Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Retractions: The Millennium: Why it Matters and Why it Does Not

Retractions: The Millennium:
Why it Matters and Why it Does Not

            In my earlier posts, I wrote about how and why I do not believe in a rapture.  The reason I did this was because of all the baggage associated with the doctrine of the rapture.  I believe that Jesus will physically return to earth, the dead will be raised, there will be a final judgement, and there will be a new heavens and a new earth.  What is missing from this is the belief that between Jesus second coming and the final judgement is that there will be 1,000 years in which Christ will physically reign on earth as king.  This 1,000 year reign is commonly referred to as the millennial reign of Christ of simply the millennium is something I once espoused and now no longer do.

            I once was a solidly pretribulational literal millennium future for ethnic Israel type of guy.  The last part of this system to fall was my belief in a literal/physical millennial reign on earth.  When everything else faded, I found great comfort in the historic premillennial view espoused by George Ladd.  However, I abandoned this as well when confronted with the text of Scripture and how it has been interpreted by the Church through the ages.

            The millennium is a fairly difficult thing to wrestle with.  The biblical support for belief in the millennium is derived from the 20th chapter of Revelation.  The actual text of Revelation 20 does not limit Christ’s reign to a time period of 1,000 years.  The millennium can only be understood to refer to a physical 1,000 year reign on earth, when Revelation 20 is read in light of certain other Old Testament prophetic works.  The interpretation of a 1,000 year physical reign upon earth is then dependent upon one’s understanding of how Old Testament prophecies and promises will be fulfilled.

            The millennium is important because it is a result of how one understands the Bible and also how one understands the working of God with His creation.  Therefore someone who believes in premillennial coming of Christ will understand the millennium to be the time when God will fulfill all the promises of land and such from the Old Testament to ethnic Israel.  Others would still hold to a physical reign of Christ on earth, but would understand the OT promises to refer to the Church and not ethnic Israel.  Then there is what is termed the post millennial view in which the Church will bring about the millennium prior to the coming of Christ through the spread of the Gospel and the advance of the Church bringing peace and tranquility to the earth.  There is also the amillennial view which understands the millennium as primarily a spiritual event.  This view can be divided between the understanding that the millennium is a current reality and those who would posit the millennium is a metaphor for the reign of Christ with His saints in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

            There are many complexities that need to be addressed when considering how to understand the millennium.  The millennium is only mentioned in one passage in the book of Revelation.  There can be some difficulty in rightly interpreting something that is only mentioned once in Scripture.  This difficulty is compounded if that one passage occurs in Revelation and all the more so if it involves a number.  The reason for this is that Revelation is a work that is filled with symbols and symbolism, of which numbers are often used in symbolic ways.  Further complicating this situation are the various theories about how one should read Revelation (predominantly in the past, mix of past/present/future, or predominately in the future).  These factors can be quite dissuasive for those attempting to consider eschatology.  Indeed, part of the reason this post took so long was my own process of wading through these issues.

The Biblical Evidence

            The really fun part is the biblical support for the millennium.  In Revelation 20, the phrase “a thousand years” occurs five times.[1]  Yet none of these occurrences refers to Jesus reigning for a thousand years.  Satan is bound for a thousand years (20:2).  The souls of those beheaded on account of Christ come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years (20:4, 6).  The rest of the dead do not come to life until after the thousand years (20:5).  After the thousand years, Satan is released from prison (20:7).  From this, we see that beheaded martyrs reign with Christ for one thousand years, but this does not necessitate the interpretation that Christ will reign on earth for 1,000 years.  Indeed, the textual support for this reading is rather thin and requires reading these verses within a larger interpretive framework to arrive at a millennial view.  This what the early Christians did who affirmed a millennial view.  They argued that the seven days of creation were symbolic of the history of the world and that after 6,000 years, 1,000 years of Sabbath rest would follow with the righteous being raised to bodies that would eat, drink, and beget children (click here for my earlier post on this topic).  In a similar manner, most who hold to a millennium at the present would also do so in part because they expect the promises of land made in the Old Testament to be fulfilled in a literal manner to ethnic Israel (to see my view of this consult my earlier post here).

Exegetical descriptions from Revelation 20

            Exegetically speaking, the millennium is set forth as a time when the devil has been bound and (a possibly select group of) martyrs reign with Christ.  The text does not explicitly affirm that Christ’s kingdom will last for one thousand years.  This is important because it means that the idea of a physical 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth is derived by implication and not direct assertion. 

            Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for   the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a  thousand years.  The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-5).

Reading the text literally, the only saints who come to life and reign with Christ while the devil is bound are those who have been beheaded as martyrs.  Again, reading this at face value, this means that martyrs who died by means other than beheading do not partake of this millennial reign.[2]  This subset of beheaded martyrs also experience something very unique.  They are the only ones (we are explicitly told) who experience the first resurrection.

            This level of a literalistic reading cannot find support in any of the Church Fathers (amillennial or premillennial), and does not make the most sense out of the text of Revelation.  In Revelation 6:10-12, we read about the martyrs under the throne calling out for vengeance.  This group of martyrs is in no way circumscribed by their mode of death like the martyrs in Revelation 20 are.  These two groups of martyrs share great similarity.  They were killed: “because of the word of God and the testimony” (6:9) and “because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God” (20:4).  However, there are many more details in Revelation 20 that are lacking from the martyrs in Revelation 6.  Indeed, the patristic consensus is that those who come to life with Christ are not only the martyrs, but all the righteous.[3]  Therefore, the two groups of martyrs are understood to be the same group of martyrs and that they represent the whole number of the saints who come to life in the millennium.

            Perhaps one of the most interesting portions of Revelation 20 is how it speaks about both a first death and a first resurrection as well as a second death and a second resurrection.  The first death is not explicitly identified for the rather obvious reason that we are all familiar with the definition of physical death.  John is kind enough to identify the second death: “This is the second death, the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14).  The second death then takes place after the final judgement. 

            The interesting part comes when trying to understand what is meant by the first and the second resurrections: “They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.  6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years” (20:4-6).

            The second resurrection is implicitly defined as the universal resurrection before the final judgement.  The difficulty is then in how we understand the first resurrection.  Irenaeus and Tertullian both argued that the discussion of two resurrections pointed to an order of how the righteous were raised in the millennium.[4]  The greater the deeds of a Christian, the sooner one would be raised from the dead to enter into the millennial reign.  Needless to say, this view required a physical millennial reign and fell out of favor with the premillennial view.

            The key to understanding the “first resurrection” is the description of those who experience this first resurrection, “Over such the second death has not power.”  This means that those who experience this resurrection will not be subject to the second death which awaits those whose names were not found in the Book of Life.  Some have sought to posit that this first resurrection is baptism on the basis of Romans 6:5 “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection”; and 2nd Timothy 2:11-12: “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.”  There is some validity to this position.  Augustine understands this “first resurrection” is applied to the Church militant, because they reign with Christ in His kingdom at the present, and to the Church triumphant, because they are commemorated at the altar at each Eucharist service.[5]  In saying this, Augustine is relying upon lengthy exegesis of multiple passages (of which a summary would take around a page) and the practices of the Church to form his interpretation.  To the vast majority of Protestants, the commemoration of the deceased has never been experienced in a liturgy.  Despite its absence from current Protestant worship, it was a universal practice in the early Church in the time of Augustine and likely had been since the 100’s.[6]  In so doing this, Augustine implicitly affirms the idea that the first resurrection is baptism with his understanding that only the baptized elect are reigning with Christ.

Christ’s reign limited to 1,000 years

            What is utterly lacking from Revelation 20 is the idea that Christ’s reign is in any way limited to a one thousand year time period.  If anything, the reign of the saints and the binding of satan are the only two things limited to a one thousand year period of time.  Indeed, there are exegetical reasons to affirm that Christ’s reign does not end.  This can be seen in a couple of passages:

“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: and his kingdom shall not be left to another people, but it shall beat to pieces and grind to powder all kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever (Daniel 2:44).

“And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33).

            The interpretation that Christ’s kingdom will have no end is the creedally preserved interpretation.  The Nicene Creed concludes with the statement: “His kingdom shall have no end.”  The problem regarding the millennium is that the support for the view that Christ will reign for one thousand years on earth and then that kingdom will end with the end of this earth is not explicitly stated in the texts of Scripture whereas the affirmation that Christ’s Kingdom will have no end is clearly affirmed and understood to be the definitive interpretation of this issue.

An argument for the millennium

            The strongest biblical argument for the millennial view is the description of how Satan is bound for 1,000 years.  This is a commonsensical argument:  It does not appear as though Satan is presently bound.  Therefore, the millennium is still yet to come.  However, this view of the binding of Satan does not quite with what Jesus had to say about his ministry and the interpretation of the early Christians.

            There is a passage in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 11) in which Jesus spoke about how he had bound Satan.  Jesus cast out a demon and the Pharisees

said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the   demons.”  But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.  If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?  And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast  them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.  But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will          plunder his house.” (Matthew 12:24-29, New King Jimmy Version)

Jesus here refutes the idea that he cast out demons by the power of the devil.  Rather, he spoke about himself as the one who bound the strong man (the devil) and plundered his goods.  This interpretation is affirmed repeatedly in the writings of the early Christians.[7]  Indeed, there are two points at which they would note that Jesus had bound the devil.  In His incarnation and in His resurrection.  In both of these actions, the devil is bound and Christ frees those who were under the power of the devil and his minions.[8] 

            Therefore, with Satan already bound, the Church reigning with Christ, and Church being the New Israel who have inherited the promises made to Israel, a physical and literal millennium is superfluous and awkward.  In this sense the millennium does not matter.  At the same time, we are living in the millennium.  As such, Christians ought to conduct themselves in the knowledge that Christ has bound Satan and that they have experienced the first resurrection in baptism.  Not even death can separate a Christin from reigning with Christ.

[1] Revelation 20:1-20:15 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.  2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.  4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.  6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.  7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison  8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.  9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.  11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.  12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.  13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.  14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.  15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. 

[2] Historically speaking, the believers who would have been beheaded for the sake of Christ in the Early Roman Empire would only have been Roman citizens who were martyred.  Thus at the time when John first penned these words, his audience would have considered this to be a reference to martyred Roman citizens such as the Apostle Paul.  This anecdote offers some clarity as to how John would have understood this.  It is perhaps ironic that the citizens of the Empire of John’s age who are killed for their perceived treachery against the Empire are the very ones who are seen to reign with Christ for one thousand years.

[3] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 82; Irenaeus, Adverus Haereses, 5.32.1; Commodian, Instructiones adversus Gentium Deos pro Christiana Disciplina 45.

[4] Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 5.36.2-3; Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem 3.24.

[5] Augustine of Hippo, City of God 20.9.
[6] This is a prime example of how worship forms theology more than theology forms worship.  For an example of this see the Martyrdom of Polycarp and how the Early Christians treated Polycarp’s remains (Martyrdom of Polycarp 18).
[7] A few examples: Cyril of Alexandria Commentary on Luke Homily 81; Chrysostom Sermons on Matthew Homily 41, Augustine of Hippo Harmony of the Gospels Homily 21 and City of God 20.7; Cyril of Jerusalem Catechetical Lectures 8; see also Irenaeus of Lyons for how Christ bound the demons in His resurrection Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 83.

[8] See also Revelation 12 when the devil is thrown out of heaven around the same time as Christ ascended into heaven.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Millennial Views in the Early Church

Millennial Views in the Early Church 

           This post is a brief overview of views of the millennium in the early Church.  I was going to go up to and conclude with Augustine, but the length became far too excessive.  Therefore I have covered some of the Ante-Nicene Christian writers and concluded with the Nicene Creed.  As much as possible, I have provided quotes so that the writers can have their views presented in their own words.  I hope that you, my reader, find this to be useful.

Historical Sequence of events leading up to the eschatology of the Creed

            There is a plethora of false news which has found its way into scholarly works regarding Early Christian views of the millennium.  A prime example of this comes from a commentary I read a long long time ago in a country far far away (or when I was in undergrad in Canada).  Alan F. Johnson wrote, “the ancient church down to the time of Augustine (354-430) (though not without minor exceptions) unquestionably held to the teaching of an earthly, historical reign of peace that was to follow the defeat of the Antichrist and the physical resurrection of the saints but precede both the judgement and the new creation.”[1]  This view is a gross misstatement of the facts.

            In the first three centuries of Christianity, there were at least three orthodox views on the millennium.  Some believed that there would be a time period in which Christ would be an earthly king, others believed the millennium to be symbolic of Christ’s current reign, and other thought that the millennium would occur in the new heavens and the new earth after the final judgement.  Most of the Pre-Nicene Fathers, whose writings we still have, espoused various views of a millennium.  The difficulty with these Fathers is that they did not always fit into the paradigms of the present conversation about the millennium.

Six days of creation and the history of the world

            George Ladd in his creation of an eschatological view, entitled “historic premillennialism,” left out one of the pervasive and defining characteristics of the millennial view in the Early Church.  Part of the premillennial view in the early Church was the idea that the 7 days of creation were a type of the whole history of mankind and that the millennium would be the 7th day of rest.[2]  Thus for those who read things literally, the millennium would begin 6,000 years after the creation of the world.  Others appear to have interpreted the days of creation as 1,000 year time periods while also understanding 1,000 years not as a literal period of time, but as a symbol for a long period of time.

Justin Martyr
            Justin Martyr clearly believed in a physical/historical millennium: “But I… feel certain that there will be a resurrection of the dead followed by a thousand years in the rebuilt, embellished, and enlarged city of Jerusalem.”[3]  At the same time, he commented that there were other pious and right believing Christians who did not affirm his belief in a coming millennium.  Justin stated his opinion and at the same time noted that his view did not represent the entirety of the Christian community at his time.

Irenaeus of Lyon
            Irenaeus is often quoted as a Father who espoused millennial views.  However, I am not entirely convinced this is the best interpretation of Irenaeus.  Irenaeus’s presentation on the millennium does not easily fall into only one of the present categories.  The main point Irenaeus wished to argue was that the resurrection was a bodily resurrection.  This is the overwhelming thrust of his argument in Book 5 of Against the Heretics.  Indeed, he argued that there must be a physical place for the resurrected to inhabit since they will be bodily raised from the dead.[4]  This resurrection will take place in a particular order according to the deeds of the righteous.[5] That is, those who are more righteous will be raised before those who are less righteous, which is how he understood the first and the second resurrection.  Another point upon which Irenaeus is clear is that the millennium will begin 6,000 years from the creation of the earth.

            There is a tension in Irenaeus’ writing which centers upon whether the millennium is life in the New Heavens and the New Earth which come into being after the final judgement or whether the millennium is experienced on this Earth before the final judgement.  The following reads as though he posited the millennium after the end of this earth:

“For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years it will be concluded. And for this reason the Scripture says: ‘Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their adornment. And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works.’ This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year.”[6]

The way in which Irenaeus spoke about the end of the world certainly gives the impression that the Irenaeus understood the millennium to commence after the passing away of this earth in favor of the new earth.  This view is even more explicitly stated in 5.30.4:

“and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that ‘many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’”[7]

In this passage the millennial kingdom is clearly placed after the final judgement, which gives every appearance that Irenaeus understood the millennium to refer to the reign of Christ upon the New Earth.  These two afore quoted passages clearly present the millennium as an event that occurs in the new heavens and the new earth after the final judgement.  However, in chapter 32 of the same work, Irenaeus presented a different view on the subject with a different ordering of events. 

“It behooves the righteous first to receive the promise of the inheritance which God promised to the fathers, and to reign in it, when they rise again to behold God in this creation which is renovated, and that the judgment should take place afterwards.”[8] 5.32.1

In this passage, the righteous receive the kingdom before the judgement whereas before they received the kingdom after the judgement.  This does not appear to be an accident because Irenaeus repeated this different ordering of event again:

“But in the times of the kingdom, the earth has been called again by Christ to its pristine condition, and Jerusalem rebuilt after the pattern of the Jerusalem above… For after the times of the kingdom, he says, ‘I saw a great white throne, and Him who sat upon it, from whose face the earth fled away, and the heavens; and there was no more place for them.’ And he sets forth, too, the things connected with the general resurrection and the judgment.”[9]

            From these brief observations it is possible to conclude that Irenaeus espoused two distinct and apparently contradictory views of the millennium in the same book.  It is possible that he was unaware of the conflict, or that he changed his mind on the topic.  I suspect that Irenaeus uncritically drew upon two traditions he had received regarding the millennium and used both of them to disprove the Gnostics.  I cannot prove this point, but it seems sensible to me.[10]  Perhaps most importantly for our purposes, this vacillation reveals that there was not a uniformity regarding the millennium even within the same author.

Caius of Rome
            Caius appears to have been made a priest in Rome between 198 and 217.  This would place his writing at the beginning of the 200s.  He clearly denied the interpretation of the millennium as a time when Christ would reign over a physical kingdom in which there is physical eating, drinking, and marrying.  He accused a heretic named Cerinthus for creating this doctrine:

“But Cerinthus also, by means of revelations which he pretends were written by a great apostle, brings before us marvelous things which he falsely claims were shown him by angels; and he says that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ will be set up on earth, and that the flesh dwelling in Jerusalem will again be subject to desires and pleasures. And being an enemy of the Scriptures of God, he asserts, with the purpose of deceiving men, that there is to be a period of a thousand years for marriage festivals.”[11]

The greatest flaw of Caius’ view is that he viewed the book of Revelation as a heretical invention.  The rejection of Revelation was not limited to Caius.  Eusebius himself does not appear to have accepted Revelation.  Indeed, the book of Revelation does not appear to have been near universally accepted until sometime in the 400s.

Hippolytus of Rome
            Hippolytus is the only Church Father I am aware of who actually offers a detailed timeline for when the millennium would occur.

For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, was December 25th, Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year, but from Adam, five thousand and five hundred years. He suffered in the thirty-third year, March 25th, Friday, the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Roubellion were Consuls. And so it is absolutely necessary for six-thousand years to be fulfilled, so that the Sabbath rest may come, the holy day, in which God rested from all his works which he began to do. The Sabbath is a model and an image of the coming kingdom of the saints, when the saints shall co-reign with Christ, when he arrives from heaven, as also John in his Apocalypse describes. For a day of the Lord is as a thousand years. And so since in six days God made all things, it is necessary for six thousand years to be fulfilled. For they are not yet fulfilled, as John says, “Five have fallen, but one is,” such is the sixth millennium, “the other has not yet come,” saying “the other” he describes the seventh millennium in which there shall be rest.”[12]

Hippolytus followed the interpretive method of a day equaling a thousand years and the 7 days of creation as a prophetic history of the world.  The key difference with Hippolytus is that he worked out the math and came to the conclusion that the millennium would begin approximately on the Year of our Lord 500 and end in 1,500.[13]  He viewed the millennial reign on earth as a foretaste of the eternal state.  Thus we can conclude that he understood the millennium to occur prior to the final judgement.

            Commodian was another author in the third century who affirmed a physical millennium in which those who participate in the first resurrection will marry and have children.

“From heaven will descend the city in the first resurrection; this is what we may tell of such a celestial fabric. We shall arise again to Him, who have been devoted to Him. And they shall be incorruptible, even already living without death. And neither will there be any grief nor any groaning in that city. They shall come also who overcame cruel martyrdom under Antichrist, and they themselves live for the whole time, and receive blessings because they have suffered evil things; and they themselves marrying, beget for a thousand years. There are prepared all the revenues of the earth, because the earth renewed without end pours forth abundantly. Therein are no rains; no cold comes into the golden camp. . . .  But from the thousand years God will destroy all those evils.”[14]

Commodian here affirmed that all the righteous would be raised form the dead and enter into the millennial kingdom.  His vision of the millennial kingdom is decidedly physical with the resurrected saints marrying and begetting children.

            Tertullian supported his belief in the millennium through both the book of Revelation and a newer prophecy which he recorded.[15]  His view of the millennium was clearly physical:

“But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem, “let down from heaven,” which the apostle also calls “our mother from above;” and, while declaring that our citizenship, is in heaven, he predicates of it that it is really a city in heaven.”[16]

            Indeed, the New Jerusalem he understood to physically be in heaven awaiting the moment when God will send it down. Further, Tertullian understood the first and second resurrections to refer to a gradation of how the saints are raised form the dead:

“Of the heavenly kingdom this is the process. After its thousand years are over, within which period is completed the resurrection of the saints, who rise sooner or later according to their deserts there will ensue the destruction of the world and the conflagration of all things at the judgment.”[17]

            Following this interpretation, the order of resurrection in the millennium is based upon the deeds of the Christian. From Tertullian’s perspective would explain why the martyrs would be raised first because he viewed martyrdom very highly.[18]

            Origen comments about the millennium do not provide great detail about his view of the millennium.  Origen’s work appears to be focused on a rebuttal of the view that the resurrected bodies will be eating, drinking, and having children.  He refutes this by relying upon 2nd Corinthians 15:44 which states, “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”  For Origen, the key to understanding the resurrection is to understand that the body is raised a spiritual body.  For Origen, this spiritual body does mean that it is incorporeal, but that the spiritual body will be concerned with spiritual things.  The purpose of the resurrection is not to rule over an earthly kingdom, but to growing in knowledge of the truth as taught by God.  From this summary of On First Principles 2.10-11, I think the general consensus that Origen presented an amillenial view is correct. 

I have encountered some who have argued that Origen was the man who destroyed sound biblical doctrine (such as the premillennial view) by his biblical interpretation.  Such a view is completely contrary to reality.  The premillennial early Christians whom I have quoted in this post were clearly reading the Bible with allegory and typology.  However, there is a grain of truth to the accusations against Origen.  During and after the 200s, there appears to have been a significant interpretive regarding what should be understood as anagogical /allegorical /typological vis-à-vis the millennium.  Passages that were once understood the support a physical reign of Christ on earth became understood differently.  This can be seen in Irenaeus’ statements, where he used Old Testament prophecies to support both positions.

The Nicene Creed
            The most interesting things about this shift in thought regarding the millennium is that the premillennial view fell so far out of favor that it was cut off as an orthodox view in 381.  When the Nicene Creed was bolstered by the Council of Constantinople, they added the sentence “His Kingdom will have no end.”  This closed to door to the premillennial position.  There a temporal ordering of events in the Nicene Creed.  This is not unimportant nor accidental.  “And He will come again with glory to judge the living and dead.  His kingdom shall have no end.”  There is no millennium in the Nicene Creed.  It implicitly precludes belief in a physical millennial reign of Christ.  This interpretation is also supported by the eschatological statements at the end of the Creed: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.”  There is no millennium.  There is a resurrection and the life of the new heavens and the new earth.
            What I have hoped to demonstrate in all this is that there were multiple views regarding the millennium among early Christians.  The view of a physical millennium, while once espoused, fell out of favor and was abandoned as an orthodox view in the 300’s.  I have hinted at the reasoning for this switch.  I am tempted to do the work to explain with detail how this happened, but such a project would require a long journal article or short book length effort.

[1] Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 578.  I am ever suspicious of statements which place Augustine as the source of a drastic change in a set belief of the Early Church, as they are nearly always made in ignorance or are an over-generalization.

[2] Epistle of Barnabas 15.15.4-5; Justin Martyr hints at this same type eschatology in his interpretation of “day” in Dialogue with Trypho 81; Irenaeus Adversus Haereses 5.30.4; Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel 23.3-23.6; Commodian, Instructiones adversus Gentium Deos pro Christiana Disciplina 35.

[3] Justin Martyr, Dialoge with Trypho, 80.

[4] “For as it is God truly who raises up man, so also does man truly rise from the dead, and not allegorically, as I have shown repeatedly. And as he rises actually, so also shall he be actually disciplined beforehand for incorruption, and shall go forwards and flourish in the times of the kingdom, in order that he may be capable of receiving the glory of the Father” (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 5.35.2).

[5] Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 5.36.1-2.

[6] Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 5.28.3.

[7] Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 5.30.4.

[8] Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 5.32.1.

[9] Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 5.35.2.

[10] Sadly, we know of works which would have formed Irenaeus, but most of them are only preserved as fragments quoted by other writers.

[11] Caius as recorded in Eusebius, Historia Ecclessia 3.28.

[12] Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel, 23.3-23.6.

But one will always say, “How will you demonstrate to me whether the Savior was born in the five thousandth and five hundredth year?  Be easily instructed, O man. For in the desert long ago under Moses there were models and images of spiritual mysteries which concerned the tabernacle and they fulfilled this number, so that having come to the utmost of truth in Christ you are able to apprehend these things which are fulfilled.   For he says to him, “And you shall make an ark of incorruptible wood and you will gild it with pure gold inside and outside and you shall make its height two cubits and a half and its breadth a cubit and a half and its height a cubit and a half.” The measure of which added together makes five and a half cubits, so that the five thousand five hundred years may be demonstrated, in which time the Savior comes from the Virgin, and then he offered the Ark, his own body, into the world, gilded in pure gold, inside with the Word, outside with the Holy Spirit, so that the truth may be shown and the Ark may be manifested.   And so from the generation of Christ it is necessary to count the remaining five hundred years to the consummation of the six thousand years, and in this way the end will be. But because in the fifth and a half time the Savior arrived in the world bearing the incorruptible ark, that is his own body, John says, “and it was the sixth hour,” so that half of the day may be demonstrated, a day of the Lord is like thousand years. And so the half of these is five hundred years (24.1-5).

Note how Hippolytus interprets the Old Testament symbolically and typologically to support his eschatology.  This form of exegesis was the common practice of early Christians.

[13] The historian inside of me is tempted to affirm this as correct and to affirm that the millennium was the time from which Theodosius made Nicene-Christianity the legal religion of the Roman Empire until the Reformation (1517) and the fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453).  Of course such an attempt would overlook the near simultaneous cessation of Mongol rule of Russia in favor of a Christian state as well as the continual Islamic conquests or the extirpation of Christianity from China during the same time period.

[14] Commodian, Instructiones adversus Gentium Deos pro Christiana Disciplina 45.

[15] Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem 3.24.  Tertullian was a part of the Montanist movement (or the “New Prophecy” as Tertullian liked to call it).  This movement placed a great emphasis upon continued prophecy that was viewed as authoritative for Christian living and doctrine.

[16] Tertullian, Against Marcion 3.24.

[17] Tertullian, Against Marcion 3.24.

[18] See: Tertullian, To the Martyrs for his own depiction of martyrs and his understanding of martyrdom.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Thomas Aquinas On the Mode of Studying

Over a decade ago I read a book by Sertillanges entitled The Intellectual Life.  I found this book to be very formative in my own thinking and practice of life.  I view this work as a large exposition of Thomas Aquinas’ letter to John the Monk.  My only real complaint about The Intellectual Life is that Sertillanges did not include a copy of Aquinas’ letter.  To this end, I have here posted the Latin and my own translation into English. 

Although Aquinas wrote this to a monk, his statements contain wisdom that can be applied to anyone approaching a topic of serious study.  Enjoy the read.

 On the Mode of Studying

John, very dear to me in Christ, because you asked me how you ought to study and acquire the treasury of knowledge, I give you this advice: do not immediately enter into the sea, but enter through streams.  Because it is necessary to arrive at more difficult things through easier things.
Therefore, this is my advice and your instruction. 

Command yourself to be slow to speak and slow to go to the common room. 

Embrace the purity of your conscience. 

Do not cease from occupying yourself with prayer.

Frequently love your cell if you want to enter into the wine cellar. 

Show yourself amiable to all people.  

Ask nothing about the achievements of others.  Because familiarity breeds contempt and supplies a means of subtracting from study. 

By no means put yourself into the study of secular writings and works. 

Flee wandering above all things. 

Do not lay aside following the footsteps of good and holy men.

Do not care from whom you hear, but whatever good may be spoken, commit to memory. 

Those things which you read and hear make understandable. 

Verify what you doubt.

And busy yourself to store whatever you can gather in the chest of your mind, as one desiring to fill up a vessel. 

Do not seek things above you.

Following Dominic’s footsteps, you will bring forth useful leaf and you will produce useful fruit in the vineyard of the Lord Sabaoth as long as you have life. If you follow these things continually, you will attain that which you seek.

The Latin reads as follows:
De modo studendi

Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium: ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua. Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem; conscientiae puritatem amplectere. Orationi vacare non desinas; cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci. Omnibus te amabilem exhibe; nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum; nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat; de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas; discursus super omnia fugias; sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas; non respicias a quo audias, sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda; ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas; de dubiis te certifica; et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere;  altiora te ne quaesieris. Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Some Thoughts on Health Care and Politics in the United States of America

Some Thoughts on Health Care and Politics in the United States of America

If you are easily offended please stop reading here.  If you would like to consider a non-partisan view of things please continue reading.

Politically speaking, I am a registered independent.  In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, this does not allow me to vote in any primary races.  This is a price that I grumpily accept for not being associated with either party.

I have followed the “health care” bills and politics of these fiascos since the 1990’s.  The situation over the last decade gives me some concern.  To adequately express my concerns, I need to take you back in time to when the Affordable Care Act was passed.  There was something deeply troubling about how this legislation was passed.  It was passed quickly, with the appearance that it was not considered carefully, and it was passed purely along partisan lines.  I deeply suspect this is part of what led to the Democrats losing their majority in both houses.  Fast forward to the present and the Republicans get their turn to be idiots and are in the midst of trying to pass a bill all by themselves without adequately consideration.  I know that it can be difficult, but for the sake of the American people, I would like to see a full debate and bipartisan drafting of a plan to address the issues in the healthcare system in America.

Our country needs to have an honest discussion about what type of health care system we should have.  The present system is a strange amalgam that will not hold together easily.  We could have a universal coverage through the government (many other countries do this, and some do it well) or we could allow the private market to determine things.  We could even have universal government healthcare and allow private companies to compete with the feds.  Imagine giving socialists and rich capitalists what they both want at the same time! (Note, lower and middle class capitalists will lose out on this, but the rich socialists can still buy the best doctors as they do now).

As far as I am concerned, the greatest flaw of the A.C.A. was that it kept insurance companies and required that individuals have insurance.  This is an amazing level of crony capitalism.  Not even in Vladimir Putin’s Russia are people required by law to pay money to a private company for health insurance.[1]  The government then need to subsidize plans and thus the government is also paying (at least in part) private insurance companies for the required insurance of a portion of its citizenry.  And despite these great safeguards of both government and private citizen being required to give money to private insurance companies, there are fewer options for health insurance and cost charged by the companies continues to go up.  This is what happens when you allow the health insurance companies to influence the creation of a bill.  From what I have seen, the Republicans intend to keep this unnatural beast alive and well fed in their bill (with the possibilities of making things more profitable for insurance companies.  I will hold off on full comments until I have read the bill, which like the A.C.A. no one will actually understand what is in it until after it becomes law).  As long as this continues, there will

In any debate, it would be helpful to separate health insurance from health care.  Health insurance can be very helpful for affording healthcare.  Healthcare is not insurance.  Insurance does not guarantee access to healthcare nor the quality of care provided.  Insurance does guarantee effective care. 

I am certain that there are more effective and efficient ways to structure our entire healthcare system than our current model.  Who knows, we could even ask retiring age doctors what would work best on their end of things.  We could even figure out ways to reduce the paper work involved with health insurance and watch thousands of paper pushers inside the healthcare system increase the ranks of the unemployed, thereby reducing the overall costs.  There are a multitude of options that should be carefully considered and weighed.  Congress could take a few years to figure it out.  While they do it, they could even listen to constituent concerns as the bill is being crafted instead of after they passed the thing they did not read.

I honestly do not expect anything I have discussed above to be taken seriously by anyone in the decision making process.  Common sense is often and easily overcome by political clout and money of large corporations, especially when coupled with political expediency.  However, I hope that is has proven helpful

[1] Russians actually have a state run healthcare system for everyone as well as private hospitals that accept private insurance.