Month: October 2009

Law given through angels

Another entry in the list of extra-biblical traditions in the New Testament.

“Who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” – Acts 7:53

“And He said to the angel of the presence: Write for Moses from the beginning of creation till My sanctuary has been built among them for all eternity.” – Book of Jubilees 1:27-28

As with the previous verses from St. Stephen’s speech, the relationship here is probably not one of direct reliance but of a common root source in Jewish oral tradition. The verse here from Jubilees, though, is the first written source we have for the claim that the law (that is, the Torah, or first five books of the Old Testament, which were written by the Prophet Moses) was given through angels. St. Paul makes the same claim, probably drawing on the same Jewish oral tradition, in Galatians 3:19.

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Moses finds his calling at 80

One more extra-biblical tradition in the New Testament.

“After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai.” – Acts 7:30

“And in the sixth year of the third week of the forty-ninth jubilee thou didst depart and dwell in the land of Midian, five weeks and one year. And thou didst return into Egypt in the second week in the second year in the fiftieth jubilee. And thou thyself knowest what He spake unto thee on Mount Sinai.” – Book of Jubilees 48:1-2

The situation here is much like that in Acts 7:23 previously. The Scriptural account (Exodus 3:1-10) does not provide us with an amount of time that the Prophet Moses spent in Midian; St. Stephen uses Jewish oral tradition, as reflected in Jubilees, to fill in the blanks. Interestingly, both St. Stephen and Jubilees, probably both following the same Jewish rabbinic tradition, have divided the life of the Prophet Moses into three 40-year periods: the first in Egypt as Pharaoh’s daughter’s son; the second in Midian more or less as a fugitive; and the third as a Prophet leading his people out of captivity, through the desert, and into the promised land. This harmonizes perfectly with Scripture’s confirmation that Moses was 120 years old when he died (Deuteronomy 34:7).

Sola Scriptura debate: second rebuttal

Rhology quotes from Psalm119 about God’s “word,” “commandments,” and “precepts.” His quotations do nothing to negate my claim that David is speaking glowingly about Scripture but nowhere indicating a belief in Sola Scriptura. In addition, Rhology is assuming what he wants to prove, namely, that David’s references here refer only to the written words of God.

Rhology dismisses the numerous extra-biblical references in the NT. I agree with him that these references show only that certain extra-biblical traditions were approved of, but they also show that the NT authors were not Sola Scripturists. They handled extra-biblical tradition in the same way Orthodox continue to; they, as with Orthodox today, accepted those extra-biblical traditions that were trustworthy and consonant with Scripture, and rejected those that were not.

Rhology misunderstands Christ’s word in Mark7, confusing the issue here as being one of oral versus written, while it is a conflict between the “commandments of God” and the “traditions of men;” Rhology has yet to prove that all “commandments of God” are written and has already admitted that not all traditions are “traditions of men.”

In response to my presentation of the fact that Christ celebrated Hannukah, which Rhology must admit is an extra-biblical tradition, he dismissively says “so what,” refusing to draw the logical conclusions. In 1Corinthians11:1 Paul tells us: “imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” As we have seen, both Christ and Paul observe and believe in a great many extra-biblical traditions. Why, then, does Rhology refuse to follow extra-biblical traditions of a like nature to Hannukah, such as feasts of the Church calendar? Where does Rhology derive his right to refuse to imitate Christ and Paul and do away with observing extra-biblical traditions that don’t conflict with Scripture?

Rhology also questions my comments on 2Timothy3, saying that I have “shoehorned” Tradition into it. Rhology’s claim that “it is perfectly likely that ‘in the things you have learned and been assured of’ is encompassed entirely in the NT” is so weak as to hardly merit a response. He claims that “apostolic and authoritative oral tradition that was theopneustos and necessary for the church unto perpetuity became enscripturated.” What evidence does Rhology present to back up these statements? Absolutely none; Rhology seems not have observed his own advice to avoid unsupported dogmatic statements. Rhology is essentially trying to set up his own extra-biblical tradition, in this case one that is most certainly a “tradition of men.” The Orthodox, on the other hand, “take all of what Scripture says and … submit [our] doctrine to it.” We don’t try to add to the text or make up answers to questions that don’t exist.

He claims that I have “assume[d]” 2 Thessalonians 2:15 refers to oral traditions, but it is he who is making the assumptions. Where in Scripture does it indicate that all apostolic oral tradition was eventually written down in the NT? Nowhere; the NT itself assumes the exact opposite. If everything was eventually to be written down, Paul must have been very foolish to dangerously commend us to oral traditions here. Rhology’s problem is with the Bible, not with me.

Rhology then mischaracterizes my statements about his quote of Athanasius. Rhology has proven apt during this debate at mischaracterizing the positions of Scripture, the Fathers, and now even me! He claims that I attempted to disown this statement by Athanasius and claimed it wasn’t part of Holy Tradition; my words were the exact opposite! “Let the reader judge,” as Rhology says. In fact, I challenge Rhology to find any Orthodox writer or Church Father who wrote against Athanasius’ statements here.

Rhology continues to misunderstand what Athanasius was saying; perhaps he should start reading the Fathers for himself and not rely on James White to do so for him. Rhology asserts that either Athanasius was a Sola Scripturist or he was inconsistent. As the first option is anachronistic, it can be automatically discounted; Athanasius’ statement has never been understood this way until James White & Co. decided to try to shoehorn this statement into their own presupposed worldview. The second option makes no sense considering that the two apparently contradictory sentences by Athanasius occur one after the other in the same writing! The obvious third option, which Rhology is loathe to admit, is that Rhology is misunderstanding Athanasius as he tries to shoehorn the Fathers into his own preconceived notions. I have posted a link to a webpage containing the entire writing which Rhology proof-texted from in the comment repository for this debate; I encourage all to read it for themselves.

Rhology continues to claim that groups like Mormons and JWs have as much claim to being the true Church as the Orthodox. To adapt his statements on Scripture in answer to why we reject these groups, and Protestantism as a whole: We believe the Orthodox Church over other “churches” for lots of reasons, not least of which is that the ones he cited claim to be revivals of or supplements to the early Church, yet contradict it (and its Scripture) at key points, thus proving inconsistent and untrustworthy.

Now I’ll address the points which Rhology claims I’ve left unaddressed; I’ve numbered them here for easier reference.

1. Absolutely nothing; but Rhology has yet to provide evidence for his claim that everything God ever said that’s worthwhile is contained in Scripture. We’ve already covered that the majority of times the phrase “word of God” is used even within Scripture itself it refers to oral communication.

2. My exegesis of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 still stands; I’m not going to read things into it that aren’t there or try to interpret it away.

3. What else might the man of God need that teachers, prophets, apostles, evangelists, and pastors can’t provide from the list I made of their provisions in Ephesians 4:11-13?

4. How does Rhology “define how we know what is good [Scripture] and bad [scripture] without a circular, question-begging appeal to the Church”? In the end, we’re both relying on the Church to make the decision about what is and isn’t the word of God.

I’ll point out here that I’ve asked this question several times and Rhology has consistently refused to answer. The fact is that we need an organization (and that’s what Christ gave us, according to Scripture, in the Church) that can make authoritative decisions whenever any communication, written or oral, claims to come from God. Rhology’s understanding of the nature of the Church is so different from that of Scripture and the Fathers, though, as to be completely unrecognizable to either (and completely lacking in fulfillment of any of Christ’s promises to or expectations of said Church).

5. I don’t have to “prove” anything here; the word “or” between “word of mouth” and “our epistle” does that for me.

6. Rhology’s citation of 1Corinthians11:18-19 is more damning for him than for me. Paul here assumes a visible unity which faces occasional division (“that those who are approved may become evident”); sounds a lot like the Orthodox Church. His claimed “spiritual unity” amongst Protestants is so vague and impractical as to be meaningless.

[word count: 1185]

Click here to go to the comment thread for the debate.

Click here to read past entries in the debate.

Moses has a mid-life crisis

Today’s extra-biblical tradition in the New Testament.

“Now when he [Moses] was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.” – Acts 7:23

“And afterwards, when thou wast grown up, they brought thee unto the daughter of Pharaoh, and thou didst become her son, and Amram thy father taught thee writing, and after thou hadst completed three weeks they brought thee into the royal court. And thou wast three weeks of years at court until the time when thou didst go forth from the royal court and didst see an Egyptian smiting thy friend who was of the children of Israel, and thou didst slay him and hide him in the sand.” – Book of Jubilees 47:9-11

The Scriptural account of the Prophet Moses visiting his people and killing the Egyptian to protect one of them (Exodus 2:11-15) states that it happened only when Moses “was grown,” not giving an exact age. Jubilees tells us that it happened after two sets of “three weeks of years” (1 week = 7 days; 7 x 3 = 21; 21 x 2 = 42), indicating that he was 42 years old. St. Stephen (via St. Luke) tells us in the verse quoted above that Moses was 40. There’s a number of reasons why it’s unlikely that St. Stephen was referencing Jubilees itself here (including the two year discrepancy in ages given), but what can be deduced (as with Acts 7:16 above and Acts 7:30 below, all from St. Stephen’s speech) is that both St. Stephen and Jubilees are drawing on a common Jewish oral tradition. And, for our purposes here, all that matters is that it is an extra-biblical tradition.

Jacob’s tomb

Another extra-biblical tradition cited in the New Testament.

“And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.” – Acts 7:16

“And the children of Israel brought forth all the bones of the children of Jacob save the bones of Joseph, and they buried them in the field in the double cave in the mountain [Machpelah – the burial place of Jacob according to Genesis 50:13].” – Book of Jubilees 46:9-10

There’s a couple of discrepancies between the accounts here. The first discrepancy is between the Biblical accounts. According to Genesis 33:19 and Joshua 24:32, Jacob bought this plot of land; St. Stephen says in his speech here, though, that Abraham bought it. Those who hold to an absolutist version of inerrancy have tried to come up with many ways to reconcile the accounts, such as positing that Abraham bought it and then Jacob rebought it again later, but none of them are satisfactory explanations. The most obvious explanation, but one which Sola Scripturists can’t abide, is that either St. Stephen made a mistake in his speech or St. Luke made a mistake in his recounting of the speech.

The second discrepancy is between Jubilees and the Biblical account. Whereas Jubilees asserts that the bones of all of the children of Jacob except Joseph were brought here to be buried, the Biblical account in Joshua 24:32 records that only Joseph’s bones were brought up to be buried. Be that as it may, what we do know is that this verse in Jubilees is the earliest written record we have of the tradition that the bones of the children of Jacob were buried at Shechem; as I said, the Biblical account mentions only Joseph’s bones and those of no one else. Whether this tradition came to St. Stephen through Jubilees or through oral tradition or some other means, we’ll probably never know; what’s important for our purposes here, though, is that he was drawing on an extra-biblical tradition of some kind.

Jewish tradition to this day attests to the fact that the children of the Prophet Jacob are buried at Machpelah beside their father. St. Jerome, living in Palestine in the late 4th century, wrote that he had seen the tombs himself.

Let’s take a look at a little wider context of this verse to see if St. Stephen recounts the fact of the burials any differently than he recounts other events which are recorded in Scripture:

“Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people. So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers. And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt till another king arose who did not know Joseph. This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live. At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months. But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son.” – Acts 17:14-21

Neither St. Stephen nor St. Luke treat the recounting of this extra-biblical tradition any differently than they treat that of those events which they recount that are contained in Scripture.

Ethiopian Patriarch on Faith in Africa

Like most articles from Zenit, the translation is faulty, but the Abuna’s beautiful message shines through.

Ethiopian Patriarch on Faith in Africa

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 6, 2009 (Zenit.org). – Here is the address Patriarch Abuna Paulus of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church gave today at the Third General Congregation of the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Benedict XVI invited the patriarch as a special guest to address the assembly.

* * *

In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit One God, Amen!

Dear participants of this great congress of Cardinals and Bishops.

I feel honored and privileged to be invited to this grand Synod and deliver a brief speech about Africa and Churches in this continent. I am especially grateful to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, who wanted me among you today and who personally witnessed to me his love for Africa and his respect for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, during our last fraternal meeting here in Rome last June.

Africa is the second largest continent. It is home to all kinds of people with a great variety of colors who live in harmony and equality.

This spectrum of colors is a gift from God to Africa and it adds beauty to the continent. It is furthermore the proof that Africa is a continent where all kinds of people live in equality regardless of difference in color and race. Anthropologists, philosophers, and academicians confirmed that Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular is indeed the cradle of mankind. And the Holy Bible confirms this profound conviction. History, according to the Ethiopian calendar starts from Adam and Noah. That is to say that for the Ethiopians the beginning of mankind, our present and our future is marked today and forever by God and His salvation.

Africa, whose people’s ancient dignity is written in the stones of the Axum obelisk, Egyptian pyramids, of monuments as well as manuscripts, was not only a source of civilization. According to the Holy Bible, Africa was also a refuge for people who were hit by hunger: this is the case of the Jews at the time of Jacob when they spent seven years in Egypt.

The Holy Bible states that the Jews and the prophet Jeremiah who suffered a lot from the aggression of the Babylonians were saved in Ethiopia and Egypt. People who were living in Middle Eastern parts of the world had been relieved from their hunger in Ethiopia and Egypt.

Jesus Christ Himself and Saint Mary were welcomed in Egypt, while fleeing the cruel threat of Herod. It is clear that Africans do care for humanity!

Africa remains a religious continent whose people have believed in the Almighty God for centuries. Queen Sheba had taught her compatriots about the Old Testament which she learnt from Israel. Since then, The Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia, in the city of Axum.

The son of queen Sheba, Manlike I, had followed her example and managed to bring the Ark of the Covenant of Moses to Africa, Ethiopia.

The history of the Ethiopian eunuch and the strong, well-organized Law of Moses, and the religious practices and cultures in depth that exist in Ethiopia indicate that the Law of Moses used to be practiced in Ethiopia better than that of in Israel. Still this can be witnessed by studying culture and living style of Ethiopians.

It is in Alexandria, Egypt, where the Holy Bible was translated into non-Hebrew languages. These African translations are known as the “Translation of the Seventy Scholars” (‘Sebeka Likawunt’).

Holy Scripture indicates that like the ancient times in the Old Testament, Africans have the custom of worshiping by the law of conscience in the New Testament period.

The then Ethiopian king of kings, emperor Bazen, was one of the kings who went to Bethlehem to worship the child Jesus.

The Gospel tells us that it was an African, a man from Libya, named Simon of Cyrene took upon himself the Cross of Jesus as He was going to Golgotha.

And behold, an Ethiopian eunuch had come to Jerusalem in 34 AD to worship God in accordance with the Law of Moses. By the order of the Holy Spirit, the eunuch was baptized by Philip. Upon his return to Africa, the eunuch preached Christianity to his nation. Then Ethiopia became the second nation after Israel to believe in Christ; and the Ethiopian Church became the first Church in Africa.

Great stories of faith have marked the first centuries of Christianity in Africa because Africans have always lived a profound charity and a great devotion in the New Testament.

Africa is the region from where celebrated scholars and religious fathers, such as St. Augustinos, St. Tertulianos, St. Siprianos as well as St. Athnasius and St. Kerlos come from. These fathers are celebrated both in the continent and world wide.

St. Yared who has composed beautiful Church hymns and whom the world recognizes for his outstanding creativity, was also originally from Africa. St. Yared is a son of Ethiopia. St. Yared’s hymns are among the wonders of the world for which Ethiopia is known to the world. The deeds of all these Fathers characterize Africa.

According to scholars it is in Africa that the first Canon of the Holy Bible was defined. History also reminds us of the martyrdom of Christians in North Africa when, their kind, a non-believer, raised the sword against them in the effort of completely destroy Christianity. At the same time Christians who were mistreated and persecuted in different parts of the world came to Africa, especially to Ethiopia and have lived in peace in the region.

Devoted Ethiopians have also demonstrated their outstanding hospitality to the nine Saints and other tens of thousands of Christians who were persecuted from Eastern Europe and came to Africa in groups. The residences and the tombs of those persecuted Christians have been kept as sacred shrines in various parts of Ethiopia.

In Africa and in Ethiopia we have pieces of the Holy Cross. The right part of the Cross has been kept in Ethiopia, in a place called Goshen Mountain.

The Cross of Christ was carried also by the Christians of Africa. I am thinking about my Church that recently suffered a hard persecution during the communist dictatorship, with many new martyrs among whom the Patriarch Theophilos, and before him, Abuna Petros, during the colonial period. I myself, then a bishop, spent long years in jail before being exiled. When I became Patriarch, after the end of communism, there was much to be rebuilt. This has been our work, through the help of God, the prayer of our monks and the generosity of the faithful.

Africa is a potentially wealthy continent, with fertile soil, natural resources, and a variety of plants and animal species. Africa has a suitable climate and possesses several precious minerals. For it has been a continent with many untapped natural resources, many have still their eyes on it. It is also undeniable that the civilization gains in other parts of the world is the result of labor and resource from Africa.

Africans have done such blessed works for the world. What has the world done for them?

Africa had been badly colonized and its resources have been exploited. The rich nations who developed exploiting African resources remember Africa only when they need something from it. They haven’t supported the continent in its struggle for the development at all.

Each and every nation of the continent have various problems and challenges. The problem could be social, political, economic, as well as spiritual.

While the living standard of the African peoples is lower than that of the rest of the world, there are some reasons why such poor living standards get worse and expand all over the continent. The lack of access to education is the major problem in which the youth as a result fail to get enough education. No country and people do achieve development and prosperity without education and knowledge.

As we all are well aware, the HIV/AIDS pandemic could not be averted despite relentless efforts. However, we should encourage all those experiences that show us how to heal and resist evil, to give hope by creating synergy and by providing to Africa the same treatments Europe itself has received. At the same time other kinds of diseases are currently threatening badly. We call the world to work in harmony in this regard. The Council of All African Churches is exerting efforts to curb the problems being occurred in the continent especially the chaos which extremists are creating. Religious leaders of Christianity and the faithful in general should join hands in this endeavor.

Africa is enchained by heavy global debts that both the current generation nor the future ones can bear.

In what way should we condemn the civil war that is usually fought by child soldiers who are also the victims of these tragic violent acts. How to condemn the overtly and covertly displacement and migration of people?

The International Human Rights Law clearly states that any person under the age of 18 cannot be a member of any fighting group because he is a ‘child’. However, some countries are currently forcing children under 18 into military service. This is a clear violation of human rights. Therefore, it is mandatory for leaders of African Churches to cry out as one voice that these behaviors have to stop at once.

Therefore, I would like to use the floor to urge all religious leaders to work for peace and protect the natural resources God gave us, and defend the life and innocence of children.

In a significant number of African countries, basic necessities such as food and potable water and shelter couldn’t be realized. Generally speaking, most Africans live in a situation where there is a shortage of most of the basic human necessities and services. Though Africa declared its freedom from colonialism long ago, there are still many circumstances which make it dependent on the rich countries. The enormous debt, the exploitation of its natural resources by few, the traditional agricultural practice and unsatisfactory introduction of modern agricultural systems, the dependency of its people on rain which impacted negatively in ensuring food security, migration and brain drain of its people greatly affecting the continent.

I am hopeful that as their Graces African cardinals and bishops had discussed this issue previously, today this great synod would discuss the issue and propose possible solutions.

I believe that we, religious leaders and Heads of Churches, have a very unique task and responsibility: to acknowledge and sustain, when we deem it necessary, the suggestions that come from the people, as, on the contrary, to reject them when they contradict the respect and love for Man, that has its roots in the Gospel.

Christians are expected to be messengers of change in bringing justice, peace, reconciliation and development. It is what I saw pursued with determination and humility by the Community of Sant’Egidio in all of Africa: fruits of peace and healing are possible, and they undermine all forms of violence, with the strength and the Christian intelligence of love. African religious leaders not only have to worry about the social works but also answer to the great spiritual needs of the women and men of Africa.

Apostleship and social works cannot be treated separately. Social work is the meaning of apostleship. Every word has to be translated in practice. Hence, after every word and promise, practical actions need to follow. Religious fathers are also expected to enhance the awareness of the public to honor human right, peace and justice. Society needs the teachings of their religious fathers in a bid to help them solve their problems in unity and to free themselves from being the target of a problem.

Thus leaders of African Churches, with the power of the Almighty God and the Holy Spirit, need to voice the language of the Church. It is also necessary to realize when, how and to whom to speak. This should be done for the safety of the Churches.

I am really very happy to participate to this Synod of the Catholic Church on Africa. I am an African. My Church is the oldest of Africa: a Church of Martyrs, Saints and monks. I carry my support as a friend and a brother to this endeavor of the Catholic Church for Africa. I thank His Holiness for the invitation and I wish to him a long life and a fruitful ministry.

Let us speak of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the heart of the Africans and Jesus will return to Africa, as he did when he was a child together with the Virgin Mary. And peace, mercy and justice will come together with Jesus!

May God bless the Churches in Africa and their pastors! Amen!