Christianity 201

October 16, 2011

What the Early Church Looked Like

To wrap up a series on I Peter, our pastor read this morning from chapter five of

The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus

an early Christian document.  It is a beautiful picture of the early church.  Sometimes writings from this era are not paragraphed the way we would today, so I’ve taken the liberty of reformatting each sentence as a bullet point.

CHAPTER V — THE MANNERS OF THE CHRISTIANS.

  • For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity.
  • The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines.
  •  But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.
  • They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners.
  • As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners.
  • Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.
  • They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring.
  • They have a common table, but not a common bed.
  • They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.
  • They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.
  • They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.
  • They love all men, and are persecuted by all.
  • They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life.
  • They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified.
  • They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers.
  • When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

Read more here.

Here’s an updated translation with introduction.  The uploader of this version notes:

…You’ll notice that the writer does not quote a single Scripture, neither from the Old Testament nor the New. He is the only early Christian writer not to do so.

Nonetheless, you’ll also recognize his thoughts as Scriptural. This is a man who is telling you what he was taught in a church established by apostles (ch. 11), not a man who is interpreting the Bible for himself.

This is an awesome thing, as it makes the Letter to Diognetus a much better insight into early Christianity than it otherwise would have been.

I would agree, adding that in addition to the parallels our pastor noted from I Peter, this is also an excellent expanded picture of what we know from the concluding verses of Acts 2 and Acts 4.


September 10, 2011

Dealing with Myths about the Authenticity of Christianity

This post is all too short, and Chris Brooks, the blogger at Homeward Bound hasn’t posted anything since this appeared in July; however, I still thought it was a good resource for getting us all thinking about dealing with this particular objection to Christianity when it comes up.  It appeared under the title Jesus & Myth.

Did the New Testament writers borrow from ancient myths in creating stories about Jesus?

It’s a charge that comes and goes over the years. If you haven’t heard it lately, you probably will soon. It goes something like this:

There have been stories about (semi-)divine men who came to earth, died, and were resurrected for thousands of years. The religions based on their worship even included baptism and a special meal. Early Christians simply borrowed elements from those religions to create stories about their own christ.And a lot of that is almost true. Almost. The collected wisdom of Christendom on the topic seems be:

1) The similarities between these ancient stories and Christianity are exaggerated and the differences are minimized.

For example, “resurrection” in these stories didn’t really involve dead people getting up and walking around or it wasn’t permanent. For instance, Osiris’ dismembered corpse was reassembled, but he remained in the underworld. And their resurrection stories were tied to cyclical fertility/harvest rituals; they weren’t once for all time events.

Likewise, “baptism” meant being bathed in blood from a freshly killed animal. Calling that baptism is stretching the term beyond recognition, and it’s something first century Jews wouldn’t have found at all interesting.

2) The real similarities are datable only to after Christianity appeared.

These “mystery” religions were still around at and after the time of Christ. If the similarities (e.g., communion) only appear in the historical record in the second or third century, which way did the borrowing go? The other way, obviously, as our traditions can be dated from the first century.

3) Post-exile Jews were the last people we’d expect to absorb or syncretize with another religion.

They were really, really opposed to allowing their religion to be corrupted by outside influences after that whole Babylon thing (c.f., Maccabean rebellion). That’s not to say it could never happen, but it does mean the evidence has to be really solid for it to be believed.

So did early Christians borrow myths from other religions to create a Christ they could worship? The evidence does not support that hypothesis.

——-
Other resources:
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (Zondervan)
Jesus and Other Myths (Video)

Related articles:
The Resurrection: A Story No One Would Make Up
Pagan Virgin Births

~Chris Brooks