God the Word

Famously, the prologue of the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel speaks of the Logos, who has existed eternally with God from the beginning, and is God.  It became extremely common to read these statements in the prologue philosophically.  To read them as an attempt by St. John to philosophically represent the deity of Jesus Christ in relationship to the God of Israel as a Jewish monotheist.  Philo of Alexandria’s mention, as a Jewish Middle Platonist, of the divine Logos as an emanation of the one true God is seen as either a parallel or a precursor by this view.  Others looked to the idea of the logos in Stoic philosophy.  This line of thought has so permeated patristic studies…

The Angel of the Lord

There is within the Christian world, even among Orthodox Christian writers and scholars, a certain presupposed narrative regarding the ‘development’ of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity within Christianity.  It is presupposed that the people of the Old Testament were Unitarian monotheists, that they believed that only one God existed, and that that God was a single person.  It is then presupposed that through his teaching and deeds, culminating in his resurrection and ascension into heaven, early Christians came to believe that Jesus is also divine in some sense.  The development of Christian belief over the next several centuries is then seen in evolutionary terms, in which early ‘low’ Christology in which Christ is seen to be divine, but not…

Women Disciples of the Lord

The phrase “women disciples of the Lord” is enough of a commonplace in Orthodox hymnography that it moves past the modern ear with little notice.  It seems simply obvious at even a surface reading of the gospels that Christ had a number of followers, and that some of them were women.  Contained within this brief phrase, and in the use of the word disciple, however, is a massive transformation in the way in which women were viewed in the ancient world, and their perceived role within the Christian community.  As in a previous post, in the person of Jesus Christ, priesthood is reunited with masculinity as a calling, so too in the revelation of Jesus Christ attested by the New…

Priesthood and Masculinity

The theme of priesthood in the scriptures begins at the very beginning.  The first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis draw heavily on the literature and traditions of the surrounding nations, though always with alteration, and in some cases even inversion, of the pagan themes found therein.  The most obvious example of this is the story of the flood, which existed in many forms in the Ancient Near East before Genesis was written, and so Genesis both corrects these accounts, and serves as an apologetic for the true God of scripture against the various Near Eastern deities.  This is also true of the story of the creation of Adam itself.  In the Ancient Near East, the various pagan cultures…

Marriage and Sexuality According to Christ

While it has become a commonplace in modern rhetoric to minimize, or even deny, that Jesus himself had anything to say about sexual morality, this is simply not true.  In answering a question regarding divorce in Matthew 19:3-12, Christ directs us back to the first two chapters of the book of Genesis in order to illustrate God’s plan for gender, sexuality, and marriage in his creation.  By pointing to and reaffirming these passages, Christ in fact makes a strong statement which has consequences for the Christian understanding of issues as diverse as divorce, polygamy, and homosexuality.  Understanding this teaching of Christ presents an additional hurdle, however, as the Genesis narratives to which he points have themselves been the subject of…

St. Paul and the Law

As a conclusion to this series on the ongoing importance of the commandments of the Law in the New Testament and in the Orthodox Church, it is important to address directly St. Paul’s understanding of the Law.  It has become a commonplace since Martin Luther to read St. Paul as setting out a dichotomy between the Law on one hand, and the gospel which he proclaimed on the other.  This distinction has been read forward into the other New Testament writers, and also backward into the Old Testament.  That which is identified as Law, then, in the scriptures, or at least, portions of it, is allowed a continuing role in the life of the church and of Christians but that…

The Sacrifice to End All Sacrifices

As mentioned previously, the fact that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament are no longer observed within Christian communities, beginning with the apostolic community, has been used to marginalize the commandments of the Law regarding worship in toto.  While the idea that Christ’s offering of himself as a pleasing sacrifice to the Father means that all of the old sacrificial commandments are irrelevant is attractive in its simplicity, it grossly distorts the scriptural understanding of sacrifice.  Further, this idea has led the vast majority of Protestantism to question whether there is such a thing as a new covenant priesthood.  This blanket Protestant denial of ongoing sacrifice in the Christian community, particularly associated with the Eucharist, is itself a response…

Worship in Spirit and Truth

Worship, as an offering made to God, ought to be the offering which God wishes to receive from human persons.  This is seen immediately in Genesis, in the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, one of which is accepted by God, the other of which is rejected.  Consistent with this, extremely detailed instructions were given for the design of the place of worship, and the structure and patterns of worship itself, in the Law.  In terms of order, these commandments even take precedence over many of the moral commandments given in the Law.  In fact, the commandment to celebrate the Passover precedes the actual Passover in Exodus 12.  These commandments regarding worship are taken incredibly seriously by the text, with Aaron’s…

Cut Off from Among the People

One element of the Law which the vast majority of Christians see as being obsolete or annulled following the death and resurrection of Christ is the system of death penalties prescribed for a variety of offenses therein.  While there are still many Christians who see the death penalty as appropriate in cases of murder, or other very specific crimes, relatively few would argue for its application in cases of, for example, disrespect to parents, or the fraud of a woman being found not to be a virgin on her wedding night.  The fact that Christians do not embrace a literal application of these commandments from the Law is then often used in argument in an attempt to relativize the seriousness…

Why Don’t Christians Keep Kosher?

The most common answers to this question, that ‘that part’ of the Law doesn’t apply anymore, or that Acts 15 said that only four commandments apply to Christians, have been seen in previous posts in this series to not be valid from the perspective of how the New Testament understands the Law as applying to Christians.  Why is it, then, that Christians do not follow the kosher laws regarding food in the Old Testament?  In fact, many of the foods that Orthodox Christians in particular are allowed to eat during fast periods are food which were considered unclean under the commandments of the Law.  It must first be said that there is no good evidence that the Apostles, including St.…