Jephthah’s Daughter

The book of Judges is often seen to be problematic as a whole. Certainly, many elements of it need to be deeply couched in euphemism or omitted entirely if its narratives are going to be discussed in an all-ages environment. While large death tolls are described throughout, the descriptions of this violence become increasingly graphic as the book progresses. By the final chapters, the book has descended headlong into the madness of rape, dismemberment, murder, and civil war. Most works of fiction in various media that contain these same elements would be subject to criticism from the perspective of Christian morality. Yet, the book of Judges is a part of the Holy Scriptures. Understanding the book of Judges as a…

How Did the Apostles Receive Those Baptized Outside of the Church?

One issue of more than occasional discussion and tension within the Orthodox Church is the way in which persons are received into the church who have been baptized, whether as infants or adults, in some context or polity other than the Orthodox Church herself.  This debate tends to take place regarding whether in certain cases, certain persons so baptized ought to be received through chrismation.  Those supporting this approach reference its long history of usage and application in the Orthodox Church under a variety of circumstances in receiving persons from a variety of different backgrounds.  Opponents of this practice generally argue that not baptizing such a person within the Orthodox Church is tantamount to lending some sort of recognition of…

Through the Sea of Reeds

One of the most dramatic episodes in the entirety of the Hebrew scriptures is the crossing of the Red Sea.  Shortly after the first Passover, the first Pascha, the people of nascent Israel escaped the wrath of Pharaoh and his armies through the separated waters of the sea.  After the Israelites had passed through on the dry ground, the waters closed to cover and destroy the Egyptian charioteers.  This scene has been dramatized in films both live-action and animated.  It has been depicted in a variety of ways artistically beyond its traditional iconography.  The song of victory sung by the Israelites, recorded in Exodus 15, is the first Ode of the Canon, traditionally sung in the context of matins and…

After the Order of Melchizedek

In understanding the portrait of the Messiah presented in the Hebrew Scriptures as understood in the first century, the time of the apostles, Psalm 110/109 looms large.  This Psalm is, in fact, the most cited Old Testament text in the New Testament.  It encapsulates themes and images found predominately in the Torah and developed within the prophets to give a picture of the Christ, the Anointed One, who will come into the world and what it is which he will accomplish.  The core thesis of Christianity, and of all of the New Testament documents, is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Holy One of God.  It, therefore, makes perfect sense that applying the imagery of this Psalm to…

The Messiah

Even a passing familiarity with a Christian reading of the Old Testament reveals a series of prophetic elements that, from that Christian reading, point to fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.  These prophetic elements, however, often seem disparate and scattered.  There are prophecies of the defeat of death, the downfall of the devil, the restoration of the nations, the overcoming of sin, a prophet like Moses, God’s arising to judge the earth, and countless others of more or less detail.  By the time period reflected by the Gospels and other New Testament writings, however, all of these promises seem to have coalesced around the person of the coming Messiah or Christ.  Christ’s identity as the Messiah is the explicit…

Who is “the Weaker Brother”?

In chapter 8 of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul begins a discussion that will go on for several chapters regarding food offered to idols.  The eating of this food was the means by which worshippers participated in the sacrifices offered to those pagan gods.  Through these chapters, St. Paul gives a variety of reasons why all of the members of the Christian community at Corinth must abide by the commandments against such participation as re-affirmed at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.  In the opening chapter of this discussion, chapter 8, St. Paul makes a distinction between stronger and weaker brethren.  This distinction understood rather casually, is employed all too frequently in both popular and pastoral…

Psalm 51 and Justification

Any discussion of salvation in general, and that described by St. Paul in particular, will necessarily include the concept of justification.  Exactly how justification works was the central argument of the Protestant Reformation in the West.  Despite a massive disagreement about its functionality between the Roman church and Protestant groups, they shared, for the most part, a common definition of the term.  To be justified was to be made, or declared, to be righteous.  Righteousness was something that was possessed and must be possessed in order to enter into eternal life.  It must be possessed in complete perfection.  Righteousness, therefore, formed a certain bar that needed to be cleared in order to receive eternal life from Christ.  In the Roman…

Why the Law was Given, and by Whom

At the beginning of the story of salvation, God made promises to Abraham.  These promises were really a reaffirmation of the purpose for which humanity had been created in the first place before the coming of rebellion, sin, and death.  The story of Abraham begins in Genesis 12, following on the three rebellions, the three “falls” of Genesis 1-11.  Once mortal life ending in death had achieved its purpose, Christ would defeat it and release humanity from its hold.  In the same event, his rising, he would also defeat the evil powers and principalities who had dominated the nations since Babel.  Death and the hostile powers stand as opposed to humanity’s destiny in Christ as spoken to Abraham.  Those promises,…

The Promises to Abraham

The promises made to Abraham form the basis for the entire Biblical understanding of salvation.  In addition to his name, Yahweh, God identifies himself throughout as the “God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.”  This is clear even to a very casual reader of the Scriptures.  Nonetheless, if asked what the promises to Abraham were, most even educated Christians would speak of the promise that Abraham would have a great many descendants and those descendants would live on a particular piece of land in Palestine.  The New Testament in general and St. Paul in particular, however, speak of the promises to Abraham as the beginning of the promise of salvation fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The apostle…

Cain, the Sinner

As has been previously discussed on this blog, Genesis 1-11 narrates three “falls.”  There are three distinct times described when human persons joined with spiritual beings in rebellion against God.  The first of these, in Genesis 3, led to the devil being cast into the underworld and humanity’s expulsion from Paradise, the presence of God.  Through Adam’s sin, death laid claim to the human race.  The second rebellion is described in Genesis 4-6.  Cain and his descendants join with rebellious angelic powers to bring sin and corruption into the world, culminating in acts of demonic sexual immorality which produced clans of gigantic tyrants.  This resulted in the cleansing of the world by the waters of the flood.  Finally, humanity’s sin…