The Apostolic Fathers

One of the areas of church history that I am most interested in is the Apostolic Fathers. As I write this post, this is the area that I am covering in the podcast.

Ryan Reeves, of whom I have shared many videos, provides a nice introduction to the Apostolic Fathers. Have a watch.

The History of English Podcast

I’m always on the lookout for new quality podcasts. One that I have recently started listening to is a podcast I want to share with you. It is called the History of English Podcast.

It is not the history of the English people, although it does deal with that, but is the history of the English language. Kevin Stroud deals with the languages that led to English, and then Old, Middle and Modern English.

Why I am sharing this here? While Kevin’s podcast is not a church history podcast it often does touch on church history. The reason is that clergy and monks were often the educated members of society who were involved in writing documents. Also, religious documents have most often survived.

I have really enjoyed the History of English Podcast. So often I have walked away with an answer about some strange aspect of English that I have always wondered about. Make sure to check it out.

Episode 32 – Polycarp of Smyrna

One of the most inspiring of the Apostolic Fathers is Polycarp. At the age of 86, he became a martyr, even though he had the opportunity to escape. As a disciple of John and one who had an impact on Irenaeus, Polycarp plays an important role.

Here are some important sources:

My recommend audiobook:

The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2 by Justo L. González

Beginning with the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, this fully revised and updated second volume of The Story of Christianity continues the marvelous history of the world’s largest religion. Award-winning historian Justo González brings to life the people, dramatic events, and theological debates that have shaped Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. From the monk Martin Luther, who dared to stand up to a corrupt pope, to the surprising spread and growing vitality of today’s church in Africa, Asia, and South America, The Story of Christianity offers a complete and up-to-date retelling of this amazing history.

With new information on the important contributions of women to church history as well as the latest information on Christianity in developing countries, González’s richly textured study discusses the changes and directions of the church up to the 21st century. The Story of Christianity covers such recent occurrences as the fall of the Soviet Union and the return of the Russian Orthodox Church; feminist, African American, and third-world theologies; the scandals and controversies facing the reign of Pope Benedict XVI; interfaith dialogue; and the movement toward unity of all Christian churches. This revised and updated edition of The Story of Christianity concludes with a thoughtful look at the major issues and debates facing Christianity today.

Get this audiobook FREE with a FREE trial of Audible.

Paul in Acts – Review

Paul in ActsOne of the most important figures for understanding the early church is the Apostle Paul. However, when it comes to studying Paul, we have two different sources to examine. There are Paul’s letters and Luke’s account of his ministry in Acts.

While most scholars do not struggle with using the epistles (or at least the seven “genuine” letters), there is some controversy about how to use Acts.

Do the accounts of Paul in Acts tell us anything about Paul or only about Luke and the church he was part of? Some scholars reject Acts as having any historical value.

An excellent resource for sorting through these questions is Paul in Acts by Stanley Porter. Porter addressed all of the big issues, including the “we” passages and the compatibility of Acts with the epistles.

Porter is not an apologist who seeks to defend the reliability of Acts for the sake of a strict doctrine of inerrancy. Porter is a respected New Testament scholar who sorts through the evidences and yet comes up with a positive view of Acts.

While acknowledging differences between Acts and Paul, Porter demonstrates that they are very compatible and that Acts is a valuable historical resource for understanding Paul.

I highly recommend Paul in Acts.

Tertullian’s Letter to His Wife

TertullianWhen we think of the Church Fathers, we often forget that they were real human beings. Beyond being extraordinary people in extraordinary times, they were people with emotions who were in relationships.

I have been reading through the works of Tertullian (155-240). Tertullian is important for many reasons, including coming up with the term Trinity.

As I was reading his works, I came across his letters to his wife. I thought this would be interesting. It started off promising enough.

I have thought it meet, my best beloved fellow-servant in the Lord, even from this early period, to provide for the course which you must pursue after my departure from the world, if I shall be called before you; (and) to entrust to your honour the observance of the provision.

You can see some affection for his wife there. However, as the letter continues, it becomes more of a theological treatise on marriage. You can read it here.

I can say with confidence that if I was living in dangerous times and had an opportunity to write to my wife, my letter would look much different.

However, this letter tells a lot about Tertullian, not just his theology but his personality. He lived an intellectual life and even when he writes to his wife, he can not unplug from that mode of thinking.

The Plot to Kill Hitler

BonhoefferAt a recent book fair at my children’s school, I was surprised to find the book, The Plot to Kill Hitler. I was not surprised to find a book on World War Two, I was surprised to find a book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The story of a man whose most prized possessions was his Bible and his cigarettes is not what you would expect in a public elementary school.

This book by Patrick McCormick is the story of Bonhoeffer but packaged for a younger audience. However, it is not juvenile in content as it wrestles with the difficult parts of his story.

If you are not familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he was a German pastor who came into conflict with the Nazis during World War Two. He opposed the German church’s capitulation to Hitler and set up an underground seminary to train pastors for the confessing church.

Although this book is titled, The Plot to Kill Hitler, that is not the most important thing Bonhoeffer did nor is it the main point of this book. Bonhoeffer was a brilliant theologian and church leader. He opposed evil in his own way long before he became involved in a plot to kill Hitler. Even when he was involved in that plot, he was the ethicist who guided the others more active in the plot. Unfortunately, this failed plan ultimately led to his execution.

One of the things that I appreciated about this book is that it really wrestled with the problem of Bonhoeffer’s pacifism and his involvement in the plot to kill Hitler. He never gave up on the principles of pacifism but felt that he needed to betray his own principles and face God’s judgment by helping to end the violence caused by Hitler.

If you know a young person who might be interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Plot to Kill Hitler, is a great introduction for a younger audience. Even adults will be inspired by this short book and its important story.

Who Were the Huguenots?

I have an interest in the French protestants known as the Huguenots. My family (on the Bedard side) are originally from La Rochelle, one of the Huguenots strongholds in France.

While the Bedards were all Roman Catholic by the time they arrived in Canada, I suspect some were Huguenots. It was common for Huguenots to convert to Roman Catholicism after the St Bartholomew’s Massacre in 1572.

Here is a helpful documentary by Ryan Reeves. I have shared other of his videos and they are very good.

What is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas?

One of the highlights when I teach New Testament introduction courses is to have “story-time” with a reading from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Why would I read from such a book? Critics attempt to cast doubt on the New Testament canon by suggesting that there were plenty of other books that could have been in the canon but were left out, for either theological or political reasons.

I believe that the best response is not to hide these other gospels from Christians but rather to bring them out of the shadows. Read the canonical Gospels and then read these other books and compare.

What exactly is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas? It is not to be confused with the Gospel of Thomas or the Acts of Thomas. This is an infancy gospel, meaning it is about Jesus when he was a child. Other than Luke 2:41-51, the canonical Gospels do not give any information about Jesus between his birth and the beginning of his ministry. It is understandable that people would be curious about this period of his life and so authors used their imaginations to fill in the gap.

You will notice that this infancy gospel assumes that Jesus had his “powers” during his childhood. While the Gospels do not specify, it is my understanding that Jesus did not start to perform miracles until he received the Holy Spirit at his baptism.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written sometime between 140-170 AD. This is another reason, as if it needed more, while it was not included in the canon.

Here are a couple of passages from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

2 When this boy, Jesus, was five years old, he was playing at the ford of a rushing stream. (2) He was collecting the flowing water into ponds and made the water instantly pure. He did this with a single command. (3) He then made soft clay and shaped it into twelve sparrows. He did this on the sabbath day, and many other boys were playing with him.

This passage is significant in that this story also appears in the Qur’an.

He will say: “I bring you a sign from your Lord. From clay I will make for you the likeness of a bird. I shall breath into it and, by God’s leave, it shall become a living bird.”  (Sura 3:49)

Here is my favourite passage:

4 Later he was going through the village again when a boy ran and bumped him on the shoulder. Jesus got angry and said to him, “You won’t continue your journey.” (2)And all of a sudden, he fell down and died.
(3)Some people saw what had happened and said, “Where has this boy come from? Everything he says happens instantly!”
(4)The parents of the dead boy came to Joseph and blamed him saying, “Because you have such a boy, you can’t live with us in the village, or else teach him to bless and not curse. He’s killing our children!”

Yes, young Jesus does not mind killing other children who bump into him. Why is this not in the canon again?

You can find more about the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, including a variety of English translations, at this page.

Recommended Book: Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures. (USA) (Canada)

This post originally appeared here.

Update on the Podcast

It has been a while since the last episode but I have not given up on the podcast. I am busy with a couple of projects but am also working on an episode on Polycarp. I will try and get that out as soon as possible.

In the mean while, check out these other podcasts that I do:

Paul and Gender – Review

Paul and GenderOne of the most controversial issues in the Christian church today is the role of women in leadership. The phrase “women in ministry” is not very helpful in that the New Testament expects all followers of Jesus to be ministering in some way.

The challenge for this topic is that the New Testament seems to offer mixed messages. On one hand, it describes women in leadership roles, including teaching. On the other hand, there are some passages that seem to limit the role of women, possibly excluding them from teaching men.

For some, this is not just a historical question but a question of vocation. What does a Christian woman do if they feel called into a pastoral role but that role is not recognized by their congregation?

While this is not just a historical question, historical inquiry can help to shed light on this. And that is what Cynthia Long Westfall does with her book, Paul and Gender.

It is Paul’s teaching that seem to be the stumbling block for full inclusion of women in leadership, even though he did recognize the leadership gifts of certain women.

Westfall looks at these passages in a careful way, not to explain them away, but to look at them in historical context. Paul was writing in a specific Jewish and Greco-Roman culture and we need to read his letters in that context.

Westfall examines Paul’s teaching in all of its contexts, looking at how gender was understood in terms of power in the ancient world. She often pulls from modern Middle Eastern examples that have similar attitudes toward gender.

Westfall argues for the ontological equality of men and women, one that leads to equal opportunities for ministry, leadership and teaching. The passages that seem to deny these opportunities have been misunderstood and have been read in isolation of other texts.

For those who already affirm the role of women in leadership, Paul and Gender, will feel like the nail in the coffin of male dominance. Those who affirm a complementarian position may not be convinced.

Still, it is hoped that everyone will read the familiar texts with a fresh perspective. Instead of just holding one interpretation of two or three texts as having the final word, students of the Bible need to read the full message in its historical context.

A fresh reading may threaten comfortable and traditional ways but biblical Christianity should be based on the text and not familiar ways.

I recommend Paul and Gender for all students of the New Testament, no matter what side of the issue they are coming from.

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