The Council of Jerusalem

October 27, 2017

Unlike any other book of the New Testament, the book of Acts is a historical work, and the so-called council of Jerusalem is a historical event. All too often historical events get interpreted through the lens of one’s current ideology. In the case of the Jerusalem council, the long-held interpretation that the apostles and elders came together to decide whether Gentiles need circumcision, was interpreted through the lens of post-Nicene church leaders who themselves asserted similar authority and needed a Scriptural example for doing it.

Unlike Christians in the past who were denied Scriptural examination, we have the privilege of not only examining Scripture, but to do it in any language or translation we like. So when Christians today propagate the same interpretations held by those who formed them for selfish gain, it astonishes me. It astonishes me because Luke, the author of the book of Acts, took valuable time and effort to lay the foundation of what transpired in Jerusalem nearly two millennia ago; context that is largely ignored.

A new page on the Onefold Blog details the event in context. Beginning with Paul’s conversion to the faith, the article walks the reader through the context laid out by Luke and adds historical insight. It follows Paul and Peter along different paths and demonstrates that they, and the other apostles and elders, had been of the same understanding regarding Gentiles for nearly twenty years prior to the meeting in Jerusalem. It examines the underlying issue in the Jerusalem church that grew like a cancer and eventually culminated in the largest controversy of the apostolic church.

To read the article, click here, or navigate through the menu above.

Thank you!

Brian Culliton
Onefold admin

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Judgment of an Atheist god

July 2, 2009

Atheists choose to not believe in God for many various reasons, but one reason in particular is extremely peculiar. An atheist recently commented on this blog that she would not want to see even the meanest, rottenest, filthiest murdering psychopath SOB in the world to have to live in eternal hell. And if you think her sentiment is unusually rare, think again.

Even though they do not believe in God or hell, atheists like to challenge Christians with “If God is truly a loving God why would He send anyone to hell?” When presented with this challenge by atheists, some Christians think it is a good question that requires a good biblical explanation; I am not one of those Christians. If the question were asked by a believer or someone seriously considering the faith then yes, it requires a good answer. But when people who outright reject the council of God ask the question, it can only mean that they are trying to justify their behavior and unbelief, or they are attempting to just confuse Christians with the whole God is love thing.

The later are what I will call the true atheists; those who have no particular reason for not believing in God they just don’t. The former are those who have excuses for not believing in God. So to those of you atheists who truly wonder why a loving God would cast anyone out of heaven, here is a little scenario:

Suppose you have a large family living in a large house. You are loving parents, who adore your children, but times are tough and you are desperately strapped for money. So you decide to rent out one of the rooms in your large house to a stranger willing to pay room and board. Now suppose that stranger, once he settles into your home, begins to seduce, rape, torture, and murder your children. Where will your god’s compassion lie? What will be the judgment of your god? Will the stranger remain in your home, or will your god cast him out forever?


What Atheists Believe: What would you add?

June 29, 2009

Mark P. of Proud Atheist provided a list of what atheist believe. ”The list can be read here. Mark asks his readers, “What would you add?”

How about these:

Atheists believe it is okay to seize snippets of our sacred book and use them to smear God and His people without any regard for context. Why not at least examine the context first?

Atheists believe in love so long as it doesn’t involve people of faith. At least that has been my experience.

Atheists believe in kindness so long as it is not directed towards people of faith. A quick visit to Proud Atheist will attest to that.

Atheists believe in family unless you are of the family of God.

Atheists believe (or at least some do) that people of faith are fair game for ridicule and scorn.

Atheists believe in a woman’s right to choose the fate of her unborn child.

Atheists believe unborn children have no rights.

Atheists believe that creationism is a fairytale.

Atheists believe in the fairytale of evolution.

Atheists believe that faith in God is silly.

Atheists believe our ancestors were monkeys.

Atheists believe there is no evidence for God.

Atheists believe the non-evidence of a missing link. Atheists do have faith after all!

Atheists believe a person is hateful if they do not support the homosexual lifestyle. I would like to think this is not true of all atheists.

Atheists believe that it is natural for a person to be bisexual.

Atheists believe they will never bow their knee to the God of the universe. I believe they are wrong.

And more importantly, atheists still have time to reconsider the damage they are doing to others who might actually be interested in honestly examining the Christian faith and exploring the depth of God’s love!

Atheists should either learn what Christianity is or leave it alone.

Disclaimer: This list is compiled from my own experience with atheists and does not necessarily represent the beliefs of all atheists on every point.


The Evolution of the Sacrifice of the Mass: Part 2

April 7, 2009

In part one of “The Evolution of the Mass,” we explored the elucidation of second century apologist, Justin Martyr, concerning “sacrifice.” Justin had stated that the only perfect and well-pleasing sacrifices to God are prayers and giving of thanks offered by worthy men. So how did the church go from that understanding to the belief that Christ must be re-sacrificed in an un-bloody manner?

Justin plainly associates this only sacrifice of prayers and giving of thanks with the Eucharist of the bread and the cup saying, “which are presented by Christians in all places throughout the world, bears witness that they are well-pleasing to Him.1 When the context is brought to light it is easy to see that the sacrifice of the Eucharist is in the hearts of those participating in the giving of thanks (which is what eucharist means), not in offering the bread and wine.

Later in the same century, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, explained, “For it behooves us to make an oblation to God, and in all things to be found grateful to God our Maker, in a pure mind, and in faith without hypocrisy, in well-grounded hope, in fervent love, offering the first-fruits of His own created things. And the Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, offering to Him, with giving of thanks, [the things taken] from His creation.2

Irenaeus makes a clear connection to the thing being offered as the bread and wine of the Eucharist. But his very next words, which contrast Christian oblation with that of Jewish oblation, make it clear he did not mean that the bread and wine become Christ and are offered to God: “But the Jews do not offer thus: for their hands are full of blood; for they have not received the Word, through whom it is offered to God.3 That is to say, the true oblation to God is done only through Christ. It makes no sense to offer Christ to God through Christ. Nevertheless, the Eucharist, in a very short period of time, had become more focused on the elements yet remained pure in its meaning. Irenaeus undoubtedly directed his focus to the bread and wine because it was there that he found his strongest arguments against Gnosticism’s association with the Eucharist.

The great Christian philosopher, Clement of Alexandria, unmistakably understood Irenaeus’ distinction of the Eucharist sacrifice as a corporal worship of praise and thanksgiving. Clement, who in the late second century was the head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, taught that Jesus was speaking metaphorically when He said, “Eat My flesh and drink My blood,4 which is the quintessential biblical reference used to support the transubstantiationalist belief.

Moving into the early third century we find Tertullian commenting that prayer is the victim of the Christian sacrifice:

…Every institution is excellent which, for the extolling and honoring of God, aims unitedly to bring Him enriched prayer as a choice victim. For this is the spiritual victim which has abolished the pristine sacrifices… We are the true adorers and the true priests, who, praying in spirit, sacrifice, in spirit, prayer- a victim proper and acceptable to God, which assuredly He has required, which He has looked forward to for Himself! This victim, devoted from the whole heart, fed on faith, tended by truth, entire in innocence, pure in chastity, garlanded with love, we ought to escort with the pomp of good works, amid psalms and hymns, unto God’s altar, to obtain for us all things from God.5

However, touching on the subject from a Catholic apologetics standpoint, the Catholic Encyclopedia grossly misrepresents Tertullian’s exhortation to communion during fasting. The encyclopedia quotes Tertullian’s words, “participation of the sacrifice” claiming that he “speaks of a real, not a metaphorical offering up of sacrifice.6 What the encyclopedia fails to mention is that just a few sentences earlier Tertullian describes the sacrifice as, “sacrificial prayers.7

There is no doubt, apart from severely biased opinions, that Christians up through the third century understood the Eucharist to be a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving culminating in the participation of the Lord’s Supper. The next century, however, would bring about change that revolutionized the way Christians viewed the Eucharistic celebration. The conclusion of this three-part article will explore how and when the metamorphous of the Eucharistic observance took place.

1. Dialog with Trypho, 117
2. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:18:4
3. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:18:4
4. Clement, Paedagogus 1:6
5. Tertullian, On Prayer 27-28
6. Catholic Encyclopedia, Sacrifice of the Mass
7. Tertullian, On Prayer 19


The Evolution of the Sacrifice of the Mass: Part 1

March 12, 2009

The most ancient writing depicting what early Christian gatherings looked like come from a work called the Didache, also known as “The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles.”

But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice ; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations. (Didache, 14)

Catholic apologists often use this quote from the Didache to support the “sacrifice of the mass.” But what is meant by sacrifice and how are Christians supposed to offer it? On its own the text is ambiguous, so to further garnish support for their doctrine, Catholic apologists turn to the second century apologist, Justin Martyr, who, when taken out of context, seems to bolster their point of view in his dialog with Trypho the Jew:

My name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure offering: for My name is great among the Gentiles, says the Lord: but you profane it. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to Him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist, affirming both that we glorify His name, and that you profane [it]. (Dialog with Trypho, 41)

The two quotes put together provide enough evidence to reasonably conclude that early Christians believed the sacrifice referred to by Malachi to be the bread and cup of the Eucharist. But does that mean they believed they were offering Christ as an un-bloody sacrifice? Catholic apologists would like for us to believe that, but that is not what the early Christians believed. In the same dialog, Justin comes around to this subject again. This time Justin explains the sacrifice much more clearly in a portion of the dialog Catholic apologist will never provide because it puts their assumptions to shame.

Accordingly, God, anticipating all the sacrifices which we offer through this name, and which Jesus the Christ enjoined us to offer, i.e., in the Eucharist of the bread and the cup, and which are presented by Christians in all places throughout the world, bears witness that they are well-pleasing to Him … Now, that prayers and giving of thanks, when offered by worthy men, are the only perfect and well-pleasing sacrifices to God, I also admit. For such alone Christians have undertaken to offer, and in the remembrance effected by their solid and liquid food, whereby the suffering of the Son of God which He endured is brought to mind, whose name the high priests of your nation and your teachers have caused to be profaned and blasphemed over all the earth. (ibid, 117)

“That prayers and giving of thanks, when offered by worthy men, are the only perfect and well-pleasing sacrifices to God.” From Justin’s explanation we can make better sense of the former quotes. We can now see that Justin was saying that Christians offer the Eucharist i.e., thanksgiving, in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup. His explanation also helps us to understand what the author of the Didache quote meant by “Break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.” In other words, do not offer thanksgiving (Eucharist) until you have confessed your sins so that your sacrifice (thanksgiving) may be pure.

Even without the explanation, a description of a typical Sunday gathering of Christians in Justin’s time illustrates this point.

On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president [Bishop] verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. (First Apology, 67)

This description solidifies that the fact that the early church considered the sacrifice to be the giving of thanks over the elements that represent Christ’s atoning sacrifice at Calvary, and participation in that sacrifice by partaking of those elements. As Justin said, “That prayers and giving of thanks, when offered by worthy men, are the only perfect and well-pleasing sacrifices to God.”

To be continued…


1 Mal. 1:11
2 Mal. 1:10-12


Martignoni’s Dilemma

January 19, 2009

Mr. Martignoni seems to believe that every book of the New Testament, as we know it today, was delivered from city to city throughout the ancient Roman Empire with the assurance of “word of mouth oral tradition” backing its authenticity. History, however, disagrees with Mr. Martignoni and it would be nice if he would take the time to explain, if he can, exactly what he means by “oral tradition.”

The catechism of the Catholic Church says the following regarding tradition:

“This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.” “The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.”” (CCC 78)

Perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.” If this were true, and, as Mr. Martignoni asserts, the canon of Scripture was set by oral tradition, why did the early church not know which books to include?

I hope Mr. Martignoni returns to answer this question and the one I presented in my comment:

Which of these oral traditions came from the apostles: to observe Pasch (Passover) on Sundays only, or to observe in accordance with the Jews?

Brian Culliton

hiswordistruth16@aol.com

PS. Anyone is welcome to answer the questions.


John Martignoni’s Word of Mouth

January 9, 2009

I was cleaning up my bookmarks for the New Year when I came across a link to the website of the Catholic apologist, John Martignoni (http://www.biblechristiansociety.com). I had bookmarked the website because of a debate between him and Dr. Joe Mizzi of the “Just for Catholics” website. When I came across his assertion on “oral tradition” I couldn’t help but respond by writing this post.

A quote taken from John Martignoni’s website adequately demonstrates why so many Catholics I encounter are completely ignorant of the canonization of Scripture. It seems many Catholics (maybe most Catholics) think that the authenticity of New Testament Scriptures was passed down orally through a succession of bishops, then put together and canonized by a Catholic council. The impression they have is that a church council, sometime back in the fourth century, was faced with dozens of writings from which they decided, from apostolic oral tradition, which were inspired and which were not.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as I will demonstrate here.

In issue 89 John Martignoni makes this statement:

Well, the problem for Joe [Mizzi] is, they received “by word of mouth” that the canon they were passing on was indeed apostolic in origin. It was passed on “by word of mouth”…oral tradition…that 1 and 2 Corinthians were indeed authentic letters of Paul. It was passed on “by word of mouth”…oral tradition…that Matthew and John were indeed authentic writings of Matthew and John. It was passed on, “by word of mouth”…oral tradition…that the writing of Mark represented the oral traditions of Peter; and it was passed on, “by word of mouth”…oral tradition…that the Luke who wrote the Gospel that bears his name was indeed the companion of Paul and was indeed inspired by the Holy Spirit…The Church determined the canon of Scripture based on Tradition…Tradition that had been passed down orally from the beginning of the Church. And, that canon was set at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D.” (John Martignoni)

What John is referring to when he says the “canon was set at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D,” is actually a list from the Gelasian Decree produced in the sixth century and sometimes falsely attributed to the council of Rome. The earliest council to address the canonical list is probably Hippo in 393, but certainly Carthage in 397 finalized it. Just about every Catholic I have encountered on this topic is under the impression that the council of Carthage decided which books belong in the Bible and which do not. In actuality, all the council did was close the canon that already existed and forbade the reading in church of any writings outside the accepted canon. There is a great deal of history with regards to the formation of the canon of Scripture, and to say that oral tradition is responsible for its authority as Scripture is simply false and far from the facts of history.

In the apostolic church the Pauline letters circulated singularly, but as early as the beginning of the second century they circulated collectively, and with them the epistle to the Hebrews. This collection is known as the Pauline Corpus. The Chester Beatty manuscript is the oldest surviving copy. It did not include the three Pastoral Epistles (1, 2Timothy and Titus), but did include Hebrews.1

Of the 27 canonical books, Irenaeus quoted from 23 of them in his treatise against heresies in the second century. And Eusebius provides an account of early second century Christians not only evangelizing orally, but delivering written books of the Gospels to people who had not heard the Good News.2 And in 1740 historian Ludovico Muratori published his Muratorian Fragment containing a list of New Testament books dating to around 170 A.D.

The Muratorian Fragment contains the oldest list of canonical books of the New Testament recognized in the Roman church at the time. The list includes the four Gospels (though only Luke and John are actually present on the fragment, the Gospels of Mathew and Mark are assumed have been mentioned before them because the first completed sentence on the fragment is “The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke“). The compiler comments that Luke’s authority is derived from his association with Paul. He claims that Luke was Paul’s legal expert, which when understood within the context of the Roman world implies that Luke was part of Paul’s staff and thus issued his writing with his own name but in accordance with Paul’s opinion (F.F. Bruce). With regards to this opinion it is reasonable to suppose that the explanation for Luke writing Paul’s Gospel originated in Rome, perhaps about the time this list was compiled.

Besides the four Gospels, the list includes as acceptable all of Paul’s epistles (but not Hebrews, which incidentally in Rome, was not recognized as Pauline until the fourth century), the Apocalypse of John (Revelation), Jude and two epistles of John. In all, 22 of the 27 books of our New Testament are presented in this list as acceptable in the church. The apocalypse of Peter was also mentioned as acceptable but not by all. And oddly the Wisdom of Solomon also appears on the list as acceptable.

The books of our New Testament not mentioned are, 1 and 2 Peter, third John, Hebrews and James. There are also interesting exclusions such as the Shepherd of Hermas. The Shepherd of Hermas was read regularly in the churches but was rejected because, the compiler says, “It was written quite recently in our own time.” This is interesting because it shows us that the early Christian leadership compiled Scripture, not based on oral tradition, but on evidence of authenticity. The four Gospels and the Pauline Corpus were never brought into question because they were deeply rooted in the catholic (universal) church and recognized by all as authoritative. But the absence of the five books of our New Testament from the Muratorian Fragment poses an even bigger problem for Martignoni and other adherents of oral tradition. If indeed the bishops in Rome could determine by oral tradition, which books belong to the canon of Scripture, these five books could not have been missing from the list because the same oral tradition is said to have reached the council of Carthage, which included them.

In Eusebius’ time (early fourth century), the final number of accepted books had still not been established. Eusebius lists James, Jude, 2Peter, 2John and 3John as disputed but recognized by many. He lists the Apocalypse of John as generally accepted but rejected by some. The composer of the Muratorian Fragment states that the Apocalypse of John, Jude and two of John’s epistles were accepted in the catholic church.

If oral tradition is responsible for the collection of accepted books, it has proven itself unreliable to say the least. Eusebius, however, describes something far different than oral tradition when he comments on the compilation of Scripture in his own time:


But we have nevertheless felt compelled to give a catalogue of these also, distinguishing those works which according to ecclesiastical tradition are true and genuine and commonly accepted, from those others which, although not canonical but disputed, are yet at the same time known to most ecclesiastical writers- we have felt compelled to give this catalogue in order that we might be able to know both these works and those that are cited by the heretics under the name of the apostles, including, for instance, such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or of any others besides them, and the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles, which no one belonging to the succession of ecclesiastical writers has deemed worthy of mention in his writings.

And further, the character of the style is at variance with apostolic usage, and both the thoughts and the purpose of the things that are related in them are so completely out of accord with true orthodoxy that they clearly show themselves to be the fictions of heretics. Wherefore they are not to be placed even among the rejected writings, but are all of them to be cast aside as absurd and impious.

(Hist. Eccl. 3:25:6)

The ecclesiastical tradition, used to determine the accepted writings, was clearly not oral tradition. Writings, whether accepted or rejected, were scrutinized and compared to orthodox ecclesiastical writings. Notice that Eusebius condemns the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles. The compiler of the Muratorian list also excluded these writings by saying, “the Acts of all the apostles have been written in one book.” However, he claims that Luke only recorded the things that took place in his presence and, therefore, omitted the passion of Peter (the account of Peter being crucified upside-down) and Paul’s departure to Spain. Both these stories are detailed in the Acts of Peter, a book deemed unworthy and absurd by Eusebius and ignored by the ecclesiastical writers, yet considered factual accounts by many in our day.

By the time Eusebius wrote his history the canon of New Testament Scripture was almost completed. In 330, just after establishing his new capital in Constantinople, Constantine requested that Eusebius provide 50 copies of the Christian Scriptures. Unfortunately we are not told what books were included in Eusebius’ New Testament, but there is little doubt based on his writings that it contained the 27 books of our current New Testament.

In his thirty-ninth festal letter, announcing the date of Easter in 367 AD, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, presented the list of New Testament books exactly as we have them today, but not in the same order. He was the first in history to produce a written list of the 27 books. Canon 60 of the regional council of Laodicea in 363 also lists the books of the New Testament, but excludes Revelation. Canon 60, however, may be a later addition, as it is absent from some of the Laodicean manuscripts.

In conclusion, this short post is merely a tiny synopsis of the vast and rich history of the development of our New Testament Scriptures. The oral tradition assertion often touted by Catholic apologists like John Martignoni, is backed by nothing. It relies entirely on the reader’s, or hearer’s ignorance of church history.

Brian Culliton

hiswordistruth16@aol.com

1 F.F. Bruce, Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity Press, pp 130)
2 Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3:37:2 (Hendrickson Publishers, pp 102)