The Apostle Paul and the ‘Works of the Law’

A great emphasis in the protestant reformation was the doctrinal formulation of “justification by faith alone,” which many asserted to be “the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls” (Martin Luther: “articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae”).

While this was in and of itself a complete novelty (and devoid of Patristic warrant) — supposedly being based upon the Scriptures alone — it is quite easy to demonstrate that not only is this concept foreign to the Scriptures but is also foreign to the first century Judean mindset (not to mention the Christian). To be plain, Luther and other reformers were reading their contemporary disagreements with the mainstream Latin church into the words of St Paul.

A Book of the People: Judaism and the Canon of Scripture

As is certainly the case today, Judaism was not a monolithic religion in the first century. Limiting ourselves to even the New Testament witness, there are various, competing sects—such as the Pharisees and Sadducees—who disagreed over everything from the resurrection to the proper interpretation of God’s law. Alongside these doctrinal differences was a debate regarding the boundaries of special revelation, or what we today call the ‘canon of scripture.’ Was Esther an important,…

The Temple Cult and Early Christian Worship

The Judaism of the first century was a religion almost entirely centered around the sacrificial worship of the temple. Faithful pilgrims traveled many miles from all around the diaspora to worship at the temple several times a year, and the temple was central to their faith and piety. While various forms of post-Christian Judaism today are more centered around the study of text—especially as might be seen in rabbinical Judaism—this was not…

Who Were the Pharisees?

To be named a Pharisee today is to be named a legalist. To be someone who trusts in themselves and their own righteousness more than that of the righteousness which comes from the faithfulness of God. While to be a Pharisee is almost always seen in a negative light among Christians and even non-Christians today, there is still much we can learn from studying both their faith and actions in the first…

Appropriating the Academic Study of Scripture from an Orthodox Perspective

When I first studied Orthodoxy, I had long been studying contemporary Biblical scholarship. The history of the Church was foreign to me, and the revelation that the canon of Scripture emerged out of the history of that same Church (thus making Sola Scriptura self-contradictory)—along with the revelation that Patristic theology resembled Catholic and Orthodox theology far more than Protestant theology of any variety—convinced me very early on that Protestantism was untenable. Thus…

Competing Temples

While the glorious Temple of Solomon is featured prominently in portions of the Old Testament, there were at least two other temple copies erected in places other than the temple mount of Jerusalem. One was apparently in Tel Arad (Palestine), and excavations show it being called a “House of YHWH” (בית יהוה). Unfortunately, it was positioned alongside some sort of shrine to Asherah, a Semitic goddess also referenced in the Old Testament.…

Remaking the Temple of the Lord

While the temple of the first century was rejected by certain groups of Jews—such as those at Qumran—it was not because they had lost faith in sacrificial religion, but rather because they had lost the temple itself. Herod’s temple was no doubt wondrous in its externals, but the hierarchy was corrupt and the faith had been emptied to a mere semblance of its former glory. For the apostles and the early Church,…

Jesus is the Temple

John’s Gospel is the most “mystical” and symbolic of all the canonical Gospels. In fact, John’s Gospel is so filled with spiritual insight that the Church almost exclusively reads from it during the Paschal (post-Easter) season. This is done because all catechumens are baptized on Great and Holy Saturday, leaving no un-initiated among the laity. One of the central themes—and it would be easy to identify dozens of “central” themes—of John’s Gospel…