Temple Destroyed to Constantine
“Tribulation ten days” (Revelation 2:10) and the kingdom of heretics
Trajan, the first Roman Emperor born outside of Italy reigned from 98 to 117. He was born in Spain. He dealt with a revolt in the province of Dacia, present day Romania and Moldova, called the Dacian wars, from 101 to 107 which is memorialized by “Trajan’s column” in Rome. Great leaders do not memorialize or glorify their defeats and disasters in monuments but only their successes. Let this be a lesson to you when you can not find a monument in Egypt dedicated to the loss of the Pharaoh and all of his army in the Red Sea at the Exodus. It would be ludicrous to expect to find such a monument.
The apostle John had written his book about the end of human history in or around 96 under the reign of Domitian. The early church leaders who studied under the apostle believed these events to be future but the doctrine of Preterism, elaborated under Jesuit priest, Luis De Alcazar, in his 16th century work, Investigation into the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse, states that all of these events were past events that occurred at the fall of Jerusalem. By claiming that pagan Rome was the kingdom of the anti-Christ and that Nero was, indeed, the Beast, it was hoped to divert attention from the widespread Protestant belief that the Papacy was the very anti-Christ spoken of as the Beast in Revelation. (The word, anti-Christ, is not found in the book). The Apostle John’s students, those who claimed to have studied directly under him, were Polycarp, who was stabbed and his corpse burnt at the stake in Smyrna in 167 and Papias, martyred in or around 135, among others. We learn a great deal about what the original writings of the apostles contained by reading the many quotes of the early church leaders, commonly called “fathers”. John, who lived part of his later life, as a convict on the island of Patmos, had instructed many of these early leaders in what Jesus had told him, as they claimed.
For instance, in the Authorized Version of the Bible, translated in the early 1600’s with its release being 1611 after a 7 year effort, we find the verse 1 Timothy 6:10 which states in part; “For the love of money is the root of all evil”, and we find that Polycarp, writing his letter to the Philippians in the early second century, in the very first line of Chapter IV, entitled ‘Various Exhortations’ refers to this exact quote. The over 30,000 quotations that the early church leaders cited of the writings of the Apostles are a big help to understanding our Bibles and how they came to be.
The view of Revelation of the early church leaders was that it was future history or a prophecy of future events. This is called futurism today but in the first three centuries of the Christian era it was known as Chiliasm, or Millennialism, stating the belief that the Lord Jesus Christ would return to rule from earth for 1,000 years between human history’s end and eternity’s beginning. There is another view called historicism that states that these events have unfolded over the past 2,000 years, as well. There are, as well,
many variations of all these beliefs such as partial preterism. But, these, while great subjects of theological debate, are only relevant in their historical sense, to be mentioned
as movements and beliefs that affected the Christian church, in some way. I have oversimplified all of these beliefs and anyone who is a diehard proponent of one or the other would accuse me of demeaning their belief system so let’s move on for the purpose of this study.
Chiliasm, the early belief by the church fathers concerning the end times would produce statements by Shepard in 150, who refers to the church being saved from the tribulation to come, Victorinus in 240 referring to the rapture of the church, Cyprian in 250 referring to the rapture, and the most extensive work on millennialism by Ephraim the Syrian in the late 300’s in his work, On the Last Times.
I am including some quotes of the writings of early church leaders regarding the end times in the way they viewed them. I have used the website biblefacts.org and its online edition of 38 volumes of the writings of the early Christian church. First, specifically, in regard to the church being taken out of the way;
Shepard 150 AD
• The writer, after escaping a huge terrifying beast with four colors on its head (white, red, black and gold), met a virgin in his vision. "like a bride going froth from a bride-chamber, all in white...I recognized from the former visions that it was the church." the virgin explained that she escaped destruction from the beast (the Great Tribulation) because of God's special deliverance. "Thou hast escaped a great tribulation because thou hast believed and at the sight of such a huge beast hast not doubted. Go therefore and declare to the Elect of the Lord His mighty deeds and say to them that this beast is a type of the great tribulation which is to come. If ye therefore prepare yourselves and with your whole heart turn to the Lord in repentance, then shall ye be able to escape it, if your heart is pure and blameless." After explaining to him that "the golden color stands for you who have escaped from this world," the virgin concluded her messages with, "Now ye know the symbol of the great tribulation to come. But if ye are willing, it shall be nothing."
• Commentary on the Apocalypse 6.14 - "'And the heaven withdrew as a scroll that is rolled up.' For the heaven to be rolled way, that is, that the Church shall be taken away. "And the mountain and the islands were moved from their places." Mountains and islands removed from their places intimate that in the last persecution all men departed from their places; that is, that the good will be removed, seeking to avoid the persecution."
• Commentary on the Apocalypse 15.1 - "And I saw another great and wonderful sign, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is completed the
indignation of God.' For the wrath of God always strikes the obstinate people with seven plagues, that is, perfectly, as it is said in Leviticus; and these shall be in the last time, when the Church shall have gone out of the midst."
Cyprian 250 AD
• Epistle 55 - The Antichrist is coming, but above him comes Christ also. The enemy goeth about and rageth, but immediately the Lord follows to avenge our suffering and our wounds. The adversary is enraged and threatens, but there is One who can deliver us from his hands." It is significant that he did not write about enduring the persecution of the Antichrist. Rather, Cyprian promised that Christ "is One who can deliver us from his hands."
• Cyprian Speaking of the immanency of the Rapture, he wrote, "Who would not crave to be changed and transformed into the likeness of Christ and to arrive more quickly to the dignity of heavenly glory." After telling his readers that the coming resurrection was the hope of the Christian, he points out that the Rapture should motivate us as we see the last days approaching. Cyprian says that "we who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible." Referring to his hope of the approaching Rapture, he encouraged his readers as follows: "Do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent?" Cyprian concludes his comments on the translation of the saints with these words: "Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the kingdom" (Treatises of Cyprian - 21 to 26?).
Ephraim the Syrian 373 AD
• On The Last Times 2 - ...because all saints and the elect of the LORD are gathered together before the Tribulation which is about to come and be taken to the LORD...
Now, with regard to their looking for a future fulfillment of prophecy as found in the apocalyptic books of the Bible;
• Fragment 6 - After the resurrection of the dead, Jesus will personally reign for 1000 years. He was taught this by the apostle John himself.
Justin Martyr 110-165
• Dialogue 32 - The man of Sin, spoken of by Daniel, will rule two times and a half, before the second advent.
• Dialogue 110 - The man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us, the Christians.
Irenaeus 178 AD
• Against Heresies 4.26 - Daniel the prophet says "Shut up the words, and seal the book even to the time of consummation, until many learn, and knowledge be completed. For at that time, when the dispersion shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things."
• Against Heresies 5.25 - In 2 Thessalonians the falling away is an apostasy and there will be a literal rebuilt temple. In Matthew, 24 the "abomination spoken by Daniel" is the antichrist setting in the temple as if he were Christ. The abomination will start in the middle of Daniel's 70th week and last for a literal 3 years and six months. The little (11th) horn is the Antichrist.
• Against Heresies 5.26 - The Roman Empire will first be divided and then be dissolved. Ten kings will arise from what used to be the Roman empire. The Antichrist slays three of the kings and is then the eighth king among them. The kings will destroy Babylon then give the Babylonian kingdom to the beast and put the church to flight. After that they will be destroyed by the coming of the Lord. Daniel's horns are the same as the ten toes. The toes being part of iron and clay mean some will be active and strong while others weak and inactive and the kings will not agree with each other.
• Against Heresies 5.27 - In Matthew 24, the two men one taken and the other left does not refer to the rapture but second coming. They are taken to never ending fire.
• Against Heresies 5.30 - The Name of the Antichrist equals 666 if spelled out in Greek. Do not even try to find out the name until the ten kings arise. The Antichrist shall be from the tribe of Dan. That is why the tribe of Dan is not mentioned in the apocalypse. The fourth kingdom seen by Daniel is Rome. Titan is one Greek word that comes out to 666. The rebuilt temple will be in Jerusalem.
• Against Heresies 5.35 - The resurrection of the Just takes place after the destruction of the Antichrist and all nations under his rule. Many believers will make it through the tribulation and replenish the earth. In the resurrection we will have fellowship and communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings. The new heavens and earth are created and then the new Jerusalem descends. These are all literal things, and Christians who allegorize them are
Tertullian 190-210 AD
• Marcion 3.25 - Millennial rain, resurrection, and the New Jerusalem are literal. In the resurrection we shall then be changed in a moment into the substance of angels
• Marcion 5.16 - The Anti-Christ will be a real man and set in a real temple.
• Treatise of the Soul 1.50 Enoch and Elias will come back to die. They are the two witnesses of Revelation.
Origen 230 AD
• Against Celsus 2:49 - Quotes Paul about the antichrist, as a literal person who works false miracles.
• Against Celsus 6:45 - There is a literal future Antichrist coming.
• Against Celsus 6:46 - The prophecies in 1 Thessalonians and Daniel are real prophesies about the end of the world. There will be a literal rebuilt Temple.
Commodianus: 240 AD
• 35 - Resurrection is at the end of the 6000 years.
• 41 - Antichrist notes
• 43 - End of the age
• 44 - The first resurrection. those who were not martyred under the antichrist will marry and have children during the 1000 years. no rains, snow, cold during the 1000yrs.
• 80 - Resurrection of the body will be when six thousand years are completed, and after the 1000 years when the world has come to an end.
Lactantius 285 AD
• Divine Institutes 7:14 – 6000yrs till millennium. (Some do not think Book 7 was really written by Lactantius.)
• Divine Institutes 7:16-17 – end times… very good…
• Divine Institutes 7:19 – 1st paragraph anti-Christ 4 battles??
• Divine Institutes 7:25 – 6000yrs, end of days is after the fall of Rome. The Sibyls agree.
• Divine Institutes 7:26 – After 100yrs (7000yrs) at battle of Gog the sun stands still for 3 days. Righteous hid in the mountains then come out, all evil is gone. No more nations. 7 years the woods are untouched. Burn arms of the nations.
• Epitome of Divine Institutes 71 – the last times: - very good…
• Epitome of Divine Institutes 72 – literal 1000yr reign.
• Fragment 8:
And what am I to say with respect to men, when the very elements themselves will disown their order? There will be earthquakes in every city, and plagues in every country; and monstrous thunderings and frightful lightnings will burn up both houses and fields. Storms of winds will disturb both sea and land excessively; and there will be unfruitfulness on the earth, and a roaring in the sea, and an intolerable agitation on account of souls and the destruction of men. There will be signs in the sun, and signs in the moon, deflections in the stars, distresses of nations, intemperateness in the atmosphere, discharges of hail upon the face of the earth, winters of excessive severity, different frosts, inexorable scorching winds, unexpected thunderings, unlooked-for conflagrations; and in general, lamentation and mourning in the whole earth, without consolation. For, "because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." By reason of the agitation and confusion of all these, the Lord of the universe cries in the Gospel, saying, "Take heed that ye be not deceived; for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them. But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not yet by and by." Let us observe the word of the Savior, how He always admonished us with a view to our security: "Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ."
Victorinus 240 AD
• Commentary on Revelation 2 - Allow fornication on a "pretext for Mercy," the name written on the white stone is "Christian" granting "unlawful peace" over new forms of Prophecy.
• Commentary on Revelation 4 - Rainbow above god's head is red and blue symbolize the judgments of water and fire. 24 elders are the 12 Apostles and 12 Patriarchs.
• Commentary on Revelation 6 - Heaven withdrawing like a scroll is the church taken away.
• Commentary on Revelation 7 - Angel ascending is Elijah. 7 angels (Shepards) are attack the antichrists kingdom. Babylon is the ruined Roman kingdom. Do not look to the order of Revelation, the vials and trumpets are the same events.
• Commentary on Revelation 11 - great wings given to the woman are the two prophets and those who help her.
• Commentary on Revelation 13 - 2nd beast is the false prophet.
Already, though, there are signs of paganism creeping in with many heresies creeping up where pagan influences are combined with Christian worship. Clement of Rome began mistakenly applying the Old Testament Levitical priesthood practices to the Christian church. Ignatius said to obey the Pastor was to obey the Lord himself thereby
elevating the Pastor or Bishop, as they were called to a Nicolaitan (a separate priesthood, literally ‘victory over the laity’) status. We’ll mention that later. Tertullian called the Pastor the supreme Priest. These false teachings which go against the clear instructions of the Apostles were inserted because of the belief that since God sent Jesus and Jesus chose the Apostles that anyone they worked with was equally as authoritative, which, once the Bible was complete, put them in direct conflict with the final authority of the scriptures. This is amazing in that Tertullian even admitted that the original letters of the apostles were still being read in the churches to which they were sent in his day around 200.
Trajan annexed Arabia in 107 and from 113 to 117 he fought a war with Parthia, an empire east of the Roman provinces in Palestine that caused much trouble for Rome. Parthia was the most enduring empire of the ancient Near East and the arch-enemy of Rome, checking Rome’s eastern advance toward Alexander’s conquest of present day Afghanistan and India. Nomads called “Parni” settled and rose to power in present day Iran in the late third century BC and rose to great power under their king, Mithradates the Great, 171BC – 138BC, and eventually ruled must of western South Asia, including the area of present day Iran, Iraq, eastern Turkey, Armenia, and many republics south of Russia. They were fierce warriors known for the “Parthian Shot” which was the action of turning completely around on one’s horse to fire a bowshot behind. Their own writing is lost and we only know them from the writings of the Romans, the Greeks, and the Jews. The empire was defeated in the 200’s AD by the Persian Sassanid dynasty. There is also some information written by the Chinese about them as they were at the end of what was known as “The Silk Road” which was the long trading route that went from the Roman empire to the Chinese empire. Some sources even indicate that Roman soldiers at some point did fight skirmishes with Chinese.
In The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon described Trajan's rapid advance into Parthian regions. The "degenerate Parthians...fled before his arms. He descended the River Tigris in triumph, from the mountains of Armenia to the Persian Gulf." Aboard his flagship, Trajan celebrated a mission accomplished. According to Gibbon, "the rich countries of Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria were reduced into the state of provinces." To put a local face on the occupation, a Parthian favored by Rome was installed in power in Ctesiphon. Trajan was "the first, as he was the last of the Roman generals" to sail the Persian Gulf. Overconfident, Trajan was shocked to visit Babylon and find the ancient city in revolt.
With the aid of former officers of the Parthian Empire, insurgents attacked Roman troops throughout the country. The insurrectionists included the local Jewish population, which rose with Jews throughout the eastern Roman Empire in a bloody uprising. Trajan tried to put down the revolt but died in 117 before order was restored. Hadrian, Trajan's lieutenant and successor, immediately withdrew Rome's peerless yet overstretched legions. Without the protection of the Western army, Rome's man in Ctesiphon was pushed out and the old order returned. Trajan's invasion was a costly failure.
The only thing man learns from history is that man never learns from history. There had been a war with Parthia previously, under Nero’s reign, that ended successfully, between 56 and 63AD. But before that, in 53BC, the great Roman general, Crassus, had been beaten, beheaded, and had molten gold poured into his mouth by the Parthian general, Surena, at the distastrous battle of Carrhae.
Hadrian ruled Rome from 117 to 138. He made peace with Parthia and spent most of his reign traveling throughout his empire. On a visit to Britain in 122, the province where the famous Briton Celt queen Boadicea had caused so much trouble in her revolt of 61AD, he oversaw the construction of the wall that bears his name. Hadrian also brutally suppress-ed the last great Jewish revolt under Bar Kochba between 132 and 135. This finally dispersed the Jewish people around the world for nearly 2,000 years.
After Hadrian reigned, Antoninus Pius, had a relatively quiet reign from 138 to 161, outside of a few minor revolts in Britain, Mauretania, and Egypt.
There were ten great persecutions of Christians during the first 300 years of the era referred to on calendars as AD or Anno Domini, the Year of Our Lord. Eusebius, a Christian historian and sycophant of the Emperor Constantine, wrote extensively about them. Most historians agree that they could be listed by the emperor who instituted the persecutions. They were, as listed by Eusebius;
1. Nero (Roman emperor AD 54–68), persecution stirred up in AD 64. In this persecution was the Apostle Paul killed and the apostle Peter crucified in Rome. This first persecution ceased under Vespasian (reigned AD 69–79).
2. Domitian (Roman emperor AD 81–96). John, the apostle and evangelist was exiled to Patmos during this persecution. After the death of Domitian, John was released and came to Ephesus in AD 97, where he wrote his Gospel and where he lived until the time of Trajan.
3. Trajan (Roman emperor AD 98–117). Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch suffered in this persecution.
4. Marcus Aurelius, his other name being Antoninus Verus (Roman emperor AD 161–180). Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, and the Christian martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, two cities in France, were martyred in this persecution.
5. Septimius Severus (Roman emperor AD 193–211). This persecution extended to northern Africa, which was a Roman province.
6. Maximinus, Gaius Julius Verus (Roman emperor AD 235–238).
7. Decius (Roman emperor AD 249–251). In this persecution was Fabian martyred; Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, forced into exile; and Origen imprisoned and tortured.
8. Valerian (Roman emperor AD 253–260).
Aurelian (Roman emperor AD 270–275).
10. Diocletian (Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, reigned AD 284–305) and Maximian (reigned AD 285–305) governed as emperors together. Diocletian began his furious persecution against the Christians in 303. The emperor ordered the doors of the Christian church at Nicomedia, the capital, to be barred, and then burnt the edifice with 600 Christians within. Many edicts were issued by him against Christians. Churches were demolished, Christian books were seized and burnt, Christians were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and killed. The persecution brought a considerable number of martyrs, and it continued until 313.
Crucifixion, burning at the stake, being eaten and torn apart by wild animals sometimes after being sewn up in the skins of other animals, being crushed, and also set fire like human torches so that their screams of agony could entertain dinner goers at some feast were the lot of many of these martyrs. While these pagan Roman persecutions never equaled the multitudes murdered by the Roman church of the Dark Ages in its vast persecutions of so-called heretical sects, there were hundreds of thousands killed, ten thousand under Trajan alone, with beheading and the stake being commonplace. John Foxe in his “Book of Martyrs” records this account of martyrdom under the Emperor Severus;
“Perpetua, a married lady, of about twenty-two years. Those who suffered with her were, Felicitas, a married lady, big with child at the time of her being apprehended, and Revocatus, catechumen of Carthage, and a slave. The names of the other prisoners, destined to suffer upon this occasion, were Saturninus, Secundulus, and Satur. On the day appointed for their execution, they were led to the amphitheater. Satur, Saturninus, and Revocatus were ordered to run the gauntlet between the hunters, or such as had the care of the wild beasts. The hunters being drawn up in two ranks, they ran between, and were severely lashed as they passed. Felicitas and Perpetua were stripped, in order to be thrown to a mad bull, which made his first attack upon Perpetua, and stunned her; he then darted at Felicitas, and gored her dreadfully; but not killing them, the executioner did that office with a sword. Revocatus and Satur were destroyed by wild beasts; Saturninus was beheaded; and Secundulus died in prison. These executions were in the 205, on the eighth day of March.”
Being a martyr did not guarantee that a believer, particularly a scholar, was free from error or heresy. Just as today, fame as a Christian celebrity does not exclude someone from being deceived and every ordinary, commonplace believer must search out the scriptures and compare what is said by those in authority because the scripture, not a human authority, is the believer’s final authority in all matters of faith, practice, and doctrine. To believe otherwise makes one susceptible to the workings of a cult. So, it is with the famous early church leader and scholar, Origen. Origen’s father, Leonidas, was
beheaded in 201 and Origen himself became the head of a school in Alexandria, Egypt that attempted to fuse, as Philo did with Judaism, Greek philosophy with Christianity. It was very popular, according to Livingstone’s ‘Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church’, with the cultured classes, leaving Christianity’s early days as a religion that appealed to the common man. These pagan Christian thinkers were essentially what are called in philosophy Platonists explaining Christian doctrine according to categories and using words defined by the Greek philosopher, Plato, and according to Newman’s ‘ Manual of Church History’, were greatly indebted to Philo.
George Park Fisher, in the “History of Christian Doctrine”, makes this statement;
“It was at Alexandria, the seat of all science, that philosophical theology first acquired a firm footing. The union of philosophy and theology, of which we see the beginnings in the Apologists, was there consummated. Catechetical instruction, when cultivated and inquisitive heathen converts were to be taught, necessarily assumed a new form. The school for catechumens developed itself into a school for the training of the clergy. The Alexandrian teachers met the educated heathen on their own ground. Instead of pouring out invectives, after the manner of Tertullian, against the Greek philosophers, they recognized in the teachings of the Greek sages materials which Christian teachers might accept and assimilate.”
This growing love of philosophy was in direct contradiction to the scriptures’ Colossians 2:8 (“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”) where the only time the Greek and Latin word Philosophia is used in the New Testament. An additional warning regarding false science is given in both the English and Old Latin Bibles in 1 Timothy 6:20;
“O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:” King James Bible.
“O Timothee, depositum custodi, deuitane profanas vocum nouitates, oppositiones falsi nominis scientae.” Hetzenauer’s 1906 translation of the Old Latin.
In Philip Schaff’s monumental work, “History of the Christian Church”, which is available free online, he says about this school in Alexandria and Origen’s involvement;
“From this catechetical school proceeded a peculiar theology, the most learned and genial representatives of which were Clement and Origen. This theology is, on the one hand, a regenerated Christian form of the Alexandrian Jewish religious philosophy of Philo..”
In the 1990 edition of the New Standard Encyclopedia, we have the secular version of this situation;
“Alexandrian school, a name given to various groups of persons engaged in artistic and intellectual activities in Alexandria, Egypt, during the Hellenistic and Roman eras…The blending of western and eastern knowledge and thought was the distinguishing feature of the schools…Literature of the Alexandrian school was based on scholarship rather than originality. The writers working in the Museum and Library catalogued, analyzed and edited more than they wrote.
As the Christian Era began, the Alexandrian Jew, Philo, combining Jewish religious ideas with Greek philosophy, emphasized the mystical quality of man’s relationship to
God. Philo influenced two late second century Greek fathers of the church, Clement of Alexandria and his pupil, Origen. These two in turn headed Alexandria’s catechetical (Christian religious) school, where both Christian and pagan (Greek) writings were studied and where the philosophy later known as Neoplatonism evolved…although Neoplatonism was a pagan philosophy and Origen, after his death, was disowned by the church as a heretic, much of the mysticism of the Alexandrian school of theology was absorbed into Christian thinking.”
To sum up the disdain the Christian who loved the Bible had for the Alexandrian brand of mixing pagan philosophy with Christianity, Tertullian said, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” cited by F.F. Bruce in his “Canon of Scripture”. Origen became the headmaster of the school as still teenager, apparently 18 years old, and immediately threw himself into Greek philosophy. He also was very “eccentric” and even castrated himself in a perverted interpretation of Matthew 19:12 hoping to avoid future temptation. He died resulting from injuries received in the Decian persecution after being tortured in 249AD. He wrote so copiously that he left 6,000 volumes of work, quoting the scriptures numerous times and even quoting the same verse differently several times. Among his odd beliefs were that all would eventually be saved after a time in Hell, even Satan himself. As strange as this may seem, Origen was one of a handful of teachers who had the most influence on Christian thinkers throughout the ages. Even today, his method of allegorical interpretation and his admixture of the scripture and philosophy is preferred and praised by many Christian scholars.
Origen influenced Bible translations by taking several post-resurrection copies of the Hebrew scriptures, including the non-canonical Old Testament apocrypha which had been rejected by the Jews themselves as being inspired, that had been translated to Greek and laying them out side by side, and composing his own. This version of the Hebrew manuscripts translated into Greek became known as the Septuagint after a legend that an Egyptian king had brought Hebrew elders to Egypt to translate the sacred works into Greek for his own Jewish population, which, as at Alexandria, had become Hellenized. Many Bibles today use Origen’s Septuagint through such manuscripts as the Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus to translate the Old Testament rather than the Hebrew manuscripts that Jesus and the apostles quoted. For instance, Jesus refers to such Hebrew grammatical terms as “jot” and “tittle” which would not be found in the Greek language in Matthew 5:18 and brackets the Jewish scriptures between Genesis and
2 Chronicles in Matthew 23:35 which is the order the Hebrew Bible was written with 2 Chronicles as the last book, having no apocrypha. The apocrypha was rejected for many reasons by the Jews; none were written in Hebrew, they propose statements in contradiction to the rest of the scripture, and contradict themselves as in the three separate deaths of Antiochus Epiphanes, among other inconsistencies. Even though these books are in the manuscripts that many Bibles are translated from, the apocrypha is usually excluded today.
The main evidence for the existence of a BC Septuagint is a document called “The Letter of Aristeas”. This letter can be read free online, and can be examined closely. It is supposed to detail the way that the Egyptian king went about having the Old Testament translated into Greek. However, many consider this to be a fraud, possibly perpetuated by Philo himself, as it contains many factual errors and could not have been written by the person who is given credit for writing it. To not belabor the point for this class, the head librarian of the great library who supposedly oversaw the project did not serve under the king in question. There are many other issues that make many scholars consider this letter a fraud, although you will find just as many who consider it to be perfectly legitimate. Go, and make your own decisions. With regard to the Septuagint itself, it is believed by some to be the efforts of several Christian era church leaders to rewrite the citations in the New Testament of the Old Testament back into the Old Testament itself to attain some type of uniformity that suited them. Many times in the New Testament the writers simply paraphrase Old Testament verses. Remember, to the Roman mind, this is unacceptable. Unity and uniformity are the hallmarks of Roman thinking. However, this, too, is a contentious idea but that is part of the fun of studying history. It is a great experience in detective work and often investigators studying the same material come to different conclusions.
I will save the subject of the much vaunted Dead Sea Scrolls for the fascinating era of scholarship in which they were discovered, just in case you are curious.
As we have noted before, Marcus Aurelius ruled between 162 and 165. From 162 to 165 a great victory against the Parthians by Rome ended in the plague infesting the returning troops and vast areas of the empire being depopulated in the death that followed. Aurelius spent a great deal of time in the field quelling revolts along the Danube and eventually, accompanied by his son, Commodus, died, perhaps near present day Vienna, Austria.
Commodus’ reign from 180 to 192 was a murderous nightmare by secular standards although he was much more tolerant of Christians than was his father. He was finally assassinated by his Praetorian Guard. There was a great struggle for the throne until Septimus Severus took control in 193. He had to fight a war with Parthian ruler Vologases IV after which he put down revolts in Britain, where he died, possibly at present day York.
Moving forward we find the Emperor Alexander Severus from 222 to 235, who fought against the founder of the new Persian Sassanid Empire, Ardashir I. The emperor was murdered by the tribune, Maxminus, noted as a giant of a man, illiterate and thuggish. Chaos in the empire ensued. Wars, revolts, and the rise of enemies against Rome were beginning to steamroll. There were incursions by barbarians, notably Goths and Franks. There were Gothic pirates in the Black Sea.
Finally, the Empire achieved a sort of revival in 268 until about 305 with many revolts successfully quelled and building projects such as the reconstruction of the walls of
Rome going forward. A revolt in Egypt was brutally put down. The emperors under this revival were Illyrian, from an area compromising the western Balkan mountains of Northern Greece represented by the Halstatt culture early on that I had mentioned in a previous class. We might call these Albanian emperors due to the proximity of their origin with present day Albania although this was only part of the territory called Illyria.
In 305 to 306 there was confusion in the imperial succession and a civil war, the result of which would affect future history in a big way with the rise of one of the most important emperors in the history of the world, named Constantine.
But, briefly let us look at events in Antioch, Syria. Antioch was the city to which Hannibal had first fled from the Romans after his final defeat in 195BC, according to Durant. Antioch, naturally, was where the first Christian manuscripts would be composed, to spread all over the Greek speaking and Latin speaking world. The Old Latin Bible was thought to be first transcribed there, as were the documents that formed the basis of the Syriac Peshitta. Although some disagree, most of the writers I have read referred to the early church leaders from Antioch as “hyper-literalists”. The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, has this to say;
“Antioch gave its name to a certain school of Christian thought, distinguished by literal interpretation of the Scriptures…” in contrast to the allegorical interpretation which found its greatest expression at Alexandria.
The authority of the Bible we have today can be underscored by many of the manuscripts written from or around Antioch and written in Syriac. For instance, an early church leader named Tatian, wrote a harmonization of the gospels called ‘The Diatessaron”, a harmonization of the gospels with regard to the timing of events, in the middle of the second century. Such verses as Luke 2:33;
“And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.”
are reinforced by the fact that they could not have been later glosses or additions as they were quoted and known early on in both the earliest versions of the Bible and in the writings of these early church leaders. Such “controversial” passages as Mark 16:9-20 and 1 John 5:7,8 are found in the Old Latin and are quoted or alluded to in every century
of the early Christian era by teachers and preachers. Although faith does not require us nor permit us to search for relics or affirmation from historical sources to bolster it or to justify it or it is not faith, these facts of evidence, even though hotly contested by Catholic scholars and Protestant scholars like Norman Geisler who received their highest degrees from Catholic institutions of higher learning, reveal the clear line of true Christian manuscripts ascending from Jerusalem to Antioch and spreading from east to west over the entire Roman Empire. Modern liberal scholars label this the Byzantine text and it is the foundation for our Bible represented by all but around 40-44 of the 5200 available manuscripts in Greek. For instance, of the 620 uncial (large script like capital letters) manuscripts that contain the gospel of Mark, only 2 manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, closely associated with Alexandria and Rome, do not contain this ending and it is quoted and alluded to by early church leaders and versions in every century of the early Christian era.
The early church had to deal with a great many heresies as evidenced by Paul’s warnings and the warnings given by the Lord Jesus Christ in the first chapters of Revelation to the churches. One of the most important of these was Gnosticism, the continuing tradition of pagan mystery cults, called mystery because of the secret method of initiation, secret rites, and secret knowledge they supposedly imparted. We have such groups today, under various guises and names, with secret meetings, secret handshakes, and special instructions given only to the initiate. The church leader, Irenaeus, described many of these Gnostic groups in his work, Against Heresies. Modern gnosis sects are ultimately occultic with only the members of the group having access to arcana or esoteric knowledge which only a select few can either understand or even should have access to but these modern groups often have a similarity in name only to the early Christian Gnostic groups. The early groups had more in common with the Babylonian and Greek mystery religions. More modern Gnostic groups of modern times are often referred to as “New Age”, a hybrid mix of Christian, Hindu, and Pagan religious beliefs that ultimately are anti-scriptural and give man, and therefore Satan, pre-eminence over God, the creator. Unfortunately, the modern Gnostic groups, whether nominally Christian or deliberately occultic and anti-Christian have had a great negative influence on the modern church and have to be fought just as hard as the early Christians did such as Irenaeus who had to combat them. Their influence even in certain modern Bible translations such as one that in Matthew 11:3 which probably unintentionally refers to the doctrine of “The Coming One”, most clearly enunciated by the New Age priestess, Alice Bailey, or the modern Bible that calls God, “the God of green hope”, a pagan, druidic reference with Lucifer commonly appearing as “the green one” according to Biedermann’s ‘Dictionary of Symbolism’, in Romans 15:13, or one Bible which ignorantly mixes Lucifer/Satan’s identity with that of Jesus Christ in Isaiah 14:12 and Revelation 22:16 which lines it up with Luciferian Madame Blavatsky’s statement that Lucifer is Christ in her landmark work, The Secret Doctrine.
Other early heresies were Sabellianism which basically implied that Jesus was only divine without human qualities and could not have actually suffered and died. Docetism,
similarly, implied that Jesus’ humanity was only an illusion. Monophysitism separated the two natures of Christ that joined in one body in contrast to the Bible’s teaching that Christ was completely human and completely God, as if there was some kind of multiple personality disorder going on there. Of the many other heresies Arianism had the most impact then and today with its basic concept that the Lord Jesus Christ was begotten as a god, a lesser god, prepared specially for man’s salvation. This had a large following early on, and is present today in certain cultic Christian sects. It’s credibility is found underscored in a modern Bible version that calls Jesus not the only begotten Son in John 1:18, in reference to Psalm 2:7 which is quoted again in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5 but rather “the only begotten God”, which was said to be the preferred reading of John 1:18
by the Arians. Most of the early church fathers quote “only begotten Son” such as Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Tertullian with Clement of Alexandria, the head of that school, and, of course, Origen, quoting it as “only begotten God”. Origen even quoted it both ways. Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus also quote “only begotten God” in opposition to thousands of other manuscripts and versions.
Philip Schaff, in his monumental work, “The History of the Christian Church”, opens up his third volume in regard to the impact of the Emperor Constantine on the church of that time and all future history in this way, and I quote;
“THE last great imperial persecution of the Christians under Diocletian and Galerius, which was aimed at the entire uprooting of the new religion, ended with the edict of toleration of 311 and the tragical ruin of the persecutors. The edict of toleration was an involuntary and irresistible concession of the incurable impotence of heathenism and the indestructible power of Christianity. It left but a step to the downfall of the one and the supremacy of the other in the empire of the Caesars.
This great epoch is marked by the reign of Constantine I. He understood the signs of the times and acted accordingly. He was the man for the times, as the times were prepared for him by that Providence which controls both and fits them for each other. He placed himself at the head of true progress, while his nephew, Julian the Apostate, opposed it and was left behind. He was the chief instrument for raising the church from the low estate of oppression and persecution to well deserved honor and power. For this service a thankful posterity has given him the surname of the Great, to which he was entitled, though not by his moral character, yet doubtless by his military and administrative ability, his judicious policy, his appreciation and protection of Christianity, and the far-reaching consequences of his reign. His greatness was not indeed of the first, but of the second order, and is to be measured more by what he did than by what he was. To the Greek church, which honors him even as a canonized saint, he has the same significance as Charlemagne to the Latin.
Constantine, the first Christian Caesar, the founder of Constantinople and the Byzantine empire, and one of the most gifted, energetic, and successful of the Roman emperors, was the first representative of the imposing idea of a Christian theocracy, or of that system of policy which assumes all subjects to be Christians, connects civil and religious rights, and regards church and state as the two arms of one and the same divine
government on earth. This idea was more fully developed by his successors, it animated the whole middle age, and is yet working under various forms in these latest times; though it has never been fully realized, whether in the Byzantine, the German, or the Russian empire, the Roman church-state, the Calvinistic republic of Geneva, or the early Puritanic colonies of New England. At the same time, however, Constantine stands also as the type of an undiscriminating and harmful conjunction of Christianity with politics, of the holy symbol of peace with the horrors of war, of the spiritual interests of the kingdom of heaven with the earthly interests of the state.”
Not unlike the warning given by President Eisenhower at the end of his terms in office with regard to the military-industrial complex, we have here a warning about the age old union of church-state with regard to terrible deprivations, mass murder, and the crushing of man’s individual responsibility to have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ without the hindrance of government in his or her religious belief and practices, the basis for our Freedom of Religion.
While the early Christians would not serve in the military, and when converted would leave the army, and if they stayed were often martyred for their faith and refusal to burn incense to the emperor, by 300 these beliefs had been relaxed enough that there were many Christians serving in the Roman army. Constantine, in the civil war prior to his succession to the throne, courted the loyalty of these Christians. On October 27, 312, in a battle fought against his rival, Maxentius, at a place called Saxa Rubra (Red Rocks) he claimed to have seen a flaming cross in the sky and was later told in a dream to put this cross, in reality an X signifying Christ, on the shields of his soldiers. The words, “in this sign conquer”, were supposedly with the flaming cross in the sky. Needless to say, he won the battle and won the love and admiration of his soldiers. Was Constantine really converted or was this merely a political ploy to gain the acceptance of his Christian soldiers and citizens who had suffered so much and were looking, like the Jews, for some military messiah to save them in this world, rather than in the next? We don’t know for sure but there is no evidence that Constantine ever made a profession of faith in Christ outside of the statements of his loyal propagandist, Eusebius, a respected Christian leader and historian whom I have quoted in previous classes. Durant does not believe that Constantine’s actions were any more than a “consummate stroke of political wisdom”.
He is later quoted as saying that it is the goddess Fortuna, Fortune or luck, that makes a man emperor in the ancient work, Historia Augusta. He would not be the first or the last leader of a great nation to exploit the religious sentiments of his people to gain approval for his actions. According to Durant, he also surrounded himself with pagan philosophers and scholars. His letters to Christians showed that he cared little for their theological differences and the war against heresies so prevalent in the early Christian church. His main and overarching concern, as a Roman, was that all Christians have unity even if it had to be enforced by Roman law. Obviously, having seen the failure of a great persecution in his lifetime to stamp out Christianity he chose a different tack to keep the Christians under control. Slowly, he began approving of Christianity officially and
eventually gave money to Christian congregations and began building magnificent church buildings in keeping with the Roman love of large buildings. He even sent his sons to Christian school and Eusebius and other leading Christians sang his praises as God’s triumph over paganism. In keeping with the apostasy prevailing in much of the early church not only had admonitions against serving in the military been relaxed but the early Christian abhorrence of striving to acquire personal wealth was gone from mainstream Christianity. Cyprian had even complained that his parishioners were mad about wealth in the previous century. Just as today, the Christian church was the wealthiest of all religious organizations.
The Donatist schism, which will be spoken of more in length in the next lesson, divided Chrsitianity with Donatus, bishop of Carthage, proclaiming that any bishop or pastor who had given up his copies of scripture to the “police” to be burned had forfeited his right to be a bishop and any baptism he performed was meaningless as were any ordinations of other Christian workers null and void. Another heresy was created by Arius, of course from a town near Alexandria, who claimed that Christ was not equal with God but the first of all created beings, the Logos. We may laugh at this “Mickey Mouse” theology today but we do have cults who view Christ as a lesser deity and Bible translations that call him “a begotten God”, which as I said earlier was a favorite verse rendering of the Arians, as Arius’ followers were called. The perjorative term, Arian, was eventually ascribed to almost any Christian group that did not follow in lockstep with the bishop of Rome’s pronouncements, but that is for later.
Constantine summoned all bishops or pastors to meet in 325 at Bithynian Nicea, for the first ever ecumenical council of the Christian church and provided all funds for their expense. Most of the bishops were from the Eastern provinces, though. The result of the Council of Nicea was that Arius became anathemized or cursed, his books ordered to be burnt, and he was exiled from the empire. Athanasius had championed the concept of the trinity and had won. Constantine had struck a great blow for the unity of the church and its molding into an arm of the state. Durant says that a new civilization had begun at the conclusion of this council and that the Middle Ages had begun. But, not being a Bible believer or even a Christian he was mistaken. The Dark Ages of history had begun, the resultant fall of political, pagan Rome in the west was ensured and its rebirth spiritually as the even more powerful in some ways, Roman Catholic Church, which ruled Europe with an iron fist for over a thousand years had commenced with its inquisitions, crusades, stake burnings, and king making. The famed scholar, Gibbon, in his epic work on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire agreed that Christianity in large part sealed the fall of Rome in the west. In 330 Constantine would turn his back on Rome and make his capital in the east at Constantinople, modern day Istanbul Turkey.
Early Christian authorities like Tertullian and Cyprian heralded the decline and fall of the ancient world but it was a painfully slow process which required an apostate church and a great plague to finish it off. Schaff puts it in these terms;
“…Christianity gradually supplanted the Graeco-Roman heathenism and became the established religion in the empire of the Caesars. Since that time the church and the state, though frequently jarring, have remained united in Europe, either on the hierarchical basis, with the temporal power under the tutelage of the spiritual, or on the caesaro-papal, with the spiritual power merged in the temporal; while in the United States of America, since the end of the eighteenth century, the two powers have stood peacefully but independently side by side. The church could now act upon the state; but so could the state act upon the church; and this mutual influence became a source of both profit and loss, blessing and curse, on either side.
The martyrs and confessors of the first three centuries, in their expectation of the impending end of the world and their desire for the speedy return of the Lord, had never once thought of such a thing as the great and sudden change, which meets us at the beginning of this period in the relation of the Roman state to the Christian church. Tertullian had even held the Christian profession to be irreconcilable with the office of a Roman emperor. Nevertheless, clergy and people very soon and very easily accommodated themselves to the new order of things, and recognized in it a reproduction of the theocratic constitution of the people of God under the ancient covenant. Save that the dissenting sects, who derived no benefit from this union, but were rather subject to persecution from the state and from the established Catholicism, the Donatists for an especial instance, protested against the intermeddling of the temporal power with religious concerns. The heathen, who now came over in a mass, had all along been accustomed to a union of politics with religion, of the imperial with the sacerdotal dignity. They could not imagine a state without some cultus, whatever might be its name. And as heathenism had outlived itself in the empire, and Judaism with its national exclusiveness and its stationary character was totally disqualified, Christianity must take the throne.”
However, in the spiritual darkness to come, there were bright lights blazing, for as Elijah was told when he lamented at how his nation had fallen;
“But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” Romans 11:4 quoting 1 Kings 19:18.