Holmes, M.W. (2007) The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 309.
  • 7 Schoedel, W.R. (1964). The Apostolic Fathers: Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Fragments of Papias (Vol. 5). R.M. Grant (Ed.), Nashville: Thomas Nelson, pp. 56-57; Holmes, op. cit., p. 309; Ehrman, op. cit., p. 371; Lieu, J.M. (2002). Accusations of Jewish Persecution in Early Christian Sources. In Neither Jew nor Greek? Constructing Early Christianity (pp. 135-150). London: T&T Clark, p. 145; Lieu, J.M. (2003). Image and Reality: The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century. London: Bloomsbury, p. 65; Jefford, C.N. (2012). Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction. Grand Rapids: Baker, pp. 93-94; Hartog, P. (2013). Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 230; Buschmann, G. (1998). Das Martyrium des Polykarp: Ubersetzt und Erklart. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 108-113.
  • 8 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 360.
  • 9 Hartog, op. cit., p. 230.
  • 10 Foerster, W. (1971/1995). satanas. In G. Kittel & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 7) (pp. 151-163). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 161.
  • 11 Of all of these texts, probably Ignatius, Romans 5.3, parallels Martyrdom of Polycarp 2.4 most strikingly. Both of these passages describe various types of torture including wild beasts and bodily mutilation before attributing these torments to the devil. This parallel is particularly significant given the tradition-historical links between Polycarp and Ignatius, and the fact that Ignatius clearly regards the devil as a supernatural being (as discussed previously in this series).
  • 12 It is possible that this concept originated with the contention in Jesus traditions that the devil was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 22:3, 53; John 13:2, 27; cf. 1 Cor 2:8).
  • 13 Russell, J.B. (1981/1987). Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, p. 37.
  • 14 If it strikes the reader as odd that textual critics should favour a reading preserved in only one manuscript, consider this: "The single most important principle of modern textual criticism is that manuscripts must be weighed not counted. This means that it is the quality of the manuscripts not their quantity that is decisive in text critical decisions" (Wettlaufer, R.D. (2013). No Longer Written: The Use of Conjectural Emendation in the Restoration of the Text of the New Testament, the Epistle of James as a Case Study. Leiden: Brill, p. 18).
  • 15 Lake, K. (1917). The Apostolic Fathers, with an English Translation. London: William Heinemann, p. 316.
  • 16 Lieu, 2002, op. cit., p. 145.
  • 17 "When the tyrant’s tortures (tōn turannikōn kolastēriōn) had been overcome by Christ through the perseverance of the blessed saints, the Devil thought up other devices: imprisonment in filth and darkness, stretching feet in stocks to the fifth hole, and other atrocities that angry jailers, full of the Devil, inflict on prisoners." (quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.1.27, trans. Maier, P.L. (1999). Eusebius – the Church History: A New Translation with Commentary. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, p. 174)
  • 18 Setzer, C.J. (2009). Jewish Responses to early Christians. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, p. 113, commenting on Martyrdom of Polycarp 17.1.
  • 19 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 391.
  • 20 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 361.
  • 21 Schoedel, W.R. (1993). Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch. In W. Haase (Ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.27.I (pp. 272-358). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, p. 353. Similarly, Buschmann, op. cit., p. 327: "So wird denn in der jüngeren Forschung die Authentizität von MartPol 17f. nicht mehr bezweifelt."
  • 22 Von Campenhausen, the main challenger of the integrity of the Martyrdom, argued for a number of interpolations in MartPol, including the material from 17.2-18 (Von Campenhausen, H. (1957). Bearbeitungen und Interpolationen des Polykarpmartyriums. In H. von Campenhausen (Ed.), Aus der Frühzeit des Christentums, Studien zur Kirchengeschichte des ersten und zweiten Jahrhunderts (pp. 253-301). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 275-277). Some scholars have regarded 17.2-3 in particular as an interpolation since it "fits badly with the syntax of the surrounding material" (Setzer, op. cit., p. 113) and because 17.2d-3 is missing in two manuscripts (as noted above). Dehandschutter argues for the integrity of chapters 17-18, accepting only the name of Alce in 17.2 as an interpolation (Dehandschutter, B. (1993). The Martyrium Polycarpi: A Century of Research. In W. Haase (Ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.27.I (pp. 485-522). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, p. 497). Setzer regards 17.2 as "probably interpolated" (op. cit.). Schoedel argues broadly for the integrity of the document but brackets a number of passages as secondary, including 17.2-3 (1993, op. cit., p. 252).  He holds that the text reads quite naturally if 17.2-3 are removed. Gibson notes that the Jews would then appear abruptly in 18.1 (Gibson, E.L. (2003). The Jews and Christians in the Martyrdom of Polycarp. In A.H. Becker & A.Y. Reed (Eds.), The Ways that Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (pp. 145-158). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 156).  However, this abruptness in the original text may explain why a later editor felt the need to provide a back story.
  • 23 Where Eusebius and five Greek manuscripts read antizēlos, Parisinus reads antidikos (cf. 1Pet 5.8) and Mosquensis reads antikeimenos. Two Greek manuscripts (Chalcensis and Vindobonensis) add daimōn after ponēros.
  • 24 Holmes, op. cit., p. 324.
  • 25 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 390.
  • 26 Gokey, F.X. (1961). The Terminology for the Devil and Evil Spirits in the Apostolic Fathers. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, pp. 95-96 n. 10.
  • 27 Five Greek manuscripts, including Mosquensis, add kai before ponēros, but it is not retained by Ehrman. In the absence of this kai, the first option is clearly correct, in which case ho...ponēros is a designation for Satan. If kai is present, it is less clear whether the three terms are adjectival or substantival.
  • 28 cf. Matt. 5.37; 6.13; 13.38; 13.39; John 17.15; Eph. 6.16; 2 Thess. 3.3; 1 John 2.13; 2.14; 3.12; 5.18; 5.19; Didache 8.2; Epistle of Barnabas 2.10; 21.3
  • 29 Gokey, op. cit., p. 97 n. 10.
  • 30 Bartelink, G.J. (1952). Lexicologisch-semantische studie over de taal van de Apostolische Vaders. Utrecht: Nijmegen, pp. 80-81
  • 31 Dehandschutter, op. cit., p. 502.
  • 32 Goodine, E.A. & Mitchell, M.W. (2005). The Persuasiveness of a Woman: The Mistranslation and Misinterpretation of Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica 5.1.41. Journal of Early Christian Studies, 13(1), 1-19. Here pp. 1-2 n. 1. They do note two scholars who have questioned its authenticity.
  • 33 Dehandschutter, op. cit.
  • 34 Bartelink, G.J.M. (1987). ΑΝΤΙΚΕΙΜΕΝΟΣ (Widersacher) als Teufels- und Dämonenbezeichnung. Sacris Erudiri, 30, 205-224. Here p. 212.
  • 35 An adjective pertaining to the devil: diabolikou logismou, “the Devil’s promptings” (trans. Maier, op. cit., p. 175).
  • 36 Here following the critical text of Lake, K. (1926). Eusebius – Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 1: Books 1-5. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • 37 This reference to incitement of the pagan persecutors by "wild beast" has been understood by some to be a reference to Satan (Maier op. cit., p. 177; Grant, R.M. (2006). Irenaeus of Lyons. London: Routledge, p. 5; Stouck, M.-A. (1999). Medieval Saints: A Reader. Peterborough: Broadview Press, p. 17, who make this identification explicit; Roberts, A. & Donaldson, J. (1886/2007). The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. New York: Cosimo, p. 783; Schaff, P. (1890/2007). Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series, Vol. 1. New York: Cosimo, p. 217; Frilingos, C.A. (2013). Spectacles of Empire: Monsters, Martyrs, and the Book of Revelation. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 99, who capitalize ‘Beast’ and so clearly take it to mean more than a natural animal). Typical of these is Grant: "Incited by a wild beast [the Devil] wild and barbarous tribes could hardly stop". However, others appear to understand the phrase with reference to a natural animal (Musurillo, H. (1972). The Acts of the Christian Martyrs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, in Kraemer, R.S. (2004). Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 355, Weidmann, F.W. (2000). The Martyrs of Lyons. In R. Valantasis (Ed.), Religions of Late Antiquity in Practice (pp. 398-412). Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 410; Kannengiesser, C. (1986). Early Christian Spirituality: Sources of early Christian thought. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 48; Ehrman, B.D. (1999). After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 40). Typical of this interpretation is Kannengiesser’s translation: "because a wild and barbarous people once inflamed by a wild beast are not easily held in check." Given the absence of the article, this writer is inclined to follow the latter sense.
  • 38 See the summary in Goodine & Mitchell, op. cit., p. 11 n. 25, who describe the terminology for Satan used in the text, regarding it as reflecting a dualism similar to that in the Gospel of John and in Revelation.
  • 39 "For the Adversary (ho antikeimenos), in a foretaste of his own imminent advent (parousian autou), attacked us with all his might" (Ecclesiastical History 5.1.5, trans. Maier, op. cit., p. 171). Parousia is the word used frequently in the NT to refer to Christ’s second advent (Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1; 2:8; Jas 5:7-8; 2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4; 1 John 2:28). The word is used of an antichrist figure in 2 Thess. 2:9.
  • 40 Ecclesiastical History 5.1.5 (trans. Maier, op. cit., p. 171).
  • 41 Ecclesiastical History 5.1.14 (trans. Maier, op. cit., p. 172).
  • 42 Ecclesiastical History 5.1.23.
  • 43 Buschmann (op. cit., p. 111) argues that Martyrdom of Polycarp reflects a dualism with affinities to the Two Ways or Two Angels teaching: "Dem Dualismus von Leben und Tod entspricht in MartPol 3,1a der Gegensatz von Gott und Teufel (vgl. Barn 18,1). Das Martyrium gilt schlechthin als siegreicher Kampf mit dem Teufel (vgl. MartPol 3,1; 19,2; HermSim 8,3,6)."
  • 44 as claimed by Gibson, op. cit., p. 154.
  • 45 Lunn-Rockcliffe, S. (2015). Diabolical Motivations: The Devil in Ecclesiastical Histories from Eusebius to Evagrius. In H. Elton & G. Greatrex (Eds.), Shifting Genres in Late Antiquity (pp. 119-134). Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, p. 123; Hartog, op. cit., p. 317; Nicklas, T. (2014). Jews and Christians? Second-Century ‘Christian’ Perspectives on the ‘Parting of the Ways’. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 55; Lieu, 2003, op. cit., p. 65; Jefford, op. cit., pp. 93-94; Boyd, J.W. (1975). Satan and Māra: Christian and Buddhist Symbols of Evil. Leiden: Brill, p. 33; Setzer, op. cit., p. 113; Arndt, W., Danker, F.W. & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 89; Lampe, G.W.H. (1961). A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 154; Buschmann, op. cit., p. 327; Bartelink, 1987, op. cit., pp. 211-212; Bobichon, P. (2003b). Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction (Vol. 2). Fribourg: Université de Fribourg, p. 864 n. 8; Lindemann, A. (1992). Die Clemensbriefe. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 149.

Friday 10 October 2014

The Christology of Quadratus

Quadratus was an early Christian who, according to the fourth century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, wrote an apology (defense of the Christian faith) to the Roman Emperor Hadrian (who reigned from 117-138 A.D.). This is the earliest known written Christian apology; dates of composition proposed by scholars range between 117-125 A.D.1 Unfortunately, no copies are extant today and so we have no knowledge of its contents except for the description given by Eusebius and a brief fragment quoted by him in Ecclesiastical History 4.3.

In the late fourth century work Lives of Illustrious Men, the Latin church father Jerome wrote that Quadratus was bishop of Athens. Ehrman describes this tradition as "dubious". Whatever Quadratus' precise position in the church, however, that he wrote an apology to the emperor suggests that he was in a position of authority within the church and was one of its intellectual leaders.

What can we know about Quadratus' Christology (his understanding of the person of Christ) from Eusebius' description of and quotation from his apology? Eusebius stated that he possessed a copy of Quadratus' work and that in it one could "see clear signs both of the man's intelligence and of his apostolic orthodoxy".2

Eusebius himself has been described as having "occupied something of a semi-Arian position". When caught up in the Arian controversy he sought to reconcile the Arian and orthodox parties. He did sign the Nicene Creed, but "probably without any firm internal convictions".3

It is thus possible that Eusebius would have reported Quadratus' Christology to be orthodox even if it was proto-Arian in nature. Of course, the Arians themselves held what would be described as a high Christology inasmuch as they affirmed Christ's personal pre-existence. Their main difference with Trinitarians was that they held the Son to be a creature who was not ontologically equal to the Father.4 On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that Eusebius would have reported Quadratus' Christology to be 'orthodox' if it denied the pre-existence and virgin birth of Christ, since he had just earlier in the same work declared such views to be heretical (Eccl. Hist. 3.27).

Thus from Eusebius' testimony we can infer that Quadratus' apology very likely contained a high Christology which affirmed the pre-existence, and in some form the deity, of Christ (as did the apologies of Justin Martyr a few decades later - and it is quite possible that Justin knew Quadratus' work).

However, apart from Eusebius' reference to Quadratus' orthodoxy, there are hints of Quadratus' high Christology in the quotation from the apology that Eusebius preserved. The fragment reads thus:
But the works of our savior were always present, for they were true. Those who were healed and raised from the dead were not only seen when healed and raised, but they were always present - and not just while the savior was here, but even when he had gone they remained for a long time, so that some of them have survived to our own time.5
The use of the term soter (saviour) as the main referential title for Christ in this passage is certainly consistent with a high Christology. This title is used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) frequently of God,6 but occasionally of human beings.7

In the contemporary Hellenistic world it was
an epithet for gods such as Zeus, Apollo, Hermes, Asclepios, Isis, Sarapis, Artemis, and the Dioscuri; sometimes it was a title for humans, such as the Ptolemies and Roman emperors or governors. As a cultic epithet, Greeks and Romans used it to invoke such deliverers in time of need (illness, travail, sea storms, famine, and economic distress...)8
In and of itself, the term soter did not necessarily connote deity.9 However, the fragment of Quadratus refers to Jesus as soter specifically in the context of his works of healing, which for a Hellenistic reader would likely have called to mind Asclepius, "the god of healing worshipped by the Greeks as well as the Romans".10 Notably, Asclepius' characteristic title was Asclepius Soter ('Asclepius the Saviour').11 Indeed, in Justin Martyr's apology he made explicit the similarities between Christians' claims about Jesus' healing works and the claims made by pagans concerning Asclepius (First Apology 22.6). Thus, while not making an explicit claim to Christ's deity, Quadratus was here ascribing a title and associated functions to Christ that pagans ascribed to one of their gods. Pagan readers would likely have understood this as implying that Christ was divine, and Quadratus' intent may have been to show Christ's superiority to pagan deities.12 Of course, we have no record of the ways in which Quadratus qualified his claims about Christ in relation to his understanding of God the Father. However, what little evidence we have supports the idea that Quadratus held a high Christology.

The fragment of the apology contains a further hint of Quadratus' high Christology - in this case, specifically pre-existence. The clause translated by Ehrman "not just while the saviour was here" reads, in the Greek, oude epidemountos monon tou soteros. The verb rendered 'was here' is epidemeo. The basic meaning of this verb is to live or dwell, but one of the most widely attested senses is "of foreigners, come to stay in a city, reside in a place"13 or "to stay in a place as a stranger or visitor, be in town, stay".14 This is the most likely meaning in the Quadratus text, especially given the contrast with the saviour's departure. The BDAG lexicon classifies the Quadratus instance under this meaning. As the writer explains,
the main idea in the use of this verb is the fact that the subject is in transit with regard to a place to stay, hence it can be used both for a stay away from home as well as for a return home.15
The older Roberts-Donaldson translation brings out the sense of this clause: "Nor did they remain only during the sojourn of the Saviour [on earth]".16

This notion of temporary relocation or visitation can be seen in all three instances of the word epidemeo in the New Testament (Acts 2:10; 17:21; 18:27 variant reading), and numerous times in Josephus' writings,17 both of which were written within a half century or so of Quadratus' Apology. In Eusebius' own writings in the fourth century, it takes this meaning several times.18 Of particular note is Eccl. Hist. 1.2.23, where Eusebius uses epidemeo to refer specifically to the incarnation: "For it had been foretold that one who was at the same time man and God should come and dwell in the world."19

In summary, it appears that the fragment of Quadratus' apology conveys the idea that Christ's human life on earth represented a sojourn - a visitation or incarnation - of a pre-existent divine being. One should emphasize that these are only implicit hints; we cannot attain the broader understanding of Quadratus' Christology that Eusebius and other readers of his full apology would have had. Nevertheless, the evidence available to us, however meager, does support Eusebius' testimony that Quadratus' beliefs were orthodox insofar as Christology is concerned (at least in Eusebius' relatively broad understanding of orthodoxy).

This, in turn, provides useful information about the Christological convictions of the church early in the second century, at a time when contemporaries of the apostles were still alive (as Quadratus' fragment itself attests).20 A defense of the Christian faith written to the Roman emperor is not likely to have contained core theological claims that were not well established in the Christian community. Thus, aside from the witness of the New Testament writings themselves, the first known written Christian apology provides evidence that a divine, pre-existence Christology was entrenched in the church early in its history.

1 Ehrman, B. (2003). The Apostolic Fathers. Vol. 2. Harvard University Press, p. 89; Foster, P. (2006). The Apology of Quadratus. The Expository Times, 117, 353-359.
2 Eccl. Hist. 4.3, trans. Ehrman, op. cit., p. 119. Foster (op. cit., p. 359) thinks that the ascription of apostolic orthodoxy may derive from the 'chain of tradition' by which Quadratus links himself back to the apostles. However, in view of the reference to Quadratus' intelligence, he also allows that "the very arguments employed by Quadratus were seen as establishing his orthodox credentials".
3 Jurgens, W.A. (Ed.). (1970). The Faith of the Early Fathers: Pre-Nicene and Nicene Eras. Liturgical Press, p. 290.
4 Gregg, R.C. (1983). Arianism. In Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology. Ed. A. Richardson & J. Bowden. Westminster John Knox Press, pp. 40-41.
5 Eccl. Hist. 4.3, trans. Ehrman, op. cit., p. 119.
6 Deut. 32:15; 1 Sam. 10:19; Psalm 24(23):5; 25(24):5; 27(26):1; 27(26):9; 62(61):2, 6; 65:5(64:6); 79(78):9; 95(94):1; Isa. 12:2; 17:10; 45:15, 21; 62:11; Mic. 7:7; Hab. 3:18.
7 Judg. 3:9, 15; Neh. 19(9):27.
8 Fitzmyer, J.A. (2002). The Savior God. In A.A. Das & F.J. Matera (Eds.), The Forgotten God: Perspectives in Biblical Theology: Essays in Honor of Paul J. Achtemeier on the Occasion of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday. (pp. 181-196). Westminster John Knox Press, p. 186.
9 Liefeld, W.L. (1995). Salvation. In G.W. Bromiley (Ed.), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Q-Z. Eerdmans, p. 290.
10 Lawson, R.M. (2004). Science in the Ancient World: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, p. 27.
11 Barclay, W. (2001). Letters to the Seven Churches. Westminster John Knox Press, p. 31.
12 Ehrman (op. cit., p. 90) suggests that Quadratus' "claim about the long-term effects of Jesus' miracles may have been intended to show his superiority to some other alleged miracle worker". This is owing to Eusebius' reference to a disturbance created by wicked men as the impetus for Quadratus writing his apology. Some have identified these wicked men as heretical Christians such as the followers of Simon Magus (referred to later by Irenaeus). However, Foster (op. cit., p. 357) doubts this identification since it is unlikely that Quadratus would discuss an internal dispute in an apology addressed to Emperor Hadrian. An alternative possibility is that the wicked men creating the disturbance were devotees of Asclepius Soter!
13 Liddell, H.G., Scott, R. & Jones. H.S. (2011). The online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English lexicon. University of California.
14 Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. (3rd ed.) University of Chicago Press, p. 370.
15 Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W., op. cit., p. 370.
16 Roberts, A. & Donaldson, J. (1871). Ante-Nicene Christian Library: The works of Lactantius, v. 2., together with the Testaments of the twelve patriarchs and fragments of the second and third centuries. T&T Clark, p. 139.
17 Wars of the Jews 1.26.5; 2.11.2; 2.15.1; Antiquities of the Jews 2.5.12; 5.8.3; 15.11.4; 16.10.1; 17.5.4; Autobiography 40.
18 Eccl. Hist. 3.36.4; 4.11.2; 4.14.5; 5.24.16; 6.14.10; 7.11.12; 7.18.3.
19 Eusebius uses the word more abstractly in Eccl. Hist. 2.15.1 to refer to the divine word making its home among men through preaching.
20 Foster (op. cit., p. 356) states the following concerning Quadratus' claim that some of those healed by Jesus had survived to his own time: "The verbal aspect of the entire description implies that such survivors from the time of Jesus had died by the time of the composition of the apology. However, there were people among the current generation of Christians who could remember those who claimed to have received dominical healing."

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Justin Martyr and the 'Man of Men' Christology (Part 2)

We now turn our attention to the second question posed in the previous post:  did Justin Martyr accept those who held the 'man of men' Christology as Christians? More broadly, how did Justin view them? The answer to this question is not obvious. As we shall see, there are radically different viewpoints among scholars. In Dave's talk, he states that Justin "acknowledges these other Christians, and he still accepts them as Christians." There is some evidence to support this statement. However, it should not have been stated as an unqualified fact, since there is also evidence suggesting Justin held a very negative view of this doctrine.

I was able to find a a comment Dave posted on the web (relating to his debate on the Trinity with Evangelical theologian Rob Bowman) which provides the reasoning behind the above-mentioned assertion.

Martyr therefore acknowledges the existence of Christians who do not believe that Christ pre-existed; who believe that he was a “man of men.” Yet he refers to them as “of our race” and “my friends.” So although he disagrees with their Christology, he does not consider them heretics.1

Of the two pieces of evidence Dave adduces here to show that Justin did not regard the man of men Christology as heretical, one is plainly wrong, and the other is doubtful.

a.      ‘My Friends’

Firstly, Dave says that Justin refers to these people as ‘my friends.’ In fact, he does not. ‘My friends’ is a term of direct address for the Jews with whom he is engaging in dialogue: “‘For there are some, my friends,’ I said…” This term of address occurs more than a dozen times throughout the dialogue. In the Greek it is unmistakably a term of direct address: ὦ φίλοι, which would literally translate, 'O friends'.

This expression thus has nothing to do with Justin's view of the man of men Christology.

b.      ‘Of our race’ or ‘of your race’?

The Roberts-Donaldson translation renders the beginning of Dialogue 48.4, "For there are some, my friends," I said, "of our race, who admit that He is Christ, while holding Him to be man of men". Dave infers from the expression "of our race" that Justin regards these people as Christians. However, there is a text-critical issue here. In fact, there are only two extant manuscripts of the Dialogue: the Parisinus (1364 AD), and another written in 1541 AD which is a copy of the Parisinus.3 There is thus only one manuscript which is of value for textual criticism. And the Parisinus does not read ἀπὸ τοῦ ἡμετέρου γένους (‘of our race’), but rather, ἀπὸ τοῦ ὑμετέρου γένους (‘of your race’).4

Machen explains that the ‘of our race’ reading found its way into the early critical texts due to a copying error by the first publisher.5 The error remained uncorrected until discovered by Harnack in the early 20th century, though even before that scholars such as Bull argued on contextual grounds for emending the text to read ‘of your race.’6

The error seems to have died a slow death; as late as 1948, Falls still prefers the reading ‘of our race’ on the basis that “most critics” hold this view.7 At least one critic cited by Bobichon favours emending the text to read ‘of our race.’ However, Bobichon’s recent critical text holds ‘of your race’ to be the original.8

There is no external evidence for the reading ‘of our race,’ and there are no good internal reasons for overturning the manuscript reading. ‘Of your race’ would mean that those who hold the ‘man of men’ Christology are Jewish. Later patristic writers do refer to a Jewish Christian sect called the Ebionites who denied the virgin birth (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.21.1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.27.1-2), so they are the probable referent.9

If, then, Justin was referring to Ebionites, it would not be surprising for him to describe them as “of your race,” that is, Jewish. Indeed, Justin had just previously (Dialogue 47.3) used the expression ‘of your race’ to refer to other Jewish Christians of whom he disapproved because they compelled Gentiles to observe the Law of Moses.

In fact, if the manuscript reading 'of your race' is original, this may actually be evidence that Justin viewed the Ebionites negatively. For there indications elsewhere in the Dialogue that Justin understands non-Christian Jews and Christians to be two separate races. Of the Jews, Justin writes (again, just prior to our passage), “of your race, who are ever unwilling to understand or to perform the [requirements] of God” (Dialogue 48.2). He later states, “God has withheld from you [i.e. the Jewish race] the ability to discern the wisdom of His Scriptures; yet [there are] some exceptions” (Dialogue 55.3).

That Justin views the Christians as a race distinct from natural Jews is evident from Dialogue 116.3: “we, who through the name of Jesus have believed as one man in God the Maker of all…are the true high priestly race of God.” Again,
“As, therefore, Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelitic race…it is necessary for us here to observe that there are two seeds of Judah, and two races, as there are two houses of Jacob: the one begotten by blood and flesh, the other by faith and the Spirit” (Dialogue 135.3-6; see also 119.4-5; 138.2.)
By describing these ‘Ebionites’ as “of your race,” Justin may simply be stating that they are ethnically Jewish. However, he may also be implying that he regards them as belonging to the race of Israel according to the flesh as opposed to the race of Israel by faith and the Spirit (i.e. the Christians).

Hence, the second piece of evidence that Dave cited in support of his view may actually support an opposite conclusion. There is, however, other evidence that may suggest that Justin held a tolerant view of the Ebionites.

c.       The argument for a ‘tolerant’ interpretation

On the same website on which Dave commented, philosophy professor Dale Tuggy added some additional comments on this text:

There are a couple of interesting things here. First, Justin concedes that Jesus can be the Messiah without his being divine or pre-existent – those points are independent of each other, and nothing about being Messiah logically implies being divine or pre-existing. So he insists that his arguments that Jesus is the Jewish messiah will work even if he can’t show Jesus to have pre-existed, or to be anything but a “man of men”, i.e. not Virgin-born, but with two human parents.  Second, Justin seems willing to concede that people who deny his logos theory may yet be Christians – catholic Christians, we assume.2

Dale does not give any reasons for his claim that Justin seems willing to regard the Ebionites as catholic Christians. However, this view has attracted scholarly support for several reasons.

In the first place, Justin does not denounce the proponents of the ‘man of men’ Christology with the same vitriol that is found in his references to heretics elsewhere in the Dialogue. In chapter 35.2-6, Justin refers to schisms and heresies and cites Jesus’ teachings about wolves in sheep’s clothing and false Christs. He describes these false teachers as teaching “both to speak and to act impious and blasphemous things”. He states further that these heretics call themselves Christians, but that they are called by us (the disciples of the true and pure doctrine of Jesus Christ) by the name of the men from whom each doctrine and opinion had its origin. Later, he refers to “godless, impious heretics” who “teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish” (Dialogue 80.3). He goes on to say that of those who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven, “Do not imagine that they are Christians” (80.4).

Justin’s tone in chapter 48 is nowhere near as rancorous. Rather, it is closer to the tone he uses for the Law-observing Christians mentioned in chapter 47 (also referred to as ‘of your race’). There, Trypho asks Justin, “But if someone, knowing that this is so, after he recognises that this man is Christ, and has believed in and obeys Him, wishes, however, to observe these [Mosaic rites], will he be saved?” (Dialogue 47.1) Justin responds,

"In my opinion, Trypho, such an one will be saved, if he does not strive in every way to persuade other men – I mean those Gentiles who have been circumcised from error by Christ, to observe the same things as himself, telling them that they will not be saved unless they do so." (Dialogue 47.1)

Trypho then asks whether there are those who hold such a position. Justin responds that there are, “but I do not agree with them” (47.2). He groups them into three classes.

i.             There are those ‘weak-minded’ Jews who wish to observe Mosaic institutions along with their hope in Christ; however they do not compel other Christians to do the same. Justin states, “I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren” (47.2).
ii.                   There are some Jews who “say they believe in Christ” but “compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses.” Justin does "not approve of them" (47.3).
iii.                 Those Gentiles who are persuaded by the second group above “to observe the legal dispensation along with their confession of God in Christ, shall probably be saved”, provided they maintain their confession that Jesus is the Christ (47.4).

It can probably be inferred from the above that Justin thinks the first and third groups above will be saved, but not the second group – those who compel Gentile Christians to observe the Law. In simply stating that he “does not agree” with these Jewish Christians Justin’s tone is close to that of 48.4. It may be, then, that his view of the 'man of men' Christology issue was similar to his view of the law observance issue.

Secondly, it is possible (as will be discussed in the final post in this series) to understand ‘those who have the same opinions as myself’ in 48.4 to refer to all those who believe Jesus is the Christ, inclusive of Ebionites. This would then implicitly classify them as Christians, albeit not necessarily catholic Christians. Hence Bobichon notes,

“Il ne s’agit pas seulement des chrétiens orthodoxes, mais de tous ceux qui reconnaissent le Christ en Jésus et portent le nom de Chrétiens (MARAN)”10

That is, ‘It refers not only to orthodox Christians, but to all those who recognize Jesus as Christ and bear the name of Christians.’ (my translation)

Thirdly, Tuggy observes that Justin concedes Jesus can be the Messiah without his being pre-existent or divine, which he takes to imply that Jesus' pre-existence and divinity are for Justin non-essential points of doctrine.

In spite of the above, an argument can also be made that Justin does not accept the proponents of the ‘man of men’ Christology as catholic Christians.

d.      The argument for a ‘heretical’ interpretation

Firstly, while (as noted above) his criticism of this group is not as vitriolic as his denunciation of heretics in chapters 35 and 80, his description of the source of their doctrine is similar:

Source of wrong belief
Source of correct belief
Dialogue 35 (heretical Christians)
The spirits of error; doctrines which originated from men
The doctrines of Jesus; the words he taught; the prophecies announced concerning him
Dialogue 27 (unbelieving Jews)
Teaching doctrines that are your own
Doctrines that are His (God’s)
Dialogue 38 (unbelieving Jews)
The traditions of [Jewish] teachers who teach their own doctrines
Truths taught by God
Dialogue 78 (unbelieving Jews)
Strive in every way to maintain their own doctrines; teach the doctrines of men
The doctrines of God
Dialogue 80 (heretical Christians)
Men’s doctrines
God and the doctrines delivered by Him; the prophets declare it
Dialogue 48 (‘man of men’ Christology)
Human doctrines
The prophets; the teachings of Jesus himself

Like the heretics of chapters 35 and 80 and the unbelieving Jews of chapters 27, 38 and 78, the proponents of the ‘man of men’ Christology in 48.4 stand accused of putting their faith in human doctrines rather than “those proclaimed by the blessed prophets and taught by [Jesus] Himself.”11 The accusation of following human doctrines instead of the teachings of the prophets and Jesus is a very serious one, probably drawn from Isaiah 29:13 via Matthew 15:9. Every other viewpoint described in these terms in the Dialogue is clearly regarded as a threat to salvation.

Secondly, in the only other place in Justin’s writings where he refers to a denial of Christ’s pre-existence (First Apology 46), he states that if someone were to maintain “that we say that Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago”, this would be “a perversion of what we teach.”12

Thirdly, Justin’s ‘concession’ about Jesus’ Messiahship being provable apart from the virgin birth and pre-existence should probably be understood as a rhetorical technique rather than an concession of uncertainty. Inducing Trypho to admit that Jesus is the merely human Christ is a rhetorical stepping-stone to his argument for this Christ's pre-existence and incarnation. Far from ‘nothing about being Messiah logically implies being divine or pre-existing’ (as Tuggy claims), Justin's argument may well presuppose the opposite. If he can only persuade Trypho that Jesus is the Messiah, he will then be able to persuade him that this Messiah is pre-existent and virgin-born. Hence, Justin’s ‘concession’ here does not imply that he regarded a ‘man of men’ Christology as sufficient.

In support of this, we note that later in the Dialogue, Trypho concedes the existence of a second being called God (Dialogue 60.3).13 He is also willing to concede that Jesus as a ‘man of men’ might have become the Christ by election (Dialogue 67.1). However, he continues to challenge the virgin birth and incarnation (Dialogue 63.1; 67.1), as well as the crucifixion and ascension. Justin shows no hint of being satisfied with Trypho's concessions but instead redoubles his efforts to prove the virgin birth and pre-existent deity of Christ from the Scriptures.

Fourthly, later Christian writers regarded the Ebionites (who seem to have held the Christology described in Dialogue 48.4) as heretics. These include Irenaeus, who wrote within a generation of Justin, and probably used Justin’s lost work on heresies, Syntagma, as a source.14

e.      Scholarly views

What do scholars say? There is a range of views. Segal states that Justin “strongly disagrees with Christians who held this adoptionist christology.”15

Pritz comments on Dialogue 48.4 that

“This strongly worded statement should be contrasted with the tolerance of the previous ones” (of chapter 47). In his view, Justin “recognizes two kinds of Christians of the Jewish race whom he differentiates on christological grounds. One group, whom Justin condemns [chapter 48], holds doctrines which line up well with what is known to us of Ebionite teaching. The other group [chapter 47] differs from Justin’s orthodoxy only in its continued adherence to the Mosaic Law.”16

On the other hand, Hakkinen argues that

“Justin did not consider Jewish Christians to be heretics, even though they obeyed the Torah and practiced circumcision (46-47), and confessed Jesus to be the Messiah without believing in his divine origins (48)…For Justin, they were an acceptable part of Christianity as long as they did not demand that Gentile Christians become Jews.”17

Paget states that

“Justin does not seem to regard Ebionite-like people as heretical, a conclusion based upon Dialogue 47-48 where Jewish Christians are mentioned together with christological opinions akin to those of the Ebionites but are not held to be outside the church.”18

On the other hand, Paget suggests that Justin’s lost work Syntagma might well have held Ebionite-like people to be heretical due to their “errant christological views.”

In light of the evidence and the scholarly debate, perhaps a balanced conclusion would be that Justin views those who hold the ‘man of men’ Christology with considerable suspicion, but has not made up his mind as to whether or not it is heretical. He refrains from calling them Christians or brethren, and describes their doctrines in language he uses elsewhere only for heretics and non-Christian Jews. On the other hand, he also refrains from calling them heretics or blasphemers and does not deny that they are Christians. Since his tone of ‘not agreeing with them’ is similar to that in chapter 47, it may be that, like the law-observing Jewish Christians of chapter 47, he thought that they might be saved under certain conditions.

In our third and final post in this series we will look at what Justin says about the age and popularity of the man of men Christology.

1 See http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1704/comment-page-1
2 See http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1981
3 Koester, H. (2002). Introduction to the New Testament, Volume 2. Walter de Gruyter, p. 344.
4 Lincoln, A.T. (2013). Born of a Virgin? Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theology. Eerdmans. p. 170 n. 3.
5 Machen, J.G. (1932). The Virgin Birth of Christ. James Clarke & Co., p. 16 n. 50.
6 Bull, G. (1855). The Judgment of the Catholic Church on the Necessity of Believing that Our Lord Jesus Christ is Very God. J.H. Parker, p. 172.
7 Falls, T.B. (1948). The First Apology; the Second Apology; Dialogue with Trypho; Exhortation to the Greeks. Christian Heritage Incorporated, p. 220 n. 2.
8 Bobichon, P. (2003). Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction, Vol. 1. Universite de Fribourg, pp. 304-305; Bobichon, P. (2003). Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction, Vol. 2. Universite de Fribourg, pp. 717-718 n. 9.
9 So Pritz, R. (1988). Nazarene Jewish Christianity. BRILL, p. 19ff; Paget, J.C. (2010). Jews, Christians and Jewish Christians in Antiquity. Mohr Siebeck, p. 327; Freyne, S. 2014. The Jesus Movement and Its Expansion: Meaning and Mission. Eerdmans, p. 339. Hengel would also include Cerinthus as a possible referent along with the Ebionites (Hengel, M. (1992). The Septuagint as a Collection of Writings Claimed by Christians: Justin and the Church Fathers before Origen. In J.D.G. Dunn (Ed.), Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135 (39-84). Eerdmans, p. 52 n. 55).
10 Bobichon, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 717 n. 10.
11 Inasmuch as Justin in Dialogue 18 refers to Trypho having “read” the doctrines taught by Jesus, we probably have here a reference to the Old Testament and at least some of the Gospels.
12 In context, he is not here discussing different Christologies among professing Christians, but rather is responding to the charge that Christianity is a recent development and that those born before Christ would thus in effect have been atheists. (Of course, Justin means ‘born’ here in the sense of coming into existence, since he does go on to affirm that Christ was born of a virgin as a man). This language shows that Justin viewed the pre-existence of Christ as an important aspect of his worldview.
13 Choi, M.J. (2010). What is Christian orthodoxy according to Justin’s Dialogue? Scottish Journal of Theology 63(4): 398-413. p. 406.
14 Myllykoski, M. 2008. Cerinthus. In A. Marjanen & P. Luomanen (Eds.), A Companion to Second-Century Christian ‘Heretics’ (213-246). BRILL, p. 227.
15 Segal, A.F. 1992. Jewish Christianity, In H.W. Attridge and G. Hata (Eds.), Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism. Wayne State University Press, pp. 340-341.
16 Pritz, op. cit., p. 21.
17 Hakkinen, S. (2008). Ebionites. In A. Marjanen & P. Luomanen (Eds.), A Companion to Second-Century Christian ‘Heretics’ (247-278). BRILL, p. 249. Hakkinen suggests that Justin’s work on heresies, Syntagma, did not originally include the Ebionites, but had been updated by Irenaeus’ time to include them (op. cit., pp. 250-251).
18 Paget, op. cit., p. 327.