Our series on the book of Hebrews continues the writer’s emphasis on the faithful priesthood of Christ – this time as the basis for turning away from a theology of dead works and clinging to faith. The centrality of not turning from the true gospel of faith in the work of Christ and God’s acceptance of the ministry of his Son – of continuing in “believing loyalty” to the gospel – is the central focus of the controversial statements in Heb 6:4-6. Does this passage teach that believers can lose salvation or reject salvation? Is there a difference? What about eternal security? This episode focuses on these questions.
This book looks like an excellent reference for anyone interested in the study of the biblical canon: The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis.
A brief discussion of the book by one of its authors can be found here. The book will ship in January 2018. That summary reads in part:
The main attraction of the book–the reason you’ll want your own copy–is because John and I have collected all the biblical canon lists from the first four centuries of Christianity, and we present them in the original languages and English translation (in parallel columns) with introductions and extensive notes. So, you’ve heard so much about the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius, which listed for the first time in history the exact 27 books of the NT that we now accept, and you’d like to read the letter for yourself–our book has it, or the extant portions in Greek, anyway, with an English translation. Read the letter for yourself.
A few days ago while I was traveling this popped up on my Twitter account:
It’s a post by Jake Mailhout of Lexham Press about my new book, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms. While blogging about the post is a bit awkward for me, I hope it encourages you to buy a copy — or several — for yourself, friends, and family. Truth be told, the content of the book was written on company time, so I get no royalties. But I don’t do what I do to go to Tahiti. I want it to sell — a lot — because people who care about Scripture need such books. We can’t complain about lay people (and even pastors) not having a good grasp of biblical content if (a) scholars don’t write for them, and (b) people don’t buy the books and read them. This is a book with solid “Heiserian” content written for people who want more Bible but who are frightened by Christian Middle Earth. The same goes for its earlier companion, I Dare You Not to Bore Me with The Bible.
This essay on the Federalist will be of interest to those who follow my work and have read The Unseen Realm:
The essay is by Aaron Gleason. He’s familiar with the divine council and the sorts of things I write and talk about. Please check it out!
The short answer: Because the people who said it would are either inept Bible interpreters or false teachers.
For why that’s the case, listen to the episode – recorded on Sept 22.
September 23 has come and gone. The world didn’t end. Jesus didn’t return. There was no rapture. Planet X (Nibiru) never showed up. Why not? The answers involve both astronomy and sound biblical interpretation. We’ll leave the astronomy to experts in that field. We’ll consider the biblical reasons why the September 23 prophetic date-setting was nonsense. Those reasons are actually transparent, at least if we care about paying attention to the biblical text. In this episode of the podcast, we talk about five features of the passages used by false teachers who promoted Sept 23 as having end-times meaning. Join us for an episode on how to ineptly interpret the Bible.
I received author copies of my newest book a few days ago. I have 6 to give away.
Here’s how to win a signed copy!
1. Post a review of Unseen Realm on Amazon. If you’ve already posted one, you could edit it so as to qualify for the next step.
2. Email a screenshot of the review with your physical mailing address to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The giveaway ends midnight, Oct 3 (Pacific time). Submissions received after midnight will not be considered.
On Friday, October 6, 7 pm Pacific, we’ll have a live drawing of the 6 winners on my Facebook / YouTube livestream. You have to follow me on Twitter (@msheiser) or on Facebook, or my personal YouTube Channel to get alerts for the livestream.
You do not have to be watching to win.
I get asked about my opinion of the NPP at events and on Q & A episodes of the Naked Bible Podcast. I always recommend Kent Yinger’s book, The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction. It’s short and clear.
I’m happy to also recommend this brief set of comments from Michael Bird on the issue. It won’t educate you like Yinger’s book, but Bird captures my own thoughts. In a sentence: “The NPP is correct in what it affirms, but often wrong in what it denies.” That’s well said. Read what he means at the link (and get a lot more with Yinger’s book — the same spirit there).
Many of you know I’m working on a book about angels for Lexham Press. In about two weeks I’ll be hitting the final section of the book. One of the two chapters in that section is entitled “Christian Myths about Angels.” I’d like to hear about some of the odd things you’ve heard about angels that just aren’t biblical correct or otherwise problematic. You can take the survey here (it’s an essay question, so write what you want). The goal is to not miss something that I really ought to comment on in this chapter.
Part 4 of a series by guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher
C. CONCEPTIONS OF HEAVENLY WORSHIP IN GNOSTIC GROUPS
This post deals with groups that are known as “Gnostics” from the Greek word gnosis = “knowledge.” They developed the century after Christianity. They are the darling of much of contemporary scholarship, which tends to trust them more as authentic christianities and distrust the NT—it is so backwards! One of the results of the problem these groups posed, is that early Christians developed their understanding of Christianity in order to show the distinction. But when you read these, you will see a sampling of how these groups derided and scorned followers of Jesus.
Some scholars are using the term “Gnostic” less these days, because we have come to see that there was a fair amount of diversity among these groups. But the term is still useful. To follow up on the previous point, the groups who drew on the mystical elements present in some streams of Judaism (e.g., Enoch) as well as middle-Platonism came to be known as “Gnostics,” though many scholars regard this as a fairly elastic, catch-all category. There were many different Gnostic groups, which have been divided into three major types, based on their liturgical practices: (1) Cults of Power—e.g., Simon Magus; (2) Groups originating from the Separation of Christianity from Judaism—and (3) ‘The Gentile Counter-Churches’—e.g., Valentinus, Marcion, and Tatian. (Although Montanus may be classed in this division, he and his Church cannot usefully be pushed into the same theological classification with the others as a ‘Gnostic’ phenomenon.) Look at some of the things they wrote. (Word that are between angle brackets show where there was a break in the text, and the scholar inserted their best guess.)
Treat. Seth 60.16-29. It is an ineffable union of undefiled truth, as exists among the sons of light, of which they made an imitation, having proclaimed a doctrine of a dead man and lies so as to resemble the freedom and purity of the perfect assembly, (and) themselves with their doctrine to rear and slavery, worldly cares, and abandoned worship . . . . [This Sethite text scorns Christians for imitating the heavenly world, but in the process admits belief in a perfect, heavenly assembly. Boldface added.]
Ap James 15.13-23. And when we had passed beyond that place, we sent our mind(s) farther upwards and saw with our eyes and heard with our ears hymns and angelic benedictions and angelic rejoicing. And heavenly majesties were singing praise, and we too rejoiced. [In this text, the disciples mentally ascend to heaven, where they join the heavenly worship.]
Disc. 8-9, 56.22—57.9. Lord, grant us a wisdom from your power that reaches us, so that we may describe to ourselves the vision off the eighth and the ninth. We have already advanced to the seventh, since we are pious and walk in your law. . . . Lord, grant us the truth in the image. Allow us through the spirit to see the form of the image that has no deficiency, and receive the reflection of the pleroma from us through our praise. [Here, the speakers pray for the ability to ascend to the eighth and ninth heavens so that they may have the heavenly vision of God.]
Irenaeus AH 1.21.3. For some of them prepare a nuptial couch, and perform a sort of mystic rite (pronouncing certain expressions) with those who are being initiated, and affirm that it is a spiritual marriage which is celebrated by them, after the likeness of the conjunctions above [italics mine].
Irenaeus AH 1.21.3. After this [baptism] they anoint the initiated person with balsam; for they assert that this unguent is a type of that sweet odour which is above all things.
Zost 8.10-14. And about this airy-earth, why it has a cosmic model? And about the aeon copies, how many there are, and, why they are [not] in pain?
These groups generally believed that there was one God, but many lower, divine beings in heaven, and that there were angels. Some also believed that the male God had a female consort. Most references to worship in the realms above the earth are rather general, whether in the presence of God or merely in the Aeons between heaven and earth. There is not much material extant on what most of them did for liturgy, and even less on what they thought they were accomplishing by what they did. These references often only say that “x praised y” or that “x prayed for forgiveness.” Generally, liturgical form is not implied.
Here are some more texts which refer to some kind of religious acts that might be called “liturgy” or “piety” or “worship.”
Origen, Comm John 13.114 – Heracleon thinks, however, that the expression “we worship” means the one who is in the aeon and those who have come with him, for these, he says, have known whom they worship, because they worship in truth. [Italics original. Those who have already ascended and are in the aeon, one of the intermediary levels of heaven between the Father and earth, are presumed by Heracleon, a Valentinian, to worship the Father properly.]
Val Exp 25.30—26.21 – [He is] . . .the [true] High Priest, [the one who has] the authority to enter the Holies of Holies, revealing the glory of the Aeons and bringing forth the abundance to . The East [. . . that is] in [him. He is the one who revealed himself as] the primal [sanctuary] and [the] treasury of [the All]. [liturgical terms and cosmology with heavenly paradigm—primal sanctuary—implied]
Val Exp 39.20-22 – [The complete one glorifies] Sophia; the image [glorifies] Truth. [worship in the heavenly realms, but not worshiping Jesus]
Val Exp 40.20-29 – And we [glorify] thee: [Glory] be to thee, the Father in the [Son, the Father] in the Son, the Father [in the] holy [Church and in the] holy [angels]! [glory to God among the angels]
Gosp Truth 40.30—41.3 – For that very reason he brought him forth in order to speak about the place and his restingplace from which he had come forth, and to glorify the pleroma, the greatness of his name and the sweetness of the Father. [The Son was created to praise the pleroma (in heaven?)]
Tripart Trac 64.20-22 – The one whom they hymn, thereby glorifying him, he has sons. [the beings created by the ?son sing hymns of praise to him]
Tripart Trac 68.22 – Therefore, in the song of glorification and in the power of the unity of him from whom they have come, they were drawn into a mingling and a combination and a unity with one another. They offered glory worthy of the Father from the pleromatic congregation, which is a single representation although many. . . . Now this was a praise […] [the pleromas sing praise]
Some groups, such as the Valentinians, believed that the person’s soul passed through multiple heavens, each higher than the last, in order to gaze upon God and sometimes participate there in the angelic liturgy. (In the Valentinian form, one had to ascend first through thirty levels (Aeons). In other words, worship = ascending to heaven. A key difference from early Christian texts is that Jesus was not worshiped, either in heaven or on earth. After all, he was merely the human body that the heavenly Savior or Christ descended on. There were many other heavenly beings who were much higher and much more important and glorious than the Christ. For instance, in the Gospel of Philip, “the sacramental catechesis. . . insists that its rites transform the initiate into Christ in contrast to those of conventional Christians which merely lend the name Christian” (Pheme Perkins, “Identification with the Savior,” 183). Also, they believed it was an error to worship God as the Creator. This is because at least one group (the Valentinians) distinguished between God and the creator. The one who created the world was not God, but said was a lower being that resulted from a botched abortion by Sophia. This, of course, was a significant difference from OT and early Christian practice.
Not covered here are the mysterious references to the heavenly “bridal chamber,” about which little is known.
CHRISTIANITY COMPARED TO GNOSTIC GROUPS
- Christians worshiped Jesus. This was a big deal. Gnostics never did.
- Christians worshiped God as Creator. Gnostics never did.
- Some Gnostic groups (e.g., Valentinians) believed in ascending to heaven as a substitute for worship. They didn’t need Jesus, etc.
“We may not always know what we are reading in ancient documents. We do not always know how a document is related to its own context, since the context is not always known. In the final analysis, we can only do what we are mandated to do by the dominical institutions as we have them in the writings that the church canonized as sacred scripture. We preach the gospel to all people and baptize in the triune name those who come to faith in Jesus. We take bread and wine and give thanks over them. There are models in the tradition that can instruct us in how to do these things. But we must finally do them in a way that reflects our own obedience of faith and expresses our own devotion to the Giver of every good and perfect gift.” (Frank Senn, 327-28)
David H. Tripp, “‘Gnostic Worship’: the State of the Question,” in Gnosticism in the Early Church, Studies in Early Christianity 5, ed. David M. Scholer (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1993), 322-23; reprinted from Studia Liturgica 1 (1987): 210-20.
Margaret Barker, Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003).
Robert A. Oden, Jr., “Cosmology, cosmogony,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.1170.
Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by James Robinson, 3rd edition.
April D. Deconick, “Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case for first-Century Christology in the Second Century,” in Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila, and Gladys S. Lewis, Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, SJSJ 63 (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 308-41.
Pheme Perkins in “Identification with the Savior in Coptic Texts from Nag Hammadi,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, ed. Newman, Davila, Lewis (Leiden: Brill, 1999).
Frank C. Senn, “Lutherans Are Natural ‘Splitters’,” Worship 79 (July 2005).
Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.
- K. Beale, NIGTC,Revelation(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999),
David E. Aune, WBC, 3 volumes: Revelation 1—5, Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22.
Guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher
This is the third of five posts in this series.
B. CONCEPTIONS OF HEAVENLY WORSHIP IN EARLY CHRISTIANITY
Early Christian conceptions of heavenly worship drew heavily on the OT and, not surprisingly, show a similarity, though with some important differences. Revelation and Hebrews are undoubtedly the most important NT books to gain an understanding of the heavenly liturgy and its significance for Christians on earth.
Revelation 4—5 is the most comprehensive of all the worship scenes and hymns in the book. It has a number of OT antecedents, including Exodus 19, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1—2, and especially Daniel 7:9ff, which Beale argues is the primary interpretive lens John uses to understand the visions he has seen (Beale 315, 366-69). The fact that Isaiah 6 forms a part of the understanding of the heavenly throne room in Revelation is a striking contrast to the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice where this OT text is not even mentioned! (Davila 91). Rev. 4—5 presents a scene of heavenly worship around the throne of God, and in that sense is similar to what were later called the merkavah hymns in Jewish mystical texts of hekhalot literature. David Aune correctly observes the connection between the heavenly worship scenes in Revelation and the divine council. “The focus on the throne vision is God enthroned in his heavenly court surrounded by a variety of angelic beings or lesser deities (angels, archangels, seraphim, cherubim) who function as courtiers. All such descriptions of God enthroned in the midst of his heavenly court are based on the ancient conception of the divine council or assembly found in Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and Phoenicia as well as in Israel” (Aune 277). Scholars have argued for a variety of sources for the liturgy portrayed here, ranging from Jewish synagogues to Christian churches. However, I have been most persuaded by Beale’s arguments for a strong OT background for this passage (as well as the rest of the book), and I believe he is correct when he writes, “John intended the readers to see what is told of in the vision as a heavenly pattern that the church is to reflect in its worship rather than the other way around (just as the heavenly pattern of the tabernacle shown to Moses on the mountain was to be copied by Israel in the construction of their own tabernacle)” (Beale 312). Beale summarizes:
“The concluding hymns of Rev. 4:11 and Rev. 5:9-13 bear out that this idea—that sovereignty in creation is the basis for sovereignty in judgment and redemption—is the main theme of the two chapters . . .” (Beale 369, italics original). One of the keys to seeing these chapters as a heavenly liturgical pattern for earthly worship comes at the end of chapter 5, where creatures on earth join the heavenly praise, and to which the elders add “Amen.” Of the prayers of the saints that the elders hold in 5:8, the elders function as heavenly priests, according to Aune (356). The use of καινός (new) “associates Christ’s redemptive work with the beginning of a new creation . . .” (Beale 358).
In Revelation 6:9-11 (souls of the martyrs under the altar) Beale believes that the altar is to be identified with the throne of God, thereby showing divine protection (Beale 391-92). Although the importance of silence in Revelation 8:1-4 (silence in heaven) is probably to be found in Jewish writings, it may perhaps reflect “the practice of maintaining silence in the Jerusalem Temple while the priests went into the Holy Place to offer incense; it was during such a time that Zacharias had his vision of the archangel Gabriel” (James Roger Black, personal note). Revelation 11:19 with its mention of the ark in heaven points to the “presence of God without a literal reappearance of the ark . . . which is expanded in 21:3, 22, where the establishment of the end-time temple is interpreted as God’s presence in the midst of his people” (Beale, Revelation, 619).
Revelation 19:9 mentions the wedding supper of the Lamb, which may be the (eschatological) wedding meal mentioned elsewhere in Scripture and Gnostic literature (Isa. 25:6-7; 65:13-17; Matt 22:1-10 = Gos. Thom. 64; Matt. 25:10; Luke 12:36; 14:8; Acts Thom. 4-5, 7, 13) (Aune, Revelation 17—22, 1032). If this is so, then it is the referent for Jesus’ statement at the Last Supper about drinking new wine in his Father’s kingdom (Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25; possibly Luke 22:18). This, in turn, makes the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper an earthly type of the (future), heavenly worship. Other texts that could be added, though not specifically wedding texts, include Matt 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29; 14:15; 22:28-30.
Hebrews. Hebrews 8—10 has a lengthy discussion of the application of Jeremiah 31 and the new covenant to the situation of Christians. In it, the author repeatedly makes distinctions between the earthly “tent” of the Mosaic worship and the true, heavenly “tent” that Christ has entered to make atonement for sins once for all. For our purposes, two observations by Attridge will suffice. “The basic image with which our author operates is that of a paradigmatic sanctuary, probably with two parts, in heaven” (Attridge 223). “The interior reality that the heavenly temple symbolizes is not a principle or virtue generally available to humankind, but a relationship made possible by Christ” (Attridge 224). Although the author of Hebrews makes much use of liturgical language, the application to Christians generally does not put a lot of emphasis on ritual act, but rather on prayer, public praise, and service (e.g., Hebr. 13:15).
You, however, have approached Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem; and myriads of angles in festive gathering and an assembly of firstborn who are inscribed in heaven; and a judge, God of all, and spirits of the righteous who have been perfected. [This passage uses language that draws on the picture of the cosmic mountain in the OT and ANE (which is where God convenes the divine council), divine theophanies, and visions of the celestial court. This text shows human Christians participating with heavenly beings in a festival gathering, which, by definition, has liturgical overtones.] (Attridge 371, 374-75).
Other NT. In other NT texts, the cosmology and population of heaven is usually very similar to that found in OT texts. For instance, Paul’s statement “I charge you, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels,” (1 Tim 5.21) should be probably be understood as a divine council scene. The differences in heaven are both cosmological and liturgical. Cosmologically, Christ has been highly exalted. The liturgical implication is that he therefore receives worship. In other words, Christ now becomes the focal point of heavenly worship. Unlike some of the DSS and later hekhalot texts, no angels, not even exalted ones, ever receive worship in heaven. A second cosmological difference is that whereas OT Israelites would pray to the Name in the Jerusalem temple and God would hear in heaven, now Christians are to pray to Jesus in heaven, and the Father will hear them (e.g., 1 Kings 8; John 14:13-14). “Name” was still used as a reference to Jesus in some of the NT texts (Acts 5:41; 3 John 7). Other names or titles for Jesus include Law, Covenant, Beginning, and Day (Daniélou, 147-63).
The present identity of Christians is often referred to in the same terms used of celestial beings: sons of God, children of God, children of the Most High, saints/holy ones, stars, etc. The future identity of Christians seems to be celestial beings, and some texts seem to state that Christians will be on par with or part of God’s divine council (DC).
Some texts show joint human/angelic worship (e.g., Hebr 12:22-23), just as some OT texts show joint human/angelic combat (e.g., Judges 5:20 “the stars fought with Sisera”). This joint worship makes sense when we understand that God is present among worshipers, and that members of the heavenly host are present with him. The fact that God is present accounts for the emphasis on the proper way of worshiping God.
The worship of angels in Colossae that Paul opposed “may represent a cultic practice of visionary ascent and deification,” a practice which has connections with the mystical views both in Jewish and Gnostic sects. (Perkins, 167)
This last quotation in this post is from Justin Martyr, and early Christian writer.
Justin, Apol. I, 65-66. On the day which is called Sun-day, all . . . gather in the same place. Then the Memoirs of the Apostles or the Writings of the Prophets are read . . . . The president speaks. . . . Then we rise all together and pray (Deiss 25). [Basil some years later comments on his understanding of standing in prayer, which scholars believe to be reflected in the forgoing quotation from Justin. “We stand up when we pray, on the first day of the week (i.e., Sunday)… also because that day itself seems in some fashion to be an image of the world to come” (Deiss 25). This becomes significant when we realize that the phrase “stand before” is often used with the liturgical sense of “serve” in biblical and Jewish texts of angelic messengers who serve God.]
CONTINUITY AND DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OT & NT
There is a lot of continuity and overlap between OT and NT on this issue. The biggest difference is that the OT has a mysterious “second Yahweh” figure, whereas Jesus is part of the equation in the NT. Stay tuned for Part 4.