The Apocrypha and Greek Philosophy

The Books called Apocrypha

The Bookes called Apocrypha

Alfred Edersheim notes that one of the reasons why the Apocrypha was written was to find some way to reconcile Greek philosophy with previous Jewish writings. The object was apologetic, to demonstrate that the Hebrew Scriptures were every bit the equal of the Greek philosophers. In particular, Edersheim notes the Apocrypha combined Plato’s speculations with the asceticism of the Stoics.[1]

Of course, by linking Greek philosophy with the Old Testament, the Apocrypha paved the way for the New Testament’s use of the terminology of Greek philosophy. The connections between Platonism, Stoicism, and the New Testament are well documented (if only in the use of the terminology). Donald Robinson mentions the “traces of Stoicism in the New Testament”, especially in the epistles of the Apostle Paul — specifically in Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus (Acts 17:18-32), where Paul quotes from two different Greek poems, including a student of Zeno, the founder of Stoicism.[2]

Scholars have identified the first as coming from the Cretica of the pre-Socratic philosopher-poet Epimenides (fl. 7th or 6th century BC), which forms part of the verse:

They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,

Cretans, always liars,[3] evil beasts, idle bellies.

But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,

For in you we live and move and have our being.[4]

The second has been identified as coming from the Phaenomena of the philosopher-poet Aratus (315/310 – 240 BC), a student of Zeno, the founder of Stoicism:

Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.

For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.

Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.

Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.

For we are indeed his offspring…[5] [6]

Paul again quotes Epimenides in his pastoral letter to Titus when he writes: “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true.” (Titus 1:12-13a)

Bibliography

Edersheim, Alfred. 1993. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: New Updated Edition. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Robertson, Donald. 2012. “St. Paul on Stoicism: From the Acts of the Apostles.” Stoicism and the Art of Happiness. November 10. Accessed January 20, 2014. http://philosophy-of-cbt.com/2012/11/10/st-paul-on-stoicism-from-the-acts-of-the-apostles/.

[1] (Edersheim 1993, 22)

[2] (Robertson 2012)

[3] Titus 1:12

[4] Acts 17:25

[5] Acts 17:28

[6] (Robertson 2012)

Second Temple Writings and the Bible

The Apocrypha and Other Second Temple Writings

One of the key features of biblical hermeneutics is its insistence upon reading the bible in context. The context of the verse is the passage; the context of the passage is the chapter; the context of the chapter is the book; the context of the book is the entirety of the bible. Another way of looking at this is that the context of a verse or passage touching upon a particular subject is all the other passages about that subject; and the context of all the passages about that subject are all the related subject matter. But there is yet another way of looking at the bible — examining it in light of the author’s intent, which is influenced by the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. For the authors of the New Testament, the turmoil of the second temple period was the spirit of their age, and is reflected in the wealth of second temple literature.

The New Testament authors had some surprising literary influences from the apocalyptic writings of the 2nd Temple period, influences that are reflected in the text of the four Gospels, as well as the books of Jude, 1 & 2 Peter, and Revelations. Robert Henry Charles, a biblical scholar known for his translations of various apocryphal and pseudepigraphacal works, describes two strains of Jewish literature — the Apocalyptic and the Legalistic, created by two broad strains of Judaism.[1]

Apocalyptic Judaism and legalistic Judaism were not in pre-Christian times essentially antagonistic. Fundamentally their origin was the same. Both started with the unreserved recognition of the supremacy of the Law. This is to be expected in regard to legalistic Pharisaism, which was therein only adopting the teaching of the priesthood. But it is enforced also in apocalyptic Pharisaism. Thus the most universalistic and ethical of all the apocalyptic writings, i.e. the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs, declares that this Law is ‘the light that lighteth every man’. To all Jewish apocalyptic writers the Law was of eternal validity, but they also clung fast to the validity of the prophetic teaching as the source of new truth and the right of apocalyptic as its successor in this respect. We have early evidence of this conjunction of legalism and apocalyptic in the Book of Joel. The Law is there recognized as authoritative, its ritual as of the highest import, while at the same time the impending advent of the kingdom of God is depicted in highly apocalyptic colouring.[2]

The New Testament is a product of both strains of Judaism, but leans more heavily towards the Apocalyptic, which is a consistent strain in the Gospels.[3] Besides the purely apocalyptic teachings of Jesus, we also see this in the way Jesus consistently refers to himself as the “Son of Man”. Jesus does this around eighty times, emphasizing the significance of this title. Many of the theological discussions of this title say Jesus is identifying himself as the Representative Man, something that is theologically significant.[4] But that is not how the Jews would have understand it, which is clear from a reading of the second temple literature. This was a messianic term, implying divine origins. The ‘Son of Man’ is given a kingly throne in heaven, from which he would judge the nations. Based on the grammatical-historical hermeneutic used by so many Protestants, we should be interpreting this term as Jesus knew His audience would understand it, not in a manner consistent with western cultural norms.

Some of the arguments for accepting the so-called Apocrypha could be applied to the books of 1 and 2 Enoch, and possibly other second temple literature. As you may recall, in chapter 11 we discussed Merrill F. Unger’s arguments why the Apocrypha are not scripture. We will not rehash those arguments here. However, it would be dishonest of me to not point out certain similarities between those books the post-Nicene church accepted as scripture, and those books they did not. In this context, two of Merrill F. Unger’s arguments are worth a brief mention.

They resort to literary types and display an artificiality of subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture.

As you may recall, our original argument is that the literary types, subject matter, and styling of the New Testament are quite different from that of the Old Testament, which demonstrates the hollowness of Unger’s argument. By contrast, the books of 1 and 2 Enoch, along with Jubilees, have much in common with the Old Testament. While they are apocalyptic writings, there are several sections in prophets which are apocalyptic in nature. In addition, 1 and 2 Enoch, along with Jubilees, expand upon the Old Testament historical books, and provide background information for some troubling passages.

They lack the distinctive elements which give genuine Scripture their divine character, such as prophetic power and poetic and religious feeling.

We previously discussed the ways in which the so-called Apocrypha actually meet these criteria. For example, we showed a number of prophetic passages which apply to Jesus Christ, and we provided examples of passages rich in poetic and religious feeling. In this Appendix, we will demonstrate the same could be said for 1 and 2 Enoch, as well as Jubilees.

In chapter 27 we demonstrated that Johann Gerhard’s arguments against the so-called Apocrypha were badly flawed, and that the Apocrypha did not meet his criteria for excluding them from the Old Testament. The same could be said for the books of 1 and 2 Enoch, as well as Jubilees.

The Apocrypha are not about Christ.

We previously showed that the Apocrypha actually contained a number of messianic prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Likewise, there are prophetic passages in 1 Enoch that were accepted in the ante-Nicene church as being about Christ. There are reasons why 1 Enoch lost favor with the Church, but it should become clear that without 1 Enoch, we have lost an important source for a good deal of New Testament content, and therefore are at a loss to interpret that content.

The Apocrypha are not accepted by Jews.

We demonstrated that this was a flawed argument, because there were multiple strands of Judaism in the second temple period. Moreover, the question of what books constituted the Hebrew Scriptures had not been settled. The inclusion of some of these books in the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrates the possibility that these books were at least considered valuable for instruction, and were possibly read from in the Synagogues.

These books were written by Jews, for Jews, and touched upon particular themes of Jewish thought that did not pass on into Talmudic Judaism. Theologian and Professor Margaret Barker writes:

Until recently, all that we knew of Enoch was in Genesis 5.18-24. He was the son of Jared and the father of Methuselah; he walked with God and he was not, for God took him. …That is all the Old Testament tells us about him, yet books and visions in his name had once been widely known and very influential. It is clear that there was more to the figure than appeared in Genesis, and a considerable cult of Enoch did undoubtedly exist, even though the biblical writers gave no place to it.[5]

The book of Enoch was cited by Jude, and either quoted from or alluded to by the apostles Peter and John. To understand these passages, we have to understand the Enochian literature, even if we (like the Jews) do not accept that literature as scripture.

The Apocrypha were not accepted by the primitive Church.

We previously demonstrated that the Apocrypha were, in fact, accepted by the early church. Since a number of early church authors either quoted from or alluded to 1 Enoch, we can argue that while the status of 1 Enoch was unclear, there were some in the early church who considered it to be an important and valuable book.

An argument can be made that 2 Enoch was an important source for the book of Hebrews, and the description of Jesus Christ being a priest after the order of Melchizedek. There is much to say about the figure of Melchizedek, so much that we will save this discussion for its own section.

Given all this, why have we spent so much time discussing the likelihood that the so-called Apocrypha are in fact Scripture, only to exclude other books which potentially meet the same criteria? Our argument has not been that the Apocrypha are in fact scripture because they meet some scholastic criteria. Instead, we have turned that argument against itself by demonstrating the so-called Apocrypha do not, in fact, meet those criteria. But that is not the reason why we accept them as Scripture. No, we accept the Apocrypha as Scripture because the Church, operating under the guidance of the Holy Spirit determined the content of Sacred Scripture. The same Church defined the contents of the New and Old Testament, and we cannot reject the one without rejecting the other. It was the Church that decided that 1 and 2 Enoch, along with Jubilees, were not Scripture, despite being important source material for the New Testament.

The Apocalypse and Second Temple Judaism

The Old Testament prophetic books occasionally have apocalyptic sections that reflect the times prior to and during the Babylonian captivity. It was the turmoil of second temple Judaism that gave rise to the apocalypse as a Jewish literary genre, one that contrasting the troubles of this life with descriptions of the world to come. F. Crawford Burkitt describes these Apocalypses as follows:

They are the most characteristic survival of what I will venture to call, with all its narrowness and its incoherence, the heroic age of Jewish history, the age when the nation attempted to realize in action the part of the peculiar people of God. …We study the Apocalypses to learn how our spiritual ancestors hoped again that God would make all right in the end; and that we, their children, are here to-day studying them is an indication that their hope was not wholly unfounded. [6]

The apocalypse functions as an unveiling of God’s plan for the ages. It confesses a belief that history has a purpose, that evil will eventually be punished and good will eventually triumph. It purports to give the reader a glimpse behind the veil, so to speak. The Books of 1 & 2 Enoch, along with Jubilees, embody all these characteristics.

Judaism in the time of Christ was quite diverse, with multiple groups taking different approaches, yet all of them dependent upon the temple cult. As we have mentioned before, one way to distinguish between these parties is the emphasis they give to the Law and the Prophets; to legalism vs. the apocalyptic. Christians assumed the apocalyptic strain of Judaism, whereas after the destruction of the temple the Jews gradually abandoned the apocalyptic, becoming purely about the Law. Robert Henry Charles writes:

The affinity then between Jewish apocalyptic and legalism is essential, since the Law was for both valid eternally, but when apocalyptic passed over into Christianity and therein naturally abandoned this view of the Law, it became in a measure anti-legalistic. Even before the Christian era each of these two sides of Pharisaism necessarily tended to lay more and more emphasis on the chief factor in its belief and study to the almost complete exclusion of the other, and thus legalistic Pharisaism in time drove out almost wholly the apocalyptic element as an active factor (though it accepted some of its developments) and became the parent of Talmudic Judaism, whereas apocalyptic Judaism developed more and more the apocalyptic, i.e. prophetic, element, and in the process came to recognize, as in 4 Ezra, the inadequacy of the Law for salvation. From this it follows that the Judaism that survived the destruction of the Temple, being almost wholly bereft of the apocalyptic wing which had passed over into Christianity, was not the same as the Judaism of an earlier date. Before A. D. 70 Judaism was a Church with many parties: after A.D. 70 the legalistic party succeeded in suppressing its rivals, and so Judaism became in its essentials a Sect.[7]

Let us accept as a given that Christianity subsumed the apocalyptic strain of Judaism, reinterpreting and repurposing it in light of the Christ event. With that in mind, it behooves us to examine the primary texts which influenced the New Testament authors, as well as the subject of the Gospels — our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Place of Enoch within Judaism

We have already quoted Margaret Barker’s contention that Enoch played a much larger part in Judaism than suggested by the biblical literature. The interest in Enoch passed over into the early church. Given the hostility of Judaism to the Christians, it should not be surprising to find that Enoch fell out of favor among the Jews. Margaret Barker writes: “In the early Christian centuries Jewish writers had condemned him [Enoch], perhaps because he was so important for the newly emerging Christians.”[8] The 1906 version of the Jewish Encyclopedia describes a less exalted view of Enoch held by Jews engaged in disputes with Christians.

According to Targ. Pseudo-Jonathan (Gen. v. 24) Enoch was a pious worshiper of the true God, and was removed from among the dwellers on earth to heaven, receiving the names (and offices) of Meṭaṭron and “Safra Rabba” (Great Scribe). This view represents one and (after the complete separation of Christianity from Judaism) the prevailing rabbinical idea of Enoch’s character and exaltation. Another, not quite so favorable, appears in the polemics carried on by Abbahu and others with Christian disputants (Friedländer, “Patristische und Talmudische Studien,” p. 99; “R. E. J.” v. 3). Enoch is held to have been inconsistent in his piety and therefore to have been removed by God before his time in order to forestall further lapses. The miraculous character of his translation is denied, his death being attributed to the plague (Gen. R. v. 24; Yalk., Gen. v. 24; Rashi and Ibn Ezra on the verse; comp. Wisdom iv. 10-14; Frankel, “Ueber den Einfluss der Palästinischen Exegese,” etc., pp. 44, 45; Ecclus. [Sirach] xliv. 16; Zohar to Gen. v. 24; but see also Philo, “De Abrahamo,” § 3). But withal Enoch is one of those that passed into Gan Eden without tasting the pangs of death (Yalḳ., Gen. v. 24).[9]

There are three important questions: first, whether Enoch was important in early Judaism; second, why Enoch was so important to second temple Judaism; and third, why Enoch fell out of favor in Talmudic Judaism. As to the first, it is unclear whether a trove of scribal literature concerning Enoch existed far into the far distant past. Any scribal libraries have been destroyed, and nearly all of the manuscripts have succumbed to the ravages of time. However, given the oral culture existing in pre-Hellenic times, it is likely there was an oral tradition coexisting side-by-side with priestly Judaism. And yet we have no way of knowing whether the Enoch materials formed a part of that tradition.

On the other hand, it is possible that the brief mention of Enoch in Genesis 5:18-24 was intriguing enough to spark speculation. As presented in Genesis, the person of Enoch is a blank slate, one which a creative author might draw upon for his own purposes. But once again, we don’t have enough information to draw any conclusions, nor to engage in anything other than idle speculation.

During the second temple period, Enoch became a blank slate upon which writers developed and promoted their ideas. They used Enoch to provide legitimacy to and authority for their apocalyptic speculations, as well as their arguments for a solar rather than a lunar calendar.[10]

The Jewish loss of interest in the character of Enoch seems to have had two causes. First was the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., something that struck deep into the hearts of the Jewish people. They went from being a people of the temple to a people of the book, and as the apocalyptic books did not seem to mention the temple’s destruction, it would have been easy for the Jewish people to have rejected the Enochian literature. In addition, the fact that the figure of Enoch was important to the Christians led (as we have seen) to a less exalted view of Enoch among the Jews.

Among the early Church, the writings about Enoch were held in high regard. As we will demonstrate, a number of interesting problems are resolved by an acquaintance with Enochian literature. The references to Enoch, or the uses of subject matter more fully explained in the Enochian literature, are found in the four Gospels, as well as the books of Jude, 1 & 2 Peter, and Revelations. However, the post-Nicene Church lost faith in the books of Enoch. St. Augustine of Hippo mentions it unfavorably, and the Apostolic Constitutions condemn Enoch, linking it to the books written by the heretics. In a paragraph entitled “Concerning Books with False Inscriptions”, these books are called “poisonous books”, being “pernicious and repugnant to the truth.”[11]

We do have 1 Enoch, which survived as part of the canon of the Ethiopian Coptic Church. The internal evidence suggests there are multiple section and multiple authors of this material. Therefore, 1 Enoch may be just a sample of the Enochian literature, something demonstrated by the Enochian material contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls. [12] In particular, The Book of Giants was part of the version of 1 Enoch among the Manicheans. But wait, there’s more. Margaret Barker writes:

There are ancient texts which quote ‘Enoch’, but not any Enoch text that we know. The Testament of Simeon says Enoch predicted war between the Sons of Simeon and the sons of Levi. The Testament of Levi knew a passage in which Enoch predicted the future corruption of the Levitical priesthood. The testament of Judah knew a prophecy that Judah would be evil. The Testament of Benjamin and the Testament of Naphtali predicted, on the basis of Enoch, that their descendants would fall into evil ways. We cannot place any of these in known Enochic texts, and we can only assume that there must have been far more Enochic literature than we now know.[13]

Perhaps the most important of the second temple influences on the New Testament are the first and second books of Enoch — echoes of which are reflected in the text of the four Gospels, as well as the books of Jude, 1 & 2 Peter, and Revelations.  Except for the incomplete manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, these are the only surviving remnants of a once rich Enochian tradition.

When we discuss the Book of Enoch, we must admit of three different books with the same name. The first is the Ethiopian Book of Enoch which appears to have influenced the New Testament authors. 1 Enoch is likely a product of the 2nd century BC, and could not have been written any earlier than 250BC (due to mentioning countries that did not exist prior to that date.) 2 Enoch is the Slavonic Book of Enoch (aka The Secrets of Enoch), containing a variety of omissions and insertions which show our extant copy to be a 7th century AD recension of a second temple manuscript. Despite the recensions, there is much to be gleaned from 2 Enoch. And finally we 3 Enoch, known as the Hebrew book of Enoch, a book claiming to be a product of the 2nd century AD, but for which no manuscript evidence exists prior to the 4th century AD.  This third version is not part of the second temple literary output, but instead reflects rabbinic changes to Judaism following the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Therefore, we will limit ourselves to the first two books of Enoch.

The Ethiopian Book of Enoch (1 Enoch)

The book known as 1 Enoch, or the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, was once important to both Jews and Christians, but was lost to history, surviving as part of the canon of the Ethiopian Coptic Church. Enoch is the only non-canonical book cited by name in the New Testament, and its influence is worthy of notice.

1 Enoch appears to be comprised of four different books, each likely composed at different times.[14] Given this, it might be more appropriate to think of this as the Books of Enoch. These books, or sections, are:

  • The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36)
  • The Book of Parables (or Similitudes) of Enoch (1 Enoch 37–71)
  • The Astronomical Book (aka the Book of the Heavenly Luminaries or Book of Luminaries) (1 Enoch 72–82)
  • The Book of Dream Visions (or the Book of Dreams) (1 Enoch 83–90)
  • The Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 91–108)
    Note: The Epistle of Enoch concludes with an account of the birth of Noah (1 Enoch 106-108)

The Astronomical Book is noteworthy for its use of a solar calendar, rather than the lunar calendar. It seems apparent that the weaknesses of the lunar calendar were apparent, and the issue of the calendar was a matter of some discussion during the second temple period. Aside from the apocalyptic nature of this section, it could also be viewed as an attempt to persuade the Jews to adopt its version of the solar calendar. Regarding the Hebrew calendar, Joseph Lumpkin writes:

The Hebrew calendar is a lunar-based system. In this system Passover occurs after sundown on the 15th day of the month Nisan. Passover is celebrated for seven days. The first Passover was in the springtime and many thought it should be keep in that period of the year. Since the calendar is based in lunar movements the Hebrew calendar is offset to the solar calendar by about 11 days a year. This meant that Passover would drift from spring, to winter, to autumn, and back again.[15]

The book of Enoch proposes a solar calendar that eliminates the annoying drift of the Passover, ensuring that it would occur in approximately the same time each year.

During the time period Enoch was written, the Jewish community was torn regarding which type of calendar to use. Enoch seems to taut a solar-based calendar that is 364 days long with a week added as needed to make up for the missing a day and a quarter (1.25). Compare 365.25 days to 364 days. The Enochian calendar began each year on a Sunday. The starting point for the calendar was the spring equinox, which occurs around March 21st or 22nd. Since the year always begins on the same day of the week, and only a full week is added when needed, the calendar is considered to be a calendar of weeks.[16]

The early church began to address the issue of the calendar by separating their celebration of Pascha from that of the Jewish Passover. The Christian Church eventually adopted the Julian calendar, a solar calendar with a 365 day year divided into 12 months. Because of the way the leap year is calculated, the Julian calendar has drifted from the solar year. The Western Church adopted the Gregorian calendar which, by changing the way the leap year is calculated, stays true to the solar year. However, because Pope Gregory imposed the Gregorian calendar by papal decree, many Christian Churches in the east continue to use a Julian liturgical calendar. The second temple disputes over the calendar were thus carried forward into Christianity.

The Slavonic Book of Enoch (2 Enoch)

The book we call 2 Enoch is also known as “Slavonic Enoch or Book of the Secrets of Enoch.”[17] The book was originally written in Greek, but now exists only in several Slavic translations. The longer versions show evidence of Christian interpolations, but the shorter and earlier versions were clearly products of second temple Judaism.[18]

2 Enoch differs from 1 Enoch in a number of ways. It appears to come from a different strain of Judaism than that of 1 Enoch, although the particulars have been lost to history. Michael E. Stone divides the book into three parts.

2 Enoch deals with three chief subjects. First, Enoch ascends through the heavens, achieves a vision of Goid, is transfigured into an angel, and receives God’s revelation of the secrets of the process of creation (chaps. 1-34). Next he descends upon earth, reveals the heavenly mysteries to his children and gives them his moral instruction (chaps 35-68). From this point until the end of the book, the story of the antediluvian priesthood is found. This narrative commences with Adam and reaches its climax in the narrative of the miraculous birth of Melchizedek who is Noah’s nephew by his apocryphal brother Nir. Melchizedek is eventually assumed to heaven where he is guarded safely until after the Flood.[19]

The importance of the Melchizedek story should not be underestimated, as the author of the book of Hebrews presumed the Jews were familiar with not only the story from Genesis, but also with the apocalyptic material. While the author does not use the material from 2 Enoch, he certainly makes use of the Jewish interest in the person of Melchizedek.

The connection between 2 Enoch and Hebrews led some scholars to assume this was a Christian interpolation. The internal evidence suggests otherwise, as the story of Melchizedek in 2 Enoch contains no Christian elements, and the details to not match those in the book of Hebrews. For example, 2 Enoch provides an origin story for Melchizedek, while Hebrews argues from the lack of an origin story, using that as a similarity between Melchizedek and Jesus Christ.

For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. (Heb 7:1-3)

The Jewish interest in Melchizedek is demonstrated by an interesting document included among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Taken from Qumran cave 11 are a set of manuscript fragments designated 11Q13 (aka 11QMelchizedek). These fragments form an apocalypse whose main character, Melchizedek, is portrayed as a “Heavenly Prince.”  Geza Vermes, translator and editor of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, describes the contents for us.

It takes the form of an eschatological midrash in which the proclamation of liberty to the captives at the end of days (Isa. lxi, 1) is understood as being part of the general restoration of property during the year of Jubilee (Lev. xxv, 13), seen in the Bible (Deut. xv, 2) as a remission of debts.

The Heavenly deliverer is Melchizedek. Identical with the archangel Michael, he is the head of the ‘sons of Heven’ or ‘gods of Justice’ and is referred to as <elohim> and <el>. …Here Melchizedek is portrayed as presiding over the final Judgement and condemnation of his demonic counterpart, Belial/Satan, the Prince of Darkness.

Here, instead of a human origin story as in 2 Enoch, the person of Melchizedek is identified as the archangel Michael. Clearly these two stories are in conflict, but provide evidence that the apocalyptic character of Melchizedek was present within the Judaism of the time of Christ. Thus, when the author of Hebrews used Melchizedek in the book of Hebrews, he was tapping into the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age.


 

Endnotes

[1] We are talking broadly and in one dimension about different strains of Judaism. There are other ways of looking at the Judaism of this period, other dimensionalities to explore. Margaret Barker, for example, draws a distinction between first temple and second temple Judaism. Distinctions are often drawn between the Judaism of the diaspora and the Judaism of Jerusalem; between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; between the Essenes and the Hasmonean priesthood; between the Samaritans and the Hebrews. These different dimensionalities are based on different presumptions and reveal different things.

[2] (Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English 1913, vii)

[3] The division of Apocalyptic and Legalistic Judaism should not be applied too formally. The Judaism of the time was essentially apocalyptic. (Heyler 2002, 119) What differed was the emphasis placed upon the apocalyptic among the different strains of Judaism.

[4] For example, Merrill F. Unger writes regarding the term ‘Son of Man’:

It portrays Him as the Representative Man. It designates Him as the ‘last Adam’ in distinction to the “first man Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). It sets Him forth as “the Second Man…the Lord from heaven” as over against “the first man…of the earth” (I Cor. 15:47). “The Son of Man” is thus our Lord’s racial name, as the “Son of David” is distinctly his Jewish name and “the Son of God” His Divine Name. (Unger 1966, 1038)

[5] (Barker 2005, 5)

[6] (Burkitt 1914, 15-16)

[7] (Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English 1913, vii)

[8] (Barker 2005, 5)

[9] (Enoch 1901-1906)

[10] During the second temple period, writers often attributed authorship to various biblical figures from the distant past. (Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period 1984, XXI) This is a distinct characteristic of second temple literature, and not — as some claim — the result of a “crisis of authority”, which is essentially the same as claiming an intent to deceive. (Heyler 2002, 117) Vincente Dubroruka notes that instead of being “mere fraud or a stylistic device”, the author may mystically identify himself with the author, considering himself to be a channel of revelation. (Dobroruka 2013, 1, 8) Thus, the pseudonymous authorship.

[11] (Schaff, ANF07 2004, Book IV, § III, para XVI, p. 680)

[12] The Prayer of Enosh and Enoch (4Q369); The Book of Enoch (4Q201-2, 204-12); The Book of Giants (1Q23-4, 2Q26, 4Q203, 530-33, 6Q8); the Book of Noah (1Q19, 1Q19 bis, 4 Q534-6, 6Q8, 19) (Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English 2004)

[13] (Barker 2005, 8)

[14] (Charles, The Book of Enoch 1917, xv)

[15] (Lumpkin, The Books of Enoch 2011, 19)

[16] (Lumpkin, The Books of Enoch 2011, 18)

[17] (Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period 1984, 406)

[18] (Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period 1984, 406-407)

[19] (Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period 1984, 407)

Creation, Sola Scriptura, and the Church

Ex Nihilo by Frederick Hart

Ex Nihilo by Frederick Hart

Creatio ex Nihilo

The doctrine that everything that exists was created out of nothing cannot be proven from Scripture alone. It is a product of over 500 years of theological development beginning around 200 BCE, and prior to that time was of little to no concern to the Jewish people.

This might be hard for biblical literalists to take, but nothing in the Genesis creation accounts support the idea of creation ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. This is an interpretation passed on by tradition rather than a position derived from exegesis — the critical explanation of the text.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) This is a summary statement, one that sets the stage for everything that is to follow. And what follows does not support creation out of nothing. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2) This verse is a description of the typical near-eastern concept of the primordial state which existed before creation. The Greeks called this chaos (χάος), a word that means formless, void, darkness. The Greek philosopher Pherecydes of Syros describes chaos as being like water — formless, yet capable of differentiation. John H. Walton says this was a feature of near-eastern cosmology, that the act of creation involved not the creation of matter, but the differentiation and ordering of matter. In this view, creation is functional rather than ontological; creation is an act of separation, of differentiation, of the initiation of an “operational system”.[1]

Jewish Development

Justin Taylor says Genesis 1:1 is not a summary statement, but rather a background statement describing the initial act of creation of matter out of nothing.[2] There are multiple problems with this interpretation. First, this interpretation is foreign to the ancient cosmologies. Paul Copan notes that “Jewish thought was preoccupied with the God of the cosmos rather than with the cosmos itself.”[3] Second, the creation accounts are about God and God’s relationship with the created order; and about humanity, about God’s relationship with humanity, and about humanity’s relationship with the created order. In other words, the creation accounts are theological and anthropological first, and only distantly related to the question of “how” God created. Third, Philip Jenkins notes that for early Jewish thought, “Adam’s story made little impact.”[4] It wasn’t until around the 2nd century B.C. that the creation accounts became an issue in theology. Prior to that time, the focus was Torah and Temple, on what Jacob Neusner refers to as “eternal Israel.”[5]

Beginning in the 2nd century BCE, there was a difference of opinion on the matter. Philo of Alexandria, the great Jewish theologian (c. 20 BCE – 40CE), appears to be of two minds on this issue. In his work On the Eternity of the World, he writes: “For it is impossible that anything should be generated of that which has no existence anywhere.”[6] Yet in his work On Dreams he writes: “And besides all this, as the sun, when he arises, discovers hidden things, so also does God, who created all things, not only bring them all to light, but he has even created what before had no existence, not being their only maker, but also their founder.”[7]

There are differences of opinion on this issue presented in the Apocrypha (a.k.a. the Deuterocanonical books), most of which were written in the 200 years before Christ. In 2 Maccabees we have the story of a woman encouraging her son to accept martyrdom rather than recant. She says: “I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise.” (2 Macc 7:28) Contrast this with the Wisdom of Solomon, which states: “For Your all-powerful hand, Which created the world out of unformed matter…” (Wis 11:17a, OSB)[8]

New Testamental Support

Unlike what many people think, the New Testament does nothing to resolve this issue, as the passages used to support creation out of nothing do not say this explicitly. In many cases they could be interpreted as supporting either position; in other cases, their support for creation out of nothing is tenuous at best. Let us examine first the passage from the book of Romans.

(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. (Rom 4:17)

If we examine this passage out of context, the phrase “calleth those things which be not as though they were” seems to support creation out of nothing. But the context suggest otherwise. First, this refers to Abraham’s being the father of nations when as yet he not only had no children, but that his body and that of his wife were as good as dead (Rom 4:19; Heb 11:12). It is their bodies, which were as good as dead (incapable of childbearing) which were touched by God, “who quickeneth the dead.” The passage is not speaking of the creation accounts, but of God’s granting a child to Abraham and Sarah by quickening their dead bodies, by calling those things which be not (fertility) as though they were.

Another passage often used to support creation out of nothing is found in the book of Colossians.

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:  And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Col 1: 16-17)

The primary context of this passage is Christological. The Son of God is “the firstborn of every creature” (Col 1:15), just as He is “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18) The creation of all things “visible and invisible” is a reference to the entirety of the created order, both spiritual and material. This creation is then recapitulated in the reconciliation of all things (Col 1:20). While creation out of nothing can be supported by this passage, it is an improper hermeneutic to derive a normative theology from a passage that is not explicitly addressing that subject.

The book of Hebrews is often used to support creation out of nothing, and at first glance this seems to be the case.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Heb 11:3)

The verb “were framed” (καταρτιζω, katartizo, kat-ar-tid’-zo) has to do with an object’s function rather than its ontology. The idea is to mend, to complete, to arrange, to prepare. This is in line with the ancient cosmological ideas that the primordial stage was formless, void, and undifferentiated, and that the “things which are seen” were made of this primordial chaos, which we do not see. One can certainly read into this passage the idea of creation out of nothing, but the passage can readily be interpreted otherwise.

Ante-Nicene Development

The issue of whether the world was created out of nothing remained unsettled in the ante-Nicene era. Some early church fathers such as Justin Martyr held that creation has to do with God’s ordering or fashioning the world out of the preexisting chaos (Origen also supported this position.)

We have been taught that He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man’s sake, create all things out of unformed matter. (Justin Martyr, First Apology, X)[9]

Other church fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130 –c.  202 AD), Tatian the Assyrian (c. 120 – c. 180 AD), and Theophilus of Antioch (c. 181) argued against the both Greek philosophy and the Gnostics using the concept of creation out of nothing. Irenaeus of Lyon is quite explicit when he writes:

While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point pre-eminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Book II, X)[10]

In describing the content of the Christian faith, Irenaeus used some language from the Psalms, which itself is derived from Genesis:

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever. (Ps 146:5-6)

The idea that God “made heaven and earth” was used in the proto-creedal formulations of Irenaeus, which inaugurated the language which was later folded into the Nicene Creed. In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus wrote:

The Church, though dispersed through out the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Book I, X)[11]

These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Book III, I)[12]

Tatian the Assyrian makes the argument that even if the world was formed out of unformed, undifferentiated chaos, it was God that brought that chaos into existence.

The case stands thus: we can see that the whole structure of the world, and the whole creation, has been produced from matter, and the matter itself brought into existence by God; so that on the one hand it may be regarded as rude and unformed before it was separated into parts, and on the other as arranged in beauty and order after the separation was made. (Tatian, Address to the Greeks, XII)[13]

Theophilus  of Antioch ridicules the Greek philosophers and their concept of the eternity of matter. He writes:

God, because He is uncreated, is also unalterable; so if matter, too, were uncreated, it also would be unalterable, and equal to God; for that which is created is mutable and alterable, but that which is uncreated is immutable and unalterable. And what great thing is it if God made the world out of existent materials? For even a human artist, when he gets material from some one, makes of it what he pleases. But the power of God is manifested in this, that out of things that are not He makes whatever He pleases. (Theophilus, Theophilus to Autolycus, Book II, IV)[14]

The Nicene Creed

This issue was not settled until the First Ecumenical Council, which laid forth the idea of creation out of nothing as follows:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten (γεννηθέντα), not made, being of one substance (ὁμοούσιον, consubstantialem) with the Father.  By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. (The First Ecumenical Council, The Creed)[15]

By claiming God to be the maker of all things visible and invisible, both in heaven and in earth, the council settled the issue, using the terminology found in Scripture as filtered through Irenaeus. By using the language of Irenaeus, they were implicitly endorsing the theology of Irenaeus over against those who believed that creation was a mere ordering of unformed, undifferentiated chaos.

Summary

The theological dogma of creation ex nihilo, of creation out of nothing, developed over time, in opposition to near-eastern cosmologies, to Greek philosophy, and to the Gnostics. The argument predates Christianity, and was not settled until the First Council of Nice in 325 A.D. The doctrine is nowhere explicit the Scriptures, and can barely be said to be implicit. It can be read into the Sacred Scriptures only insofar as one has this thought already in mind.

The fact that Christianity accepts the idea of creation out of nothing cannot be attributed to Scripture Alone, for those who through otherwise could also support their position from scripture. This position developed in opposition to heresy — specifically, the Gnostic heresy, which derived its cosmology from Greek philosophy and various near-eastern cosmologies. The idea of creation ex nihilo, of creation out of nothing, is therefore a product of the Church, and is part of Holy Tradition.


 

Bibliography

Copan, Paul. 1996. “Is Creatio Ex Nihilo A Post-Biblical Invention? An Examination Of Gerhard May’s Proposal.” EarlyChurch.org.uk. Accessed January 29, 2015. www.earlychurch.org.uk/article_exnihilo_copan.html.

Jenkins, Philip. 2015. “Enter Adam.” Patheos.com. January 23. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2015/01/enter-adam/.

Neusner, Jacob. 1993. A Rabbi talks with Jesus: an intermillennial, interfaith exchange. New York: Doubleday.

Philo of Alexandria. n.d. “On Dreams.” Early Jewish Writings. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/philo/book21.html.

—. n.d. “On the Eternity of the World.” Early Jewish Writings. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/philo/book35.html.

Schaff, Philip. 1884. ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Vol. 1. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

—. 2004. ANF02 Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire). Edited by Phillip Schaff. Vol. 2. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

—. 2005. NPNF2-14 The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Vol. 14. 14 vols. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Taylor, Justin. 2015. “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods.” The Gospel Coalition. January 28. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/01/28/biblical-reasons-to-doubt-the-creation-days-were-24-hour-periods/.

Walton, John H. 2009. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

 


 

 Endnotes

[1] (Walton 2009, 29)

[2] (Taylor 2015)

[3] (Copan 1996)

[4] (Jenkins 2015)

[5] (Neusner 1993, passim)

[6] (Philo of Alexandria n.d., II.5)

[7] (Philo of Alexandria n.d., I.76)

[8] The King James Version translation of this verse is less clear, translating the phrase “out of formless matter” as “of matter without form”. “For thy Almighty hand, that made the world of matter without form …” (Wis 11:17)

[9] (Schaff 1884, 252)

[10] (Schaff 1884, 609)

[11] (Schaff, ANF01 1884, 541)

[12] (Schaff, ANF01 1884, 684)

[13] (Schaff, ANF02 2004, 108)

[14] (Schaff, ANF02 2004, 146)

[15] (Schaff, NPNF2-14 2005, 39)

On The Existence of Suffering Amongst God’s People

Seven Maccabean Martyrs

Seven Maccabean Martyrs

Now I beseech those that read this book, that they be not discouraged for these calamities, but that they judge those punishments not to be for destruction, but for a chastening of our nation. For it is a token of his great goodness, when wicked doers are not suffered any long time, but forthwith punished. For not as with other nations, whom the Lord patiently forbeareth to punish, till they be come to the fulness of their sins, so dealeth he with us, lest that, being come to the height of sin, afterwards he should take vengeance of us. And therefore he never withdraweth his mercy from us: and though he punish with adversity, yet doth he never forsake his people. But let this that we have spoken be for a warning unto us. (2 Macc 6:12-17)

In nearly every case, the word “Holy” is used of God, of God’s law, and of the Sacred Scriptures. However, in Paul’s writings we begin to see the idea of God’s people becoming Holy through their connection with Christ. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he builds upon Christ’s metaphor of the vine and the branches: “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” (Ro 11:16) He indicates that holiness is both the normative state and the goal of the Christian life: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Ro 12:1) Paul tells us the point of his crucifixion was to present us to God as holy. (Col 1:22) Writing to the Corinthians, Paul first states that the “temple of God is holy”, and then that we are the “temple of the Holy Ghost”. (1 Cor 3:17; 6:19) Paul describes the church as a holy temple, holy and without blemish. (Eph 2:21; 5:27) In his moral and ethical prescriptions that typically end the writings of Paul, he describes holiness as the goal of the Christian life. God wants us to be a holy people (Lev 11:45; 1 Pe 1:16).

In the second book of Maccabees we read that suffering comes into the life of God’s people not as punishment, but as a corrective tool. Suffering is presented as a sign of God’s mercy, in that he doesn’t leaves us to our sins, but guides us away from them. The point of our present sufferings is for us to avoid the judgment of God.

The apostle Peter writes how it is better to “suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.” (1 Pe 3:17) He then describes “the longsuffering of God”, how “God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Pe 3:20) In this passage the sufferings of the few are nothing when compared against the judgment of the world, a theme Peter appears to have taken from 2 Maccabees.

Literary Types found in the Apocrypha

Merrill F. Unger

Merrill F. Unger

In Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger provides the following argument against including the Apocrypha in the Bible.

  • They resort to literary types and display an artificiality of subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture.[i]

This is a curious statement, given that the bulk of the New Testament consists of letters, Gospels, an apocalypse (Revelation), and a theological treatise (Hebrews), literature not found in the Old Testament Scriptures. The only historical book is Acts; the only wisdom literature is the book of James. The Old Testament does not contain an apocalypse, a style of writing that was in fashion from the time of the Maccabees until the destruction of Jerusalem, but absent from the Old Testament.[ii] So basically, nearly all of the New Testament is made up of “literary types” and contains “subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture” — at least depending on your point of view.

The fact is that the literary types found in the Apocrypha line up well with the Old Testament documents. There is not a single literary type found in the Apocrypha which does not have a counterpart in the literary types of the Hebrew Scriptures, something that cannot be said of the Christian New Testament.

 

Literary Types Hebrew Scriptures Apocrypha
Historical accounts Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther Tobit, Judith, I, II, & II Maccabees,
Psalter Psalms Psalm 151
Wisdom Literature Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach (a.k.a. Sirach or Ecclesiasticus)
Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi Baruch, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Epistle of Jeremiah

[i] (Unger 1966, 70)

[ii] Even though the New Testament contains an apocalypse, many in the ancient church rejected the Revelation of St. John precisely because of its mysterious symbolism and apocalyptic character — something the heretics were able to twist to their advantage.

The Four Gospels and the Wisdom of Solomon

Scan of the Wisdom of Solomon from the original 1611 version of the King James Bible

Wisdom of Solomon

Regarding the allusions to the Apocrypha in the New Testament, let us begin our discussion with an examination of an extended passage from the Wisdom of Solomon. This passage is generally applicable to the relationship between the ungodly and the righteous, whoever he (or she) may be; however, this passage is specifically applicable to the relationship between Jesus (as the ultimate Righteous Man), and the religious and political leaders of His day. I would argue that the gospels are the fulfillment of this passage from the Wisdom of Solomon. With that in mind, let us examine this passage.

Let us oppress the poor righteous man, let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the ancient gray hairs of the aged. (Wisdom 2:10)

This passage begins with the oppression of the poor, which is a recurring theme of the Old and New Testaments. The book of Proverbs goes so far as to say: “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Pr 12:10). Not only does a righteous man care for the poor man and the aged, but also the creatures entrusted to his care (Gen 1:26).

Let our strength be the law of justice: for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth. (Wisdom 2:11)

The ungodly use the law against the poor, the aged, and all of creation. To the ungodly, obedience to the letter of the law excuses a lack of mercy. Against this argument, the voice prophet Hosea argues that God desires mercy rather than sacrifice (Hos 6:6). To those who pride themselves on their adherence to the law, Jesus argues that judgment, mercy, and faith are the “weightier matters of the law”, which must be done without neglecting the law itself (Matt 23:23).

Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. (Wisdom 2:12)

Here is where this passage takes a turn; while generally applicable to the relationship between the ungodly and the righteous, from this point onward this passage is specifically applies to the relationship between the ungodly and The Righteous One, who is Jesus Christ. In the Gospels we read how Jesus upbraided the religious leaders, and how they in turn plotted against him. We read how they tried to trap Jesus with questions designed to elicit answers which would have been unsatisfactory to the people, or would have put Him at odds with the Roman authorities. (The question regarding whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman authorities comes to mind; see Matt 22:17ff)

He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. (Wisdom 2:13)

This is most certainly true of Our Lord. The first example of this is found in the story of the Boy Jesus in His Father’s house. Not only were the teachers astonished at His understanding, but when His parent’s upbraided Him, Jesus asked them why they didn’t know He must be about His Father’s business (Luk 2:41-50).

He was made to reprove our thoughts. (Wisdom 2:14)

This passage is fulfilled in the healing of the man with palsy (Matt 9:1-8). Jesus first announces to the man the forgiveness of sins, which the scribes thought was blasphemous, because only God can forgive sins. Jesus reproved them for their thoughts, after which he demonstrating that He had the power to forgive sins by healing the palsied man.

He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion. (Wisdom 2:15)

In the Gospel of Luke, we read how Jesus called Levi the tax collector, who then gave a great feast at his house with other tax collectors present. Seeing this, the “scribes and Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, ‘Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'” Jesus response was that just as a physician ministers not to those who are well, but those who are sick, so too He ministered not to those who presumed themselves to be righteous, but those who knew themselves to be sinners (Luk 5:30-31). Later, while dining with Simon the Pharisee, a sinful women came in “began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head: and she kissed His feed and anointed them with the fragrant oil.” At this, the Pharisee murmured in his heart against Jesus for allowing Himself to be touched by a sinful woman. Jesus then rebuked the Pharisee for failing to follow the standards of hospitality by having Jesus’ feet washed before dinner, whereas the sinful woman had done this and more. Therefore to the woman he said her sins were forgiven, and that her faith had saved her (Luk 7:36-50). To the Lawyer who sought to justify himself in his own eyes, Jesus gave the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the Priest and Levite are the villains, while the hated Samaritan was the hero for showing mercy to someone to whom he had no relationship, no kinship, and no expectation of reward (Luk 10:25-37).

We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. (Wisdom 2:16)

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus denounces the counterfeit religiosity of the Pharisees, those who “make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess” (Matt 23:25). In the Beatitudes, Jesus pronounces the blessedness of the righteous (Matt 5:3-12). The gospels use the life of Christ as an illustration of this passage from Wisdom; the good works that Jesus does enrage the ungodly, as does his description of God as His Father (Luke 10:22; John 5:28; 10:30).

Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him.  For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected. (Wisdom 2:17-20)

These final verses describe the state of mind and the actions of the Chief Priests and Pharisees regarding the death of Christ.

The Jewish trial was done contrary to the law, using false witnesses (Matt 26:59). After accusing Jesus of blasphemy, the scribes and elders spit in Jesus face and beat him with their hands, mocking him by saying: ” Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee? (Matt 26:67-68). After delivering Jesus to the Pontius Pilate, the Romans stripped him, whipped him, put a crown of thorns on His head, mocked Him, and crucified Him (Matt 27:27-31; Joh 19:1-18).

During Jesus’ examination before the Sanhedrin, Jesus said nothing, until he was asked whether he was “the Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 14:53-62). During Jesus’ examination before Herod, Jesus said nothing (Luk 23:6-9). Jesus did not try to justify Himself, nor did he beg for mercy, but “as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa 53:7).

There was nothing more shameful than to be stripped naked and die a criminal’s death on the cross. The gospels state not only that the Jewish leaders desired the death of Jesus, but they specifically wanted the Romans to crucify Him (Joh 19:6). The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame”, and is now seated at the right hand of God. (Heb 12:2).

Finally, at the foot of the cross the rulers of the Jews use the words from Wisdom to mock Christ. They sneer: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God” (Luk 23:35). This is then taken up by the soldiers who mock Christ, saying: “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself” (Luk 23:37). Finally, one of the thieves crucified with Christ blasphemes: “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us” (Luk 23:39).

It is quite clear that this passage from Wisdom is prophetic, in that it is broadly descriptive of the life and death of Christ. Therefore, the arguments of some that the Apocrypha are not prophetic and therefore are not scripture fall to the ground.[1]

 


 

[1] Normal Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie write: “Contrary to the Roman Catholic argument from Christian usage, the true test of canonicity is propheticity. There is strong evidence that the apocryphal books are not prophetic. But since propheticity is the test for canonicity, this would eliminate the Apocrypha from the canon.” (Geisler and MacKenzie 1995, 196-197)

Who has Ascended into Heaven (Joh 3:13)

The Prophet Baruch

The Prophet Baruch

Who hath gone up into heaven, and taken her, and brought her down from the clouds? (Baruch 3:29)

And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. (Joh 3:13)[1]

Baruch is speaking here of Wisdom, which dwells in the heavens, and which is therefore unobtainable to humanity (in an ultimate sense, of course.) Wisdom is often personified in the Old Testament, and Christians understand Wisdom to be an adumbration of Christ — that is to say, Wisdom is an allegory of Christ. John is drawing our attention to the connection between the passage in Baruch, which then makes the allegorical connection between Wisdom and Christ plain. Thus while no one could ascend into heaven and bring Wisdom down to earth, the Son of God could come to earth, become one with us, and then ascend into heaven, thereby opening the pathway for us to attain Wisdom, which is Christ Himself.

 


 

[1] Scholars disagree as to whether Jesus answer to Nicodemus, which begins at verse ten, continues through to verse 21. Some hold that it does, while others believe that the majority of this passage is John’s commentary on Jesus’ words. The use of the conjunction “and” to begin sentences is consistent with the way Hebrew uses “and” to connect clauses, suggesting verse 10-21 may well be a single unbroken speech.