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…

Death by Holiness

At several points in the Scriptures, human persons come in contact with the sacred in ways that result in extremely negative consequences.  Chiefly, this takes the form of death.  By entering sacred space or coming into contact with holy things incorrectly, these persons are immediately struck dead.  This result, being instant, leaves no room for repentance or correction.  The nature of these deaths and warnings issued regarding them, both before and after, has created a certain false sense of fear among many Christians.  The seeming injustice of the death penalty for what seems to be minor transgression has likewise become a source of mockery for critics of the Scriptures and of Christianity. Before looking at several individual instances of this…

The Epistle of Enoch

The final portion of the Book of Enoch, comprising what is generally numbered as chapters 91-108, is commonly referred to as the Epistle of Enoch.¬† Though ‘epistle’, through its New Testament usage, gives the idea of a letter, these chapters are not purported to be a letter written by Enoch.¬† Rather, they purport to be a record of Enoch’s parting words to his son Methuselah and his extended family.¬† Depending upon the translation which one reads, 1 Enoch may end with a brief, two verse chapter 105, may continue through to chapter 108, or may jump from the former ending to chapter 108.¬† Some translations incorporate all of the material sometimes numbers as chapters 105-108 as verses of chapter 105.¬†‚Ķ

The Book of Luminaries and the Book of Dreams

The last three portions of the Book of Enoch, the last three material elements which have been incorporated into the text of 1 Enoch, are considerably shorter than the first two which most likely represent the most ancient traditions.  These three sections are called the Book of Luminaries, the Book of Dreams, and the Epistle of Enoch respectively.  These three sections also represent more diverse elements in regard to their teachings.  The Book of the Watchers and the Book of Parables (including the Book of Noah) represent apocalyptic traditions both protological, in describing the origin of evil, and eschatological, in describing its final destiny.  These apocalyptic traditions became formative for Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Egypt, and even in Palestine (such…

The Book of Noah

The latter portion of the Book of Parables (chapters 60-69) within the text of 1 Enoch incorporates a ‘Book of Noah’, an independent Enochic tradition already in written form by the time it was incorporated into the Book of Enoch’s text.¬† This is evident from a few features of the text.¬† First and foremost, the speaker shifts from Enoch to his descendant Noah.¬† Occasionally the speaker shifts briefly back to Enoch but in each of these cases, the remark involving Enoch appears to be a later editorial insertion.¬† If these were merely traditions regarding Noah in an oral form, the composer of the Book of Parables would have felt free to adapt and streamline it, fitting it into the overall‚Ķ