Monday, January 21, 2008

Dialogue on Christmas and Birthdays

[My interlocutor]
"Jesus may not have been born on Dec. 25, but for all we know He was born on Dec. 25, or on a date close to that. But then it makes no difference whether or not Jesus was born on Dec. 25. The Catholic Church still has a divine right to institute a nativity festival if it deems fit, and the date of Dec. 25 is founded on an ancient tradition that reportedly is attested to as early as Tertullian and possibly St. Hippolytus in the first half of the 200s A.D., so that date is as good as any."

If you do not know the date that someone was born, then any date will do, right? The whole system for deriving December 25 in ancient times was faulty. First, Bible prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) suggests that Christ was not born on December 25 or in the winter season. If Christ was 33 1/2 years old when he died, then he could not have been born in December. The account found at Luke 2:8-11 also indicates that Christ was not born in winter since the shepherds are spoken of as having their flocks out of doors then. What sane shepherd would have been keeping his flock in the fields during rough Palestinian winters? M'Clintock and Strong's _Cyclopaedia_ wisely observes:

"The day of Christ's birth cannot be ascertained from the NT, or indeed, from any other source" (II:276).

[My interlocutor]
"Wow. What are you talking about?? Saturn wasn't the sun god, Fos, and Saturnalia wasn't celebrated on Dec. 25. Even that Kelly quote doesn't make that mistake. "Christians" also didn't worship the sun god, though sometimes Christians apostatised during persecutions."

Maybe you need to give the inet a rest in order to do some research. The Saturnalia was a festival to Saturn and the unconquered sun. Moreover, it took place on December 25 and many of its customs are evidently retained in the Christmas celebration. The NET Bible (a non-JW source found at notes:

"December 25 as the celebrated date of Jesus' birth arose around the time of Constantine (ca. a.d. 306-337), though it is mentioned in material from Hippolytus (a.d. 165-235). Some think that the reason for celebration on this date was that it coincided with the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia, and Christians could celebrate their own festival at this time without fear of persecution."

While the NET Bible does not give an opinion one way or the other on this issue, it does mention that it some scholars do associate Christmas with the Roman Saturnalia.

[My interlocutor]
"Oh, I agree that the fact that Origen's opinions about birthdays are erroneous has no bearing on the point at hand. I do wonder, though, why you seemed to suggest that Origen's erroneous arguments were correct, if you don't think Origen was right."

I did not say that Origen's arguments were erroneous or incorrect. If you will read carefully, you will find that my point was that it does not matter whether his arguments are sound or valid (TERMINI TECHNICI in logic). The point is that Origen, Arnobius and other Christians manifested antipathy toward birthdays. That is the salient *historical* point.

[My interlocutor]
"Yes, I know what your argument is. We know that the early Christians did not usually celebrate birthdays, and therefore it is likely they did not celebrate the birth of Jesus during those early times. However, we don't know that the early Christians opposition to celebrating birthdays was universal, and we don't know that, even if they didn't celebrate birthdays, they didn't begin to make an exception in the case of Jesus' birth, say, by 250-300 A.D. In fact it would be surprising if Christians waited until 300 A.D. to start celebrating Christmas, given the fact that even in the early 200s A.D. Christians were quite interested in determining the date of His birth. To make the dogmatic and bold claim that "it is ludicrous to contend that they would have celebrated the feast of Jesus' birth at this time" is simply going much, much, much further than the evidence can justify."

You have it all wrong. Show me evidence that Christians prior to the fourth century celebrated birthdays at all. Indeed, their opposition to birthdays does seem to have been universal. The practice of observing Christ's birthday evidently began with fourth century Christians, who considered the sun an object of veneration or who saw a nexus between the Son and the Sun. You cannot successfully date the observance of Christ's birth before the fourth century. Read Paul Johnson's work [referenced in an earlier dialogue] for an account of how sun worship affected the "Christian" observance of Jesus' supposed birthday. The [historical] evidence from the time of Constantine and Julian the Apostate favors Johnson's narratival account.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Divine Triangle

The third key doctrine of historical Christianity or Christendom (in addition to the Atonement and Incarnation) is the Trinity doctrine. The Trinity is the foundational teaching of so-called orthodox Christianity. It is putatively the mystery of God and the mystery of salvation (mysterium dei et mysterium salutis). This teaching is a mystery in that it is supposedly a product of divine revelation. In the words of Karen Armstrong, the triune Godhead lies "beyond words, concepts and human powers of analysis" (Armstrong 1993:118). God's triunity is utterly incapable of being understood by human reasoning.

a) The Trinity is not explicitly taught in the Old or the New Testament. Nevertheless, those who consider themselves orthodox Christians believe that there are subtle intimations of the doctrine in the Holy Scriptures of both Judaism and Christianity (Genesis 1:26; John 1:1). For example, the creation account recorded in Genesis depicts God uttering the words: "Let us make humankind in our image." Why is the Hebrew deity depicted as utilizing the plural pronouns "us" and "our"? Is the Genesis text suggesting that God is not a bare monad but a differentiated triad? Those who consider themselves orthodox Christians generally answer this question in the affirmative.

b) Despite such scriptural "intimations," however, the Trinity as a doctrine qua doctrine did not become a historical reality until 381 A. D. In that fateful year, the First Council of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) decided that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally have a "single Godhead, power and substance in three divine persons." In other words, God is ontologically (in his very being) triangular. Nevertheless, in what sense is the Christian God triangular?

c) A triangle by definition has three sides or angles. According to most logicians, triangularity is a necessary property of a triangle. Trinitarians similarly insist that God is necessarily Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The "Christian" God did not gradually come to possess three sides, as it were. He is immutable and atemporal (i.e., timeless), Trinitarians contends. God thus has always been "three-sided" in the estimation of orthodox Christians: he is eternally triangular.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Focal Point of My Dissertation

The Focal Point of Study for My Dissertation

This study's focal point is the Lactantian concept of God the Father in the light of classical and contemporary metaphor theory. Accordingly, it has four primary goals: (1) This investigation will determine the possible conceptual or ecclesiastical antecedents that motivated Lactantius to apply the paternal metaphor "Father" to God; (2) it will explore what Lactantius and other Christian writers possibly mean by "Father"; (3) moreover, this study will scrutinize how Lactantius conceives the relationship between the Father and the Son; (4) it will probe the eschatological significance that "Father" possibly has for Lactantius.

The introductory portion of this study is structured as follows. First, it is necessary to provide an overview of Lactantian studies. In the overview, a marked contrast between common preoccupations of patristic scholars or historians and the focus of this work will be established. Second, the overview will supply an outline of Lactantius' conception of God the Father. In that portion of this investigation, the seeming heterodox Christology of Lactantius will also be contextualized. Third, a synopsis of each chapter contained in this study will be furnished. In contrast to other works that have elected to research non-theological aspects of the early apologist's work, this study will scrutinize Lactantian thought pertaining to God the Father. Its chief aim is to ascertain whether Lactantius employs "Father" as a metaphor for God rather than as a proper name for an immutable and eternal distinction of the triune Godhead. Furthermore, this study proposes that by using the divine epithet "Father" as a metaphor, Lactantius apparently downplays the role of gender in his conceptualization of God. It is possible that Lactantius believes that gender is not an intrinsic property of God or a category of being whose primordial exemplar is divine. Therefore, while it might not be possible to apodictically discern Lactantian intent regarding divine gender, this investigation will argue that at the very least Lactantius is not preoccupied with the reputed gender of God the Father when he employs this venerable concept.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Didache and Baptism

One question that arises with regard to the Didache is, when was it
written? Is it a first or second century document? While there
is no unanimous consensus on this question--I note that a number of scholars
believe that the Didache was actually produced in the second century. If this belief is accurate, this fact would comport with either Origen or Tertullian's comments regarding the subject of infant baptism.

Stanley Burgess observes that the Didache is "an early second century
document" (The Holy Spirit: Ancient Christian Traditions, page 21).

Howard Vos simply writes that the Didache "is also believed to have
originated in Alexandria (though some think it came from Syria), probably
during the first decades of the second century" (Exploring Church History,
page 12).

Moreover, The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology states that the Didache "comes from the late first to mid-second century, and is more in the style of a compilation of practices for a group of churches than the work of a single theologian-author" (page 100).

But the magisterial study by W. H. C. Frend dates the Didache circa A.D. 70
(See The Rise of Christianity, page 29). So we have respected scholars from both sides offering possible, but contrary opinions on this important matter. Personally, I think that the evidence favors the second century dating. (I am certain that some would heavily dispute this conclusion or question my motivation in deciding on that date. But the contents in the work make me incline toward the second century dating for the Didache. This along with what other writers say about the practice of infant baptism in antiquity influences my perspective.)

I believe that Christian baptism first involved the immersion of believing adults (Mt 28:18-20; Acts 8:12-13). However, in time, infants began to be baptized on what Jaroslav Pelikan calls "biblical warrants that [are] somewhat ambiguous." He argues that "the first incontestable evidence for the practice [of infant baptism] appeared around the end of [the second] century" (See The Christian Tradition 1:290-292 and 1:316-318). As is well known, Tertullian vehemently rejected the practice of infant baptism (Baptism 18.5).

So I would say that the historical evidence indicates that different kinds of baptism occurred from the second century onward, though it seems that Primitive Christians started out immersing new believers under water when they baptized them (Acts

I would add that the Didache does help us to understand what was happening
in second century Christianity. This does not mean, however, that all
Christians practiced infant baptism in the second century. Therefore, it seems
highly unlikely that all Christians practiced sprinkling then (Compare Hermas, ANF Series, 2.49; Apostolic Constitutions 7.53). The Bible itself appears to clearly teach baptism by water immersion.