Sts. Mary and Elizabeth

The visit of St. Mary, the Theotokos, to St. Elizabeth in Luke 1:39‚Äď56 serves as the setting for the song of the Theotokos known as the Magnificat.¬† This title is the first word of the hymn in Latin translation, which begins, ‚ÄúMagnificat anima mea Dominum‚Ķ‚Ä̬† Both St. Elizabeth‚Äôs greeting to the Theotokos upon her arrival, and the subsequent hymn, are steeped in Old Testament allusion and imagery. Much of St. Luke‚Äôs Gospel is redolent with such connections to the Old Testament, in particular to the text in Greek translation, and other associated Jewish literature in Greek. These connections and parallels to the Old Testament are particularly concentrated in the early chapters of the Gospel. Both St. Elizabeth‚Äôs greeting and the‚Ķ

Two Lukes Two

As described briefly in the previous post, there are at least two ancient versions of St. Luke’s Gospel that emerge from the fog of the early decades of Christianity into the light of the mid-second century side by side.¬† This post will describe three of the most interesting variations between these two versions of St. Luke’s Gospel and what they reveal about their respective texts.¬† These two versions of St. Luke’s Gospel are accompanied by two different versions of the Acts of the Apostles which differ from each other by roughly 8-10 percent.¬† The vast majority of these variations in Acts are merely the result of more elaborate descriptive language in the various narratives.¬† At least some of the variants‚Ķ

The Two Lukes

The idea of the “original text” of the Scriptures is a mirage.¬† Instead, the Scriptures which make up the Christian Old and New Testaments represent a rich and diverse set of textual traditions.¬† There has been a long history, when it comes to the nearly 6,000 New Testament manuscripts currently known to the scholarly world, of categorizing these texts according to geographical determines based on where they were found.¬† This has produced the language of ‘text families’.¬† Older works of textual criticism and study, and even some newer ones, make frequent reference to Byzantine, Alexandrian, Caesarean, and Western texts.¬† Recent computer-based research has, in general, relativized if not invalidated these distinctions.¬† Essentially, it is now being demonstrated that all of‚Ķ

The Imaginary “Original Text”

While the Church has always held that the Scriptures are free from error, within the realm of (particularly American) Protestantism, the concept of the inerrancy of the Scriptures came to take on a particularly pointed character in the late 19th and early 2oth centuries.  Having posited the idea of Sola Scriptura, that the Scriptures would be, for Protestant communities, the sole infallible rule of faith and life, modern modes of textual criticism became a threat to the entirety of traditional Protestant doctrine.  While many conservative Protestant scholars have engaged, to varying degrees, with critical methodology, the defining aspect of their doctrinal conservativism for the past century and a half has been the affirmation that the Scriptures are free from error…

St. Stephen and the Glorification of Humanity

The story of St. Stephen, one of the first seven deacons and the first martyr for Christ told in Acts 6-7 is important for a number of reasons.¬† The formation of the diaconate gives important information regarding both the forms of church leadership at its earliest stage and the understanding of that leadership’s continuity with that of the old covenant assembly.¬† St. Stephen’s sermon given as both an apologia and as a gospel presentation reflects the way in which Second Temple traditions surrounding the Hebrew Scriptures were understood by the earliest Christians to be authoritative in understanding those Scriptures.¬† The role played in his death by Saul of Tarsus, soon to become St. Paul, reveals the depth of the transformation‚Ķ

Zealotry and the Priesthood

The priesthood was, in the Old Testament, generally seized in its initial stages by force.  It comes as a reward for manslaughter.  This is a simple fact that confronts any careful reader of the Old Testament in general and the Torah in particular.  This truth produced an entire tradition of zealotry within the Old Testament that continued into the New Testament period.  Simply defined, zealotry in this context is the idea that acts of violence, even the killing of other human persons, are not only allowed but required in defense of that which is holy and pure.  This idea has been (wrongly) appealed to and applied throughout Christian history to defend everything from the inquisition to the crusades to witch-hunting. …

The Beatitudes and Eternal Life

The Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12) form a prologue or introduction to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew’s Gospel.¬† The corresponding blessings, but in this case with accompanying woes, play a similar role in the Sermon on the Plain found in St. Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6:20-26).¬† Often these blessings are extracted from the surrounding material in much the same way that the Ten Commandments are extracted from the other commandments of the Torah as a sort of summary.¬† Like the Ten Commandments, they are often memorized.¬† They are sung or recited at several points in the liturgical worship of the Orthodox Church, including within the funeral services.¬† The word ‘Beatitude’ is a transliteration of the Latin ‘beatitudo‘ which refers to‚Ķ

Who is Azazel?

While the Devil and Satan as rebellious spiritual powers at enmity with Yahweh, the God of Israel, are well-known figures, there are others who are perhaps less well-known though no less important for understanding the nature of the demonic powers presented in the Scriptures.  Within Second Temple literature there is a demonic figure commonly associated with Cain and his descendants’ corruption in Genesis and the corruption of the material world. That figure is the fallen angel Azazel. It is not a coincidence that Azazel is also the figure referenced in the institution of the Day of Atonement ritual (Lev 16). The figure of Azazel within the ritual atonement practiced in Israel and later Judea was understood by the first century…

Who Can Keep the Law of God?

One of the most impactful translations in the transmission history of the Scriptures has been the translation of the Hebrew ‘Torah’ with the Greek ‘nomos’, the Latin ‘lex’, and finally the English ‘law.’¬† The Hebrew ‘Torah’ means most immediately teaching.¬† It, therefore, characterizes the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures as the teaching of God directed toward humanity through his people Israel.¬† The Greek term chosen to translate it, ‘nomos’, describes an entire way of life.¬† It includes the laws of a community or culture but also mores, folkways, traditions, and countless other elements of life that describe how that community or civilization conducts itself and lives in the world.¬† The Latin translation of the Scriptures conducted systematically by‚Ķ

Elisha and the She-Bears

One passage commonly cited by opponents of Christianity as an example of horrible violence in the Hebrew Scriptures involves the prophet, Elisha. As this text is generally presented by critics or others seeking to enhance its problematic nature, it involves Elisha, while traveling, being made fun of by a group of small children. In particular, they mock Elisha for being bald. In response, Elisha curses them and Yahweh sends two she-bears out of the woods. These bears then kill 42 of the children who had mocked him. The idea that God massacres children for poking fun at someone is submitted as being gratuitous and sometimes even evil. The source of this story is a brief description of the event in…