Great Name in Church History: Mesrop Mashtots

I am reading a book about the history of Bible translation and came across one of the greatest names in all of Church History: Mesrop Mashtots.

I conclude that it is impossible to improve upon this name.

It also reminds me of Napolean Dynamite.

Not only does Mashtots have a great name, he actually was an incredible person, one worthy of emulation, and also one most have never heard of.

Mashtots had a dream to translate the Bible into the Armenian language. Only one problem: the Armenian language had no alphabet.

But this didn’t stop Mashtots. He got on his donkey and rode around Armenia paying attention to the common sounds of their language. He teamed up with a calligrapher who associated Greek letters to these sounds and developed the 36-letter Armenian alphabet.

Alphabetizing the language didn’t solve the problem, because no one knew how to read it! So, get this, Mashtots persuaded the government to establish a nationwide school system!

Finally, after years of effort, Mesrop Mashtots created a literate Armenian nation able to read the Bible. Mashtots also invented the Caucasian and Georgian alphabets! Busy guy.

That my friends, is a life well spent. Makes my life look pretty pathetic.

Let Mashtots inspire you today: Find something helpful to do and go do it.

The Flat Earth, Heliocentric Universes, Science and Christianity

Modern Science/Atheism is intent on proving that Christianity, and religion in general, is anti-science. Although I cannot speak for everyone, this is just plain silly.

But, in an attempt to ridicule the other side (a common tactic of insecurity, by the way), the Church is accused of having believed in the Flat Earth and rejecting Heliocentric astronomy, etc.

However, if a person gets past the rhetoric and examines the accusations, you will realize that many of these attacks are fabrications.

The whole Flat Earth thing appears to be entirely invented by later generations to bash the medieval Catholic church. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to bash the Catholic Church, there is no need to invent more.

Many have said that Columbus’ voyage was ridiculed because he’d fall off the end of the earth. This appears nowhere in historical evidence. Rather than fearing Columbus would fall off the end of the earth, they were concerned the globe was too large for him to make it around before running out of supplies.

The Columbus falling over the edge myth seems to have been invented by Washington Irving in 1828. In fact, Professor Jeffrey Russell in his book Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians, says “No one before the 1830s believed that medieval people thought that the Earth was flat.”

So, what about Copernicus and his Revolution that the sun was the center of the universe and not the earth? Yes, the Catholic Church had a problem with him. The Council of Trent, which had a problem with everyone not Catholic, laid down rules to handle heretics. Copernicus was lumped in there with Luther and the rest of the “heretics” of the day.

Having the sun be the center of the universe did shake things up. It would be similar to suggesting today that Darwinian Evolution was wrong. Everyone knew the earth was the center, as sure as we know your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandma was a monkey.

The Catholic higher-ups, who were quickly losing power and influence, freaked. There is an account in Joshua where it says “the sun stood still.” Clearly it is the sun that moves, not the earth. Some also pointed to Psalm 93:1, which says in part, “the world also is established, that it cannot be moved.” A simple understanding of how figures of speech work can explain these phrases.

There is even a supposed commentary by John Calvin that says of this verse, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” Problem is, no one has ever found anywhere where Calvin ever said this.

Andrew Dickson White is the originator of this “quote.” In his book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, written in 1896, is where White makes this accusation. He also, incidentally, invents other myths about Christian hostility and supposed scientific facts. No one takes his work seriously.

However, these lies get told and retold, and after a while they become cited reality. Now, it is true that the Catholic Church tried to censor Copernicus. I will not defend the Catholic Church because the vast majority of their history is entirely insane.

But to assume that the Catholic Church represents all Christians is like assuming Joseph Stalin and company represent all atheists.

The Catholic Church actually never banned Copernicus’ book. They gave out edits that were to be made in copies. The problem is that Copernicus did the church a massive favor. Since he understood orbits and so forth, he more accurately predicted the timing of Easter than even the Catholic system! Their deal was not to ban the book, but to edit it, to tone it down.

For instance, The title of Chapter 11 in Book One of his On The Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres was “The Explication of the Three-Fold Motion of the Earth” was to be changed to “The Hypothesis of the Three-Fold Motion of the Earth.”

I am currently reading a book by a professor who traveled all over the world looking at copies of Copernicus’ Revolutions. He notes that hardly any contain these corrections. Pretty much the only people that took the corrections seriously were a few people in Italy. No one else seemed to bother. In fact, Copernicus’ book made it to China because of Jesuit missionaries (Jesuits are Catholics, incidentally.)

Summing it all up, although the Church is routinely bashed for denying science, the reality is that many who bash the church deny history. They invent ideas and then repeat them so it looks like their statements are adequately cited. But when you trace the sources back, you realize many of the charges are inventions.

Again, the Catholic Church did have a messy history with science. But keep in mind, they also have a messy history with Jews, Muslims, Lutherans, Protestants, Baptists, governments, people who want to read the Bible, and many other supposed enemies. I do not defend them. They have not done us any favors.

But next time you hear an accusation against the church, just like I encourage you to do when someone throws a Scripture reference at you: LOOK IT UP! You might be surprised what you find.

Why is the Pope Called “Pontiff?”

I came across this snippet in a commentary by John Walvoord, I do not know enough to validate its accuracy, but thought it was intriguing enough to look into. Here is his quote:

Crowns in the shape of a fish head were worn by the chief priests of the Babylonian cult to honor the fish god. The crowns bore the words ‘keeper of the bridge,’ symbolic of the ‘bridge’ between man and Satan.

This handle was adopted by the Roman emperors who used the Latin title Pontifex Maximus, which means ‘major keeper of the bridge.’ And the same title was later used by the Bishop of Rome. The pope today is often called the pontiff, which comes from pontifex.

I have come across one Catholic source that says pontifex means “bridge builder,” but they include nothing about fish gods.

The Latin Vulgate translates “high priests” of the Jewish religion as pontifices (plural) or pontifex (singular). This is more likely due to the already accepted notion of pontifex referring to a church leader when the Vulgate was being translated.

I have verified that early Roman Emperors after Christianity became the official religion, used the title.

I also came across an article talking about the pope’s hat that looks like a fish’s head, which is traced back to the Babylonian fish god, Dagon. It goes something like this:

popehat

 

popeheadThe problem with such things is that, although there may be a grain of truth in the pagan origins of much Catholic tradition, there is also a lot of conspiratorial witch hunting.

A lot of Evangelical commentators during the 1950’s had a field day with Catholicism, including My Boy, Harry Ironside, who said the pope is “the direct successor of the high priest of the Babylonian mysteries and the servant of the fish god Dagon, for whom he wears, like his idolatrous predecessors, the fisherman’s ring.”

Certainly there are threads of continuity with pagan religion, I find that to be undeniable. To say this is “direct succession” might be a stretch. However, it has more to do with Dagon than direct succession with the Apostle Peter.

In the end, there are many reasons I am not Catholic. This is one more.

C. S. Lewis Was No James Bond, But He Did Know His Christianity

Big news came out that C. S. Lewis was once a “secret government agent” for Britain’s MI6 in the early years of WWII.

This sounds much more exciting than the reality. It boils down that Lewis did a lecture on Norse literature broadcast to the inhabitants of Iceland to win over the Icelanders to the British cause of knocking out Germany.

So yeah, not exactly James Bond, and, quite frankly, rather click-baitish headlining.

Anyhoo, in the excitement over Lewis, his quotes are popping up around the internets. A great one of which I was reminded of:

“If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable,
I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

This claim seems rather silly in our day. Christianity has become all too comfortable. Our most famous preachers bask in the glow of celebrity, whereas the famous preachers of the past sometimes basked in the glow of the burning stake they were tied to.

Evangelical believers think the best proof of a Christian testimony is how suburban looking we are. How well our kids are doing. How “smoking hot” our wife is. How big our church is. How many cups of coffee we drink before church. How we use our phone to read the Bible, etc.

I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong about any of those things, but when we make material success proof of spiritual success, we do miss the boat.

When Christianity is done right, the spiritual takes priority over the physical. This often shows itself through physical cost.

As the believer learns more about new life in Christ, he disentangles himself from the cares of the world. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. What man esteems, God despises.

Yet we continue to kid ourselves that the American Dream is also Jesus’ dream for us. We continue to find justifications for our carnal, flesh-focused minds as we drift into lukewarm apathy.

We use our apathy as proof of our supposed contentment. What we have is not actually biblical contentment, but rather worldly comfort.

C. S. Lewis, the definer of mere Christianity, knew Christianity had a cost, that it messed with life, that it was the great destroyer of comfort.

I wonder what we’ve lost in the last 50 years that he saw?

4 Point Book Review of Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God Is Within You”

Tolstoy wrote this book in 1894 in Russia. This was not a pleasant time to be in Russia. Tolstoy did not like what was going on, and how he did not get thrown in jail for vocalizing his displeasure is beyond me. My wife, who knows such things, tells me it’s because he was already such a celebrity there. The book was banned in Russia and was originally published in Germany.

This book is about Christian Pacifism. Tolstoy believes Christians should all be non-violent and expresses this point in rather heated language, ironically enough! Although he quotes the Sermon on the Mount a lot, he seems to have missed the bit about sin in thought, not just action.

Here are four points from this book, which I will begin with a verse he quotes to make his point:

  1. “The Kingdom of God is within you”
    This is Tolstoy’s main point: we belong to God’s Kingdom, we are that Kingdom, therefore, we don’t need man’s kingdoms. Tolstoy is pretty much an anarchist. He says Christians should resist mandatory military service, taking oaths, voting, and even paying taxes. He sees no point for human governments, as they are merely self-feeding power structures that oppress the masses. I guess I can’t disagree to a certain extent, but God did establish authority on earth that we are to honor and pay taxes to, but he skips those verses. It appears as though he thinks Christians, by obeying God, can reform society and create the actual Kingdom of God. Although a popular view of his time, two massive World Wars ended this doctrine quite soundly.
  2. “Resist not the evil.”
    This phrase is from Luke 17:21. Tolstoy says this verse is the foundation of all Christian pacifists. He gives a brief history of Christian Pacifism, which was interesting, and how all these movements based their beliefs on this verse. I do think this verse gets short-shrift in Christian thinking today. We too quickly want to bomb people and shoot them. I imagine “resist not the evil” actually meant “resist not the evil.” Although Tolstoy might go too far in his application, this verse ought to impact our doctrine to some extent.
  3. “An eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”
    Although this was a law for the Old Covenant, Tolstoy argues that Jesus Christ’s commandment to love your enemy replaces this old law. Therefore, capital punishment and all forms of self-defense are out the window. We are to love, regardless of what someone does to us. We are to do unto others as we would have done unto us. Love fulfills the law. He also repeats “Thou shalt not kill” and thus, there should be no war and no armies. All soldierly killing is against God’s law. Any attempt to sidestep and defend military killing is more evidence of the church’s collusion with temporal powers.
  4. “Worshipers in spirit and in truth”
    Not only is Tolstoy against political authority, he is also against clerical authority. He views the church as being in cahoots with the government–just another power and money hungry institution dumbing down people to do their will rather than God’s. I have sympathy with his point, but once again, he overstates the case and misses many verses that weigh-in on this subject. He has no use for the church, not just the Russian church, which was entwined with the Russian political authority, but all church, no exceptions.

In the end, Tolstoy is one angry man. He does have some legitimate grounds for his anger, but I think he devised an angry philosophy, found six verses that backed it up, and wrote a book. Some of this book reads like a diatribe, which a modern-day editor would have limited extensively.

Tolstoy lived in a rough time and I empathize with him. I do think he’s more right than he is wrong, and I do think he was trying to help, but he’s just too sloppy with his reasoning, too idealistic in his hopes, and too narrow in his usage of Scripture. The deeper irony of the book is that he, as a rich man of influence, can get away with standing up to the government! If he were a peasant, his book never would have been written, let alone published, nor would he have lived! As much as I appreciate his stance against evil, I don’t think it’s rooted in reality, nor in Scripture.

This is the kind of book I’d recommend, except that I fear people would think I totally agree! I don’t! But he does raise valid points we don’t consider enough in our endeavors to follow Christ. For that, I thank him for making me think about it.

4 Point Book Review on Augustine’s “The Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love”

The Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, And Love was written by Augustine, who isn’t one of my favorite theologians. Augustine was trained in philosophy, so his writing is very philosophical.

I am not a philosophically minded person. I do not care about the deep, intricate cogitations of people’s brains that much, not even my own. Augustine will drill a subject to death, talking in circles, and going on and on and on. It’s writers like him that necessitated the invention of people called “editors.”

Although this was not light reading, it wasn’t the worst of the stuff I’ve read by Him. Here are four points I took away from this book:

  1. The Title
    Any book that has “enchiridion” in the title is going to be a piece of work. Enchiridion is an actual word, even though it’s not in my spell-checker. I looked it up in Webster’s Dictionary and it was there. It is from the Greek en– which means in, and the Greek word cheir meaning hand. In hand. The idea is that it is a handbook or manual. Huh, who knew. I also added a comma after Hope that is not in the original title. My wife tells me all lists should include a comma before the and, otherwise the last two things would be lumped together by the and. It makes me feel better that, although he philosophizes better than me, I can still correct his grammar. The book had little to do with faith, hope, or love and I have no idea why he called it this.
  2. Original Sin
    Augustine is fixated on Original Sin and has some rather strange views attached to it. Original Sin is the fault of sex. Augustine, in his Confessions, had a long, sordid sexual history. After he slew that beast, he tended to speak of sex as always being bad. Even marital sex was bad in his mind. Sex is what transfers Original Sin, therefore, sex has to be bad. He also thinks that kids are responsible for their parents’ sins, since the parent’s sex transferred their sin. He’s also somewhat convinced that kids are guilty for all their forefathers’ sins. His logic on sex would have to lead him there. He is very weird on this issue.
  3. Baptism
    I do not agree with his take on baptism, most of which comes out of his strange views of Original Sin, especially in the area of infant baptism. Infant Baptism, according to him, releases babies from Original Sin, but not any sins they do on their own. There are zero verses on this. He also completely botches the doctrine of baptism in relation to Jesus Christ, saying that Jesus will baptize with water and the Spirit, which of course the Bible never says. But he makes an effort to quote the Bible having said this, which I do not like. Several times he referenced verses that did not say what he said they said. I hate that.
  4. The Church Forgives Sin
    Augustine believes the Church is the only place you can go to remove your sins. I find this unbiblical. He even says that the man who does not believe the Church remits sins has committed the Unpardonable Sin. Wow. Surprisingly (sarcasm), he has zero verses on that one either. Since he puts more stress on baptism than he does on faith, and only the Church can properly baptize, the Church is the only place to get sins remitted.

I am not, and never have been, a fan of Augustine. He is considered to be the Father of the Catholic Church and also of the Reformed Church. Calvin’s Institutes are merely a recitation of Augustine’s writings. I disagree with Augustine’s views on predestination, non-elect babies going to hell, and various other Calvin-hijacked doctrines on this issue.

For instance, when trying to answer the Bible’s claim that God “who will have all men to be saved” when we know all men are not saved, says this:

We are not on that account to restrict the omnipotence of God, but are rather to understand the Scripture, “Who will have all men to be saved,” as meaning that no man is saved unless God wills his salvation; not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will, but that no man is saved apart from His will, and that, therefore, we should pray Him to will our salvation, because if He will it, it must necessarily be accomplished.”

Uh, no.

It’s a nice theory, but it’s not what the common sensical reading of the verse says. This is the kind of stuff that drives me insane.

Augustine is a philosopher and writes like one. Unfortunately, he starts with philosophical conclusions and picks and chooses verses that he thinks backs up his philosophy. I do not see him as a theologian, but a philosopher borrowing some God talk.

10 Facts About 1 John 5:7

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

This is 1 John 5:7 as it reads in the King James Bible. Most modern translations do not include this verse, or at least put a footnote telling you it isn’t original to the Greek. Although you will find some who will defend its inclusion, most believe it is a later addition. Although this verse will always cause debate, here are some facts about it:

  1. This verse is known as the Comma Johanneum, which is Latin for John’s Comma where “comma” means a short clause. You know it’s important if there are Latin words involved.
  2. This verse does not appear in any Greek text until the 1500’s. An earlier 10th century Greek text has it as a marginal note.
  3. The first debates in the Early Church were mostly about trinitarian theories. If this verse were in the original text, it would show up all over the place in the writings of the Early Church Fathers as a nail in the coffin, proof-text extraordinaire. Some defenders of this verse will attempt to show Church Fathers quoting the verse, but reading the quotes shows that none of the Fathers actually do.
  4. This clause might be from a fourth century Latin homily that made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the New Testament of Erasmus, and into the King James..
  5. “Saint” Augustine, who loved to argue about the Trinity (he wrote a large book originally titled, On the Trinity, as well as a commentary on 1 John), never once mentions this verse.
  6. This passage is so famously controversial, it even gets a mention in Edward Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
  7. Isaac Newton even mentioned this controversy when he wrote, “In all the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity in Jerome’s time and both before and long enough after it, this text of the “three in heaven” was never once thought of. It is now in everybody’s mouth and accounted the main text for the business and would assuredly have been so too with them, had it been in their books.”
  8. Various popes have gone back and forth on the accuracy of the Catholic Bible regarding this text. The last known papal statement on it (June 1927 by Pius XI) said it was open to dispute. The Jehovah Witness’ Bible (New World Translation) does not include it.
  9. Translations that do not contain 1 John 5:7 are not inherently anti-trinitarian and one should back off that notion right quick. The fact that this verse is not in early Greek manuscripts does not mean the Trinity is not a true doctrine. The Trinity is an extracted doctrine nowhere explicitly defined or defended in the Bible. The Trinity is a doctrine based on many verses in the Bible that logically lead to a trinitarian conclusion.
  10. The fact that there is a verse in some Bibles that is not original, should not shake your confidence in the Bible. Instead, it should raise it. There are people who study things and are careful with the Word of God. There are no extraneous bits in there that have snuck by us without study. The existence of the controversy over this verse should make that point clear.