The Bread of Heaven and the Blood of the Covenant

The Eucharist has always stood at the center of the life and worship of the Christian Church.  The sacrifice of the Eucharist is the preeminent act of Christian worship, the central focus of Christian life, and the constituent element of the church as community.  Sacrifices are meals, meals shared together by the community with the community’s God.  Several past posts have focused on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and its nature as a meal.  There is also much to be said about the elements themselves, the food which constitutes this meal.  Beginning by at least the seventh century and especially in the West, there has been considerable discussion and debate as to how the body, blood, and indeed the…

The Book of Jubilees

The Book of Jubilees is an ancient Jewish text from the Second Temple period.  As a text, it played a significant role in the religion of the first century AD.  Josephus made heavy use of it in his Antiquities.  In addition to being a textual composition, Jubilees is a repository for a vast swathe of Jewish religious and historical traditions providing a window into the understanding and practices of Jewish people during this period.  Many of the ideas found in Jubilees appear in the New Testament, casually mixed as traditions with the text of the Hebrew scriptures themselves.  In a handful of places, the New Testament authors seem to cite Jubilees directly.  Many of the earliest Fathers reference this text…

Faithfulness

In discussions of the Christian religion, perhaps no word is bandied about more frequently than the word ‘faith’.  Despite its frequency of use, defining precisely what it means based on usage often proves elusive.  This is likely due to the variety of historical and religious contexts in which the term has come to be used.  The central principle of the Protestant Reformation was salvation by faith alone.  This established an ongoing debate about the relationship between faith and works in salvation.  The Christian faith refers sometimes to the whole of the Christian religion, sometimes to Christian beliefs or dogmas, sometimes to a restricted list of core beliefs or dogmas which are seen as unquestionable.  When dealing with the struggles and…

The Tree of the Cross

Friedrich Nietzsche famously said regarding Christian readings of the Hebrew scriptures, “there followed a fury of interpretation and construction that cannot possibly be associated with a good conscience: however much Jewish scholars protested, the Old Testament was supposed to speak of Christ and only of Christ, and especially of his Cross; wherever a piece of wood, a rod, a ladder, a twig, a tree, a willow, a staff is mentioned, it is supposed to be a prophetic allusion to the wood of the Cross; even the erection of the one-horned beast and the brazen serpent, even Moses spreading his arms in prayer, even the spits on which the Passover lamb was roasted all allusions to the Cross and as it…

The Name of the Lord

The pivotal moment in the life of Moses as related in Exodus is his prophetic call at the bush which burned but was not consumed.  Within this call narrative, an important and well known moment is the revelation to Moses of the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Despite how well known this moment is, there are a number of misnomers regarding the revelation of the name Yahweh, as well as precisely what this name means and indicates.  This is true not only in terms of popular understanding but even major scholarly theories based on references to this name have recently lost most of their popularity if not been completely overturned.  Archaeological finds have given further relevant…

Apocalypse Now

In the common vernacular, the term ‘apocalypse’ is used to refer to the end of the world or some imagined future in which the present world societal structures have been destroyed or ceased to exist.  In fiction, this was typically some sort of nuclear or environmental catastrophe, though in recent years it has tended more toward disease outbreak in general and one which turns humans into zombies in particular.  This popular usage has come through a particular interpretation of the final book of the New Testament, the Apocalypse of St. John, or the book of Revelation.  Centuries of interpretation which holds that this text, or at least the greater part of it, describes events which will take place at the…

Tabor and Hermon

In the celebration of the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Orthodox Church, much attention is paid to the revelation of Christ’s glory as uncreated light.  This is fitting, as this element of the event and of the feast became critically important to later doctrinal disputes within the East and ultimately between East and West.  There are, however, other important elements of the event and feast relating to the revelation of Jesus as not only Christ but as God which may be all too quickly passed over as a result of this emphasis.  Certain liturgical elements of the feast and of scriptures telling of the event give clues to these other elements if they are followed through attentively. One of…

Atonement for the Whole World

First John 2:2 states that Christ has offered himself as an atoning sacrifice “not only for our sins but also for the whole world.”  For most of Christian history, this verse has been used as a football in various theological disputes.  First, it was used as a proof text against the Donatists who saw their churches in North Africa as the totality of the church of Christ.  Second, it was debated in regard to the condemnation of apokatastasis or universalism.  Beginning in the period of the Protestant Reformation, it became a key text in the debate surrounding the Calvinist doctrine of limited or particular atonement.  While what St. John has to say to the Johannine community in 1 John may…

The Handwriting of Our Sins

One verse cited often with regard to the crucifixion of Christ in the Orthodox liturgical tradition is Colossians 2:14.  “When he canceled the handwriting in the decrees against us, which were opposed to us.  And he has taken it from our midst, by nailing it to the cross.”  This verse describes how, as the previous verse says, we who were dead in our transgressions were made alive by having those transgressions taken away.  The language used here offers us yet another window through the scriptures to understand the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sakes upon the cross.  Though it may not be apparent in English translation, this language of the handwriting of a decree is part and parcel…

Propitiation and Expiation

Debates surrounding atonement theology over the last several decades have centered on two terms, propitiation and expiation.  Both of these terms describe the function of particular sacrificial rituals.  There is not, of necessity, a conflict between the core meanings of these two terms.  They have come, however, to be emblematic of entire theological positions regarding the atoning sacrifice of Christ.  Clearing away the accumulated theological baggage from these terms, however, allows them to highlight two important elements of the sacrificial system described in the Hebrew scriptures which will, in turn, reveal elements of the Gospels’ portrayal of Christ’s atoning death.  Rather than summarizing two incompatible views or options or theories regarding “how atonement works,” these elements, along with others, convey…