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.…

Acts 15 and the Law in the Church

Acts 15, which presents the proceedings of what has become known as the Council of Jerusalem, that apostolic gathering which became the paradigm for future church councils, is considered to be the central passage in the New Testament to an understanding of how the apostles viewed the continued relevance, or irrelevance, of the Law to the life of the church.  A group of pharisees who had become embraced Jesus as the Messiah were putting forth the argument that the Gentiles who were by that time entering into the nascent Christian church should be subject to not just the Old Testament Law, but to their pharisaic interpretation thereof.  The gathered apostles, prominently Ss. Paul, Peter, and James, found against this party,…

Is the Law Abolished or Fulfilled?

The topic of the post would seem to be an easy question.  In Matthew 5:17, Christ states that he has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfil them.  Once this text has been quoted and the box has been checked, however, when the way in which the Law is interpreted, treated, and applied particularly in Protestant communions, the practical reality of this verse becomes more cloudy.  If what is meant by ‘fulfilled’ is ‘taken care of’ or ‘done away with’ on a practical level, if it effectively means ‘can be safely ignored’, then saying ‘fulfilled not abolished’ is a distinction without a difference.  Matthew 5:18-19 do a great deal to clarify what precisely Christ means…

Who Decided Which Books Would Be in the New Testament?

A previous post discussed the (loose) nature of the Old Testament canon in the Orthodox Church, but what about the New Testament?  Unlike the Old Testament, the New Testament as a canon of 27 books is agreed upon by essentially all groups which identify as Christian.  The way in which the New Testament canon came into existence, however, is the subject of an immense amount of disinformation and uninformed opinion.  When asked when these 27 books were ‘canonized’ as the New Testament, many will answer that that happened at the Council of Nicea.  Some will present this event as the bishops involved looking at a vast array of texts, including but not limited to the 27 which would be accepted,…

On Allegorical Interpretation

One of the temptations into which we frequently fall when seeking to understand others in our own time and in the past is that we begin with the assumption that they think and interact with a given set of ideas in the same way that we do.  So, for example, in interfaith discussions, Christians will from time to time refer to groups of Jewish and Muslim leaders holding councils.  Or Muslims will speak of the Torah or the New Testament as if it was viewed in the same way in which they view the Quran.  This immediately generates misunderstandings that then have to be overcome in order to truly interact.  Christians involved in these discussions need to understand how authority…

The New Testament Tradition

In many ways, the content of the New Testament, and even its text, are a much more settled issue than that of the Old Testament, as previously discussed.  That said, there is still a great deal of debate about which text of the New Testament, in its details, holds canonical authority.  This is due to an embarrassment of riches with regard to the New Testament text, for which we have nearly 6,000 manuscripts.  A manuscript, properly speaking, is a hand-written copy of a text.  Our extent manuscripts of the New Testament stretch from the early part of the second century to the beginning of the 20th century, at which point many churches in Greece were still reading the epistles and…

Is the Septuagint the Orthodox Old Testament?

For most Orthodox readers, the answer to the titular question of this piece will be an obvious and immediate ‘Yes’. It is a commonplace of Orthodox Christian catechesis that unlike the West, and here West primarily speaks to Protestant and more recent Roman Catholic Bible translations, which uses the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible as its Old Testament, the Orthodox Church places authority in the Septuagint. Even a casual internet search will reveal lengthy arguments to this effect, citing the evidence of New Testament quotations, of particular readings in the New Testament where a theological point seems to hinge upon a particular Greek rendering, and quotations from the Church Fathers about the value and reliability of the ‘work of…

Christ’s Two Witnesses

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and living in the United States, which has been powerfully shaped in its cultural and religious life by Protestant Christianity, the most common way of thinking about the role of the scriptures in the Church is the principle of Sola Scriptura in its various forms. It is therefore very common to read Orthodox perspectives, written in dialogue or in controversy with Protestantism, speaking against this foundational Protestant principle. Unfortunately, most often these Orthodox commenters pick up and utilize traditional Roman Catholic arguments against Sola Scriptura, rather than attempting to formulate Orthodox answers. This is unfortunate because these arguments are well and good as an attempt to get a person to…