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The Parables of Jesus

Jesus’ parables were among the earliest of his sayings to be collected. One collection of parables formed the basis of the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. The author of the Gospel of Matthew then used this Markan material and added more parables from other sources, thus assembling in a unified speech in chapter 13 seven parables: the parables of the Sower (Matthew 13:1–9), the Tares (13:24–30), the Mustard Seed (13:31–32), the Leaven (13:33), the Hidden Treasure (13:44), the Pearl of Great Price (13:45–46), and the Drag-net (13:47–50). Most of these parables will be read this summer from church lectionaries, which provide biblical passages to be read during Sunday services.

By the time these parables were written down, they had gone through a long period of use by Christian churches, sometimes significantly altering their original meaning. That is most evident in the Parable of the Sower, to which already Mark (4:13–20 = Matthew 13:18–23) had added an allegorical interpretation in which each feature of the parable is given a special meaning. In the Parable of the Sower, the allegorical interpretation understands the different types of earth on which the seed falls as four types of people who receive the word of God: (1) those from whom Satan is able to snatch the word, (2) those who receive it at first joyfully but then lose faith in times of persecution, (3) those in whom the word cannot grow because they are deceived by wealth, and (4) those in whom the word takes root and grows and brings fruit 30-, 60-, 100-fold.

Such an understanding is fundamentally different from the original meaning of Jesus’ words. As Jesus told the parable, it was much shorter, more like the brief version found in the recently discovered non-canonical Gospel of Thomas (#9):

Now the sower went out and took a handful of seeds and scattered them. Some fell on the road; the birds come and gathered them. Others fell on rock, and did not take root in the soil and did not produce ears. And others fell on thorns; they choked the seed and worms ate them. And others fell on good soil and it produced good fruit; it bore 60 per measure and 120 per measure.

In this form, the parable focuses only on the seed that fell on good soil and brought unbelievably rich fruit, while the seeds that were wasted and produced nothing are mentioned only for the sake of contrast. This is what the kingdom of God is like: Although much of the seed is lost, and although the sower is rather careless throwing so many seeds on the road, on rock and under the thorns, the results are nevertheless rich beyond belief. Thus Jesus originally illustrated God’s power to do miracles. The point of this parable was therefore analogous to the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven.

The Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24–30) also received a secondary allegorical interpretation in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 13:36–43): the “sower of the good seed” is the Son of Man, the “field” is the world, “the good seeds” are the sons of the kingdom, “the bad seeds” are the sons of the evil one, the “enemy” is the devil and the final burning after the harvest is the last judgment. However, the parable originally did not speak of wheat and weeds and burning with hidden meanings. Rather, it told a simple story about a farmer who had sown good-quality seed in his field and had the patience to wait, as a wise farmer would, in spite of all the weeds growing up together with the wheat. Jesus thus admonished his hearers to be patient and trusting and not to be alarmed if they see so much evil in the world.

Matthew’s tendency to understand parables as allegories with hidden meanings is finally all too evident in his interpretation of the Parable of the Drag-Net. In its original form the parable spoke about the wisdom of selecting that which is good. As the parable is told in the Gospel of Thomas (#8), it is still clear that it wants to illustrate wisdom:

The man is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish. Among them the wise fisherman found a fine large fish. He threw all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish without difficulty.

 


One of the most famous parables of Jesus is the Good Samaritan parable, yet it is frequently misunderstood. Read “Understanding the Good Samaritan Parable” in Bible History Daily.


Matthew 13:49–50 on the other hand, changed the conclusion so that it pointed to the Final Judgment: “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire.”

As the parables were told originally by Jesus, they were addressed to all people and could be understood by all. They did not communicate a hidden meaning that only the initiated insider could discover through complicated allegorical interpretation. Scholars have come to recognize that the allegorical meanings were added to the parables at a later stage of transmission. By the time the parables appear in the canonical Gospels, they were thought to be understandable only to those who have received “the mystery [or mysteries] of the kingdom,” and that they conceal their true message so outsiders would not be able to comprehend them (Matthew 13:10–15 = Mark 4:10–12). The church, characterizing the parables as secret teaching, claimed them as a peculiar Christian doctrine and used them to explain experiences in the life of Christian communities. Christians wanted to know why so many people were losing their faith during persecution (“the word had not taken root in their soul,” Matthew 13:21), why others could not develop their faith to bear fruit (“wealth had deceived them,” Matthew 13:22) and whether evil-doers would eventually be punished (“at the end of the age, they will be thrown into the eternal fire,” Matthew 13:42, 50). However, the original parables are still preserved and their message can still be heard: They speak of patience, wisdom and trust in God’s power.

 

Helmut Koester was the John H. Morison Research Professor of Divinity and Winn Research Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard Divinity School, where he had taught since 1958. His research was primarily in the areas of New Testament interpretation, history of early Christianity, and archaeology of the early Christian period. He passed away on January 1, 2016.

Does the Gospel of Mark Reveal Jesus’ Anger or His Compassion?

 

Codex Bezae

In the fifth-century C.E. Codex Bezae, an early edition of the New Testament written in Greek, the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus’ anger before healing a leper (Mark 1:41). While later scribes changed Jesus’ anger to compassion, it is likely that Codex Bezae preserves the original reading. Image: Cambridge University Library/ff.288v & 289r from Nn.2.41.

Textual variants among ancient manuscripts aren’t usually as controversial as chapter 1, verse 41 of the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes one scribe spelled a word differently on his manuscript, while another might have accidentally skipped or repeated some of the text he was copying. These cases are minor variants and don’t really change the meaning of the text. Other times, however, scribes added to or even changed text to clarify a passage or suit the theological preferences of their communities. That’s when things get interesting, and this passage in the Gospel of Mark offers an especially intriguing example.

In Mark 1:41, a leper has approached Jesus seeking to be healed. Most Greek manuscripts (the New Testament was originally written in Greek), as well as later translations, say that Jesus was moved with compassion and healed the man. A few manuscripts, however, say that Jesus’ anger was kindled before he healed him. So did the verse mean to convey Jesus’ anger or his compassion? If this were a popularity contest, the “compassion” reading would surely win. In 1998, the authoritative book Text und Textwert recorded only two Greek manuscripts (and a few early Latin ones) that contained the reading expressing Jesus’ anger. But, as Dr. Jeff Cate announced in The Folio,* the bulletin of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center at the Claremont School of Theology, close examination of one of those two Greek manuscripts has shown that it does not contain the word for either anger or compassion. Just as Matthew and Luke did when retelling Mark’s story in their gospels (cf. Matthew 8:2–4; Luke 5:12–16), the scribe of this Markan manuscript simply left it out.

This now leaves the other Greek manuscript, the fifth-century C.E. Codex Bezae, as the sole Greek witness to the reading expressing Jesus’ “anger.” Much like the cheese in “The Farmer in the Dell,” Codex Bezae stands alone.

Mark

Mark composes his account of the life of Jesus in this scene from a 12th-century manuscript from Constantinople.

But most interesting of all, the Codex Bezae may in fact have the better (i.e., original) reading. As New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman pointed out in a 2005 article in Bible Review, “one factor in favor of the ‘angry’ reading is that it sounds wrong.”**It is much easier to believe that early scribes were troubled by Jesus’ anger and changed it to his feeling compassion, rather than the other way around. Later scribes also would have preferred the easier “compassion” reading and copied it until it became the more popular reading. (As Ehrman explains, there are other passages in the Gospel of Mark that seem to support the reading conveying Jesus’ anger.) Thus does Codex Bezae now stand as a lonely witness to what is very likely the original Greek text of Mark 1:41.

Gospel of John Commentary: Who Wrote the Gospel of John and How Historical Is It?

Gospel of John Commentary: Who Wrote the Gospel of John and How Historical is It?

The Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, tell the story of the life of Jesus. Yet only one—the Gospel of John—claims to be an eyewitness account, the testimony of the unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved.” (“This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true” [John 21:24]). “Who wrote the Gospel of John?” is a question that remains unanswered, though noted theologians throughout the ages maintain that it was indeed the disciple John who penned the famous Biblical book.

Gospel of John commentary is easy to find—some of the most famous theologians in history have closely examined the text and underscored its importance from as early as the beginning of the third century. It is believed that Origen, an Alexandrian Christian scholar and theologian, wrote his Gospel of John commentary while in Alexandria at some point after 218 A.D. St. Augustine—a famous fourth century church father—contributed no fewer than 124 tractates in his Gospel of John commentary, while St. Thomas’s Gospel of John commentary of the 13th century is still highly regarded today by modern scholars.

We may never know for certain who wrote the Gospel of John, any more than we can know who wrote the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. We do know that John is a gospel apart, however. Early Matthew, Mark and Luke are so alike in their telling that they are called the Synoptic Gospels, meaning “seen together”—the parallels are clear when they are looked at side by side. Matthew and Luke follow the version of events in Mark, which is thought by scholars to be the earliest and most historically accurate Gospel. John, however, does not include the same incidents or chronology found in the other three Gospels, and the fact that it is so different has spurred a debate over whether John’s Gospel is historical or not, something that has been noted in Gospel of John commentary for hundreds—even thousands—of years.

Several hypotheses have attempted to explain why so much of Jesus’ life not portrayed in the Synoptics is present in John and vice versa. One hypothesis claims that John recorded many of the events that occurred before the arrest of John the Baptist, while the Synoptics all have Jesus’ ministry beginning only after the arrest. Another holds that John was written last, by someone who knew about the other three Gospels, but who wished to write a spiritual gospel instead of an historical one. This would mean that the person who wrote the Gospel of John would not have been a contemporary of Jesus, and therefore would not have been an eyewitness as the author claims. There is also the possibility that the author of John did not know of Mark and hence did not have the same information.

One of the facts in dispute among the four Gospels is the length of Jesus’ ministry. According to the Synoptics, it lasted only about a year, while John has Jesus ministering between two and three years. The Jesus of John’s telling also knew Jerusalem well and had traveled there three or four times. The Synoptics, however, have Jesus visit Jerusalem only once. In John, Jesus had friends near Jerusalem, including Mary, Martha and Lazarus of the town of Bethany, which is just outside of the city on the east slope of the Mount of Olives.

The author of John also knew Jerusalem well, as is evident from the geographic and place name information throughout the book. He mentions, among others, the Sheep Gate Pool (Bethesda), the Siloam Pool and Jacob’s Well. The geographic specificity lends credence to the John’s account.

Another aspect of John that may be more historically accurate than the Synoptics is the account of the crucifixion and the events that led up to it. The Synoptics say that Jesus’ Last Supper was the Passover meal—held that year on a Thursday evening (Jewish holidays begin at sunset)—and they would have us believe that the Sanhedrin, the high court, gathered at the beginning of a major holiday to interrogate Jesus and hand him over to the Romans. John, in contrast, has Jesus handed over for crucifixion on “the day of Preparation of Passover week, about the sixth hour.” According to John, the Last Supper is not a Passover meal (because the holiday that year did not start until Friday evening), and Jesus is crucified and buried before Passover begins. In John’s account Jesus becomes the Passover sacrificial lamb, which was offered the afternoon before the Passover holiday. Some scholars suggest that John may be more historical regarding the crucifixion than the other three Gospels.

Given John’s familiarity with Jerusalem and its environs, it is very possible that he had visited the Pool of Siloam, which he mentions in connection with the story of the curing of the blind man (a story that appears only in John’s Gospel). It is that pool that has only recently been uncovered.

What’s Missing from Codex Sinaiticus, the Oldest New Testament?

Compare differences between the King James Version and Codex Sinaiticus

Two hundred years after Constantine Tischendorf’s birth, questions remain as to the conditions of his removal of Codex Sinaiticus from St. Catherine’s Monastery. Dating to the mid-fourth century C.E., Codex Sinaiticus is the oldest complete manuscript of the New Testament. In his article “Hero or Thief? Constantine Tischendorf Turns Two Hundred” in the September/October 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Stanley E. Porter contends that Tischendorf should be considered a hero, not a thief.

codex-sinaiticus

 

The text of Codex Sinaiticus differs in numerous instances from that of the authorized version of the Bible in use during Tischendorf’s time. For example, the resurrection narrative at the end of Mark (16:9–20) is absent from the Codex Sinaiticus. So is the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13). The woman caught in adultery from John 8 is omitted in Codex Sinaiticus. According to James Bentley, Tischendorf was not troubled by the omission of the resurrection in Mark because he believed that Matthew was written first and that Mark’s gospel was an abridged version of Matthew’s gospel. If this were true, the absence of resurrection in Mark would not be a problem because it appears in the older Matthean gospel. Modern scholarship generally holds that Mark is in fact the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels, which could cause theological concerns over the omitted resurrection.

One other omission in Codex Sinaiticus with theological implications is the reference to Jesus’ ascension in Luke 24:51. Additionally, Mark 1:1 in the original hand omits reference to Jesus as the Son of God.

Below, see a visual comparison of these and other differences between the King James Version and Codex Sinaiticus.

The Markan Resurrection (Mark 16: 1–14)

King James Version
1 “And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary themother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?
4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.
5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.
6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to anyman; for they were afraid.
9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.
11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.
13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.
14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
Codex Sinaiticus
1 “And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?
4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.
5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.
6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to anyman; for they were afraid.

 

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13)

King James Version
9 Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Codex Sinaiticus
Father,
Hallowed be thy name,Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so upon earth.

Give us day by day our daily bread

And forgive us our sins, as we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us.

And bring us not into temptation.

 

The woman caught in adultery (John 8: 3–11)

King James Version
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Codex Sinaiticus
Completely absent.

 

Significant omitted verses

King James Version
Luke 24:51: “And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.”Mark 1:1: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;”

Luke 9:55–56: “But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.”

Codex Sinaiticus
Omits “carried up into heaven.” Leaving no ascension in the Gospels.

Omits “the Son of God.”

Not present.

 


 

Alterations perhaps due to later theological beliefs

King James Version
Mark 1:41: “And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.”Matthew 24:36: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

Codex Sinaiticus
“Jesus, angry, stretched out his hand and touched him…”

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.”

 

Vatican Unveils Frescoes In Catacombs of Priscilla With Images Some Say Show Early Women Priests

ROME (AP) — The Vatican on Tuesday unveiled newly restored frescoes in the Catacombs of Priscilla, known for housing the earliest known image of the Madonna with Child — and frescoes said by some to show women priests in the early Christian church.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s culture minister, presided over the opening of the “Cubicle of Lazzaro,” a tiny burial chamber featuring 4th century images of biblical scenes, the Apostles Peter and Paul, and one of the early Romans buried there in bunk-bed-like stacks as was common in antiquity.

The labyrinthine cemetery complex stretching for kilometers (miles) underneath northern Rome is known as the “Queen of the catacombs” because it features burial chambers of popes and a tiny, delicate fresco of the Madonna nursing Jesus dating from around 230-240 A.D., the earliest known image of the Madonna and Child.

More controversially, the catacomb tour features two scenes said by proponents of the women’s ordination movement to show women priests: One in the ochre-hued Greek Chapel features a group of women celebrating a banquet, said to be the banquet of the Eucharist. Another fresco in a richly decorated burial chamber features a woman, dressed in a dalmatic — a cassock-like robe — with her hands up in the position used by priests for public worship.

The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, which includes women who have been excommunicated by the Vatican for participating in purported ordination ceremonies, holds the images up as evidence that there were women priests in the early Christian church — and that therefore there should be women priests today.

But Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of the Vatican’s sacred archaeology commission, said such a reading of the frescoes was pure “fable, a legend.” Even though the catacombs’ official guide says there is “a clear reference to the banquet of the Holy Eucharist” in the fresco, Bisconti said the scene of the banquet wasn’t a Eucharistic banquet but a funeral banquet. He said that even though women were present they weren’t celebrating Mass.

Bisconti said the other fresco of the woman with her hands up in prayer was just that — a woman praying.

“These are readings of the past that are a bit sensationalistic but aren’t trustworthy,” he said.

Asked about the scenes, Ravasi professed ignorance and referred comment to Bisconti.

The Vatican has restricted the priesthood for men, arguing that Jesus chose only men as his apostles.

The Priscilla catacombs are being featured in a novel blending of antiquity and modern-technology: For the first time, Google Maps has gone into the Roman catacombs, providing a virtual tour of the Priscilla complex available to anyone who can’t visit the real thing.

The Son of God, the Council of Nicea, and the Da Vinci Code

Bart D. Ehrman

In my main lecture during the debate this past weekend, I decided to develop in short order the case that I make in my book How Jesus Became God for how, well, Jesus became God.  (!)   But I chose to do it differently from how I do it in the book, at least in terms of rhetorical strategy.  I chose to start at the *end* of the development (it’s actually nowhere near the end – since Christological arguments continued on for centuries – but it was one sensible ending points), with the controversies over Christ’s divinity in the early fourth century, controversies between Arius and his detractors.

I’m afraid many people today (most?) get their knowledge of Arius, the Arian Controversy, and the Council of Nicea from that inestimable authority, Dan Brown, who wrote about it at length in that great work of historical realism, The Da Vinci Code.   I tell my students at Chapel Hill that if they want to learn about the history of the Middle Ages, the way to do that is not by watching “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”  And if they want to learn about the history of early Christianity, the way to do that is not by readingThe Da Vinci Code.

The Da Vinci Code is wrong about just about everything it says about the Arian Controversy, the emperor Constantine, and the Council of Nicea.   That’s why I wrote my earlier book Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code.  There were tons of books written in response to Dan Brown’s novel, but virtually all of them were by highly religious (and angry) people – either Roman Catholic or conservative evangelicals – who had deep-seated theological reasons for really disliking the book.  I myself did not dislike it so much: I thought for a page-turner at the beach, it was rather fun.  My sense is that people who don’t like it (i.e., most of my friends) are simply expecting way too much of it as a work of fiction.  It’s *not* a great work of fiction.  But it’s a good blow-off novel if you don’t want a lot of substance.  Still, the problem I had with it was that so much information was wrong, even when getting it *right* would not have had any effect on the plot or the characters.   It was just gratuitously wrong.  This included most everything it says about the historical Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the New Testament, and yes, the Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea.

Among other things – just to dispel one myth that so many people buy into – the Council of Nicea (which was called by the emperor Constantine in the year 325 CE) did not, decidedly did NOT decide, the Council did NOT decide which books should belong in the New Testament.  The issue of the canon of Scripture was not discussed at the Council.  (We know this because we have records of the issues that the council discussed and the decisions that it reached).  The first person to list our 27 books of the NT canon, as the only books of the canon, was the bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, in the year 367 CE, over 40 years after the council.  Now it’s true that Athanasius attended the Council of Nicea as a young man.  But neither he nor anyone else at the council was discussing which books should be accepted as the Christian canonical Scriptures.

And one other thing that Dan Brown (and so many others) gets wrong is that the Council did not vote on whether Jesus should be seen as the Son of God or not.   According to Dan Brown (crazily enough), Christians until that time did not see Jesus as a divine being, but only as a human being.   That, says Brown, was also the view of the main figure at the council, Arius.  The council, Brown claims, voted on whether Jesus was to be seen as the Son of God or not, and Jesus’ divinity won out, even though, says Brown, “it was a close vote.”

It wasn’t a close vote and the issue was not whether Jesus was the Son of God.  Everyone at the council – literally EVERYONE – agreed going into the council that Jesus was the Son of God.  The question instead was:  In what SENSE was he the Son of God?

I will talk about the specific issues in my next post.  But for here I just want to stress that the idea that Jesus was the Son of God goes back as far back as we have any Christian sources.  The apostle Paul was our first Christian author, and he is altogether emphatic that Christ was the Son of God.   The Gospels of the New Testament, written from fifteen to thirty-five years after Paul, all agree that Jesus was the Son of God.   In fact, all the authors of the New Testament proclaim that Jesus was the Son of God.

This is the most frustrating thing about the Da Vinci Code.  How can anyone have even the slightest knowledge of early Christianity and not know that every single author of the NT thinks that Jesus was, in some sense, divine, God’s own son?  The only way not to know that is never to have read the NT.  Has Dan Brown ever read the New Testament?  I’m afraid if he were brought up on charges of having read it, there would not be enough evidence to convict.

The big interpretive issue when dealing with the New Testament is the one I mentioned earlier: in what sense is Jesus the Son of God?  Is he the Son of God the way the nation of Israel is said to be the son of God, for example, in Hosea 11:1, as the one(s) chosen by God to fulfill his work here on earth?  Israel obviously is not personally divine; yet it is described as God’s son.  Or is he the Son of God the way the king of Israel was thought to be (e.g., 2 Sam 7:11-14; Psalm 2:1-2), as the individual on earth whom God has chosen to do his will?  Was the king actually understood to be God?  Or is Christ the Son of God in the way that angels are, as described, for example in Genesis 6?  Or is he the Son of God in the sense that he is somehow equal with God in power and authority?  Or something else?

These were issues debated from early times.   And the debates came to a head at the Council of Nicea.  There, everyone agreed that Christ was personally a divine being.  That he was the Creator of the universe.  That he was infinitely above every other being in the cosmos in terms of grandeur and power, apart from God the Father.  But what exactly was his relationship to God the Father, as God the Son?  It was that which was debated at Nicea, and I began my talk in New Orleans by laying out the terms of the debate.

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