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Showing posts with label orthodox. Show all posts
Showing posts with label orthodox. Show all posts

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Journeys from Christadelphia to orthodoxy: Guest article by Nathan and Matthew Farrar

This guest article by Nathan and Matthew Farrar is the second in a series of articles from former Christadelphians who have embraced Christian orthodoxy. (The previous article in the series by Ruth Sutcliffe can be found here.)

The Canon Conundrum
How a table of contents made us rethink our faith

There is an easy temptation to look back on beliefs or practices that were formerly embraced, and cast them in the most negative light possible.  Nowhere is this more tempting than when explaining why one’s former beliefs were left behind or changed.  Both authors have come to embrace catholic Christianity, a significant move away from the beliefs given to us during our upbringing. We were both raised in a conservative, Unamended Christadelphian home and ecclesia in Ontario, Canada. Overall, our experiences were positive. Indeed, our family goes back at least 3 generations on both sides, and as such, it could be said that “Christadelphianism” is in our blood.  So, as we look back, we have no desire to tear down what was and is positive about Christadelphia.  But we did find ourselves unable, in good conscience, to embrace and teach portions of the statements of faith. Explaining all the details is beyond the scope of this post, but our move from being committed Christadelphians to orthodox1 Christians can really be summed up in two words: history matters. Specifically, Church history.

For both of us, the question of whether Christadelphians or orthodox Christians were correct concerning a doctrine like the divinity of Jesus could not ultimately be determined by interpreting the Bible alone. Why? Because both sides acknowledged that one should base doctrine upon the “clear teaching of Scripture” and then interpret “difficult passages” in that light.  The problem was that the “clear teaching” for one group was the “difficult passages” for the other, and vice versa!  

History provided a way to break the stalemate. It seemed reasonable to both of us to appeal to the earliest Christians in the post-Apostolic era, authors such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna and Irenaeus of Lyons. It seemed that the closer we went in time to the Apostles (Clement is thought to have possibly been their contemporary and Polycarp a direct disciple of John), the more likely we would be to converging on the teaching of the Apostles themselves. This type of consideration ultimately led us to embrace orthodox doctrines in favor of the distinctive teachings of Christadelphians.

In response to this approach, some Christadelphians have argued that the discovery of proto-orthodox Christian beliefs in the writings of the early Church Fathers2 is only evidence that apostate teaching was present earlier than we might have expected. Thus, it is argued that these writings can and should be rejected as heretical. However, there is one product of the early Church that Christadelphians universally accept, namely, the contents of the New Testament. This seems odd: why trust an apostate church to hand on a perfect and trustworthy canon?  Despite this peculiarity, Christadelphians and orthodox Christians use the same set of New Testament books.

Back to basics

One feature of Christadelphian belief that was firmly impressed upon us both was that God’s offer of salvation is revealed through Scripture alone, and that each individual has a duty to discern, through personal study of the Bible, what he or she must do and believe to be saved. The Christadelphian community can and does offer teaching and support, but ultimately the responsibility for obtaining saving truths from the Scriptures falls to the individual seeker. This way of thinking seems self-evident to many Christadelphians.  We say this not out of condescension, but because it also seemed self-evident to both of us! 

It began to become less self-evident when we learned that the authenticity of a few books in the New Testament canon –such as Hebrews and Jude– had been disputed in the early church.  Furthermore, the later subtraction, during the Reformation, of books from the Old Testament Scriptures that had been in use for the first 1500 years of the church was troubling.  Why did these observations give us pause?  Because if salvation depends on reading and responding to what is in the Bible, then there is a lot at stake in determining exactly what constitutes ‘the Bible’, i.e. which books are canonical. It is important to appreciate the difference between being able to say with certainty “here is the inspired canon, take and read” and “here is an argument for why our canon is the right one.”  In fact, a great difference exists between the two.  Why? Again, because when individual response to what is revealed in Scripture is a central pillar in the drama of salvation there cannot be any uncertainty regarding which books are actually Scripture, and which are apocryphal.  (It is bad enough to have disputes over what Scripture teaches, never mind what actually constitutes Scripture!)  As such, it only seems reasonable that a person should be able to understand the basis for his or her confidence in Scripture’s table of contents.  What we attempt to show in this brief article is that Christadelphians do not really have nor can they have a well-founded confidence that the canon on which they rely to “make persons wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15) is perfect.

Before we try to explain why we hold this view, we would like to set proper expectations for this post.  This article is not, nor is it meant to be a scholarly blog post. It also isn’t intended to trigger a protracted debate. We were asked to comment on why we ceased to be Christadelphians, and while many of the reasons have been covered on this blog, we are simply drawing attention to one critical factor that influenced us.

When the obvious becomes puzzling

One thing we both believe strongly in is being fair to those with whom we disagree.  It only seems fair then to begin by quoting from the statements of faith that explain clearly how Christadelphians understand the nature of the Scriptures:

“That the Scriptures, composing the book currently known as the Bible, are the only source now extant of knowledge concerning God and His purposes, and that they were given wholly by the unerring inspiration of God in the writers, and that such errors as have since crept in are due to transcription or translation.” 3

“That the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth, and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers, and are consequently without error in all parts of them, except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation.” 4

These statements are puzzling because they presume that a source of authority existed prior to “now”, whether extant or not, that was capable of discerning the limits of the Scriptural canon.  The nature of this extra-Biblical knowledge is not specified.  That aside, if the Bible is the only source of knowledge that currently exists, then apart from simply accepting the (Protestant) canon as an act of faith, how could I really know that this collection of books is complete and perfect? Are there books that were excluded that should be included, or books included that ought to have been excluded? There seems to be no way to gauge whether one’s confidence in the canon of Scripture is well-placed or misguided. In order to explore this problem more fully, we need to examine some different possible avenues to answer this question and examine their respective implications.

The first possibility is to confirm the legitimacy of our Bible’s contents through internal tests.  For example,

Idea 1: Christ himself confirms what belongs in Scripture.
Answer: Christ does not tell us what constitutes the Scriptures.  He certainly speaks of the “law and the prophets” and the psalms but neglects to define the exact books beyond this. Furthermore, the Apostles do not tell us what constitutes the Scriptures, though they certainly acknowledge their importance and authority.

Idea 2: We can show what belongs in the canon of Scripture through the quotations the books use.  In other words, Scripture is self-contained because ‘Scripture quotes Scripture’.
Answer: This works to an extent, but is finally problematic.  Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes are not quoted in the New Testament, so would they have been included in the “Scripture” that is referred to in 2 Timothy 3: 16-17?  Or, does Jude’s use of the 1 Enoch mean that this book ought to be included in the canon?5 This approach seems to be fraught with difficulties.

Idea 3: Authentic books can be identified by their attestation to the authentic beliefs of Christians.
Answer:  This is a fascinating criterion and one that we think has much to be said for it, though not as a sole criteria. However, there are issues with this approach. Certain early Christian texts such as the Didache are alleged by some Christadelphians to reflect authentic Christian beliefs. Why then is the Didache not canonical? Perhaps more seriously, certain New Testament books appear to affirm beliefs that Christadelphians reject.  Take an obvious example:  Thomas calling Jesus “God” in John 20.  Is the gospel of John – being as different as it is from the synoptic gospels – really part of Scripture?  After all, the deity of Jesus is a serious corruption of the Christian faith according to Christadelphians.  Another major problem with this approach is its circularity: we need knowledge of correct Christian beliefs to define the canon, but we need to know the canon to identify these beliefs!

So, we have a collection of books that cannot be used to internally justify their own canonicity, and according to Christadelphian Statements of Faith, there remains no external authority to confirm the canon’s limits. So not only can we not definitively confirm what belongs in Scripture, we do not appear to have any objective basis for determining whether the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or some other Bible should be embraced!

Scripture – a work of man?

The Christadelphian community has adopted the traditional Protestant canon composed of 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books.  Consistent with Christadelphians’ understanding of Scripture, this set of books is understood to be the one and only source for all truth concerning doctrine and morals.  From this it is reasonably concluded that any doctrine not taught in the Bible or any claim to a definitive interpretive authority beyond the Bible itself is rejected as the “work of men”.  This formulation is interesting for two reasons:  one, since Scripture is not self-contained (i.e., you cannot determine the canon of Scripture from Scripture), and is therefore not taught in the Bible, should the canon be rejected?  If not, then Christadelphians should admit they hold core beliefs not drawn from Scripture; in fact, they accept part of Christian Tradition.  Second, since the canon underwent a period of development and refinement, ultimately being the subject of a number of early church councils (Rome (382), Hippo (393), Carthage (397, 419)), is the Bible’s table of contents a ‘work of men’?  If not, then why not?

The emphasis that Christadelphians place on the study of Scripture and its full supremacy above all other sources of knowledge about the Christian faith (e.g., Tradition) appears to be a straight-forward, coherent, and attractive picture of the nature of doctrine and salvation.  Indeed, we have heard testimony from many converts in Christadelphian ecclesias who have told us that part of what drew them in was the seriousness with which Christadelphians approached the Bible.  While we do not wish to disparage the importance of Scripture, the way in which it has been presented masks deeper questions about the origins of the canon and how Christadelphians can know that it is their particular collection of books that can make us “wise enough to have faith in Christ Jesus and be saved” (2 Tim. 3:15).

A Christadelphian New Testament?    

In this section we propose a short and simple thought experiment.  Of course, like any experiment, you will have to draw your own conclusions. Here is the question:  If the earliest church had believed as Christadelphians do–as is supposed–would they have handed down to us the same New Testament we have today? 

It seems plausible to think some of the books would have been selected.  We have never heard any Christadelphians express doubts about the legitimacy of Apostolic authorship as one of the marks of canonicity.  On this basis, we could certainly see the Pauline letters being included, for example. 

However, historically, the basis on which the books of Scripture were identified did not rest solely on Apostolic authorship but also on whether the theology bore witness to the faith of the church.  While this may initially seem exactly backwards – Scripture should be used to define the church’s belief – it is actually aligned with Paul’s own view of the church, which he identifies as the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).  Where our thought experiment gets interesting is when we ask, how would Christadelphians have applied the theology test to the New Testament books?  For example, is it conceivable that Christadelphians – who have no centralized authority – would have universally accepted the gospel of John that, at a minimum, appears to witness to the following:
  • Jesus is the Word, who is God (Jn 1:1)
  • This Word is an agent of Creation (Jn 1:2);
  • This Word is incarnated in flesh (Jn 1:14);
  • Jesus came from the Father’s side which is why he can make the Father known to us (Jn 1:18);
  • Jesus uses the divine name (Jn 8);
  • Jesus speaks of having personally come from Heaven;
  • Jesus teaches the personhood of the Holy Spirit in John 16-17; and
  • Jesus accepts Thomas directly calling him God (Jn. 20:28)
or other writings which include:
  • The song about Jesus' incarnation in Philippians 2;
  • The reference to sinful angels in chains in both the Epistle of Jude and the Second Epistle of Peter;
  • The “spirits of just men made perfect” clearly shown in Heaven (Hebrews 12);
  • The battle of Satan and the Archangel Michael in the Epistle of Jude; and
  • The depiction of the living souls of the martyrs in Revelation 6.
What is the point of this little thought experiment?  It is this: If it seems likely that an early community holding to beliefs and practices similar to the Christadelphians would not have given us the New Testament now universally affirmed, then perhaps it was a very different type of Christian community that did. 

By the book

Before summing up, we want to quickly pursue a closely related point.  Have you ever wondered why God would leave only a book for people to study, hoping that it will lead at least some to salvation?  On its face this seems unjust because individual abilities and aptitudes vary greatly.  Scripture appears to attest to this very fact:  the man Philip taught openly admitted he did not understand Isaiah and needed someone to teach him (Acts 8:31)!  Clearly Scripture alone wasn’t enough for this man.  The Christadelphian emphasis on personal Bible study and resultant culpability seems plainly at odds with Scripture’s own narrative testimony about how people come to learn the gospel.

But the matter is even more unsettling when we realize that estimates of literacy rates in the ancient world sat somewhere around 5%, with that number plummeting in the Middle Ages.  Personal copies of the Bible were not available to the general population (apart from the wealthy) prior to the invention of the printing press circa 1440.  So the whole notion that God has used the Bible alone to call and instruct people seems plausible in 2016, but much less so throughout much of Christian history.  Put more starkly, it is chilling to think that the only means of access to “knowledge concerning God and his purposes” was completely inaccessible to most people throughout history, and for that matter, many people in the developing world today. We must ask, does it really make sense to say that “God is willing that none should perish” (2 Pet. 3:9) yet makes salvation largely inaccessible because the details are locked up in a book that the seeker cannot read or afford? This may not be equivalent to giving a stone to a son who asks for bread (Matt. 7:9), but it does rather seem like putting that bread on the top shelf of the pantry! 

Canon and Church

At the end of the day, we find Christadelphians to be in an unusual position.  They accept a canon shaped by the consensus of the early church, which had lapsed into heresy by the time this consensus was achieved. Moreover, they accept a New Testament canon sealed by Catholic authority – an authority Christadelphians resolutely reject.  Meanwhile, Christadelphians accept the revised Protestant canon of the Old Testament, again handed down by a body of Christians they regard as thoroughly heretical.  The biblical canon used by Christadelphians seems to have a dubious pedigree – and yet certainty about the boundaries of the canon is at the very heart of Christadelphian belief.  It would therefore stand to reason that Christadelphians should have full assurance  that the canon they use contains all inspired books, adding no illegitimate books and lacking no authentic ones.

Perhaps God worked through a corrupt Church to preserve a non-corrupt canon.  But before you accept that idea, we encourage you to ask yourself how you know this to be trueWhat is the basis for such confidence within a context of great apostasy?  Furthermore, on what basis does one pick and choose where God guided the church and where He left the Church to apostatize? Can we reasonably affirm the lesser councils (Rome (382), Hippo (393), Carthage (397, 419)) that affirmed the canon of Scripture to be providentially-guided while denying the ecumenical councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) (which dogmatically defined the doctrine of the Trinity) as the corrupted ‘works of men’?  On the other hand, if the basis is your own reason or study, why then would the canon not be an open question for each Christadelphian to settle for him or herself as a matter of preliminary concern?  Remember:  You cannot define the canon from within the canon.  Therefore, the authority for determining what books belong in the Bible is located beyond the Bible itself.  The key question then for each Christadelphian is “What is the authority I accept for setting the contents of the Bible?”

If your answer is Christian tradition, the Church or some related answer, we consider this an invitation from the Holy Spirit to you to reflect more deeply on the nature of the Church. At the end of day no person, group or church can give what it does not possess.  Christadelphian ecclesias make no claim to special authority or any discernible direct guidance from God. As such they cannot authoritatively affirm or reject the canonicity of the Scriptures to which they hold.  However, if Christ had indeed invested a church with authority–His own authority–through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and therefore could definitively and authoritatively resolve issues over which well-meaning Christians differed, wouldn’t that actually be a tremendous blessing?  Wouldn’t that actually be the very kind of thing you’d hope would be true?  And wouldn’t that go a long way towards explaining how you would know which books were indeed divinely inspired and therefore rightly belong in the canon?  We think that is worth thinking about.

So here is what we came to see:

There appears to be no compelling way to identify the canon of Scripture.  It is possible to make arguments for the inclusion of books, but not to know that the collection of books that comprise the New Testament is complete and without error.  This is because to know what books belong in both the Christian New and Old Testaments is to know something that is outside of the Scriptures themselves, and rests on an external authority.

We came to have serious doubts that if Christadelphians were placed into a historical circumstance in which they had to define the canon of Scripture (rather than inherit it) they would identify the collection of books they currently use.  Taking John as an example:  With its significant differences from the three synoptic gospels would it have been accepted?  It certainly contains passages that appear to affirm the pre-existence and deity of Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, etc.  Indeed, it is said that many have been led astray by these very passages! 

You have to be able to explain why the books are binding on all Christians and who has the authority to bind the canon.  Finally, the answer to these two questions should result in a justified confidence in the perfection of the canon.

If Christadelphians have no definitive way to know what books belongs in the Scriptures, do not claim the divine authority to identify and bind the scriptural table of contents, and would in all probability not identify accepted canonical books as such (e.g., John due to chapter one’s prologue, etc.) how could the early church have looked anything like Christadelphians?  Looking from the other end of history, how could Christadelphians claim to be a restoration of the early church?

A Problem for Protestants?

Some readers may be wondering whether similar arguments could be brought to bear on any Protestant group just as easily as Christadelphians. In short, we believe that the answer to this question is “yes”. Specifically, Catholics claim that because of the deposit of faith granted to her by Christ through the Holy Spirit, the Church is protected from teaching error in matters of faith and morals, which would include the selection of canon. However, we acknowledge that the selection of canon is less problematic for some Protestants than for others.

Specifically, Protestants who consider themselves to be part of a reformationist movement do not distance themselves from the Church Fathers in the same way as those of restorationist traditions. For example, the Anglican Church accepts the first 5 ecumenical councils, and Lutherans maintain many Catholic teachings and practices. In essence, reformationists grant a limited authority to the early church, such as was necessary to provide the content of the New Testament. 6 Reformationists maintain that the Catholic Church drifted into heresy, but that this process was more gradual, and thus the break much later. Thus, the problem of canon is mitigated, though perhaps not eliminated.

By contrast, restorationism–which includes Christadelphiansallow for minimal or no historic continuity with the early church. Rather, it is maintained that the Apostles’ teaching was, at least visibly, lost very early and not re-discovered until much later. As such, no authority is granted to the early church and therefore the problem of canon remains.

Conclusion

These considerations, among others, have led the present authors to embrace as authoritative the early church in both its authority to define canon and key doctrines of the faith. This church claimed to have the authority necessary to define the boundaries of canon with confidence under the assurance of Divine guidance by the Holy Spirit. We believe this provides internally consistent answers to the types of thought experiments that we have considered in this paper. As such, we differ with Christadelphians on a number of issues.  However, were it not so, we still could not in good conscience remain Christadelphians simply because we would not be in an epistemologically sound position to identify the contents of the Bible itself.  We need to know, not simply have arguments for, what books the Bible rightly contains

Having now read this article, what is a person to do?  Unfortunately, most of the time we tend to read Facebook posts, click “Like” or offer a brief comment, and move on without much further thought. However, if nothing else, we hope that we have been able to draw attention to the importance of this topic and its need to be addressed. Here is our advice to you:  consider the possibility that the views expressed on this blog generally are correct, and that this may have implications for your life.  To be honest, we have both lost touch with friends whom we have known for years as a result of our convictions, which is unfortunate. Therefore, do not consider the views presented here lightly, and do not do so alone. Ask a brother or sister you respect about this article or another that troubles you.  Suggest that an article from this blog be the subject of Sunday school or an exhortation.  Be respectful and listen carefully to what is said, but ask yourself if the answers you receive really make sense.  And pray, asking God to show you the fullness of the Christian faith, “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt. 7:8). When the time comes, have the courage to act on your convictions. “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart” (Ps. 95:7-8).

Footnotes

  • 1 Throughout, we will use lower case ‘orthodox’ to denote the teachings of historic Christianity embraced by mainline churches and defined in the classical creeds, such as the Trinity doctrine, and upper case ‘Orthodox’ to denote the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
  • 2 'Church Fathers' is a traditional name for prominent early Christian writers
  • 3 Birmingham Unamended Statement of Faith, article 31, emphasis added.
  • 4 Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, The Foundation, emphasis added.
  • 5 In point of fact, 1 Enoch is affirmed as canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. However, this is the exception that proves the rule.
  • 6 Though it should be noted that for many of the Reformers, the rejection of Church authority did lead to a questioning of canon. Notably, Martin Luther struggled with the canonicity of James based on his sola fide doctrine of justification, referring to it as a 'straw-epistle', though in the end he did accept it as affirming the law of God. Luther moved Hebrews and James to a later position in the order of New Testament books, just before Jude and Revelation, reflecting his lower valuation of these books (as can be seen here).

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Journeys from Christadelphia to orthodoxy: Guest article by Ruth Sutcliffe

This guest article by Ruth Sutcliffe is the first in a series of personal accounts from former Christadelphians who have embraced Christian orthodoxy.1 Ruth was raised as a Christadelphian and was a baptized member of the movement for 26 years before resigning in 2008. She now attends Willows Presbyterian Church. Holding a Master of Veterinary Studies degree (Murdoch University, 2007) and a Master of Divinity degree (Australian Theological College, 2012), Ruth is now enrolled in a PhD programme at Christ College, Sydney with patristic theology as her area of research. Married with two daughters, she resides in Townsville, North Queensland, Australia. Readers interested in a detailed scriptural and historical defence of the beliefs Ruth now holds in common with mainstream Evangelical Christianity, and a critique of Christadelphian theology, may visit her blog, The Trinity Hurdle. Alternatively readers may wish to contact her privately by email.

I was born in 1965, the only child of parents who were first generation committed Christadelphians. I grew up reading the Bible at home and going to Sunday School. Lessons covered Bible heroes and events in the history of Israel. The life and teachings of Jesus featured one year in five, with maybe one or two lessons on his death and resurrection and nothing from the NT epistles. I vaguely understood that when you grew up you got baptised, but baptism, like weddings, seemed very remote. I learnt I should have faith in God, like the Bible heroes did, but nothing about a personal relationship with Jesus. I knew Jesus saved you when you got baptised, but I didn’t understand how. I was taught that the key to understanding salvation was the complex doctrine of God manifestation. The notion of substitutionary atonement, meanwhile, was anathema. I figured that getting into The Kingdom was about believing the Bible and following God’s rules and being good.

Sadly, the ecclesia of my childhood withered almost overnight as its dynamics changed and the families moved away. At this time my Dad suffered a ten year crisis of faith and I became a rebellious adolescent. As an only child, with no close relatives and that peculiar distancing from children “Outside” the exclusive ecclesial community, I had no real friends and no social skills. I still read the Bible, but it was an enjoyable obligation, an acquisition of knowledge for a nerdy child whose sense of self-worth was invested in school work and solo activities. God’s word had no impact on my life in any meaningful way. Then I started attending another Christadelphian Sunday School and youth group and suddenly I had friends! I was the odd one out, a nerd, an awkward loner with, paradoxically, a good Bible knowledge. Incredibly, I was accepted and to this day I thank God for a group of open minded, warm-hearted friends who exerted a positive peer pressure that kept me on the rails.

I so wanted to be like my young Christadelphian friends. This was a great influence on my behaviour and it definitely changed me for the better and I have no doubt God was working through them. Eventually, we reached our late teens and became old enough to learn “First Principles” with the not-so-hidden agenda of preparing for baptism. Of course, that’s what I intended to do, when I knew enough and felt “ready.” You got baptised because the Bible said you had to, to be saved. But you had to know the Truth thoroughly first, as a friend of mine discovered when she “failed” her first baptismal interview. It was then that I really appreciated how different we were, as custodians of the Truth against the “churches” who had gone astray because they didn’t know their Bibles as well as we did, but accepted the teachings of the apostate church. Because I wanted to obey God (I’m not sure that I really loved him, I don’t know that I really understood what that meant) and to be like my adult mentors, I became a vigorous defender of Christadelphian doctrine and an equally vigorous opponent of my mainstream Christian acquaintances’ beliefs. Join a school Christian fellowship group who just wanted to “praise God” and have “fellowship” and not even debate doctrines? No way! How pathetic!  Personal relationship with Jesus? Far too touchy-feely and shallow.

The narrow way to acceptance with God was clearly defined for me, in doctrine and in behaviour, and I was determined to walk it. I was baptised at 17, within a year or two of most of my friends. I remember being frustrated with myself because after the warm feelings and the novelty of being welcomed as “Sister” died down, I felt nothing had really changed. I still sinned, and even though I knew I could now pray to God and ask for forgiveness, it strangely didn’t seem to make much difference to my life. (In line with Christadelphian tradition, I had been taught that the Holy Spirit doesn’t directly work in Christians’ lives today.) So I resolved to work harder at it and squeeze more firmly into the mould. Then I went to University. That wasn’t unheard of, but still a bit left-field for a young Christadelphian woman in the 80s, especially as I actually intended for it to become a career. I continued to keep my distance from Christian Union and anything to do with “the churches” and threw myself wholeheartedly into the Christadelphian youth scene. I brought friends along to Christadelphian youth events and Sunday night lectures occasionally, but couldn’t understand why they held no appeal; these things were my life!

Once I got talking to a young man who told me he was trying to renounce his life of alcohol-fuelled sin and come to know Jesus. I had no idea how to deal with that, but I told him I went to church and he actually wanted to come along. So I brought him, delighted that I was actually “preaching” to someone. It was Sunday morning. He was wearing torn jeans and a tee shirt and had long hair. We were ushered into the cry room because his appearance might cause offence to the older folk. He sang too loudly, raised his arms in praise and said things like, “Amen!” out loud during the exhortation, so someone had a quiet word with him afterwards. He never came back.

This and a few other incidents began to bother me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. We had some spirited discussions, my friends and I, but in the end it was easier to accept the status quo “out of love for our brothers and sisters.” Going anywhere else was never an option for me at this time. I couldn’t understand how anyone could leave “the truth,” and it pained me when some of my acquaintances did. Especially when they joined “other churches.” How could they do that, when those churches’ beliefs were so obviously wrong? Sure, the other churches did a lot of things that I wished we Christadelphians would do, like charitable stuff and welcoming people regardless of how they dressed, and knowing what to actually say to people who were drug addicted or who had sinned sexually and needed help. But it wasn’t right to sacrifice “The Truth” to do any of those things, was it?

One incident stays with me. It was some sort of a “preaching weekend,” in support of a country ecclesia’s “special effort.” We leafleted and held a lecture in a hall and even did some door-knocking. Coincidently, one of the local evangelical churches was also doing some sort of witnessing event and we all came face-to face in a car-park. I talked to the minister, expecting a good old verse-by-verse doctrinal debate, which of course I would win. (May God forgive my arrogance!) Not surprisingly, this minister wasn’t up for it (so I assumed!) but what DID surprise me was that he was mainly concerned to pray for me. Pray for me?! Why did I need anyone to pray for me, especially someone who would be praying directly to Jesus!! (How unscriptural!) He prayed for me then and there, in public, kindly, inoffensively, with an ease and a natural manner that I had rarely heard. Afterward, he just smiled warmly and said, “You’ll be back one day.”
Hah, no way! I thought. But he was right.

I met my future husband, a former nominal Anglican who was interested in attending church regularly. He “came in from Outside” and was baptised. We were married and had two children. We taught them the Bible and took them to Sunday School. We were thoroughly involved in ecclesial life. But for some time God had been working inside my head and heart. I loved my Christadelphian brothers and sisters and I still believed as they did. But because of my career, and our diverse interests outside of the Christadelphian community we were never completely “inside the box” socially. The girls went to a Christian school and we associated with genuinely Christian people. The girls began to ask challenging questions about beliefs. To cut a very long story short, I began to realise that mainstream Christians did not in fact have two heads. That many of them actually read their Bibles at least as much as Christadelphians did. The Christian world had scholars, real Bible scholars whose life’s work was to engage with Scripture and Christian thought. I began to engage with the wider Christian world and its thinking (as, incidentally, did some of my friends at this time). Because I worked shifts, I didn’t always fit into the standard Sunday morning and Wednesday night formula and so finally crossed The Line. I went to other churches occasionally, rather than miss out on Christian assembly altogether. I was exposed to the actual Gospel for the first time.

I cannot say I ever had an Ah-hah moment and just suddenly accepted the doctrine of the Trinity (or other doctrines I’ve now come to accept, such as substitutionary atonement.) But what I did start to seriously appreciate was that these Christians found their beliefs in the reading of Scripture. They were not finding them elsewhere and they were not placing any other authority over Scripture. I had some bad church experiences, yes, with TV-evangelism style “healings” and some pretty shallow teaching. But I began to see that they were not all tarred with the same brush. The real clincher for me though, was absolutely not that they were “nicer” or “kinder” or freer in their style of dress, behaviour or worship, or offered more opportunities for women, or they did more “good works.” Because mainstream churches vary in those respects too, as do Christadelphians. Those are not the issues. Certainly the biblical groundedness of mainstream churches varies. No argument with any of that. Those are not reasons why I began to leave Christadelphia.

The thing that really started me moving away, in a process that took several years and an enormous amount of thought, Bible reading and prayer, was, “Why do we believe what we believe when most others believe something else?” More particularly, how do mainstream Christians find their beliefs in the Bible, while we find completely different doctrines there? Are we really the only ones with The Truth? If that is the case, why do all the other Christians who accept the Bible as God’s infallible inspired word and who earnestly search for truth in its pages, believe something completely different? Would God really have allowed The Truth to remain hidden for nearly 2000 years? Perhaps the answer lay in a review of church history; perhaps there were plenty of Christadelphian-like Protesters through the centuries (there weren’t, actually). This deep dissatisfaction with simplistic responses such as “other people don’t know the Bible as well as us” or “They just don’t read all of the Bible as objectively as us” or “they are still blinded by apostasy and church tradition,” was combined with a growing restlessness to know more of the meat of Scripture. I wanted to learn more about the Bible, about church history, I wanted to learn to read it in its original languages. So I did the obvious thing. I went to Bible College.

I thank God that he led me to a thoroughly Bible-based, welcoming Bible College. They accepted me with a smile and a prayer, heretic as I was. Nobody argued with me, they just asked interested questions and discussed issues. They never coerced me, just pointed to God’s word. They prayed with me. I studied the Bible as I’d never studied it before. Everything was open to prayerful, biblically oriented discussion. I learnt what mainstream Christian doctrine actually taught and why, and found I had never understood correctly what others believed. I learnt what key words and phrases actually meant in the original Greek and it opened up a whole new world of interpretation. I learnt the history of the church and its doctrinal development and what the creeds really meant (as opposed to what I assumed they did). I understood the biblical basis of the doctrines that mattered and the ones that were open to interpretation. I understood how heresies arose. I learnt to view the Bible as a whole, under the overarching movement of the story of salvation in Christ and came to understand his absolute centrality. No more verse-by verse patchwork.

Probably the biggest challenge was the revelation that I had never really understood God’s grace and the assurance it supplied. My mother had always worried that she would not be found “worthy” at the judgement, and almost every Christadelphian with whom I had discussed “assurance” said they couldn’t be sure they’d be in the Kingdom. When I first read about Christadelphians in a book on different sects, one thing stood out. Not all the stuff we didn’t believe, I got that. But the statement that Christadelphians advocated a works based salvation. “No we don’t!” I remember saying adamantly to someone. “The Bible says we are saved by grace not works, and we believe the Bible!” But then it all started coming back to me. Doctrines to be rejected, number 24, “That the Gospel alone will save, without the obedience of Christ’s commandments.” That Christ died as our representative, whom we must emulate in order to please God; he did not take our punishment. That a certain way of life and manner of behaviour was necessary to win God’s love and favour. Snippets of conversation; “If we are found worthy...” “I will do that, I want to be in the kingdom too, you know.” A rejection of the belief in “Jesus is Lord” as adequate for salvation but instead a heaping of burdens grievous to be borne. I now realise that the official Christadelphian view of the atonement does rely on an inadequate works basis, because it is built on an inadequate understanding of the person and sufficient work of Christ. It requires salvation by identification and imitation; it requires faith itself to be a “work” by which we assent to a specific set of beliefs, and it provides no real assurance.

I have no axe to grind. My experiences as a Christadelphian were predominantly positive and I still count a number of them as friends, albeit somewhat estranged by distance. I did not leave the Christadelphians because they offended me, or rejected me, or were too boring, or didn’t let women do stuff in the church, or because I had been led astray from the Bible or just found “a nice church” and wanted to fit in — each of these accusations has been levelled at me. I left the Christadelphians because I discovered that the emperor has no clothes. Their beliefs about things of eternal consequence are wrong and that burdens me, which is why I spent years researching and writing. I discovered what the Bible really teaches about fundamental doctrines and what it means for Christ to be my Lord and Saviour. I left Christadelphia because I studied the Bible and prayed more, not less, and because I was prepared to try to understand others’ beliefs and do the Berean thing. I searched the Scriptures. I prayed that God would show me “the truth of the matter.” And he did. I did what that minister knew God could make happen, but my hard heart could not; I came back.


Footnotes

  • 1 'Orthodoxy' is defined in terms of the classical creeds of Nicea-Constantinople and Chalcedon.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Incipient Trinitarianism in first-century Jewish Christianity: The evidence of the Ascension of Isaiah

The unitarian narrative of early Christian theological development

Three of the pillars upon which the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity rest are the personal pre-existence of Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, and Trinitarian devotion (i.e. worship directed to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). These three ideas (or practices, in the third instance) are not sufficient to construct a Trinitarian view of God, but they certainly represent significant steps in that direction. Hence, in Trinitarian-unitarian debates (such as the online debate between Rob Bowman and Dave Burke a few years back), these three issues inevitably receive substantial attention.

One of the central claims of unitarian apologists in recent years has been that these ideas are fundamentally un-Jewish and thus could only have arisen in circles where the original Jewish context of apostolic teaching had been supplanted by Hellenistic thought. This line of argument comes out clearly from Burke's corner in the debate with Bowman.1 2 Hence, Dave refers in the debate to 'my template in which the Unitarian reading of the NT is Jewish and the Trinitarian reading is Hellenistic'. In similar fashion, Christadelphian writers James Broughton and Peter Southgate, in their book The Trinity: True or False? regard as pivotal to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity 'that Judaism had already become tainted with Greek thought; and it was inevitable that the newly founded Christian Church should be subject to a similar process'.

In addition to the cultural dichotomy between Jewish and Hellenistic thought, unitarian apologists stress a temporal barrier: first-century Christians were purely unitarian and it is only later that ideas such as the pre-existence of Christ and personhood of the Holy Spirit appeared. Broughton and Southgate write, 'So as the first century closes there is no evidence in Christian writing of belief in the personal pre-existence of Jesus, or that he was held to be equal to God or worshipped as God.' They locate the 'first references to Christ's personal pre-existence' during 120-150 A.D. Even more remarkably, their historical timeline of the development of Trinitarian doctrine first mentions the Holy Spirit in 381 A.D.: 'The hitherto unexamined position of the Holy Spirit settled by its inclusion in the co-equal trinity.' Burke, similarly, summarizing his 'historical argument' at the end of his debate with Bowman, states that one can see 'the doctrinal foundations of Trinitarianism in early extra-Biblical Christian writings from the 2nd Century AD' (he seems to regard the Epistle of Barnabas as the first Christian text containing the idea of personal pre-existence).3 Burke does not offer any comment concerning when a personal view of the Holy Spirit began to develop, except that he contrasts what 'first century Christians' thought with what 'later Christians developed... via philosophical speculations'.

So, unitarian apologists have nailed their colours to the mast, positing a sharp contrast between first-century Christians, who operated within a Jewish thought-world, and later Christians, who progressively veered off course due to the influence of Hellenistic philosophical speculation. Now, this 'template', as Burke describes it, becomes a lens through which he reads the New Testament, so that verses which seem to presuppose Christ's personal pre-existence, or a distinct personality for the Holy Spirit, or which mention the Father, Son and Holy Spirit together, must be interpreted through Jewish, i.e. unitarian, lenses.

The question is, what would it mean for the unitarian narrative described above if we could point to a first century Jewish Christian text that unquestionably declares the personal pre-existence of Christ and the personhood of the Holy Spirit and directs worship to God, Christ and the Spirit? In a word, it would explode it. Such evidence would prove that these ideas originated in a first century Jewish milieu and were not the results of second century (or later) Gentile Christian corruption of apostolic teaching. It would provide unitarians with a mandate to revisit the New Testament with new religion-historical possibilities in mind.

It may surprise the reader to learn that just such a text exists, namely, the Ascension of Isaiah. 

The Ascension of Isaiah: introductory issues

What is the Ascension of Isaiah? As Gieschen succinctly states:
The Ascension of Isaiah is a Jewish Christian apocalypse written from the perspective of the biblical prophet Isaiah in order to give expression to an angelomorphic Christology which is experienced through mystical ascent.4
Rowland5 and Knight6 also describe the work as a Jewish Christian apocalypse. Alexander states that 'This early Christian apocalyptic text draws on Jewish haggadic traditions'7 Gonzalez observes that 'The very close affinities between the Ascension of Isaiah with Jewish apocalyptic texts are undeniable.'8

Hall, after highlighting some Christological parallels between the Ascension of Isaiah and other ancient Jewish works, remarks:
Such references, too disconnected to establish that ancient Judaism knew a figure analogous to the Beloved, nevertheless adequately establish that the entire Vision can be read as a Jewish work; some ancient Jews understood Jesus in Jewish categories. The author of the Vision of Isaiah is no less Jewish than the authors of 11QMelch, the Prayer of Joseph, or the Similitudes of Enoch; the Vision of Isaiah is as Jewish as these other books.9
Hence, the Jewishness of this document is not in doubt. Where was this document written? According to Knight, 'The generally accepted provenance is Syria, and so presumably Antioch'.10 Antioch, as we know from Acts, was no backwater but had become 'a center of apostolic mission beside Jerusalem'11

The unity of the work has been much debated in the past, but a consensus has emerged over the past three decades: the 'dominant scholarly view' is that there are two parts to the Ascension of Isaiah, with chapters 6-11 written first and chapters 1-5 added later.12 Concerning date of composition, Knight summarizes the scholarly consensus:
the date of the apocalypse is now agreed within relatively close parameters. This consensus was reinforced at the very welcome conference which Tobias Nicklas organized in Regensburg in March 2013. The dominant view is that the apocalypse contains some first-century material, and that this first-century element is given by the substance of chs. 6-11. It is disputed whether the material in chs. 1-5 comes from the first or the second century CE, the greater weight of scholarship preferring the second century.13
In an earlier work, Knight states that this apocalypse 'by universal consent contains first-century elements'.14 Hence, we can affirm with overwhelming scholarly backing that at least chapters 6-11 of the Ascension of Isaiah consist substantially of first century Jewish Christian material. We can also note that within this early setting, the Ascension of Isaiah at least claims that its Christological teachings are apostolic.15

One further background observation should be made. Bauckham states, 'There are few signs that Ascension of Isaiah is dependent on any New Testament writings'.16 This means that the Christology of the Ascension of Isaiah probably does not represent a (mis)interpretation of apparent pre-existence passages in the New Testament. Rather, this document represents an independent witness to first century Christian theology against which the New Testament writings may be compared.17

The pre-existence of Christ in the Ascension of Isaiah

Both sections of the Ascension of Isaiah (chapters 1-5 and chapters 6-11) teach Christ's personal pre-existence. The reader is invited to read the following excerpts taken from Knibb's translation:18
For Beliar was very angry with Isaiah because of the vision, and because of the exposure with which he had exposed Sammael, and that through him there had been revealed the coming of the Beloved from the seventh heaven, and his transformation, and his descent, and the form into which he must be transformed, (namely) the form of a man, and the persecution with which he would be persecuted, and the torments with which the children of Israel must torment him, and the coming of the twelve disciples, and the teaching, and that before the sabbath he must be crucified on a tree, and be crucified with wicked men and that he would be buried in a grave, and the twelve who (were) with him would be offended at him; and the guards who would guard the grave; and the descent of the angel of the church which is in the heavens, whom he will summon in the last days; and that the angel of the Holy Spirit and Michael, the chief of the holy angels, will open his grave on the third day, and that Beloved, sitting on their shoulders, will come forth and send out his twelve disciples, and they will teach all nations and every tongue the resurrection of the Beloved, and those who believe in his cross will be saved, and in his ascension to the seventh heaven from where he came; and that many who believe in him will speak through the Holy Spirit, and there will be many signs and miracles in those days. (AscenIs 2.13-20)
And I heard the voice of the Most High, the Father of my LORD, as he said to my LORD Christ, who will be called Jesus, "Go out and descend through all the heavens. You shall descend through the firmament and through that world as far as the angel who (is) in Sheol, but you shall not go as far as Perdition. And you shall make your likeness like that of all who (are) in the five heavens, and you shall take care to make your form like that of the angels of the firmament and also (like that) of the angels who (are) in Sheol. And none of the angels of that world shall know that you (are) LORD with me of the seven heavens and of their angels. And they shall not know that you (are) with me when with the voice of the heavens I summon you, and their angels and their lights, and when I lift up (my voice) to the sixth heaven, that you may judge and destroy the princes and the angels and the gods of that world, and the world which is ruled by them, for they have denied me and said, 'We alone are, and there is no one besides us.' And afterwards you shall ascend from the gods of death to your place, and you shall not be transformed in each of the heavens, but in glory you shall ascend and sit at my right hand, and then the princes and the powers of that world will worship you. This command I heard the Great Glory giving to my LORD. (AscenIs 10.7-16)
AscenIs 10.17-31 then describes narrates the seer's vision of Christ's actual descent through the heavens; this is followed by an account of the virgin birth in chapter 11.19

Recent scholarship has described the Christology of the Ascension of Isaiah as angelomorphic.20 Gieschen defines what is meant by angelomorphic Christology:
ANGELOMORPHIC CHRISTOLOGY is the identification of Christ with angelic form and functions, either before or after the incarnation, whether or not he is specifically identified as an angel21 
Gieschen distinguishes angelomorphic Christology from angel Christology and specifically cautions, following Rowland, that 'angelic form, function, or terminology does not of necessity imply created ontology'.22

Knight argues that the religion-historical background to the Ascension of Isaiah's Christology is Jewish angelology, and that this text shows that 'it cannot be true to say that Jewish angelology contributed nothing or little to the earliest development of Christology',23 which specifically counters a premise of James D.G. Dunn's Christology in the Making. At the end of his paper, Knight briefly points out affinities between the Ascension of Isaiah and Phil. 2:6-11, wondering whether 'Jewish angelology might have influenced this strand in Pauline Christology'.24 He further calls for further research into 'the possibility of an intellectual connection between the Ascen. Isa. and Johannine Christology and the possibility of a wide-ranging angelomorphic understanding in the earliest Christianity.'25

As a side note on the Christology of the Ascension of Isaiah, it was previously commonly assumed that it was docetic, because of statements like 'they will think that he is flesh and a man' (AscenIs 9.14) and the odd account of the virgin birth in which Mary appears to find the infant Jesus rather than giving birth to him (AscenIs 11.1-16). However, recent studies by Hannah and Knight have challenged this interpretation. Hannah concludes that 'the Christology offered by the Ascension of Isaiah is not in any way docetic' and that 'the author's orthodox contemporaries would not have found his work objectionable, at least not on docetic grounds.'26 Knight concludes that the Christology of the Ascension of Isaiah is, if anything, anti-docetic.27 

The personhood of the Holy Spirit in the Ascension of Isaiah

In the Ascension of Isaiah, one encounters 'the consistent designation for the Holy Spirit as an "angel of the (Holy) Spirit"', reflecting 'an "angel pneumatology" in which the Holy Spirit is analogous, yet superior, to all the other angels.'28 This designation (similar to that which occurs in the Shepherd of Hermas) makes it obvious that the Holy Spirit is conceived of as a person. If that were not enough, the angel of the Holy Spirit receives worship (9.36), worships God (9.40), and sits on the throne at God's left hand (11.33).

Trinitarian devotion in the Ascension of Isaiah

Important to understanding the pneumatology of the Ascension of Isaiah is that, while the Holy Spirit is called an angel and is worshipped, no other angel receives worship. Indeed, angels refuse worship as they do in the Apocalypse of John: 'Whereas the seer is forbidden to worship other angels, in the seventh heaven the angel guide instructs him to worship the "angel of the Holy Spirit" (9:36).'29 Even concerning Michael, who seems to be on par with the angel of the Holy Spirit in AscenIs 3.15-17 (the risen Christ emerges seated on their shoulders), 'it remains that the Holy Spirit is superior, as nowhere is Michael said to be worshiped'.30

In the vision, Isaiah is commanded to worship Christ and the Holy Spirit in turn. He then observes Christ and the Holy Spirit worship the Great Glory, i.e. God. Hence, in the Ascension of Isaiah, 'three separate beings are rendered worship'31: God, the Beloved (Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Moreover, at the conclusion of the vision, Isaiah sees Christ sit down at the right hand of the Great Glory, while the Holy Spirit is seated on the left. Hence all three members of the 'Trinity' are depicted together on a throne. Stuckenbruck states:
Ascension of Isaiah constitutes our earliest evidence or worship being rendered to the Holy Spirit alongside Christ and God. From the above analysis it seems that this 'Trinitarian devotion' is a Christian development. While the function of the Holy Spirit reflects a development from ideas contained in the Jewish scriptures and angelological traditions, the worship of ‘the angel of the Holy Spirit’ is in the Ascension of Isaiah an extension of binitarian devotion which was so characteristic of Christian faith.32
This is not to suggest that the Ascension of Isaiah depicts a mature Trinitarian orthodoxy. Stuckenbruck stresses that the writer 'regarded Christ as superior to the Spirit'.33 Even more significantly, 'In the Ascension of Isaiah the unique position of God is undisputed.'34 Gieschen emphasizes the 'clear distinction between the two angelomorphic figures and the Great Glory: the former are subordinate to the latter'.35 Hence, there is evidently a hierarchy of persons: God - Christ - Spirit (cf. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 13.3).36 Nevertheless, as Fatehi states:
Though the Spirit and the Lord Christ are clearly portrayed as inferior and subordinate to the Most high God, it is also clear that they are put on the side of God in contrast to all the other glorious angels. So one should understand the writer's portrait of the Spirit in Trinitarian terms.37
The hierarchy of persons, therefore, hardly diminishes the striking character of Trinitarian devotion found in this first century Jewish Christian text. It would surely have offended non-Christian Jews:
Non-Christian Jews would no doubt have considered Isaiah’s vision a breach of monotheism, as three separate beings are rendered worship; ‘three powers’ in heaven would simply have been too much! The author of the vision, however, drew on and elaborated Jewish cosmological tradition in order to substantiate the claim that, despite appearances, his understanding of Christian faith is very monotheistic after all.38
Conclusion

We have briefly considered certain aspects of the theology of the Ascension of Isaiah, which by scholarly consensus is a Jewish Christian apocalypse, the last six chapters of which dates to the late first century A.D. Within these chapters we have encountered clear evidence for (a) the pre-existence of Christ, (b) the personhood of the Holy Spirit, and (c) Trinitarian devotion, i.e. worship offered to God, Christ and the Holy Spirit that may not be offered to any other transcendent being.

The importance of these findings for the Trinitarian-unitarian debate is not that the theology of the Ascension of Isaiah should be considered normative as though it were a lost piece of the New Testament. Rather, the importance lies in the area of history of religions. Any reconstruction of early Christian theology presupposing that the pre-existence of Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, and Trinitarian devotion could not have arisen in a first century Jewish setting is shown to be flawed. These ideas unequivocally did originate within that very setting and not within a later Gentile Christian context. These ideas were seemingly contemporaneous with the time of composition of the later writings of the New Testament (e.g. Gospel and Letters of John, Epistle to the Hebrews, Revelation, Pastoral Epistles?) and thus provide valuable background for interpreting, for instance, apparent references to Christ's pre-existence in those documents. In short, the evidence of the Ascension of Isaiah demands a paradigm shift in the way we approach the New Testament.

Footnotes

  • 1 Concerning the Holy Spirit, Burke writes, 'The mainstream Trinitarian doctrine of the Holy Spirit bears no relation to the OT Jewish perspective which informed the NT understanding, because the mainstream doctrine is not derived from a Jewish context but a Hellenic one. First-century Christians found no need to elaborate upon their doctrine of the Spirit, and could speak of it in the same language that their forebears had used. Later Christians developed their doctrine of the Spirit via philosophical speculations predicated upon the same Hellenic ideas of essence and consubstantiality which had led so many of them to conclude that Jesus is God. Which position is more likely to be correct?'
  • 2 Burke quotes approvingly from Dewick in order to distinguish the concept of predestination, a Jewish idea, from pre-existence, a Greek idea. Elsewhere (not in the debate), Dave writes concerning Johannine Christology, 'The only way to reconcile the strict “Jewishness” of John’s gospel with his (apparent) references to Christ’s pre-existence, is to accept his words in the context of Jewish thought (as opposed to Greek philosophy) and realise that he speaks of a pre-destined Messiah, rather than the “Eternal Son” of modern Trinitarianism.'
  • 3 Burke continues: 'We saw that the heretical and apocryphal Epistle of Barnabas contains the very first example of Genesis 1:26 being used as a proof text for the pre-existence of Christ. This verse was not used by Jesus, his apostles, or the earliest post-Biblical Christians such as Polycarp, Clement of Rome and Ignatius.' As a side note, this is an odd statement, for several reasons. First, it makes it sound as though 'Genesis 1:26 being used as a proof text for the pre-existence of Christ' is the only kind of evidence that could qualify as doctrinal foundations of Trinitarianism. I don't think Dave is trying to say that, but still, odd. Second, the reference in the Epistle of Barnabas is, to my knowledge, the earliest direct quotation of Genesis 1:26 in Christian literature, so surely nothing can be made of it being the earliest use of this text as a proof text for Christ's pre-existence! Third, that Dave can build an argument from silence out of other writers' failure to use this specific text demonstrates only his unusual affinity for arguments from silence.
  • 4 Gieschen, Charles A. (1998). Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence. Leiden: Brill, p. 229.
  • 5 'the Jewish-Christian apocalypse the Ascension of Isaiah' (Rowland, Christopher. (1992). The Parting of the Ways: the Evidence of Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic and Mystical Material. In James D.G. Dunn (Ed.), Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135 (pp. 213-238). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 234.)
  • 6 Knight, Jonathan M. (1995). The Ascension of Isaiah. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, p. 9.
  • 7 Alexander, Loveday. (2010). Prophets and Martyrs as Exemplars of Faith. In R. Bauckham, D. Driver & T. Hart (Eds.), The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (pp. 423-439). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 430
  • 8 Gonzalez, Eliezer. (2014). The Fate of the Dead in Early Third Century North African Christianity. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 183.
  • 9 Hall, Robert G. (1994). Isaiah's Ascent to See the Beloved: An Ancient Jewish Source for the Ascension of Isaiah. Journal of Biblical Literature, 113(3), 463-484. Here p. 470.
  • 10 Knight, Jonathan M. (2013). The Political Issue of the Ascension of Isaiah: A Response to Enrico Norelli. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 35(4), 355-379. Here p. 358.
  • 11 Löning, Karl. (1987/1993). The Circle of Stephen and Its Mission. In Jürgen Becker, Ed., Christian Beginnings: Word and Community from Jesus to Post-Apostolic Times (pp. 103-131). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 121.
  • 12 Knight, Jonathan M. (2015). The Christology of the Ascension of Isaiah: Docetic or Polymorphic? In J. Knight & K. Sullivan (Eds.), The Open Mind: Essays in Honour of Christopher Rowland (pp. 144-164). London: Bloomsbury, p. 154.
  • 13 op. cit., p. 155.
  • 14 Knight, Jonathan M. (2012). The Origin and Significance of the Angelomorphic Christology in the Ascension of Isaiah. Journal of Theological Studies, 63(1), 66-105. Here p. 70.
  • 15 Hall stresses that 'Asc. Is. 3:13-20 summarizes the doctrine of the descent and ascent and establishes it as the doctrine of the apostles. Asc. Is. 3:21-31 attacks those who reject this doctrine of the apostles (3:21) - that is, the vision of he descent and ascent of the Beloved ascribed to Isaiah (3:31).' (Hall, Robert G. (1990). The Ascension of Isaiah: Community Situation, Date, and Place in Early Christianity. Journal of Biblical Literature, 109(2), 289-306. Here p. 291.)
  • 16 Bauckham, Richard. (1981). The Worship of Jesus in Apocalyptic Christianity. New Testament Studies, 27(3), 322-341. Here p. 336 n. 6. The only suggestion for literary dependence he makes is that AscenIs 11.2-17 (Ethiopic version only) 'seems dependent' on Matthew's birth narrative.
  • 17 Other comments on the literary relationship between the Ascension of Isaiah and the New Testament writings include the following. Massaux notes 'the very great fidelity in the Christian parts of the Ascension of Isaiah to ideas and themes already present in the New Testament writings' and asserts its 'very probable dependence' on Matthew, while stressing that 'the absence of the original text does not allow us to affirm a definite literary dependence'. (Massaux, Edouard. (1950/1990). The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature before Saint Irenaeus, Vol. 2. Leuven: Peeters, p. 62.) Bauckham states, 'It is highly unlikely that the Ascension of Isaiah is dependent on the Apocalypse or vice versa, but the coincidence of ideas is striking. Both forbid worship of angels on the grounds that only God (in the seventh heaven) may be worshipped and that angels are not the seer's superiors but his fellow-servants.' (Bauckham, Richard. (1993). Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation. London: Bloomsbury, p. 121). Nicklas cautions, 'it is not possible to state with certainty whether the Ascension of Isaiah is literarily dependent on the Gospel of Matthew.' (Nicklas, Tobias. (2015). 'Drink the Cup which I promised you!' (Apocalypse of Peter 14.4): Peter's Death and the End of Times. In Kevin Sullivan & Jonathan Knight (Eds.), The Open Mind: Essays in Honour of Christopher Rowland (pp. 183-200). London: Bloomsbury, p. 194). Lindgård states that the Ascension of Isaiah 'is probably not dependent on Paul.' (Lindgård, Fredrik. (2005). Paul's Line of Thought in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 134 n. 105.)
  • 18 Knibb, Michael A. (1983/2011). Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah. In James H. Charlesworth (Ed.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 2 (pp. 143-176). Peabody: Hendrickson. OTP Vol. 2, Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, pp. 156-176
  • 19 For other pre-existence texts, see AscenIs 1.7, 1.13, 8.25, 9.3-6, 9.12-15.
  • 20 E.g. Gieschen, op. cit.; Knight, 2012, op. cit.
  • 21 Gieschen, op. cit., p. 28.
  • 22 ibid.
  • 23 Knight, 2012, op. cit., p. 104.
  • 24 ibid.
  • 25 op. cit., p. 105.
  • 26 Hannah, Darrell D. (1999). The Ascension of Isaiah and Docetic Christology. Vigiliae Christianae, 53(2), 165-196. Here p. 195.
  • 27 'The present study has argued that the long-held assumption of a docetic Christology in the Ascen. Isa. will have to be revised on the grounds that this is not an accurate reflection of its contents. The text insists that Jesus really died, leaving open to question the manner of his earthly appearance but insisting nonetheless that the humanity is real. The Christology is, if anything, more obviously anti-docetic than docetic in terms of what it says about the passion in 3.13, 18 and 11.19-20.' (Knight, 2015, op. cit., p. 163.)
  • 28 Stuckenbruck, L.T. (1999). Worship and Monotheism in the Ascension of Isaiah. In C.C. Newman, J.R. Davila, & G.S. Lewis (Eds.), The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus (pp. 70-89). Leiden: Brill, p. 78.
  • 29 op. cit., p. 78; similarly Fatehi: 'One should note that the angel of the Holy Spirit in Ascension of Isaiah is not an ordinary angel. While Isaiah is strictly forbidden from worshipping angels, he is encouraged, in fact commanded, to worship the angel of the Holy Spirit' (Fatehi, Mehrdad. (2000). The Spirit's Relation to the Risen Lord in Paul: An Examination of Its Christological Implications. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 137). Cf. Bauckham, 1993, op. cit.
  • 30 Stuckenbruck, op. cit., p. 80.
  • 31 op. cit., p. 89.
  • 32 op. cit., p. 82. Similarly, Bauckham remarks, 'The worship which is prohibited in the case of angels is commanded in the case of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The carefully structured form of the account of the trinitarian worship in the seventh heaven should be noticed.' (1983, op. cit., p. 333.) Again, Knight says that the 'vision of the three divine beings' stands 'at the heart of the apocalypse' (2013, op. cit., p. 367.)
  • 33 ibid.
  • 34 op. cit., p. 73.
  • 35 Gieschen, op. cit., p. 235.
  • 36 'And we will demonstrate that we rationally worship the one who became the teacher of these things to us, and who was born for this, Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judaea at the time of Tiberius Caesar. For we have learnt that he is the son of the true God, and we hold him in second place, with the prophetic Spirit in the third rank.' (Minns, Denis and Parvis, Paul. (2009). Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: Apologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 111, trans.)
  • 37 Fatehi, op. cit., p. 137.
  • 38 Stuckenbruck, op. cit., p. 89.