On the apostolicity of the canonical Gospels

Al-Finlandi

The apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them…

Saint Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 66

 He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.

Luke 10:16

This post is a semi-follow-up to my previous post, where I discussed the usage of third-person narrative style within Greco-Roman historiographical (I use the term broadly here although biography and historiography within studies in classicism are strictly speaking distinct genres) works and how the Gospels parallel this usage. This post discusses the acceptance of the four canonical Gospels within the Church as apostolic works. As we will see, this is something the Church tacitly assumed right from the beginning, alongside their apostolic origin. Some of the evidence is indirect and inferential, but it should give us an understanding of the overall trend within the wider church. I owe much of the following to references within Charles E. Hill’s monograph on the topic. My intention is to also show that the testimony to the apostolicity of the canonical Gospels was also assumed by heterodox groups, ie. Gnostics, and early critics of Christianity.

Prolegomenon: Apostolic preaching and kerygma

Before we discuss particular examples, it may be helpful to understand the reason as to why we don’t just see an explosion of data all saying that the Church possesses four Gospels ascribed to their canonical authors. I think the simple reason for this is that the kerygma – the technical term for the apostolic preaching regarding Jesus – was mainly oral in the earliest proclamation. Oral tradition itself was valued even into second century, as we learn from Saint Papias:

If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings — what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.

Saint Papias, Introduction on the Exposition of Oracles of the Lord

And from Saint Irenaeus:

Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. 

Against Heresies 3.3.3

Examples could naturally be multiplied, including from the New Testament – see for example this post by Craig Truglia – but these two are sufficient for now. Basically, a lot of the early Christian preaching was oral, but to say it was merely oral would be too extreme. In fact we have good evidence that it was not exclusively oral – the mere fact that we have written NT documents tells us this.

The point I’m making here is that this explains why the explicit references to the four Gospels are somewhat later, the early Church had other methods of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but this is not to say the Gospels were not read liturgically for example (cf. St Justin Martyr below). In the mind of the Church the proclamation of the Apostles, a continuation of the preaching started by the Lord Himself, was both oral and written, and this also continued later on, ie. St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 27. This kerygma was at the core of the apostolic preaching, some of which was also written down in the Gospels. This shows that there was a strong association with the concept of apostolic preaching within early Christianity, the Gospel was communicated to the later generations by the Apostles of the Lord directly, and we already see the association of Jesus authorizing the Apostles to authoritatively explain His message and words in Luke 10:16.

Examples of specific references to Gospel traditions and/or written Gospels

Probably one of the earliest post-NT documents, the Didache (c. AD 100) refers to “the Gospel” especially in chapter 8:

Neither pray as the hypocrites; but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one ; for Yours is the power and the glory forever.”

This is almost certainly a reference to the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 6). The precise relation between the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache is debated in scholarship, but the point is the community of the Didache recognized that there was authoritative tradition from Jesus Himself regarding prayer.

Another example would be the Epistle of Barnabas (chapter 4), which specifically cites a written saying of Jesus (only found in Matthew 22:14) as Scripture:

The Lord will judge the world without respect of persons. Each will receive as he has done: if he is righteous, his righteousness will precede him; if he is wicked, the reward of wickedness is before him. Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are the called [of God], we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. And all the more attend to this, my brethren, when you reflect and behold, that after so great signs and wonders were wrought in Israel, they were thus [at length] abandoned. Let us beware lest we be found [fulfilling that saying], as it is written “Many are called, but few are chosen.

This citation occurs within a wider context of OT Scriptural citations, so it shows the community the Epistle was addressed held the traditions of Jesus in equal honor to the OT writings. The epistle (chapter 5 and 8) also specifically refers to the Twelve as being the preachers of the “Gospel” of the Lord:

But when He chose His own apostles who were to preach His Gospel, [He did so from among those] who were sinners above all sin, that He might show He came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.“…to these He gave authority to preach the Gospel, being twelve in number, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Here is another reference to Gospel tradition (cf. Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32).

In 1 Clement 42 (c. AD 65-95) , Saint Clement of Rome refers to the apostolic preaching:

The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Spirit, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture in a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.” [cf. Isaiah 60:17 LXX]

We also find numerous references to Gospel traditions and apostolic preaching within Saint Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. AD 108):

As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Therefore run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one.

Epistle to Magnesians, 7

I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, “Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.” And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He ate and drank with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father.

Epistle to Smyrnaeans, 3

The reference to Jesus’ appearance to the Eleven is only narrated in Luke 24, yet Saint Ignatius narrates it to the church of Smyrna very much in passing. He also refers to the star of Bethlehem (Epistle to Ephesians 19) and the baptism of the Lord (Ephesians 18).

We find another reference to “the Gospel”, a written record, in the Apology of Saint Aristides (c. AD 120):

The Christians, then, trace the beginning of their religion from Jesus the Messiah; and he is named the Son of God Most High. And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man. This is taught in the gospel, as it is called, which a short time ago was preached among them; and you also if you will read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it. (Syriac)

And if you would read, O King, you may judge the glory of His presence from the holy gospel writing, as it is called among themselves. (Greek)

Although it’s clear the Syriac text is basically a paraphrase of the Greek, both exhort the ruler (Roman Emperor Hadrian) to read the Gospel. This presupposes an authoritative written record of Jesus’ ministry among Christians.

We could also multiply examples. ie. Saint Polycarp ( “Let us then serve the Lord in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]“, Epistle to the Philippians 7)

Specific references to the canonical Gospels among early Church Fathers

Moving onto particular examples using the Church Fathers, the data is significantly more meager, but it all presupposes a settled usage of referencing the Gospels and/or using them in liturgical (ie. public) worship.

Probably the most famous example is Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, writing c. 180:

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sits upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, You that sits between the cherubim, shine forth. For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, “The first living creature was like a lion,” symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,— an evident description of His advent as a human being; the fourth was like a flying eagle, pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church. And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated. For that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Also, “all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.” For this reason, too, is that Gospel full of all confidence, for such is His person. But that according to Luke, taking up [His] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates His generation as a man, saying, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham; and also, “The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise”. This, then, is the Gospel of His humanity; for which reason it is, too, that [the character of] a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole Gospel. Mark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet,“— pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character. And the Word of God Himself used to converse with the ante-Mosaic patriarchs, in accordance with His divinity and glory; but for those under the law He instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical service. Afterwards, being made man for us, He sent the gift of the celestial Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings. Such, then, as was the course followed by the Son of God, so was also the form of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living creatures, so was also the character of the Gospel. For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord. For this reason were four principal covenants given to the human race: one, prior to the deluge, under Adam; the second, that after the deluge, under Noah; the third, the giving of the law, under Moses; the fourth, that which renovates man, and sums up all things in itself by means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into the heavenly kingdom.

Against Heresies, 3.11.8

Skeptics often argue Irenaeus is the first author to “codify” the four Gospels and that somehow their idea of authoritativeness goes back to him. There are many problems with this (Hill’s monograph discusses this idea and its various issues in depth), for one as we’ve seen there are definite references to authoritative Gospel tradition before Irenaeus, but a second problem is we also have references contemporaneous to Irenaeus. Here is Theophilus of Antioch (c. 180):

Concerning the righteousness which the law enjoined, confirmatory utterances are found both with the prophets and in the Gospels, because they all spoke inspired by one Spirit of God….The holy Scriptures teach us, and all the spirit-bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,” showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him.

To Autolycus, 2.12. 22

We also see similar language in Clement of Alexandria (from his Stromata, written c. 195-200):

John prophesied till the baptism of salvation; and after the birth of Christ, Anna and Simeon. For Zacharias, John’s father, is said in the Gospels to have prophesied before his son……it is written in the Gospel by Luke as follows: “And in the fifteenth year, in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zacharias.“And again in the same book: “And Jesus was coming to His baptism, being about thirty years old,” and so on…And in the Gospel according to Matthew, the genealogy which begins with Abraham is continued down to Mary the mother of the Lord.

To say that Irenaeus – a single bishop in France – could influence two authors (and as we will see, there are more), living in two different places across the Christian world (Alexandria and Antioch) to adopt his novelty of “named” Gospels contemporaneously to himself seems so absurd as to border on a conspiracy. If the idea that the four Gospels were not known before Irenaeus was true, would we not see confusion regarding their naming or canonical authority?

What’s more interesting, Irenaeus himself refers to how he plans to refute the gnostic Marcion from the canonical writings Marcion accepted:

Since this man is the only one who has dared openly to mutilate the Scriptures, and unblushingly above all others to inveigh against God, I purpose specially to refute him, convicting him out of his own writings; and, with the help of God, I shall overthrow him out of those discourses of the Lord and the apostles, which are of authority with him, and of which he makes use.

Against Heresies 1.27.4

We will return to this point below, but for now it suffices to say that a major part of Irenaeus’ argument against the Gnostics was that they were indebted to canonical NT writings which disproves their doctrine.

Writing c. 170, Saint Hegesippus wrote:

Domitian son of Vespasian displayed many evils against those in office in Rome, and overtaking Nero in cruelty he was the second to institute a persecution against Christians. At that time he imprisoned John, apostle and evangelist, on Patmos…

Cited by Gathercole in “Alleged Anonymity of the Canonical Gospels”, from C.E. Hill, The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) (p. 20)

Gathercole also cites numerous other 2nd-century examples, but one other suffices here:

There are, then, those who out of ignorance stir up disputes about these things, even if what they do is pardonable. For ignorance does not deserve condemnation but needs instruction. And they say that on the fourteenth day the Lord ate the lamb with the disciples, and he himself suffered on the great day of the feast of unleavened bread. They explain that Matthew says this, or so they think. Therefore it is the case both that their opinion disagrees with the Law, and that the Gospels seem to contradict them.

Apolonnaris of Pentapolis “On Passover”, as cited by Gathercole in “Alleged Anonymity” (p. 21)

It is worth also citing the fragment of the Muratorian Canon (mid-late 2nd century) here:

 …those things at which he was present he placed thus.23 The third book of the Gospel, that according to Luke, the well-known physician Luke wrote in his own name24 in order after the ascension of Christ, and when Paul had associated him with himself25 as one studious of right.26 Nor did he himself see the Lord in the flesh; and he, according as he was able to accomplish it, began27 his narrative with the nativity of John. The fourth Gospel is that of John, one of the disciples. When his fellow-disciples and bishops entreated him, he said, “Fast ye now with me for the space of three days, and let us recount to each other whatever may be revealed to each of us.” On the same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John should narrate all things in his own name as they called them to mind.28 And hence, although different points29 are taught us in the several books of the Gospels, there is no difference as regards the faith of believers, inasmuch as in all of them all things are related under one imperial Spirit,30 which concern the Lord’s nativity, His passion, His resurrection, His conversation with His disciples, and His twofold advent,-the first in the humiliation of rejection, which is now past, and the second in the glory of royal power, which is yet in the future. What marvel is it, then, that John brings forward these several things31 so constantly in his epistles also, saying in his own person, “What we have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears, and our hands have handled, that have we written.”32 For thus he professes himself to be not only the eye-witness, but also the hearer; and besides that, the historian of all the wondrous facts concerning the Lord in their order.

Here we see a clear reference to two of the four canonical Gospels, and I’m not aware of any dissent from the idea that the preceding books described are Matthew and Mark.

Decades before Irenaeus, Justin Martyr (c. 165) in Rome has multiple references to the Gospels as being the “memoirs of the Apostles”

This devil, when [Jesus] went up from the river Jordan, at the time when the voice spoke to Him, ‘You are my Son: this day have I begotten You,’ is recorded in the memoirs of the apostles to have come to Him and tempted Him, even so far as to say to Him, ‘Worship me;’ and Christ answered him, ‘Get behind Me, Satan: you shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’…in the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them, [it is recorded] that His sweat fell down like drops of blood while He was praying, and saying, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass:’ 

Dialogue with Trypho, 103

Along with Abraham we shall inherit the holy land, when we shall receive the inheritance for an endless eternity, being children of Abraham through the like faith. For as he believed the voice of God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness, in like manner we having believed God’s voice spoken by the apostles of Christ, and promulgated to us by the prophets, have renounced even to death all the things of the world. Accordingly, He promises to him a nation of similar faith, God-fearing, righteous, and delighting the Father; but it is not you, ‘in whom is no faith.’

Dialogue with Trypho, 119

Justin also has an early exposition of liturgical worship of Christians in Rome, where the Gospels were read:

The wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

First Apology, 67

As stated by Graham Stanton (Jesus and Gospel, p. 95)

Justin emphasizes that Christians teach (or hand over) what they have been taught by Christ, whom they ‘worship and adore’ along with ‘the most true God’ (1 Apol. 6.1)…Justin is adamant that traditions of the sayings and actions of Jesus have been transmitted carefully in the written memoirs by the apostles, and are handed on and carried out by his fellow-Christians. Their ultimate source is Jesus Christ himself. Their authoritative status could hardly be underlined more firmly, even though they are not referred to as ‘Scripture’.

What about Papias?

I’ve decided to deal with Saint Papias of Hierapolis (d. ~110) separately, as his witness is probably the most-discussed. Critics raise two main objections against Papias’ testimony for the apostolicity of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, namely that a) Papias does not claim to get his knowledge from the disciples of Jesus directly but from those who knew them and b) Papias speaks in isolation. As we’ve seen, the latter claim is by this point, absurd. We have seen multiple witnesses, none of whom cite Papias testify to the same things as Papias. A lot of the discussion hinges on Papias’ identification of “John the Elder” as some other John rather than the Evangelist. Nevertheless, Papias clearly says both John and Aristion were disciples of Jesus. Before we go further, it’s worth citing the entire statement of Papias in full.

But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, anyone who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,–what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.

One thing the critics overlook is that it’s clear Papias was clearly connected to the apostolic “well” of knowledge, so even if his knowledge was second-hand, it’s not a problem. There is also the question of who are the “elders” mentioned by Papias? I think it’s clear contextually that the “elders” are the Apostles themselves, so it’s possible Papias also received first-hand knowledge (“whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders“…). When Papias says he listened to those who had heard the “elders” he connects it with the sayings of the Apostles (” anyone who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their [ie. the elders] sayings,–what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples“)

Papias says the following regarding the Gospels of Mark and Matthew:

And the Elder said this: Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements..and..Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language/style, and each one interpreted them as best he could.

Assuming “the Elder” is John the Evangelist himself – the most well-argued case for this position I’ve encountered is Monte Shanks’ Papias and the New Testament – this information is first-hand (also see Irenaeus, reference to Papias as “hearer of John” below), but even if this is someone else, the knowledge comes directly from those who heard the Apostles of Jesus (and as mentioned above it’s very possible Papias claimed first-hand knowledge from the Apostles themselves alongside second-hand knowledge). In any case, this information is clearly older than when Papias wrote it down in early second century, so here we have an account regarding the Gospels of Mark and Matthew within decades of their composition.

One other objection regarding Papias is that he is the origin of the idea of the apostolicity of the canonical Gospels, but this suggestion suffers from two problems, namely that Papias was a relatively obscure figure in second-century Christianity (I’m only aware of one mention of him in Irenaeus (AH 5:33.4: “And these things are borne witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book; for there were five books compiled him.”) and that none of the second and third-century authors who refer to the Gospels, never cite Papias in connection to them. They merely state that the Gospels were received by the entire Church. Hence this is unduly skeptical and lacks evidence. And, as stated above with regards to Irenaeus, it seems naïve to assume a single individual would be so influential so as to inject a certain narrative which was bought by everybody after him and not attributed to him!

In summary, by all accounts, Papias was in an excellent position to receive knowledge from those who had known Jesus and/or had known His Apostles. In any case, it’s clear that in the Preface to his (now lost) work Papias is speaking of an earlier period of his life, ie. late first century, when he was collecting traditions from “the elders”.

The Gospels as public documents

There is one final point I wish to stress, namely that the opponents of Christianity conceded the canonical Gospels were authoritative and – albeit less commonly – apostolic, I’ll cite some examples, for a fuller treatment, see Hill, Who Chose the Gospels? pp. 151-178.

In the Gnostic Apocryphon of James, we find the following curious statement:

… the twelve disciples were all sitting together and recalling what the Savior had said to each one of them, whether in secret or openly, and putting it in books – But I was writing that which was in my book – lo, the Savior appeared, after departing from us while we gazed after him.

And later in a speech of Jesus:

Since I have already been glorified in this fashion, why do you hold me back in my eagerness to go? For after the labor, you have compelled me to stay with you another eighteen days for the sake of the parables. It was enough for some <to listen> to the teaching and understand ‘The Shepherds’ and ‘The Seed’ and ‘The Building’ and ‘The Lamps of the Virgins’ and ‘The Wage of the Workmen’ and the ‘Didrachmae’ and ‘The Woman.'”

The parables cited here are found in the Synoptic Gospels, more specifically in Matthew and Luke (ie. Luke 15:4-6. Matthew 25:1-12 etc)

Hill comments on the significance of these two passages (pp. 167-169):

This is most interesting for its tacit admission that Jesus’ disciples wrote books which contained his
teaching
. And the mention of the disciples ‘recalling what the Saviour had said’ and putting these recollections or remembrances
in books reflects the same understanding which lies behind Justin’s favourite characterization of the Gospels as ‘apostolic memoirs’…The author’s intent is clear: it was enough for some people to understand these well-known parables from the well-known Gospels, but not for others. For these others there is now the Apocryphon of James. The hope of the author is to persuade the reader that the new revelations in this book offer something spiritually superior to what is contained in the apostolic Gospels already available. Still, in so doing, the authority of the well-known Gospels had to be invoked…it assumes the previous acceptance of probably all four of these Gospels and does not contest the tradition that they go ultimately back to Jesus’ original disciples. It simply treats those Gospels as inadequate.

In a sort of counter-polemic the so-called Epistle of the Apostles (c. 120-140, presented as an Epistle written by all Twelve Apostles) gives a counter-narrative to that of the Apocryphon of James or a work similar to it (chapter 1):

This is written that you may be not flinch nor be troubled, and not depart from the word of the Gospel which you have heard….As we have heard (it), kept (it), and have written (it) for the whole world, so we entrust (it) to you, our sons and daughters’

Hill comments (pp. 171-172):

Despite their diametrically opposed approaches, EpApost shares with ApocJas a common assumption of the existence of well-known Gospels believed to go back to the apostles….Many have simply assumed that the writing mentioned here is the Epistle of the Apostles itself. But it seems instead that this refers to apostolic responsibility for the writing of the Gospels. The idea is repeated in chapter 31, where the EpApost has Jesus referring to ‘every word which I have spoken to you and which you [the apostles] have written concerning me, that I am the word of the Father and the Father is in me … ‘…The author cannot be referring here to the EpApost itself, for, as Jesus is at that moment in the narrative still speaking, the EpApost has not yet been written!

We also see similar situations in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (chapters 10 and 18) where Trypho admits to having read ‘the Gospel’, and later on in Celsus’ response of Christianity where he refers to the “fourfold Gospel” (Against Celsus 2.27) and according to Origen, Celsus was planning to refute Christians from “their own books” (cf. Against Celsus 2.34). Moreover, Against Celsus 2.16 has Celsus seemingly admit that the Gospels were written by Jesus’ disciples (Origen quotes Celsus: “the disciples of Jesus wrote such accounts regarding him, by way of extenuating the charges that told against him”)

Finally, to return briefly to Irenaeus, he argues extensively against Gnostic indebtedness to the apostolic tradition and the canonical Scriptures, eg. the Gospels. Irenaeus notes that the heterodox claimed to represent a specific strand of Christianity distinct from the Orthodox Church, yet they used one (or more) of the canonical NT writings. Irenaeus writes in Against Heresies 3.12.12:

Marcion and his followers have betaken themselves to mutilating the Scriptures, not acknowledging some books at all; and, curtailing the Gospel according to Luke and the Epistles of Paul, they assert that these are alone authentic, which they have themselves thus shortened. In another work, however, I shall, God granting [me strength], refute them out of these which they still retain.

It is also worth noting some of the sources we’ve looked at, eg. Epistle of the Apostles and Saint Aristides precede Marcion and other groups which tried to mutilate the accepted canonical sources (or misinterpret them as Valentinus did, cf. Tertullian, Prescription Against the Heretics, 38), and even these groups were using the same books as the Church which is an extremely strong proof for their authority.

Conclusion

This post has been a mere summary of the available evidence, for example I did not touch on early manuscript evidence (which bear titles of the evangelists), the Diatessaron of Tatian (a student of Justin Martyr c. 160) – a gospel synopsis combining all four gospels into one – or various other sources which discuss the four canonical Gospels and their authoritative and apostolic nature, for details on this see Gathercole’s article cited above. I have collected only some of the most interesting evidence here. We have seen that the simplistic approach of using Irenaeus or Papias as some sort of originator of tradition is very simplistic. The Church always had a “consciousness” regarding the writings she had received.

To quote Simon Gathercole:

there is never any sense among second-century authors that the Gospels are anonymous. Mention by second-century authors of ‘the Gospel’ tout simple does not imply anonymity or lack of knowledge of author…Talk of ‘the Gospel’ goes side by
side with references to evangelists widely in second-century Christianity..[there is] absence of any other attributions of authorship assigned to the Gospels…If the titles simply emerged very late, say in the mid- to late-second century, we would expect to find diversity among the names, but we do not…

Alleged Anonymity pp. 27-28

And it’s worth citing Charles Hill’s conclusion to his book at length:

We cannot find who chose the Gospels. It looks like nobody did. They almost seem to have chosen themselves through some sort of ‘natural selection’. And this at least concurs with the conclusion of Bruce Metzger, one of the last generation’s premier scholars of the New Testament canon, who wrote, ‘neither individuals nor councils created the canon; instead they came to recognize and acknowledge the self- authenticating quality of these writings, which imposed themselves as canonical upon the church’….some of the most striking testimony on behalf of the four Gospels, and other parts of the New Testament, comes from outside of apostolic Christianity. Most, if not all, of the known rival Gospels, and other pseudepigraphal works as well, actually presuppose to one extent or another the witness of the canonical Gospels. Pagan critics of Christianity like Celsus, when they took the time to read the Christian sources, went to the same canonical Gospels, which Celsus, at least, accepted as written by Jesus’ disciples….The persistent appeal to secret teachings of Jesus given to one or another of the apostles is a tacit admission that not very much support could be gained from his acknowledged public teachings…In one sense, of course, the answer to the question: ‘Who chose the Gospels?’ is, everybody who has known something of that indemonstrable power and majesty and, like Aristides, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement, and countless others, has chosen to live by their telling of the story of Jesus. But second-century Christian leaders would have said that neither individuals nor churches had the authority to ‘choose’ which of the many Gospels they liked, but to receive the ones given by God and handed down by Christ through his apostles.

Who Chose the Gospels? pp. 229, 246

Glory to Jesus Christ!

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On the apostolicity of the canonical Gospels

On third-person narrative in Greco-Roman historiography and the Gospels

Al-Finlandi

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Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another.

St Augustine, Contra Faustum, Book XVII

Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.

Matthew 9:9

Skeptics of the Gospels often allege that they cannot be written by their traditional authors because they narrate the ministry of Jesus from a third-person perspective, especially in the cases of Matthew and John (traditionally ascribed to two Apostles from among the Twelve). This post is not a defense of the traditional authorship of the Gospels, but simply serves to illustrate the custom of using third-person narrative (illeism) among contemporary (and earlier) authors was widespread and common, and thus this argument should not be used to discount the traditional authorship of the Gospels. All below examples are taken from the excellent Perseus Digital Library.

Herodotus

Herodotus is often considered the first historiographer, best known for his Histories, usually dated to around 440 BC. The only explicit mention of Herodotus is found in the introduction:

This is the display of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that things done by man not be forgotten in time, and that great and marvelous deeds, some displayed by the Hellenes, some by the barbarians, not lose their glory, including among others what was the cause of their waging war on each other.

1.1

Thucydides

Thucydides is primarily known from his History of the Peloponnesian War, composed around 431 BC. Vast majority of the work is narrated in third person, the narrator (clearly Thucydides himself as seen from the prologue: Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians…from the evidence which I can
trust … I think that previous events were not great’), occasionally interjects in first person (eg. “I had the disease myself, and watched its operation in the case of others.” (2.48.3 in the context of a plague that struck Athens)) but never says something akin to “I Thucydides, saw xyz” and thus never explicitly identifies himself as the author, yet far as I know, no classicist questions the authorship of the work . Below are examples of third person narration throughout the History:

The party opposed to the traitors proved numerous enough to prevent the gates being immediately thrown open, and in concert with Eucles, the general, who had come from Athens to defend the place, sent to the other commander in Thrace, Thucydides, son of Olorus, the author of this history, who was at the isle of Thasos, a Parian colony, half a day’s sail from Amphipolis, to tell him to come to their relief…. Brasidas, afraid of succors arriving by sea from Thasos, and learning that Thucydides possessed the right of working the gold mines in that part of Thrace, and had thus great influence with the inhabitants of the continent, hastened to gain the town, if possible, before the people of Amphipolis should be encouraged by his arrival to hope that he could save them by getting together a force of allies from the sea and from Thrace, and so refuse to surrender… Thucydides put all in order at Eion to secure it against any present or future attack of Brasidas, and received such as had elected to come there from the interior according to the terms agreed on.


4.104, 105, 106

Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it. This belief was not without its grounds. The preparations of both the combatants were in every department in the last state of perfection; and he could see the rest of the Hellenic race taking sides in the quarrel; those who delayed doing so at once having it in contemplation.  Indeed this was the greatest movement yet known in history, not only of the Hellenes, but of a large part of the barbarian world—I had almost said of mankind. For though the events of remote antiquity, and even those that more immediately precede the war, could not from lapse of time be clearly ascertained, yet the evidences which an inquiry carried as far back as was practicable leads me to trust, all point to the conclusion that there was nothing on a great scale, either in war or in other matters.


1.1

However, at the end of his introduction, Thucydides makes it clear he’s talking as the author:

The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest; but if it be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content. In fine, I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.

1.22

POLYBIUS

Polybius died around 117 BC, his Histories cover the period of 264-146 BC. Throughout the work he refers to himself in the third person in multiple places, even when he was a witness of the events described:

…the Achaeans, thinking the present worthy of their thanks, for the cost could not be much less than ten talents, gladly accepted the offer. Having come to this resolution, they selected Lycortas, Polybius, and Aratus, son of Aratus of Sicyon, to go on a mission to the king, partly to thank him for the arms which he had sent on a former occasion…

24.6

Gaius and Gnaeus were reported to have resolved, as soon as the Achaean congress was assembled, to accuse Lycortas, Archon, and Polybius, and to point out that they were opposed to the policy of Rome…

28.3

…they sent Eumenes and Dionysodorus to the Achaeans, asking a thousand foot and two hundred horse, with Lycortas to command the foot and Polybius the horse. They sent a message also to Theodoridas of Sicyon, urging him to hire them a thousand mercenaries.

29.23

Polybius advised [Demetrius] “not to stumble twice on the same stone,” but to depend upon himself and venture something worthy of a king; and he pointed out to him that the present state of affairs offered him many opportunities. Demetrius understood the hint, but said nothing at the time; but a short while afterwards consulted Apollonius, one of his intimate friends, on the same subject.

31.19

Other examples include 33.2 and 36.11.

Xenophon

Xenophon is another historian primarily known for his two histories on the Peloponnesian War, Anabasis and Hellenica, written circa 370 BC. Throughout the two works he consistently refers to himself as “Xenophon” or “Xenophon the Athenian” (and never identifies himself as “I, Xenophon” or in any other similar manner). Me and Farid of Farid Responds discussed Xenophon in particular extensively in an exchange some time ago, when I pointed out Xenophon refers to himself in the third person in both Anabasis and Hellenica, Farid offered no response. Here is a selection from among the many passages in the Anabasis:

There was a man in the army named Xenophon, an Athenian, who was neither general nor captain nor private, but had accompanied the expedition because Proxenus, an old friend of his, had sent him at his home an invitation to go with him…

3.1

 After the evening meal Proxenus and Xenophon chanced to be walking in front of the place where the arms were stacked…

2.4

As for Xenophon, he was inclined on some accounts to accept the command, for he thought that if he did so the greater would be the honour he would enjoy among his friends and the greater his name when it should reach his city, while, furthermore, it might chance that he could be the means of accomplishing some good thing for the army. 

6.1

There are dozens of other references the reader can verify.

JULIUS CAESAR

Probably the most well-known on this list, his Gallic Wars is entirely written from a third-person perspective:

When it was reported to Caesar that they were attempting to make their route through our Province he hastens to set out from the city, and, by as great marches as he can, proceeds to Further Gaul, and arrives at Geneva. 

1.7

Caesar, observing that several of his men were wounded, ordered the cohorts to ascend the mountain on all sides, and, under pretense of assailing the walls, to raise a shout: at which the besieged being frightened, and not knowing what was going on in other places, call off their armed troops from attacking our works, and dispose them on the walls. 

8.43

Again, examples could be multiplied.

JOSEPHUS

Probably the most interesting example in the context of the Gospels, Josephus is known primarily for his Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews, both written some decades after Jesus – the former in the 70’s AD and the latter a few decades later.

Although it’s true Josephus identifies himself in the prologue to the Jewish War (“I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians;  Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterwards, [am the author of this work].”) he refers to himself throughout in the third person:

As Josephus was thus engaged in the administration of the affairs of Galilee, there arose a treacherous person, a man of Gischala, the son of Levi, whose name was John…

2.585

And now it was that Josephus perceived that the city could not hold out long, and that his own life would be in doubt if he continued in it…

3.193

Josephus thought, that if he resolved to stay, it would be ascribed to their entreaties; and if he resolved to go away by force, he should be put into custody.

3.203

Thus Josephus escaped in the war with the Romans, and in this his own war with his friends, and was led by Nicanor to Vespasian. But now all the Romans ran together to see him; and as the multitude pressed one upon another about their general, there was a tumult of a various kind; while some rejoiced that Josephus was taken, and some threatened him, and some crowded to see him very near; but those that were more remote cried out to have this their enemy put to death, while those that were near called to mind the actions he had done, and a deep concern appeared at the change of his fortune. Nor were there any of the Roman commanders, how much soever they had been enraged at him before, but relented when they came to the sight of him. Above all the rest, Titus’s own valor, and Josephus’s own patience under his afflictions, made him pity him, as did also the commiseration of his age, when he recalled to mind that but a little while ago he was fighting, but lay now in the hands of his enemies, which made him consider the power of fortune, and how quick is the turn of affairs in war, and how no state of men is sure; for which reason he then made a great many more to be of the same pitiful temper with himself, and induced them to commiserate Josephus. He was also of great weight in persuading his father to preserve him. However, Vespasian gave strict orders that he should be kept with great caution, as though he would in a very little time send him to Nero.

3.392

As before, many other examples can also be found.

CONCLUSION

Whilst I hope the above quotes make it clear that the practice of illeism (third person narrative) was not some fringe custom, but had widespread usage. The reason it was used was to give an air of objectivity to the narration, as if the author is detached from the events. I left out Hecataeus of Miletus – who also began his Geographies with “Hecataeus of Miletus says: I write down what I think is true, because the stories told by the Greeks are, in my opinion, ridiculous and countless.” – to not belabor the point, the practice was widespread by the time of Jesus, and would not be a necessary defeater against the traditional authorship of Matthew and John in particular. While it’s true the above-cited authors also refer to themselves as “I” in the narratives (something Matthew does not do, but see John 21:24-25), the lack of the first-person singular in Matthew in particular can easily be explained by 1) the brevity of the Gospel, the work is much shorter than Greco-Roman historiographical works and 2) the focus on Jesus, after all, while historical, the Gospels are first and foremost faith documents about Jesus, and I find myself – surprisingly – in agreement with Bart Ehrman who writes:

The Gospel writers thought that what was most important was the message they wanted to convey about the life, teachings, deeds, death, and resurrection of Jesus.   The authors did not want their own persons to “get in the way” of the message, and so they wrote their Gospels anonymously…their point had to do with the message they wanted to deliver, not with their own identity as authorities who could deliver it. There was no need to establish their authority. 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

On third-person narrative in Greco-Roman historiography and the Gospels

Muhammad was an enemy of God and possessed by a demon – ascribed to St Theodore Abu Qurrah

Adapted from the polemical Greek writings ascribed to St Theodore

If a king, who rules an entire country under heaven, hears that in one of his lands the inhabitants insult him and overlook his dominion, he gets angry and sends his general to them. This one either gets them to stop insulting the ruler and teaches them to speak magnanimously concerning him or he will punish with a sword those who refuse to submit. But what if this general after having conquered the land of these rough-minded subjects begins to accept bribes and encourages them to act even more insolently? He even writes them a letter by his own hand to encourage them in this, as long as he receives money from them himself.

Is there anyone worse than he who would do this to the ruler? I presume that there isn’t. If someone asks: who would be so mindless that he would excite the people to insult their master by taking bribes in exchange for insulting him? I reply to him: the madman of the Hagarenes, the false prophet Muhammad.

This is found in his own boastful lies. He said, you see, whilst he was possessed:

God has sent me to shed the blood of those who serve the Divine tri-hypostatic nature, and all who do not say: “God is in solitude, God is a malleable lump1, Who has never begotten nor begot and Who has not received any partner alongside Himself.

This is the theology of the lunatic. First he denies that God is the begetter of light and the fountainhead of holiness. Then he boasts that God ordered him to punish the Christians with the sword for blaspheming the divinity, but as soon as he receives bribes2 he relents and allows them to continue the pridefulness towards His messenger. This is how the demonic line of thought runs….3


1 – St Theodore refers to the Arabic term al-Samad (ٱلْصَّمَدُ cf. Quran 112:2) which he translated to Greek as sphyropēktos. While this might be bizarre, it has its justifications in early Islamic sources. See also: The Byzantine Understanding of the Qur’anic Term “al-Șamad” and the Greek Translation of the Qur’an

2 – Very probably a reference to jizya, the poll-tax levied upon “People of the Book” under Islamic law which allowed them to continue practicing their religion.

3 – St Theodore goes on the describe the incident known as “the Slander” (al-‘Ifk) in early Islamic sources which refers to the accusation of adultery towards ‘Aisha, Muhammad’s wife. I’ve omitted it because I am not sure how it contributes to St Theodore’s argument, although he refers to Muhammad as being “in a demonic state” and receiving an “oracle”.

Muhammad was an enemy of God and possessed by a demon – ascribed to St Theodore Abu Qurrah

Some reflections on Theodore Abu Qurrah’s writings (Part 2): “On Salvation in Christ”

Saint Theodore the Sabbaite, Bishop of Edessa

In my previous post I went through some of St Theodore’s arguments for finding the true religion through one’s intellect. Here we will cover his second Arabic treatise, On Salvation in Christ while adding some comments. As before the reader is requested to consult the original work for fuller argumentation.

Law in Moses

St Theodore begins by discussing the “heart” of the Law.

“On Mount Sinai the God sent down the Law to Moses. In it he laid obligations for mankind and set punishments for those who transgress the limits. Among the commandments is the demand to love God fully with one’s entire mind, and with one’s entire soul, and with one’s entire will. In this, God demonstrated that He did not allow man to leave off anything which He had given them the ability to do. He would also not be pleased with them if they abandoned anything from the Law – small or great – or did not do so in love towards Him. Because God demanded that man, in serving Him, should be obedient according to all his capability, and that man should strive towards Him with all his strength. those who have been internally developed must confess that if anyone, even for the blink of an eye, falls short of obedience to God, cannot in any way fix it.”

The argument is simple, man was called to fulfill the Law (especially its core, love of God) in perfection. Of course, man failed. However, as St Theodore points, hypothetically, man could have fulfilled the commandments.

What about repentance?

St Theodore anticipates an objection and replies it:

“Perhaps one will say: “I can escape the punishment of my disobedience through repentance (tawbah).” Tell me: in your time of repentance are you able to surpass your capabilities in love and obedience to God? Undoubtedly they’ll say “no”. So we tell him: “So you are not able to surpass your strength in obedience to God even in your state of repentance. Yet the Law requires you to be at the edge of your capability and to keep it at good condition at all times. Because of this, even during repentance, you’re not able to do what is requested of you [TN: in the Law, before repentance]. Even if you reached the height of obedience – although the habit of sin has rooted itself in you as you voluntarily subjected yourself to its temptation, that this is extremely difficult nor do I believe it to be possible – and even if you were perfectly obedient, even then could not rid yourself even of the smallest stain of your earlier sins [TN: possibly original sin?]. Nor is there any doubt that you’ll face punishment for your earlier sins as well. You cannot remove the punishment by any means.”

Such a strict view might surprise some. However, St Theodore goes on to offer justifications.

“Someone has said – he ought not to be be counted among the wise – that God does not require anyone to strive in full capability of our strength in obedience to God. This is hard to understand. If it was so, he should say that God is pleased with humans in them spending some of their capability to serve the Devil and obedience to their own corrupted lusts and desires. Far is this from God, that He would ever be pleased with this for His creation! If God was pleased with such, He should condemn His creation to damnation and allow the Devil to be a part of the worship that is offered by His creation. Nothing like this comes from God, may He be blessed and glorified. So sin remains and the punishment is unavoidable.”

In short, if God was to overlook our disobedience, it would mean He accepts us spending our capability in worship of Satan and our desires.

“All in all, us humans can await from God one of two things: either God forgives our sin freely without any consequences and cancels the consequence of the sin by His mercy, or He justly demands us for a payment, so we end up in eternal perdition. “

He then goes on to say that both of these explanations have shortcomings.

“What if one says God will nullify the consequences of the Law mercifully, but He does this without any just cause? The one claiming this makes the Law of God meaningless and makes God into a loafer, Who sets a Law but does not require any consequences for its breaking. Far is from God that He would ever do things needlessly or set things without a reason! Man has no way to escape sin but there being a just cause, in which the Law is upheld. In addition one claiming this must conclude that no one would be left without forgiveness from Him…we could all meaninglessly follow our desires wildly and to enjoy the world and its uselessness with our friends. Far is from God that He would abandon His servants into such carelessness and to lead them into such a station. This would be the worst possible condition and far as possible from being pleasing to Him. It is unavoidable that man reaches the pleasure of God and forgiveness of crimes and their consequences through a just cause….those who trust in repentance will be ashamed because of their past sins and because they were imperfect in obedience to God and in loving Him, which united to them (as commands) in the giving of the Law…”

In summary, the Law demanded following and loving God in perfection, which is extremely difficult (it seems St Theodore doesn’t consider it utterly impossible but “doubtful”. Still, this clearly leaves man in a conundrum, which St Theodore goes on to answer in the rest of the treatise. The overall argument brings to mind some of the theories of atonement envisioned by later Protestants (although the Orthodox tradition doesn’t completely discount it, which I may cover in a future post)

Salvation in the Son

“We say [as a solution]: the Eternal Son, Who is begotten from God before all time, being of His essence (jawhar) and equal to Him. In His mercy He descended among the descendants of Adam…He took a body from Mary, which He molded for Himself, and an intellect (‘aql), and a soul (nafs). He became incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. He came into the world to condescend, to face the punishment which each of us had deserved because of our sins: strikes, humiliation, the cross and death. If He had not become incarnate, He would not have had a way to experience pain, as in His divine nature He was invisible, incorporeal and untouchable and couldn’t be touched by pain, suffering and agony. In the incarnation He opened Himself to the opportunity to undergo such agonies by subjecting His body to face them. He gave His back to scourging, His head to be struck, His face to be spat upon, His hands and feet to be nailed, His side to be pierced by a lance. In His body He suffered these agonies truly, but it did not harm His divine nature. Thus He accomplished our salvation. As the prophet Isaiah said in Christ speaking through him: “I was obedient, I did not hesitate, I offered My back for scourging and My cheeks for blows, I did not hide My face from the shame of spitting”. (Isaiah 50:5-6)…[quoting Isaiah 53]…Thus Isaiah spoke seeing Him take flesh and hiding the glory of His divinity, so that Satan would be emboldened against Him and the Jews, as a nation which obeyed Satan, would crucify Him”

St Theodore goes on to quote other Old Testament witnesses (Psalm 23 (22 LXX), Zechariah 12:10) and then says:

“Through Him alone we receive forgiveness of sin. Through His suffering alone we are released from the punishment we deserve for our sins…”

One might speculate why St Theodore is adopting such a view of atonement in contrast to the pre-Islamic Greek patristic tradition which frequently stressed the incarnation as healing human nature and its focus towards deification (although it seems St Theodore considered theosis a major part of salvation as shown in in the previous treatise). My personal opinion is that this is a rhetorical move to counter Islamic apologetics towards mere repentance (keeping in mind St Theodore does not mention Islam directly very often in his Arabic writings, yet is clearly interacting with Muslim claims). The incarnation is necessary because only in Christ perfect obedience to the Law can be found according to St Theodore.

Dialogue in Heaven

St Theodore then gives a lengthy, imaginative, monologue from the Father towards the Son before the incarnation:

I see Adam, who is in Our image and in Our likeness, having moved to the subjection of sin with his descendants…the sin which is forceful upon them has removed the state of blessedness for which they were created….the Law cannot be made null….come, take a Body for Yourself, show Yourself in the world, and subject Yourself to those punishments which humans have deserved with their sins. May they come upon You, so that in You purification and forgiveness of sin comes upon those who offer Your sufferings to Me against their sin. They will receive release from every punishment which they deserve according to My Law…thus You have filled the requirement of the Law without the Law being made useless and void…You have prepared…healing of their natures…offering them such forgiveness which they may receive without difficulty through faith in You…for You, My Son, are My equal and of My essence….nothing can approach the glory of Your divinity. So when once and for all You have faced the sufferings which each of them deserves countless times, You have fulfilled the requirements of the Law on their part and even far more.”

It’s interesting that St Theodore uses words “without difficulty”, which seems to be an implicit reference to his perceived lacking in grace and the the difficulty of the Islamic concept of repentance and the superiority of the sacrificial offering of Christ.

The Offering

After this, St Theodore presents an Old Testament case for the above:

The Law of Moses also says: “sins are forgiven through an offering” (cf. Leviticus 4:20, 31, 36). This refers to the offering of this true Lamb and not merely the animal sacrifices, which were only a prefiguration. Thus, when the blood of animals were shed in the Temple for the sake of human sins, the mystical celebration was not complete until the priest had followed the commandment to make sign of a cross with their blood above the altar of the Lord God, before the animal was offered for their sins. This was a prefiguration of the Cross of Christ, by which alone they receive forgiveness of sin…that Son was on the contrary offered for the sin of the entire world, as He is incomparably more precious as the world and everything in it…this was to fulfill the requirement of the Law…and thus the Apostle Peter speaks out in the Acts of the Apostles concerning Jesus Christ: “there is salvation in no-one else, for there is no other name given to humans under heaven by which they may have life.” (cf. 4:12)…If you hear in the divine books of the Old (Testament) or the New concerning forgiveness, mercy and or repentance, then know that this does not occur except through the Cross of Christ and the shedding of His Blood….for this reason He descended to Hades to announce to those who had died before His crucifixion, announced that He had shed His Blood on their behalf, and that those who among them believed in Him would have forgiveness of sin just as those who are living….

The reference to the sign of the cross is interesting. It refers to the motion that the priest would do upon the altar when he would apply the blood upon the horns of the altar (cf. Leviticus 4). It’s clear St Theodore follows the long patristic interpretation (going back at least as far as St Melito of Sardis who wrote a homily on Passover) that the entire Old Testament prefigured the true sacrifice of the Son of God.

What about non-Christians?

St Theodore, near the end of the treatise, offers a sobering perspective on the faith of the non-Christians:

As we now – being community of Christians – offer the sufferings of that Son, we are guaranteed forgiveness for our sin, and we are protected from the punishment….as for those who aren’t Christians, those who do not offer the sufferings of Christ for their sin, shall die in their sin. Christ said to the Jews: “Truly, I tell you, unless you believe, you will die in your sin”. (cf. John 8:24)…All this Christ has done for us, having undergone crucifixion and sufferings for our sake in His Body, which He took from the Most-Pure Mary. This is why His proclamation is called “the Gospel” (Injil), that is, good news (bashara): it proclaims to humans that Christ has saved them from that which no one was able to save themselves.

Conclusion

In summary, we can see that St Theodore’s argument focuses heavily on how the offering of the Divine Son is a superior way of forgiveness to mere repentance (the term tawbah very strongly points to him speaking against Islam). It seems to me this move towards a substitutionary offering contra the normative Eastern exegesis – which stressed the healing of humanity in the Person of Christ – was specifically to counter Muslim claims. It also helps illustrate for Eastern Christians that “penal substitutionary atonement” isn’t wholly rejected in Orthodox exegesis, rather its wrong application or a sole focus on it, rather, deification is the ultimate goal of humanity. In the next part of the series, we shall cover the treatise On the Incarnation of God.

I leave you with these beautiful words by St Theodore at his conclusion to the present treatise.

“We beg Christ to purify our intention, so that our love for Him will be perfected in truth, and that we keep [the union] between us as it was during baptism, and we do not exchange for sin that which we received through His sufferings, or unworthily eat His Flesh or drink His Blood…we beg Him not to turn away from us as He promised us in the Gospel (Matthew 28:20). May He beautify our lives with His principles, which give life to our souls, so that we may share in His Kingdom as He allows us to share in His sufferings… We pray that He allows us not to give in to our desires and lusts…in His Providence may He guide us to achieve bliss and rest, rejoicing in Him. To Him be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit unto eternity. Amen”

Some reflections on Theodore Abu Qurrah’s writings (Part 2): “On Salvation in Christ”

Some reflections on Theodore Abu Qurrah’s writings (Part 1): “Finding the true religion through intellect”

I’ve recently been reading Theodore Abu Qurrah’s (canonized under Saint Theodore of Edessa) writings on Islam and Christianity. Theodore is widely known as the first Christian author to compose a systematic defense of Christianity in the face of Islam (also the first to write in Arabic), and as far I’m aware the first Chalcedonian writer to do so (Saint John of Damascus lists Islam among recent heresies in the early 700’s but he did not interact with the religion in any great depth). Theodore composed multiple treatises specifically dealing with Islam (although often speaking of the religion or Muhammad rather generally to avoid inciting charges of blasphemy against him). Among the treatises he composed in Arabic are On Finding The True Religion Through Intellect, On Salvation in Christ, On the Incarnation of God, On Demonstrating that God has a Son, Christianity is from God, On the Nature of the True Religion, On the Confirmation of the Proof of the Gospel, and On the Trinity.

Here I’ll reflect on the first of these and offer St Theodore’s argument as to why Christianity is the only religion which agrees with the intellect. This is however only an extremely abridged summary of the full argument, for which the reader is advised to consult the text itself (link).

The Sick Son

St Theodore begins his treatise On Finding The True Religion Through Intellect by giving a (hypothetical?) story concerning his various travels among various religious groups after having grown in isolation on a mountain, seeking to find which religion is true. He encounters pagans, Marcionites, Manicheans, Zoroastrians, Muslims, Jews and Christians among others. Each religion claims to be correct. In the hypothetical story the “traveler” (St Theodore) notices each religion has some similarities, yet many differences:

“They each agreed there is a God, there are things forbidden and things allowed, and that there is reward and punishment, with one or two exceptions. They disagreed on the attributes of their gods, what is forbidden and allowed, and the nature of the reward and punishment.”

He further reasons that the nature of God “seems to be good and gracious”, God didn’t leave mankind astray but sent them messengers and books. St Theodore gives a lengthy analogy of a king, who was never seen by his subjects aside from a few extremely close friends. The king’s son got sick and the king wrote a letter in which he describes himself, the son’s disease and its causes and the medicine. He sent the letter to his son, and gave him a doctor as an assistant, (neither of which has never seen him!). He sent the letter with a messenger. However the king had many enemies which also sent messengers. each claiming to represent the king, and each falsified the the three things the king mentioned in the letter so each letter had contradictory claims. The son confided in the doctor, and the doctor reasoned that as the son of the father, he will resemble him, the true letter will likewise direct the son to health and forbid him from things which further the disease, and will describe the medicine correctly so the son will be healed. They compare the contradictory letters. The doctor makes the identification on the basis of the letter which best described the king’s characteristics because of filial resemblance. St Theodore then states:

“This worried king is God – may He be glorified and exalted! His son is Adam and his descendants, the doctor is the intellect (‘aql) which God gave to Adam, through which he can know God. With it he can understand and do that which is good, and understand and refuse evil, disobedience of the doctor and the sickness of the son is the fall of man into sin, movement from Paradise to earth, and the degradation of the mind to the level of life, like that of animals. The sending of the messenger represents the true messenger with a book. In it He describes His attributes truthfully according to which He must be served. In it, He forbids them from all sort of evil, and asks them to do good in this world….we should act as that wise doctor, put the books aside and ask with our intellect, how can we know the characteristics of God, which our senses and our intellects cannot [fully] grasp, what is good and what is bad, what is blameworthy and what is beautiful, and what is the eternal rewards He gives us, their goodness and [what is] sorrow.”

Adam as exemplar and image of God

After this St Theodore turns his attention to Adam. He reasons that our intellect can see in ourselves “the best qualities of the invisible God” although the “divine qualities are more sublime and utterly different”:

“We can give the following illustration: no one can see their own face in themselves, but only the reflection of their likeness. For example, when gazing in the mirror, a man sees his own face as a reflection. It is clear he has not seen as he is in himself with all his attributes and properties, but a mere reflection…in the same way we can note that when we look at Adam’s nature with our intellect and point out its virtues, we can see God in it and receive true knowledge concerning Him – although He is more exalted and something utterly different – it is similar to the face in itself and its reflection in the mirror.”

St Theodore goes on to point out the comparison is imperfect because human weaknesses are not found in God, because they do not originate in Him. Theodore also makes an interesting ontological argument: If Adam exists, the One Who caused his existence must also necessarily exist. He also goes on to compare Adam as living, knowing, and listing many other virtues and thus finding them in God (whilst constantly pointing out that human imperfections are not found in God).

Most interestingly, St Theodore makes a comparison between the Trinity and Adam:

“Adam also has other, more exalted, virtues. These reflect God just as the other virtues we examined and concluded we can see God having such virtues. I am now talking of birth (wilada), emergence (inbithaq) and headship (ri’asa). We can see that something which is of one nature with Adam has been born and emerged from him. We also see that his relation to these is as head. Adam is begetter and head to those who are from him. and hence the One Who made him into a begetter and a head, must Himself be Begetter and Head in relation to Those resembling Him exactly. In the case of God this is by necessity in a more exalted and ineffable manner…”

After pointing out that these relations in God aren’t at all like in humans but that the begetting of the Son and the procession of the Spirit from the Father are ineffable, St Theodore makes a fascinating counter and a response:

“What if someone says that Adam doesn’t have an analogy with God with regards to begetting, emergence and headship but has with these other, lesser virtues?…If Adam (human) was not a begetter, he would not have the joy of life, no headship (ri’asa)..or any other virtue, his joy would be with donkeys and other animals…each of Adam’s virtues has its origins in (its absolute sense) God. These cannot be denied from God, and if you agree with this, then begetting, which is the most noblest of virtues, must exist in God and cannot be denied. Otherwise Adam would be better than God, having two virtues which God doesn’t have, namely headship and begetting.”

(NB: it seems to me the usage of “headship” corresponds to the usage of the Father being the “origin” of the Son and the Spirit in Greek patristic theology)

Other virtues of the true religion examined

After a lengthy discussion on Adam, St Theodore moves to the other points of examination. namely how to live a virtuous life and to avoid evil whilst doing good. He makes an argument for selflessness:

“If someone is perfectly virtuous, he will love all people. Who acts like this resembles God. Namely that God – glorified is He – does not want anything to Himself from this world, overlooks those who are evil towards Him, and is merciful to those who lie about Him. He gives His goodness to those who are undeserving of it, with open hand He gives to regular people everything in the world. He does not favor the righteous at the expense of the unrighteous, but His goodness flows equally to all. “

Because our virtues are ultimately rooted in God, our behavior should reflect the selflessness of God . This comparison between God and man is fascinating (all Abrahamic religions affirm man is in the image of God, but this is mainly stressed in Christianity). St Theodore also highlights the natural human desire to move towards God (calling them “more noble desires), the top of such desires is God Himself:

“Each of us desires life which is eternal and free of anxiety…we may conclude that the core of all such desires is God – may He be exalted and glorified…He gives Himself to us, so that we will live with Him and touch Him. We partake of His joy and blessedness through our longing (to be with Him). This is the desire of our soul, the completion of all happiness and fulfillment of our longing.”

This is also the basis for the blessedness of those in Paradise, according to St Theodore our inner desire is eternal life, free of corruption, which points that our soul has a natural desire to move towards God, Who is Incorruptible Life. He moves from this to theosis but I won’t cover it here.

Putting theory to practice

From here, St Theodore puts the theory to use and – unsurprisingly – concludes only the Gospel confirms these points at a fundamental level.

“These [other religions] describe their gods in earthly manners, not from God. The Gospel alone is from God. We know this from it offering us what our own nature has taught us in it being in the likeness of God….Christ taught His disciples to do what is allowed, leave what is forbidden, and being perfect in goodness…if someone has perfected love towards those who hate them, doesn’t allow himself to take revenge on those who wrong them and forgives, repays evil with good, loves his enemy and imitates God, the peak of all goodness and virtue, he becomes His child and is the noblest of all people. Such a one has removed sickness from his nature and has made it completely healthy, which is according to our natural teaching…other religions have allowed their adherents to take hold of the world and its amusements, they have corrupted their nature thoroughly by forbidding it from loving its Creator and one another…they did not do anything virtuous, but only revenge and requiring recompense, like wild beasts….they treat others badly, but cannot handle bad treatment. If they are struck, they kill. Nor are they satisfied with this but take their swords and go to those who have done no harm against them, and kill them and take them as their bounty. “

St Theodore goes on to quote a florilegium of Biblical texts to demonstrate each of these virtues and points (perfection, loving our enemy, union with God, God as Trinity etc) from the Gospels.

A potential Old Testament objection

Interestingly, St Theodore raises an objection: “In your description of such virtues as confirmed by the Gospel alone, you’ve denied Moses as a messenger, as he brought something which was sinful and lacking.” Theodore’s reply is simple: “we believe in Moses because the Gospel confirms him” (interestingly an admission that the religion of Moses wasn’t perfected in itself, but this hardly proves to be an issue in light of Christian view of development which can also say that the Mosaic law was understood more in depth as time went on and its understanding was perfected in the incarnation as was always the plan). He also goes on to say that no religion could be accepted on mere intellect alone apart from Christianity on the basis of the “natural teaching” embedded in human nature.

“We can also discover in the Gospel why Moses was sent with such a lacking religion….the reason was the weakness of man”. (cf. Matthew 19:8?)

Conclusion

From above we can see that St Theodore’s apologetic argument is heavily focused on human nature itself. There are obviously theological questions left unanswered, for example, the effect of the Fall (he doesn’t address whether the properties of Adam as is relate to the Fall or not). But to me it seems largely valid in light of man being in the image and likeness of God (both Islam and Christianity affirm man is in the image of God). The incisive question is: if man is truly in the divine image, isn’t the proper conclusion to say man also possesses those properties which God has (by analogy)? One can also see how he values certain virtues (there is of course a degree of subjectivity here but it seems both sides affirmed the goodness of God and the innate human desire to do good to others), which for St Theodore reflects the selflessness of God, so that God even goes so far as to unite humanity with Himself.

In the next part of this series we will consider St Theodore’s argument in On Salvation in Christ.

Some reflections on Theodore Abu Qurrah’s writings (Part 1): “Finding the true religion through intellect”

St Gregory Palamas on the Trinity

Icon of St. Gregory Palamas - (1GP08) - Uncut Mountain Supply

Adapted from ‘The Lives of the Pillars of Orthodoxy (1990), pp. 333-335

Only God, – Who ever was before the ages – is unoriginate, unending, everlasting, unchanging, without confusion and infinite. Everything created is perishable, and changeable. God, the only unoriginate One, is neither without Logos/Reason nor is He without Wisdom. The Logos of God is also the Wisdom of God, because Wisdom is in the Logos and without the Logos there is no Wisdom. Therefore, to say that there was ever a time God existed without the Logos and without Wisdom is impious and impossible; for the Logos of God is also unoriginate. and Wisdom is never to be separated from Him.

Now the Logos is never to be found without the Spirit, a point which you Turks also confess. It is said that Christ is the Logos of God and the Spirit of God, (since He is co-essential) and never separated from the Holy Spirit. Therefore, God has a Logos and a Spirit that are ever with Him, and are also unoriginate and indivisible. For God was never, nor will He ever be, without spirit or reason (logos). One therefore is Three, and these Three are One. God, therefore, has a Logos and a Spirit, but not as we have a reason and a spirit. I shall give you an example: as the effulgence of the sun leaves it and shines down upon us, yet the radiance and the ray never separate from the disk (star) itself. That is why we name them (the radiance and the ray) ‘sun’ and do not name them another sun apart from the one. Thus, it is the same when we name God and the Logos of God and the Holy Spirit. We do not name some other God from the One, Who is unoriginate and eternal together with the unoriginate Logos and Spirit.

This is how we were taught to believe and confess by Christ Himself, the Logos of God. Not only did Christ teach thus, but Moses also, in the Decalogue, which you adopted on your part. When Moses uttered, ‘the Lord our God is one Lord’, he said three times the One – because he said ‘Lord’ twice and ‘God’ once – in order to reveal the Three in One and the One in Three. From the beginning, Moses desired to reveal that God and the Logos have the Spirit and between Them and with Them is One God. The Creator, Who created everything, said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light’. He said, ‘let the earth bring forth the herb of grass, bearing seed…’. Now, without going into detail, as David says, ‘All that God said, came to be’. The scriptural verse then, ‘God said, and it came to pass’ reveals that God has a logos – for a saying cannot be without a word – and by this Logos did all creation come to pass. The Logos of God existed before all creation and is uncreated. Since the Logos of God is uncreated, how can He not be God? This is because only God is uncreated.

Now let us return to Moses, concerning the making of man. He says, ‘And God formed the man from dust of the earth, and breathed upon his face the breath of life, and the man became a living soul’. Within the verse, ‘God breathed the breath of life, and the man became a living soul’ it is revealed that God has a Spirit and the Spirit is creating. The Creator of the soul is solely God. Thus did Job say, ‘the divine Spirit is that which formed me, and the breath of the Almighty that which teaches me’.

Holy Father Gregory, pray to Christ God to save our souls!

St Gregory Palamas on the Trinity

The Letter of the Six Bishops to Paul of Samosata (c. AD 268) before his deposition

@AlFinlandi

 The following is adapted from “The Angel of the LORD: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Study. I highly recommend the book.

Hymenaeus, Theophilus, Theoteknus, Maximus, Proclus, Bolanus, to Paul in Christ, greetings. 

Now that we have reached the point of discussions with one another we shall demonstrate what we believe. And in order that it might be made abundantly clear what each one thinks and that those things which are in question might come to their most certain conclusion, it seemed [good] to us to set forth a written account concerning this faith which we received from the beginning and so have what has been handed down and maintained in the universal and holy church until this very day through succession from the blessed apostles who also “became eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word” (Luke 1:4), being proclaimed in the Law and the Prophets and the New Testament. For God is unbegotten, one, without beginning, invisible, unchangeable, “whom no man has seen, nor is able to see,” (1 Timothy  6:16) and any attempt to comprehend His glory or greatness or relate how they are in a way that does justice to the truth is humanly impossible. But we must also be content to receive a measured knowledge concerning Him as His Son reveals Him. Just as it says, “no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son reveals Him” (Matthew 11:27) This Son, begotten, the one and only Son, the Image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, (Colossians 1:15) the Wisdom and Word and Power of God, (1 Corinthians 1:24) existing before the ages, not as to foreknowledge but as to being and nature God, Son of God, we confess and preach having come to a knowledge from both the Old and New Testaments. And whoever argues that the Son of God as God did not exist before the foundation of the world, [must] believe and confess [such] affirming that they proclaim two gods. If it is preached that the Son of God is not God, we shall lead this foreign [teaching] away from the ecclesiastical rule. And every catholic church is in agreement with us.

For concerning this it is written, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. A rod of equity is the rod of your rule; you loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. Therefore God, your God, anointed you with oil of rejoicing above Your companions.” (Hebrews 1:8-9) And again in Isaiah [it is written], “Our God is repaying judgment; yes, he will repay; He Himself will come and save us. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of stammerers shall be clear.” (Isaiah 35:4-6) And again, “They will pray in You because God is in You.” (Isaiah 45:14) And, “There is no God beside you. For you are God and we did not know it, O God of Israel, Savior.” (Isaiah 45:14-15) And according to the apostle, “From whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:5) Of this One [we read], “the one who is over all.” And, “beside you,” meaning over all created things.

Also in the writing of Hosea we read, “For I am God and not a man, holy in your midst, and I will not enter into a city. I will go after the Lord.” (Hosea 11:9-10) And every God-breathed Scripture reveals God to be the Son of God, which to set forth one by one we put off for another time.  We believe this One, being eternally with the Father, has brought to fruition the Father’s will for all of creation. For He spoke and they came into existence. He commanded and they were created (Psalm 32:9 LXX). Now the One who commands gives orders to another. We have been persuaded that this One is no other God than the One and Only Son of God, to Whom also He said, “Let us make man according to our image and likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

Briefly stated, according to the Gospel, “All things were made through Him, and without Him not one thing was made.” (John 1:3) And according to the apostle, “In Him all things were created: things in the heavens and things on the Earth, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or rulers or dominions or authorities. Everything has been created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16) And thus He did as truly being and working, as both Logos and God, through Whom the Father has made all things – not as through a tool nor as through irresistible knowledge – the Father having begotten the Son as a living Power and Subsistence who works all things in all things, not just by observing or by the Son only being present but also by being involved in the entire creative act, as it is written, “I was working alongside Him.” (Proverbs 8:20)

We say that this One came down and appeared to Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre, one of the three, with Whom the patriarch conversed as with the Lord and Judge seeing that He has received from the Father all the judgment. Concerning Whom it has been written, “The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorra fire and sulphur from the Lord of heaven.” (Genesis 19:24) He is revealed to be the One who fulfils the Father’s will to the patriarchs and He speaks in the same passages and the same sections sometimes as an angel but other times as Lord and even at times being testified to as God. For to believe an angel to be called God of all is ungodly. But this angel is the Son of the Father, the Lord Himself, being also God. For it is written, “An angel of great counsel” (Isaiah 9:6) as [it is similarly written] in other places to Abraham, etc. “For now I know that you fear God” and “you did not spare your beloved son on account of Me.” (Genesis 22:12) And “he called the name of the place ‘The Lord saw’ that they might say today, ‘On the mountain the Lord appeared.’” (Genesis 22:14)

And concerning Jacob, “And the angel of God spoke to me while asleep saying, ‘Jacob.’ I said, ‘Who is it?’ And He said, ‘Look up with your eyes … I am the God who appeared to you in the place of God where you anointed a pillar to Me there and made a vow to Me there.’” (Genesis 31:13) Also after the struggle and the things concerning a man written about beforehand, it was added, “And Jacob called the name of that place ᾽Seeing-God.’ ‘For I have seen God face to face and my life has been preserved.’”(Genesis 32:30)The man written about beforehand, being the Son of God, whom the Scripture itself reveals [to be] God, we confess. Moreover, we also affirm that the law likewise was given to Moses by the ministry of the Son of God, as the apostle teaches saying, “Why then the law? It was added for the sake of transgressions, until the seed to whom the promise was made should come, having been ordained through angels in the hand of a mediator.” (Galatians 3:19) For we do not know another mediator between God and men other than this One.

What’s more, Moses also teaches us the following: “now an angel appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the bush …now when the Lord saw that he came near to see, the Lord called to him from the bush.” (Exodus 3:2-4) Again, “After you go, as you gather the elders of the sons of Israel, then you will say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of our fathers has appeared to me, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob …’ If then, they do not believe me, neither will they listen to my voice. For they will say, ‘The Lord God has not appeared to you!’ What shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:14)

And in the blessings, “According to the ordinances by the One who appeared in the bush, may these things come upon the head of Joseph.” (Deuteronomy 33:16) And elsewhere, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Even this word which you have spoken, I will do for you.’” So he said, “Show me Your glory.” And the Lord replied, “I will pass by before you in My glory. And I will call in the name ‘Lord’ before you and I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:17-19) In this way it was indeed accomplished: “And the Lord descended in a cloud, and He stood beside him there. And He called in the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before his face. And He called ‘the Lord God.’” (Exodus 34:6)

For the One above who promised to pass by is the Son of God, the Lord. Yet He called in the name of the Lord, the Father. This One is the One who also speaks truth saying, “Not that anyone has seen the Father except He who is from the Father. This One has seen the Father.” (John 6:46) And in the same gospel, “His voice you have never heard, nor His form have you seen.” (John 5:37) And “No one has ever seen God. The only-begotten Son who is in the bosom the Father, He has made Him known.” (John 1:18) And in another place the apostle says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God.” (1 Timothy 1:17)

Now the Son, who is with the Father, being God and Lord of all creation and being sent by the Father from heaven and being enfleshed, became a man. For this reason also the body of the virgin held the fullness of deity in bodily form, (Colossians 2:9)He was unchangeably united to deity and has been made divine. Therefore, the God and man Himself, Jesus Christ, was prophesied about in the law and prophets, and in every church under heaven it is believed that as God [He] emptied himself from being equal with God. (Philippians 2:7) And as man [He was] also from the seed of David according to the flesh. (Romans 1:4)
The signs and wonders recorded in the gospels God accomplished by becoming flesh and blood [and] as One who “has been tempted in all things [as we are, yet] without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Thus also Christ in the divine Scriptures before He put on flesh was named as one and the same.

[We know that] in Jeremiah, “the breath of our face” (Lamentations 4:20) is Christ. “The Lord is the Spirit,” (2 Corinthians 3:17) according to the apostle. “For they drank from the spiritual Rock and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4) and again, “We must not put the Lord to the test just as some tested Him and were destroyed by snakes.” (1 Corinthians 10:9)
 
And concerning Moses [it is written], “he considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” (Hebrews 11:26) So also Peter [wrote], “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be ours searched and made careful inquiry examining what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating.” (1 Peter 1:11) Now if “Christ is the Power of God and the Wisdom of God,” (1 Corinthians 1:24) He has been so from eternity. Thus also with respect to Christ being one and the same in substance, even though these are lofty and high thoughts to be thinking.

Regarding these things which were written down from the greatest to the least, we want to know if you think and teach these things with us and will sign below [in agreement], [and] if [you are] in favor with that which has been written or not.

The Letter of the Six Bishops to Paul of Samosata (c. AD 268) before his deposition

The deity of Christ in light of 1 Corinthians 8:6 (and Jude 4)

Even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

1 Corinthians 8:5-6

Certain people have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into indecent behavior and deny our only Sovereign and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Jude 4

Many Anti-Trinitarians appeal to 1 Corinthians 8:6 to deny the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, because St Paul identifies the “one God” as the Father and supposedly the “one Lord” is a lower title. This article seeks to refute this appeal by looking at:

a) the sociohistorical context of Corinth and Greco-Roman world more widely

b) Second Temple Jewish literature related to the pronouns used

c) Patristic theology in light of the this text

d) The relevance of Jude 4

This examination will conclude that in fact these texts are extremely strong proofs for the deity of Christ, and the Anti-Trinitarian argument is misplaced.

The sociohistorical context of 1st century Corinth

Corinth was a major city in Greece, with many temples for various Greek deities as well as statues of various gods, as described by the 2nd century AD traveler, Pausanias:

Before entering the city – Pausanias does not indicate on which road – he found a precinct of Bellerophontes and a temple of Aphrodite Melaenis. In the agora were statues of Artemis Ephesia, Dionysos, Poseidon, Apollo Klarios, Aphrodite, Hermes (two), Zeus (three) and Athena with some Muses. Also in the agora were temples dedicated to Tyche, All The Gods, and Octavia the sister of Julius Caesar, who re-founded the city.

The roads radiating outwards from the city were likewise lined with religious sculptures and architecture. Along the road to Lechaion, Pausanias mentions statues of Phaëthon the son of Helios, Helios, Herakles, Peirene, Apollo (in the enclosure), Odysseys, Hermes, Poseidon, Leukothea, Palaimon, Artemis, Bellerophontes, and Pegasos. Many temples stood along the road Sicyon: temples dedicated to Apollo, Athena Chalinitis, Zeus Capitolinus, Zeus, Asklepios, and a burnt temple of either Apollo or Zeus Olympios; there were statues of Mermerus and Pheres. Deima (Terror), Herakles, and Hygeia, and there was a well of Glauke.

The ascent of the majestic akrokorinth had two precincts for each of the Egyptian divinities Isis and Sarapis, as well as statues of Helios, Ananke, Bia, and the Mother of the gods. Temples for the Moiroi, Demeter and Kore, and Hera Bunia rose along the way. At the summit stood the temple of Aphrodite with statues of Helios and Eros. Pausanias’s account goes on to give similar lists of gods and goddesses for the towns surrounding Corinth…

Monotheism and Christology in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, (PhD Thesis 1987) pp. 269-270

As we can see, Corinth had many temples, statues and so forth to various pagan deities. Which leads us to our next point: what does St Paul mean by contrasting “many gods” and “many lords” with “one God” and “one Lord”?

Is “God” a higher title than “Lord” in the sociohistorical context of Corinth?

In short, no. The two titles were roughly synonymous in a Greco-Roman context in which St Paul is writing to the converts at Corinth:

Older expositors sometimes assumed that the κύριοι πολλοί (many lords) were lower divine beings of lower rank than the θεοὶ πολλοὶ…..however, the fact was that it was the High God (at Tarsus) who received the title of Baal, equivalent to the Greek Κύριος. Further studies of the title Κύριος in pagan religions…have shed further light on the problem. We find Θεὸς and Κύριος used side by side to describe rulers in inscriptional and papyrological evidence from the pre-christian period, indicating that these terms were at least to some extent synonymous. High gods given the title Κύριος included Isis and Sarapis, Osiris, Jupiter Heliopolitanus, and, in Syria, Zeus. Olympian deities for the most part continued to be called θεοὶ, but in various places local usage might apply the term κύριοι to such Olympians as Apollo, Artemis, Athena, and Hermes, as well as to the highly venerated Greek gods Asklepios, Chronos, and Dionysos. Now that these facts have been brought to light, scholars generally have abandoned the view that the titles Θεὸς and Κύριος connoted any difference in status.

Ibid. p. 157, bold mine

the usage of “Lord” for high gods has also been confirmed by more recent research as exemplified by Nicole Belayche:

Kyrios/a is a literal translation of Semitic divine appellations: Ba’al and Adon for gods, Ba’alat for goddesses. Like in the Phoenician history of Philo of Byblos – Βεελσάμην, ὅ ἐστι παρὰ Φοίνιξι κύριος οὐρανοῦ, Ζεὺς δὲ παρ’ Ἕλλησιν – the bilingual dedication of Seleucos (Bar’ateh in Palmyrenian), son of Lucius, leaves no doubt on the equivalence, though the use does not echo per se a specific religious experience of the god (PAT 1089). In 31 CE – thus before Dura-Europos entered the imperium of Rome, though the presence of Rome is already perceptible in anthroponymy – Seleucos and his son Ababouis (bbwhy) offered a statue (τὸ[ν] ἀνδριάντα) – probably the relief – τῷ Δεῖ κυρίῳ / b’lšmyn in three “languages”: Greek, Palmyrenian Aramaic, and iconographic (thanks to the sculptor / glyptès Iaraios / Yarhai). The document was found in a small structure (thus called “temple of Zeus kyrios”) possibly erected c. 28 CE by immigrants coming from Palmyra. The inscription engraved on the plinth of the relief (Fig. 1) attests to the translation of the Aramaic Ba’al Shamîn as Zeus kyrios. There is only one other testimony in Dura: a Greek graffito dated to c. 210 CE, inscribed on a wall of one the rooms of the Roman praetorium that enclosed the temple of ArtemisAzzanathkona. It can be surmised that Aramaic was Seleucos’ mother tongue, for he calls Ba’al Shamîn “lh”, “my god” (with the suffix of ownership). This is a very thin clue for asserting a deep personal relationship of Seleucos with “his” god. Testimonies are more numerous in the Hauran, and that of Decimus Lucius Fabianus, a Roman legionary (legion unknown after the break of the stone) is more demonstrative for the point: he thanked “Zeus the Lord” for having been propitiated (ἱλ[ασίας χάριν]).

[…]

In the Hauran also (Sourdel 1952, 25–27), Zeus is honored as kyrios during the reign of the emperor Claudius. The area, then, was part of the land of the Herodian tetrarch Agrippa II, once it had been separated from the Nabatean sphere of influence half a century before. At Sanamein-Aire (50 km south of Damascus), three brothers with local or Hellenized names (Eunomos son of Hector, Aias and Nikaios), offered to Zeus kyrios some building (τοῦτο τὸ μέρος) in the “temple” (οἰκοδομῆσαι ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ), “by piety and as a thanksgiving”. The temple is unlocated (unlike the Severian Tychaion, Dentzer-Feydi 2010). Yet the naming of the god as kyrios is consistent with the context of a cult place embellished or enlarged by the dedicants. The occasion for the dedication evokes regular religious homages, reinforced probably by euergetic concerns. The epithet of the god expresses in Greek a masterful position in his sanctuary, with no hint of specific experience of the god. One can read a similar semantic use in a consecration to a local ba’al (he is πατρῷος) with a celestial field (he is οὐράνιος) at Damas: once both his divine field and link with the dedicant have been designated, his status is explicitly stated (“the Lord” with article). In Bosra, the dedication of Gaius Iulius Maximus, a soldier of the IIIa legio Cyrenaica, “to Zeus kyrios and Hera, ancestral gods”

[…]

Local tradition is more likely expressed in Greek dedications offered to Kronos. At Nebi Abel, south-west of Abila, eleven worshippers offered an altar in 166/167 “to Kronos kyrios after an oracle of the gods Zeus and Apis of Abila”

[…]

In evidence of the Roman period, there is only one document (as far as I know) displaying Kronos kyrios as a supreme and cosmic deity. At Maad, in the mountainous hinterland of Byblos, a group of inscriptions was found in a church built on the ruins of a pagan building. One dedication, still discussed, is engraved on a cippus within a tabula ansata:

τῷ Κυρί/ω ἁγί(ῳ) κὲ κυ/[ρ]ίῳ ὅλου / [τ]οῦ κόσ/[μ]ου Σατρά/[π]ε θεὸς / [ἐ]ποίησε
To the saint Lord and Lord of the whole universe, the god Satrapes made (this dedication).

[…]

Definitely kyrios points towards rulership of a place, temple or city, compared to despotes, which is more akin to expressing a special experience of the deity and of his/her supreme position. (my note: we will return to this later in our discussion on Jude 4)

[…]

Zeus can be kyrios in archaic and classical Greek poetry and drama, as are other deities.

Kyrios and despotes: addresses to deities and religious experiences

As we can see, both δεσπότης (Despotes, Sovereign/Master) and κύριος (Kyrios, Lord) were used in a supreme sense among the Greco-Roman audience of Paul, so Paul’s usage of εἷς κύριος (one Lord) in contrast to the κύριοι πολλοί (many lords) of Corinth is already telling and thus should be understood as Jesus being the Lord in its most supreme sense, ie. as deity (for more background you can see for example here). In short then, this is Paul’s subtle way of indicating binitarianism in this passage as both the Father and the Son being the objects of devotion for the nascent Christian community (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2 identifying Christians as “all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”, using Old Testament prayer language of the one God for the risen Lord).

‘Through whom are all things’ in intertestamental Jewish literature

It is in addition claimed that “through whom are all things” somehow places Jesus the Lord to a subordinate position to God the Father because “all things” are seen as being “from” the Father “through” the Son. Here I will simply quote relevant intertestamental texts to illustrate this is false and in fact places Jesus on the Creator-side of the creator-creation side of the distinction.

  • Romans 11:34-36

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Here Paul applies the same preposition he applied to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 8:6 to “God”. Unless the critic wants to say God is subordinate to Himself, they must concede “from” and “through” do not indicate subordination but simply function.

  • 2 Esdras 6:1-6

[God] said to me, “At the beginning of the circle of the earth, before the portals of the world were in place, and before the assembled winds blew, and before the rumblings of thunder sounded, and before the flashes of lightning shone, and before the foundations of paradise were laid, and before the beautiful flowers were seen, and before the powers of movements were established, and before the innumerable hosts of angels were gathered together, and before the heights of the air were lifted up, and before the measures of the firmaments were named, and before the footstool of Zion was established, and before the present years were reckoned and before the imaginations of those who now sin were estranged, and before those who stored up treasures of faith were sealed— then I planned these things, and they were made through Me alone and not through another; just as the end shall come through Me alone and not through another.”

Here God speaks to Ezra and says all things came through Him alone. The Latin uses per which is equivalent to the Greek διά which is applied to Christ in 1 Corinthians 8:6 (cf. Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2, John 1:3)

The key takeaway is that all things came through God alone, not another. Once again we see “through” is not a subordinate to “from” (cf. Philo of Alexandria and the same preposition applied to the divine Logos)

Patristic exegesis of 1 Corinthians 8:6

One would imagine that if this text was such a problem for traditional Triadology, the Holy Fathers would seek to use other texts to construct their theology in light of the Arian controversy. However we see the exact opposite. In fact, the Nicene Creed (both its original 325 version and the subsequent 381 edition) begin with:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all agesthrough whom all things were made

Other quotes from the Fathers where they use this text to establish the absolute deity of our Lord:

yet to us there is One God, the Father”.

 In the first instance having expressed it without the word Father, and said, there is no God but one, he now adds this also, when he had utterly cast out the others.

Next, he adduces what indeed is the greatest token of divinity; from Whom are all things. For this implies also that those others are not gods. For it is said: “Let the gods who made not the heaven and the earth perish” (Jeremiah 10:11). Then he subjoins what is not less than this, and we unto Him. For when he says, of Whom are all things, he means the creation and the bringing of things out of nothing into existence. But when he says, and we unto Him, he speaks of the word of faith and mutual appropriation, as also he said before: “but of Him are you also in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 8:30) In two ways we are of Him, by being made when we were not, and by being made believers. For this also is a creation: a thing which he also declares elsewhere; “that He might create in Himself of the two one new man.” (Ephesians 2:15)

And there is “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things, and we through Him”. And in regard to Christ again, we must conceive of this in like manner. For through Him the race of men was both produced out of nothing into existence, and returned from error to truth. So that as to the phrase from Whom, it is not to be understood apart from Christ. For from Him, through Christ, were we created.

St John Chrysostom, Homily on 1 Corinthians 8:1-11

St John Chrysostom correctly notes that the distinction between Creator and Creation is found in creatio ex nihilo. If all things came to be through Christ, He is not part of it, but its Originator (cf. Revelation 3:14)

The same is echoed by St Athanasius:

The Word then is neither creature nor work; for creature, thing made, work, are all one; and were He creature and thing made, He would also be work. Accordingly He has not said, ‘He created Me a work,’ nor ‘He made Me with the works,’ lest He should appear to be in nature and essence a creature; nor, ‘He created Me to make works,’ lest, on the other hand, according to the perverseness of the irreligious, He should seem as an instrument made for our sake. Nor again has He declared, ‘He created Me before the works,’ lest, as He really is before all, as an Offspring, so, if created also before the works, He should give ‘Offspring’ and ‘He created’ the same meaning. But He has said with exact discrimination , ‘for the works;’ as much as to say, ‘The Father has made Me, into flesh, that I might be man,’ which again shows that He is not a work but an offspring. For as he who comes into a house, is not part of the house, but is other than the house, so He who is created for the works, must be by nature other than the works. But if otherwise, as you hold, O Arians, the Word of God be a work, by what Hand and Wisdom did He Himself come into being? For all things that came to be, came by the Hand and Wisdom of God, who Himself says, ‘My hand has made all these things (Isaiah 66:2);’ and David says in the Psalm, ‘And You, Lord, in the beginning have laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands ;’ and again, in the hundred and forty-second Psalm, ‘I do remember the time past, I muse upon all Your works, yea I exercise myself in the works of Your hands.’ Therefore if by the Hand of God the works are wrought, and it is written that ‘all things were made through the Word,’ and ‘without Him was not made one thing’ (John 1:3),’ and again, ‘One Lord Jesus, through whom are all things,’ and ‘in Him all things consist,’ it is very plain that the Son cannot be a work, but He is the Hand of God and the Wisdom. This knowing, the martyrs in Babylon, Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, arraign the Arian irreligion. For when they say, ‘O all you works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord,’ they recount things in heaven, things on earth, and the whole creation, as works; but the Son they name not. For they say not, ‘Bless, O Word, and praise, O Wisdom;’ to show that all other things are both praising and are works; but the Word is not a work nor of those that praise, but is praised with the Father and worshipped and confessed as God , being His Word and Wisdom, and of the works the Framer. This too the Spirit has declared in the Psalms with a most apposite distinction, ‘the Word of the Lord is true, and all His works are faithful ;’ as in another Psalm too He says, ‘O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In Wisdom have You made them all. ‘

Second Oration Against The Arians, chapter 21

St Gregory of Nyssa comments:

And let no one think it unreasonable that the creature should be set in opposition to God, but have regard to the prophets and to the Apostles. For the prophet says in the person of the Father, “My Hand made all these things” [Isaiah 66:2] meaning by “Hand,” in his dark saying, the power of the Only-Begotten. Now the Apostle says that all things are from the Father, and that all things are through the Son, and the prophetic spirit in a way agrees with the Apostolic teaching, which itself also is given through the Spirit. For in the one passage, the prophet, when he says that all things are the work of the Hand of Him Who is over all, sets forth the nature of those things which have come into being in its relation to Him Who made them, while He Who made them is God over all, Who has the Hand, and by It makes all things. And again, in the other passage, the Apostle makes the same division of entities, making all things depend upon their productive cause, yet not reckoning in the number of “all things” that which produces them: so that we are hereby taught the difference of nature between the created and the uncreated, and it is shown that, in its own nature, that which makes is one thing and that which is produced is another.

St Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book VII

He also writes:

As we have to a certain extent shown by our statement that the word Godhead is not significant of nature but of operation, perhaps one might reasonably allege as a cause why, in the case of men, those who share with one another in the same pursuits are enumerated and spoken of in the plural, while on the other hand the Deity is spoken of in the singular as one God and one Godhead, even though the Three Persons are not separated from the significance expressed by the term Godhead,— one might allege, I say, the fact that men, even if several are engaged in the same form of action, work separately each by himself at the task he has undertaken, having no participation in his individual action with others who are engaged in the same occupation. For instance, supposing the case of several rhetoricians, their pursuit, being one, has the same name in the numerous cases: but each of those who follow it works by himself, this one pleading on his own account, and that on his own account. Thus, since among men the action of each in the same pursuits is discriminated, they are properly called many, since each of them is separated from the others within his own environment, according to the special character of his operation. But in the case of the Divine nature we do not similarly learn that the Father does anything by Himself in which the Son does not work conjointly, or again that the Son has any special operation apart from the Holy Spirit; but every operation which extends from God to the Creation, and is named according to our variable conceptions of it, has its origin from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit. For this reason the name derived from the operation is not divided with regard to the number of those who fulfil it, because the action of each concerning anything is not separate and peculiar, but whatever comes to pass, in reference either to the acts of His providence for us, or to the government and constitution of the universe, comes to pass by the action of the Three, yet what does come to pass is not three things. We may understand the meaning of this from one single instance. From Him, I say, Who is the chief source of gifts, all things which have shared in this grace have obtained their life. When we inquire, then, whence this good gift came to us, we find by the guidance of the Scriptures that it was from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet although we set forth Three Persons and three names, we do not consider that we have had bestowed upon us three lives, one from each Person separately; but the same life is wrought in us by the Father, and prepared by the Son, and depends on the will of the Holy Spirit. Since then the Holy Trinity fulfils every operation in a manner similar to that of which I have spoken, not by separate action according to the number of the Persons, but so that there is one motion and disposition of the good will which is communicated from the Father through the Son to the Spirit (for as we do not call those whose operation gives one life three Givers of life, neither do we call those who are contemplated in one goodness three Good beings, nor speak of them in the plural by any of their other attributes)

St Gregory of Nyssa, Not Three Gods

St Gregory the Theologian writes regarding the words “and one Lord, Jesus Christ” as follows:

Define our piety by teaching the knowledge of: One God, unbegotten, the Father; and One begotten Lord, his Son, referred to as “God” when he is mentioned separately, but “Lord” when he is named together with the Father—the first on account of the [divine] nature, the second on account of the monarchy; and One Holy Spirit, who proceeds or goes forth from the Father, “God” to those who understand things properly—combated by the impious but understood by those who are above them, and even professed by those who are more spiritual.

Oration 25

From these quotes we can see the Fathers did not see this text as opposing the deity of Christ, but strongly confirming it.

Jesus as only Sovereign and Lord in Jude 4

Another hurdle for the heterodox comes from Jude 4 where he calls Jesus “our only Sovereign and Lord”. This is extremely poignant, as illustrated by Gene Green, a New Testament scholar:

Jude concludes the opening of his vituperatio with the claim that they τὸν μόνον δεσπότην καὶ κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἀρνούμενοι (ton monon despotēn kai kyrion hēmōn Iēsoun Christon arnoumenoi, deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ). Jude’s Christology is very high as he identifies Jesus Christ as “Master” as well as “Lord.” “Master” (δεσπότην, despotēn) occasionally appears as a christological title (2 Pet. 2:1; God in Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; Rev. 6:10). In common usage, it referred to the master of slaves (as 1 Tim. 6:1–2; 2 Tim. 2:21; Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18) but could also be used of rulers. The title underscores their legal control and absolute authority (BDAG 220). But in the LXX it frequently appears as a divine title (Gen. 15:2, 8; Josh. 5:14; Prov. 29:25; Isa. 3:1; 10:33; Jer. 4:10; Tob. 8:17; 2 Macc. 5:17, 20; 15:22; Wis. 8:3; Sir. 36:1). Jude’s use of the title highlights the audacity of the heretics’ act. What slave or subject would dare repudiate their δεσπότης? Jude also calls Jesus Christ “Lord” (see Jude 17, 21, 25; Acts 11:17; 15:26; 28:31; Rom. 1:4, 7; 5:1, 11, 21; 1 Thess. 1:3; 5:9; James 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2 Pet. 1:8), which was another divine title in the LXX, the common translation for Yahweh (Exod. 19:9; 20:2; Isa. 6:3). Likewise in the Greco-Roman world the title was used of divinities (see 1 Cor. 8:5; Deissmann 1911: 353–57) as well as the emperor as part of the fabric of the imperial cult. Jude echoes the Christian version of the Shema (Deut. 6:4) in his declaration that Jesus Christ is the “only Master and Lord.” The heretics had denied this divine sovereign authority.

– Gene Green, Jude and 2 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary, p. 95-96)

Jude uses the well-known rule of Greek known as the Granville Sharp rule which basically states that if two (or more) singular common nouns are used to describe a person, and those two nouns are joined by an additive conjunction, and the definite article precedes the first noun but not the second, then both nouns refer to the same person. Here “the only Sovereign and Lord of us, Jesus Christ” fits into this rule and shows that both nouns have the same referent. The implications here are earth-shattering in light of OT applications of similar language to the God of Israel (cf. Green’s commentary above and Appendix B). It also refutes the critique concerning the Father being called “one God” in 1 Corinthians 8:6 as here Jesus is called “only Lord”, which would mean Father is not Lord, but of course He is! In the same way, our Lord Jesus Christ is God with the Father (and the Spirit), in light of the synonymity of the terms used (cf. above).

As seen above, both Despotes and Kyrios were titles for pagan high gods, so Jude’s statement that Jesus is “our only Master and Lord” is pregnant with divine implications, especially in a Greco-Roman context where the Emperor and various gods were recognized as deities, and in its Jewish context where the God of Israel alone was recognized as Lord over all with same language Jude applies to the exalted Christ here.

Conclusion

In this article I believe we have demonstrated that the anti-Trinitarian critique is both historically and exegetically untenable, and both of these texts are strong proofs for the full deity of the “one Lord”, Jesus Christ, and instead of diminishing His divinity, they manifest His divine glory to us more clearly.

Paul uses “one God” and “one Lord” to distinguish the hypostasis of the Father from the Son, and not saying the Son is a lesser divinity than the Father. Meanwhile, Jude borrows exact OT language and applies it to Jesus, showing His supreme power and authority over the faithful.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one Godhead, one Power, have mercy on us and save our souls.

Appendix A: the KJV translation of Jude 4 and its relevance

Some non-Trinitarians attempt to “muddy the waters” related to Jude 4 by quoting the received text of the verse and claim it refers to two subjects (ie. two lords) instead of one as in the critical text.

(N.B: As Eastern Orthodox, I actually refer by default to the received text instead of modern critical editions)

Certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

The confusion arises by the translation of τὸν μόνον δεσπότην Θεόν καὶ Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν as “the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ”. In fact, δεσπότην also has the meaning of “Sovereign” (cf. NIV) or more commonly “Master” (cf. YLT98 with many others). With this translation, the verse becomes more intelligible:

Our only Sovereign God and Lord, Jesus Christ

Or alternatively

Our only Master God and Lord, Jesus Christ

An additional question relates to the punctuation of the verse. Because the original Greek has no punctuation, one could also read the verse as giving “Jesus Christ” three descriptors:

Denying our only Master (or Sovereign), God, and Lord, Jesus Christ

(cf. “our only Master, God, and Lord — Jesus Christ — denying” in YLT98)

In any case, this alternative reading does not weaken the deity of Christ, unless one reads despoten as “Lord” which is unnecessary and superfluous in both English and Greek as He is described as “Lord” in the same verse. On the contrary, the plain reading still has each title referring back to Jesus and strengthens His divinity and a better translation of despoten here is Master or Sovereign.

Appendix B: Parallels to 1 Corinthians 8:6b/Jude 4

Ezra said, “You are the only Lord (κύριος μόνος)  . You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and everything on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all, and the host of heaven worships You.

Nehemiah 9:6 LXX

He who sacrifices to any god except to the Lord alone (or “to the only Lord“), he shall be put to death.

Exodus 22:19 LXX

The Lord my God shall come and all the saints with Him (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:13). And in that day, it shall be that there will not be any light, but there shall be cold and frost for one day, and that day shall be known to the Lord. It will be neither a day nor a night, but towards evening there will be light. And in that day living water shall come forth out of Jerusalem, half of it toward the eastern sea and half toward the western sea. So it will be in both summer and spring. And the Lord shall be King of all the earth, and in that day the Lord shall be one Lord, and His Name one name…

Zechariah 14:6-9 LXX

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our God is one Lord

Deuteronomy 6:4 LXX

The Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield and will be your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord (δέσποτα κυριε), what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus, the son of Masek, my domestic maidservant?”

Genesis 15:1-2 LXX

But false prophets also appeared among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master (δεσπότην) who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.

2 Peter 2:1
The deity of Christ in light of 1 Corinthians 8:6 (and Jude 4)

Muhammad’s false prophecies

@AlFinlandi

Now if you should say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word the Lord has not spoken?’— whatever word a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing the Lord has not spoken; the prophet spoke that word impiously; you shall stay away from him.

– Deutoronomy 18:21-22 LXX

False Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.

– Matthew 24:24

Muslims often appeal to Muhammad’s prophetic narrations to establish his prophethood. While prophets of the true God do indeed prophesy (cf. Deut 18:18, Jude 17 etc) a false prophet may also speak in the name of God, impiously, to mislead people from salvation in Christ. Such is the case of Muhammad.

There are hundreds of prophecies attributed to Muhammad in the hadith literature, but I want to focus on the two I think are the best case for a probable false prophecy. Vast majority of these other “prophecies” are either extremely vague and generic (ie. “There will be a lot of killing”  Bukhari 7062) or are attributed to Muhammad in the early period of Islam, in later Sunni sources (Bukhari, Muslim and other books of hadith), these prophecies allegedly describe events soon after Muhammad’s death, many of them vague, but some more specific (ie. the conquest of Jerusalem, which happened in AD 636, worth remembering that Bukhari died in AD 870, 250 years after Muhammad).

Could Muhammad have prophesied the future accurately?

Yes, in some instances. This does not make him a true prophet though. Why?

Because both Christian and Islamic tradition affirm demons convey true information to their victims. As Muhammad certainly did not meet Archangel Gabriel – who appeared to the Mother of God and announced to her that she would bear God the Word, the eternal Son of the Father (cf. Luke 1:28ff), which Muhammad denied (Quran 19:35) – he most likely met an evil spirit seeking to take control of him to drive people to hell and destruction, away from the presence of Christ.

Muhammad himself said that the demons give accurate information from the angels:

الْمَلاَئِكَةُ تَتَحَدَّثُ فِي الْعَنَانِ ـ وَالْعَنَانُ الْغَمَامُ ـ بِالأَمْرِ يَكُونُ فِي الأَرْضِ، فَتَسْمَعُ الشَّيَاطِينُ الْكَلِمَةَ، فَتَقُرُّهَا فِي أُذُنِ الْكَاهِنِ، كَمَا تُقَرُّ الْقَارُورَةُ، فَيَزِيدُونَ مَعَهَا مِائَةَ كَذِبَةٍ ‏”‏‏.‏

While the angels talk amidst the clouds about things that are going to happen on earth, the devils hear a word of what they say and pour it in the ears of a soothsayer as one pours something in a bottle, and they add one hundred lies to that.

(Bukhari 3288)

In addition, among the Holy Fathers we have the following statements:

Prophecy is for the most part a work of God which demons cannot even imitate, no matter how hard they try. There can also be a certain delusion in miracles, but to accurately foretell the future is something characteristic of the Eternal Being alone. If the demons have ever done this it was only to seduce the foolish, and therefore their predictions can easily be exposed as lies”

(St. John Chrysostom)

The demons have no fore-vision of what has not net happened. Only God is the ‘knower of all things before they be’ (cf. Dan. 13:42). The demons, however, are like thieves who run ahead, then report what they saw. Even now, they will go and tell many others about what we are doing—how we have come together and are talking about them—before any of us leave this place and tell someone about it. But the same could be done by some sprightly boy who outruns someone walking slowly. And I tell you exactly. If someone should intend to walk from the Thebaid or from another country, until he sets off, the demons do not know whether he will go or not; but as soon as they seen him walking, they run ahead and tell someone about him before he arrives, and they who are walking really do arrive in a few days. Often it happens that the one who set out to travel goes back, and then the demons turn out to be liars. Thus, sometimes they will pompously announce something about the waters of the Nile because they have seen that there was much rain in the land of the Ethiopians, and knowing that flooding in the river can come from that, they run ahead and foretell it. People would say the same thing if they could travel so swiftly from place to place as the demons. And like David’s guard who went up into the heights before those below and saw what was happening, then going ahead more swiftly than the others, related not something that had not yet happened, but what had already occurred, and the news of which was already approaching (see 2 Kings 18:24–29), the demons also take upon themselves the task of letting others know, only in order to seduce them. If Providence should be pleased to do something else with the waters or the travelers at that time (because this is also possible), then the demons will be shown to be liars, and those who listened to them will have been deceived. That is how the pagan oracles worked; that is how people have been deluded by the demons since long ago.

(St Anthony the Great)

Because the demons roam the earth (1 Peter 5:8), and are able to predict patterns seeing their knowledge is much superior to ours, they can get future information correct based on patterns in creation, or they will give statements to their vessels which are very generic or vague (cf. Nostradamus). Therefore, Muhammad’s prophecies are not in and of themselves a proof for him, considering that both traditions say the demons can acquire knowledge of the future.

So far I have discovered two prophecies Muhammad (allegedly) made which are not in his immediate milieu and are demonstrably false. We shall turn to these now:

No more Caesar and Khosrau

Muhammad is purported to have said:

هَلَكَ كِسْرَى ثُمَّ لاَ يَكُونُ كِسْرَى بَعْدَهُ، وَقَيْصَرٌ لَيَهْلِكَنَّ ثُمَّ لاَ يَكُونُ قَيْصَرٌ بَعْدَهُ، وَلَتُقْسَمَنَّ كُنُوزُهَا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ

“Khosrau will be ruined, and there will be no Khosrau after him, and Caesar will surely be ruined and there will be no Caesar after him, and you will spend their treasures in Allah’s Cause”

(Bukhari 3027)

The contemporary rulers of the Byzantine Empire and Sassanid Empire in AD 632 were Heraclius and Yazdegerd III, respectively. I’m using 632 for generosity as this is the year Muhammad is traditionally thought to have died. Here Muhammad is saying the contemporary rulers would perish (literally, be destroyed). The Sassanid ruler has to be Yazdegerd III, because the prophecy fails otherwise. The Sassanid Empire had extremely tumultuous rulership in this era, with rulers being swiftly replaced one after another as this chart shows.

I should note this hadith is narrated with a slight variant which does not change the overall meaning: إِذَا هَلَكَ كِسْرَى (when Khosraw will be ruined…)

The plain meaning of the text is talking about the seventh century Muslim conquests of Persia and Byzantine territory. I am willing to admit Muhammad was in fact correct about the destruction of Yazdegerd III, and there was no ruler in the Sassanid Empire after him, as the Empire was annexed by the Rashidun Caliphate. However, he was VERY wrong about the death of Heraclius. In the hadith the “Khosraw” (ruler of Persia) is clearly linked with the ruler of Rome (Byzantium, more on this later), as the Byzantine Empire lasted until 1453. If the two are linked, and Yazdegerd III is contrasted with Heraclius, both would have to die and Muhammad thought both Empires would soon be overtaken by Muslims. Corroboration to this is found in the hadith:

“‏ تَغْزُونَ جَزِيرَةَ الْعَرَبِ فَيَفْتَحُهَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ فَارِسَ فَيَفْتَحُهَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ تَغْزُونَ الرُّومَ فَيَفْتَحُهَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ تَغْزُونَ الدَّجَّالَ فَيَفْتَحُهُ اللَّهُ ‏”

You will attack Arabia and Allah will enable you to conquer it, then you will attack Persia and He will enable you to conquer it. Then you will attack Rome and Allah will enable you to conquer it, then you will attack the Dajjal and Allah will enable you to conquer him. 

– Muslim 2900

Therefore, Muhammad was mistaken.

A Muslim objection will be that Caesar and Khosraw are not referring to specific people but are just generic titles (which is true to an extent), but in this case the hadith just becomes tautological (“The last Khosraw of the Sassanids will be ruined and there will be no Khosraw after him…) and is hardly a prophecy at all, simply a statement. If the final ruler of a Empire dies out, the Empire itself dies. Therefore this is either a false prophecy or a tautological statement which is not a prophecy at all. The latter is undesirable because of Muhammad’s supposed eloquence (cf. an-Nasa’i 3089, “I have been sent with concise speech”). In addition, if Muhammad wanted to indicate this was a future ruler, he could have just said في آخر الأيام (in the last days…) or something to that effect, but I’m not aware of any variation in the hadith with such a wording.

The Hour will be established when the Romans are the majority of mankind

رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ وَالرُّومُ أَكْثَرُ النَّاسِ” ‏

The Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings of Allah upon him – said: “The Hour will be established when the Romans are the majority of mankind”

(Muslim 2898)

This hadith is simple enough. Muhammad said the Day of Judgment would come when the Romans are the majority (the word أَكْثَرُ – akhtar, means most of).

The main question is. who were the Romans in Muhammad’s context? My argument is simple: this is talking about the Byzantine Empire, and there is no justification for the modern view that it is talking about “Europeans”, Muhammad was wrong about when the Day of Judgment will occur, as the Byzantine Empire was destroyed in AD 1453.

Let’s look at some other ahadith:

In a letter Muhammad purportedly sent to Heraclius, he wrote:

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ، مِنْ مُحَمَّدٍ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ إِلَى هِرَقْلَ عَظِيمِ الرُّومِ، السَّلاَمُ عَلَى مَنِ اتَّبَعَ الْهُدَى

In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent. the Most Merciful, from Muhammad, the slave of Allah and his messenger, to Heraclius, the ruler of Rome…

Bukhari 6260

In another hadith, Abu Sufyan (Muhammad’s enemy and later companion) narrates:

هِرَقْلَ أَرْسَلَ إِلَيْهِ وَهُمْ بِإِيلِيَاءَ، ثُمَّ دَعَا بِكِتَابِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم، فَلَمَّا فَرَغَ مِنْ قِرَاءَةِ الْكِتَابِ كَثُرَ عِنْدَهُ الصَّخَبُ، فَارْتَفَعَتِ الأَصْوَاتُ، وَأُخْرِجْنَا، فَقُلْتُ لأَصْحَابِي حِينَ أُخْرِجْنَا لَقَدْ أَمِرَ أَمْرُ ابْنِ أَبِي كَبْشَةَ، إِنَّهُ يَخَافُهُ مَلِكُ بَنِي الأَصْفَرِ‏.‏

Heraclius sent for me when I was in ‘llya’ (i.e. Jerusalem). Then he asked for the letter of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and when he had finished its reading there was a great hue and cry around him and the voices grew louder and we were asked to quit the place. When we were turned out, I said to my companions, ‘The cause of Ibn Abi Kabsha has become conspicuous as the King of Bani Al- Asfar (Romans) is afraid of him.’ “

Bukhari 2978

“Banu al-Asfar” (sons of the yellow one) js another title for Romans, as seen here in a fatwa.

Other narrations:

أَرَادَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنْ يَكْتُبَ إِلَى الرُّومِ

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ wanted to write to the Romans…

Sunan an-Nasa’i 5201

“‏”‏ قَدْ أَرَدْتُ أَنْ أَنْهَى عَنِ الْغِيَالِ فَإِذَا فَارِسُ وَالرُّومُ يُغِيلُونَ فَلاَ يَقْتُلُونَ أَوْلاَدَهُمْ

‘I wanted to forbid intercourse with a nursing mother, but then (I saw that) the Persians and the Romans do this, and it does not kill their children.

Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 2011

كُنَّا مَعَ فَضَالَةَ بْنِ عُبَيْدٍ بِرُودِسَ مِنْ أَرْضِ الرُّومِ

“We were with Fudala ibn ‘Ubayd in Rhodes in the land of Rome”

Sunan Abi Dawud 3219

لَمَّا كَانَ يَوْمُ بَدْرٍ ظَهَرَتِ الرُّومُ عَلَى فَارِسَ

On the day of (the battle of) Badr, the Romans had a victory over the Persians…

Jami’ah al-Tirmidhi Vol. 5, Book 44, Hadith 3192

In addition, the hadith itself strengthens my argument, let\s quote it in full.

الْمُسْتَوْرِدَ الْقُرَشِيَّ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ وَالرُّومُ أَكْثَرُ النَّاسِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ فَبَلَغَ ذَلِكَ عَمْرَو بْنَ الْعَاصِ فَقَالَ مَا هَذِهِ الأَحَادِيثُ الَّتِي تُذْكَرُ عَنْكَ أَنَّكَ تَقُولُهَا عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ لَهُ الْمُسْتَوْرِدُ قُلْتُ الَّذِي سَمِعْتُ مِنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ فَقَالَ عَمْرٌو لَئِنْ قُلْتَ ذَلِكَ إِنَّهُمْ لأَحْلَمُ النَّاسِ عِنْدَ فِتْنَةٍ وَأَجْبَرُ النَّاسِ عِنْدَ مُصِيبَةٍ وَخَيْرُ النَّاسِ لِمَسَاكِينِهِمْ وَضُعَفَائِهِمْ ‏.‏

“Mustawrid Qurashi reported: I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: The Last Hour would come when the Romans would form a majority amongst mankind. This reached ‘Amr b. al-‘As and he said: What are these ahadith which are being transmitted from you and which you claim to have heard from Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)? Mustawrid said to him: I stated only that which I heard from Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ). Thereupon ‘Amr said: If you state this (it is true), for they have the power of tolerance amongst people at the time of turmoil and restore themselves to sanity after trouble, and are good amongst people so far as the destitute and the weak are concerned.”

Sahih Muslim 2898

Notice the bold parts? ‘Amr ibn al-‘As says the ROMANS have positive qualities, this makes no sense if “the Romans” is anyone but the Byzantine Empire who were the contemporaneous empire, the behavior of which ‘Amr had seemingly observed, it’s clear the reference to THEM in the text refers to those ruling in the time of ‘Amr.

Corroboration by later Muslim authors

Can we find any corroboration in early Muslim literature for the idea that Rome = Byzantine Empire? Yes.

In 2010, Koray Dorak published an article called “Who are the Romans? The Definition of Bilād al-Rūm (Land of the Romans) in Medieval Islamic Geographies”, I’ll quote the earliest mentions in this work:

In ibn Khurrada’dhbih’s work (Kita’b al-masa’lik), Bilad al-Rum unequivocally stands for the Byzantine Empire. The term Rum is used exclusively for Byzantium. The capital city of the Romans is Constantinople; the ‘Roman ruler’ is the Byzantine emperor; and the administrative information about
Bila¯d al-Ru¯m refers to the administration of the Byzantine Empire. Ibn Khurrada’dhbih lists the military regions (Themata) of Byzantine Anatolia and the Balkans when he writes that the Byzantine Empire is divided into 14 provinces; he means Byzantine military officials by ‘Roman patricians’ (Ibn Khurrada’dhbih 104, 109). All of the territories that Ibn Khurrada’dhbih calls ‘Roman’, such as Cyprus, Crete and the eastern Taurus Mountains, were ruled by the Byzantine Empire when Kita’b al-masa’lik
was written. Moreover, Ibn Khurrada’dhbih lists only Cyprus, Crete and Sicily among
the ‘Roman islands’ excluding western Mediterranean islands that were not part of the Byzantine Empire in the ninth century.

(p. 289-290. bold mine)

Very much like ibn Khurrada’dhbih, al-Yaqu’bı, who died in 897 or 905, came from a family of postal officials. His work, Kita’b al-Bulda’n, which he completed in Egypt, is an administrative geography. The book deals mainly with topography and itineraries; and the arrangement of the material in the book is similar to that of ibn Khurrada’dhbih’s book. He starts with discussion of Baghdad and Samarra and
deals with four regions of the Islamic world starting with the east and continuing with the south (Zaman; Miquel La ge’ographie 102104; M. Ahmad A History 6061). The author discusses non-Islamic regions, but unfortunately, the northern part that dealt with Byzantium is largely missing. However, a few extant lines from the section were devoted specifically to the Land of the Romans. Other random references to the
‘Romans’ in other sections of Kita’b al-Buldan show that al-Yaqu’bı had the Byzantine Empire in mind when he used the term ‘Roman’. al-Yaqu’bı lists Byzantine provinces in Anatolia and the Byzantine army in the extant lines concerning the Romans. The author refers to Malatya, which was a Byzantine town on the Syrian border, as a ‘famous city of the Romans’. He also describes the Muslim town of Tyre in Lebanon as
a place where ‘boats destined to attack the Romans are built’. Because the military
confrontation in the eastern Mediterranean in the early tenth century took place between the Byzantines and the Arabs, one can safely assume that the Romans in question were the Byzantines. In line with the assumption that the term ‘Roman’ represented the Byzantines, al-Yaqu’bı calls the ethnic groups in Western Europe, such as the Basque and the Franks, by their names and does not label them as Roman (Jakubi 322, 362, 327, 355).

(pp. 290-91. bold mine)

Quda’ma, who belonged to a Christian family of governors from Basra, worked in
the central administration in Baghdad at the office of the Post, and died sometime between 922 and 948. He wrote Kita’b al-khara’dj (The Book of Taxes) in around 928 as ‘‘a register of postal stations and routes required by the postal department’’ (Bonebakker; Miquel La ge´ographie 95101; M. Ahmad A History 6869). In this administrative geography, all the references to Bila’d al-Ru’m relate to his discussion of
the administration, army and borders of the Byzantine Empire.
For instance, the Roman army whose hierarchy Quda’ma discusses is the Byzantine army. Moreover, Quda’ma places the source of the Euphrates River into the Land of the Romans, that is to say Byzantine Anatolia. The sea on which the Romans sail is the Marmara Sea. On the other hand, the author of Kita’b al-khara’dj does not include Britain or the Narbonne region (of south-western France) inside Bila’d al-Ru’m. England is described simply as ‘the island of Bratania’, and the Narbonne region as the ‘Land of Narbonne’ (Kodaˆma 25556, 25758, 233, 231). Western Europe does not seem to be part of the
Roman lands in Quda’ma’s imagination.

(p. 291, bold mine)

Durak goes on to describe an evolution among Muslim usage in the 10th century which eventually starts to encompass all of Europe as “land of the Romans”, but these authors are NOT identifying all of Europe as “Rome”:

Ibn al-Faqı’h’s conceptualisation of Ru’m works on two levels. On the first level, he is very clear about the geographical limits of the Roman territory. He writes twice that ard al-Ru’m (territory of the Romans) extends from Antioch to Sicily and from Constantinople to Tu’liya (Thule meaning either Britain or the Shetlands). This description definitely encompasses all of Western Europe and Byzantium. However,
on a more specific level, Ru’m refers to the Byzantine Empire in Kita’b al-Bulda’n. The ruler of the Romans (Ru’m) is the Byzantine emperor; the taxes collected by the Romans are the ones levied by the Byzantine Empire; and Ru’m regions that border the Islamic Empire, such as Armenia, Syria and Iraq, are Byzantine territories (ibn al-Faqı’h 136, 145, 137-38, 76, 286-95). The fact that ibn al-Faqı’h makes a distinction between the Ru’m and the Frankish and Slavic regions can be observed in the following statement: ‘‘Europe [Aru’fa] consists of al-Andalus, al-Saka’liba [Slavic lands], Ru’m, and Ifrandja [Francia]’’ (ibn al-Faq’ıh 6). When ibn al-Faqı’h discusses western or northern Europe, he labels these territories as ‘the lands of Franks’ and ‘the
lands of Slavs [Bulda’n al-Saka’liba]’. On a few occasions, he uses the terms ‘Roman’ and ‘Frankish’ in the same sentence, from which we can infer that these two regions are separate entities. For instance, he writes, ‘‘to the north of al-Andalus and of Ru’m is Ifrandja’’ (ibn al-Faqı’h 6, 82-83). Unlike earlier writers of administrative geography, ibn al-Faqı’h simultaneously sees in the term ‘Roman’ a larger territorial
unit corresponding to Europe, and a more specific unit representing only the Byzantine Empire. He does not make an explicit distinction between the two entities; he simply uses ard al-Ru’m to refer to the whole European continent, and Ru’m to refer to Byzantium specifically.

(pp. 291-92, bold mine)

Later on (11th and 12th century), as Durak notes, the usage becomes even more fluid, but this does little to help us to ascertain the meaning among Muhammad, his companions and other early Muslims, which we are more interested in.

Early Muslim opinions

Musa Cerantonio, an Australian convert to Islam from Roman Catholicism and a well-known da’i published an essay in 2014 arguing for “Rome” referring to Turkey in the eschaton. I will quote sections of the paper:

[Rome being the Byzantine Empire] was originally a unanimously held opinion, and was the opinion held by almost all of the scholars of the Ummah up until 857 AH (1453 AD). The opinion was based upon the fact that the Roman Empire was always known as Rūm by the Muslims, it was identified by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and the Companions as Rūm, and was the only entity ever referred to by the Muslims as Rūm…. it would have been the most obvious conclusion to assume that Rūm would still continue to be the Byzantine Empire in the Last Days.

p. 15

Rūm when referred to in the Qur’an as well as in the events contemporary to the lifetime of the Prophet refers to the Eastern Roman Empire which is better known in our days as the ‘Byzantine Empire’…Rūm in Arabic undoubtedly referred to the Roman Empire based in Constantinople which Western historians called the Eastern/Byzantine Empire…the entity of Rūm was understood to be the land that was controlled by the Byzantine Empire. The description of which lands belonged to Rūm according to the Muslims was therefore a political description, it described any land which the Roman Empire governed and maintained political control over. What we must understand therefore, is that when Allah speaks about Rūm in the
Qur’an, what is being referred to is the empire that existed at that specific time (approx. 615 AD). The ‘Romans’ as mentioned in Surat Ar-Rūm are the people of the Byzantine Empire at the time of the descent of the Revelation. Any time that Rūm would be mentioned one would have to take into account which lands the Byzantine Empire controlled at that time in order to understand what the lands of Rūm being discussed were.

(pp. 4-6)

Thus we can see that in the hadith literature as well as among early secular writings by Muslims, Rome refers to Byzantium exclusively until the 900’s. It seems to me that this widened definition of Rome as Europe is anachronistic, and is certainly not how Muhammad and his companions understood the term. For them Rome just was the Byzantine Empire and to say that the texts which speak of Rome in eschaton as having some other meaning are just attempts to defend Muhammad from making a false prophecy. In fact. Cerantonio admits as much:

The remnants of the Byzantine Roman Empire based in Constantinople eventually fell to the hands of the Muslims when Muḥammad Al-Fātiḥ conquered the city in 1453, destroying the Roman Empire which had lasted for many centuries. If it were not for the mention of Rūm in the prophecies of the Last Days one would may assume that Rūm effectively ended with the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Empire in 857 AH (1453 CE), however the fact that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم mentioned Rūm in future events means that without doubt Rūm will exist in the Last Days…

p. 14

But this is question-begging. Muhammad mentioning how Romans will exist in the last days is not evidence for his prophethood and is in fact evidence AGAINST his prophethood for non-Muslims in light of the fact that early Muslim sources (authentic Sunnah and the Quran, both of which are revelation to Sunni Muslims) never give any indication that Rome means anything but the Byzantine Empire. They identify “Romans” consistently with Byzantium, and it seems that to say that in the eschaton this means something else is just ad hoc and assuming the conclusion it is seeking to prove.

Conclusion

While the majority of prophecies attributed to Muhammad are so vague so as to make them unfalsifiable, the above two, and especially the latter are quite probable cases for a false prophecy. In fact, I’d go as far as to say the second one, in light of Muhammad’s own milieu, is bulletproof. Every single hadith I’ve been able to find describes “Rome” exclusively as the Byzantine Empire, and there is no indication anything but the Byzantine Empire is intended in these narrations. ‘Amr ibn al-‘As confirms this interpretation as he describes the virtues of the Byzantines, who Muhammad said will be the majority among mankind. The Byzantine Empire was annexed by the Ottomans in 1453, therefore rendering this prophecy a false prophecy. As we’ve seen above, the only reason a Muslim will say “Rome” refers to anyone but the Byzantines is because there is a prior commitment to Muhammad as a prophet of God, something Christians do not share. Even in the best case scenario, a Christian is justified in saying this is a false prophecy in light of Muhammad’s milieu

One final note: as the vast majority of Muhammad’s prophecies are unfalsifiable, they are bad examples of genuine prophecy because they can be true at one time and false in another, which would correspond to vagueness given by demonic spirits who only guess the future accurately at times. Our Lord Jesus Christ prophesied the exact signs of His Coming in power to judge the living and the dead (cf. Mark 13/Matthew 24) and even specified that the genea (either the Christian race the exact generation) that sees the signs. He also prophesied short-term that His holy Apostles and Disciples would suffer for His sake. (Matthew 10). Muhammad also made other erroneous statements which he presented as divine revelation, which I shall discuss in my next post.

Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, Undivided and Life-Giving Trinity, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.

Muhammad’s false prophecies

The Deity of Christ in Mark 6:48-51

 

 

 

Seeing [The Apostles] straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; I Am, do not be afraid.”  Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished

Mark 6:48-51

 

While I am working on a much more substantial and systematic presentation for the deity of Christ in the Book of Revelation, I wanted to do this very short piece on the deity of Christ in Mark 6.

It is often claimed by Muslims that there is no sense of any divinity in the Synoptic Gospels, but that His deity is only visible in the Gospel of John. This is demonstrably false(1).

One of the most striking accounts in the Gospel of Mark comes in Mark 6, where the Apostles are on the sea, in a storm, and the Lord comes to them, walking on water and then calming the storm.

On surface level, this account has nothing special about it apart from Jesus’ miraculous calming of the storm.

However, let’s dig a bit deeper:

Here I want to argue 3 points that cumulatively strongly point towards His deity:

a – Jesus’ identification as I Am (ἐγώ εἰμι, ego eimi) is a divine self-identification.

b – Jesus’ walking on water and “passing by” the Apostles is connected to OT in two contexts where the original application is towards YHWH, the God of Israel.

c – Jesus’ calming the storm is likewise connected to an OT text where the original referent is YHWH.

 

Jesus’ use of ἐγώ εἰμι (I Am)

 

This is admittedly the most argued-over point, and scholars debate whether Jesus is simply making a self-identification (hey guys, it’s me) or a reference to the divine I Am of Exodus 3 and Isaiah 43-45. At times it is a simple self-identification of the speaker (such as in John 9:9), but at times it may have a double meaning of identification AND a use of the divine I Am (such as in John 18:5-6), and at times it is simply a straightforward and explicit claim to divinity (like John 8:58-59 where the context makes a simple self-identification impossible). Although it is interesting that when YHWH reveals Himself to Moses, He does call Himself I Am. At least in this context there is a connection to revelation of YHWH’s identity as the Existing One.

 

It is best to see what Jesus meant from the other two points.

 

Jesus’ walking on water

 

This is much more secure discussion, as multiple scholars have noted, Jesus’ walking on water has striking parallels to the Septuagint version of the Old Testament (LXX), especially in the Book of Job, chapter 9.

Compare Job 9:8 with Mark 6:48-49:

[YHWH] Who alone has stretched out the heavens, and walks (περιπατέω, peripateo) on the sea as on firm ground.

He came to them, walking (περιπατῶν, peripaton) on the sea…

Two things stand out in the quotation from Job 9:

a – YHWH alone is described as the one who created the heavens. It is very striking that the NT over and over again applies this function to Jesus (1 Cor 8:6, Col 1:16-17, John 1:3, Heb 1:2, 1:10-12, etc) alongside God the Father.

b –  Both Jesus and YHWH are described as walking on water. It is also noteworthy that in the OT only referent to anyone walking on water is YHWH in the above passage(2). The connection is very striking as it is a uniquely divine prerogative.

 

Jesus “passing by” the Disciples

 

It is interesting to note that in the immediately after Job 9:8, Job says this in 9:11, compare with Mark 6:48:

If ever He should go beyond me, I shall not see Him: if He should pass by (παρέρχομαι, parerchomai) me, I would not even know.

…He intended to pass by (παρελθεῖν, parelthein) them

What strengthens the connection is that the idea of God “passing by” people is in multiple places a sign of a OT theophany.

Few examples:

God intends to pass by (παραἔρχομαι) Moses in Exodus 33:22 and reveal His glory.

God passes by (παραἔρχομαι) Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11.

This further strengthens the argument as the context in both passage is God revealing Himself, Jesus reveals Himself by using the divine I Am and passing by the Disciples while walking on water.

Jesus calming the wind(3)

 

Finally, Jesus calms the wind in 6:51, a reference connected to the OT is relevant here:

And He commands the storm, and it is calmed into a gentle breeze, and its waves are still.

Then [Jesus] got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished.

 

In Psalm 107:29 YHWH calms the wind(4). This is again a unique prerogative of YHWH in the Old Testament, and is not ascribed to any Old Testament prophet.

 

Apostles’ fear of Jesus

As additional evidence, it is also interesting to note how the Apostles were scared at seeing Jesus in v. 50 (“they all saw Him and were terrified”), as He intends to pass by them, this is the normative response in the OT when people see God or the mysterious Angel of the Lord, or are in the Presence of God, examples:

Genesis 3:10, Adam is afraid of seeing God

 

Exodus 3:6, Moses was “afraid to look at God”

 

Job 23:15: “Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence; When I consider, I am terrified of Him.”

 

Judges 13:22: Manoah says “We are doomed to die, we have seen God!”

 

1 Samuel 4:7: The Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp. Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before!”

 

Conclusion

 

As we have seen above, Mark is in just 3 short verses showing an in-depth connection to Old Testament and very strongly bringing out the divine identity of the Lord Jesus, and the echoes would be unmistakable to the original audience of Mark.

Finally, to wrap up on Jesus’ use of “I Am” in v. 50, here is Richard B. Hays from his Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, p. 68

In this narrative context, there is little doubt that we should also hear Jesus’ comforting address to the disciples (“It is I [ἐγώ εἰμι]; do not be afraid” [6:50]) as an echo of the self-revelatory speech of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob speaking from the burning bush in Exodus 3:14: “I AM WHO I AM” (LXX: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν). Thus, when Jesus speaks this same phrase, “I am,” in his sea-crossing epiphany, it serves to underscore the claim of divine identity that is implicitly present in the story as a whole.

 

Glory to the Life-Giving Trinity now and unto ages of ages!


Footnotes

1. See for example Sigurd Grindheim, Christology in the Synoptic Gospels: God or God’s Servant (2012), Robert Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (2007), Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Essays (2008), Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (2016), Idem, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (2014), Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (2003)

2. See Patrick J. Madden, Jesus’ Walking on the Sea: An Investigation of the Origin of the Narrative Account, p. 29

3. An additional point here could be made in connection to God’s care for His people in the OT during storms and Jesus’ saying “Have courage” (see for example Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you) , but I will not elaborate on this in this article.

4. I acknowledge that Mark 4:38-41 is a closer parallel, but the verse does speak of YHWH also calming the wind alongside the storm.

The Deity of Christ in Mark 6:48-51