CF104 Mysteries of Life and Death Lectures and Tutorials

Part I of the Module on Baptism and Chrismation

Topic 1: The spine-chilling Mysteries and their setting. An introduction to Christian initiation.

Topic 2: Baptism in the New Testament and Early Church

Topic 3: Orthodox Initiation in the contemporary situation: Pastoral and Theological issues.

Topic 4: Case Study 1: St Cyril of Jerusalem

Topic 5: St Ambrose of Milan

Part II: Sanctifying Life and Death

Topic 6: The Occasional Services of the Book of Needs

Topic 7: Prayers during illness, visitation of the sick, and the Euchelaion (service of anointing)

Topic 8: The funeral and memorial services of the Orthodox Church

Topic 9: Issues of Life and Death

John Breck: The Sacred Gift of Life: Orthodox Christianity and Bioethics

CF104 Mysteries of Life and Death Selected Bibliography

Selected bibliography for Part 1:

Of Water and the Spirit, A Liturgical Study of Baptism, Alexander Schmemann. Originally published in 1976. Paperback— 170 pages (31 December, 1989) St Vladimir's Seminary Press; - (probably the best and most accessible commentary on the current Orthodox rite, written from Fr Alexander’s distinctive theological standpoint. It contains a very useful bibliography.)

Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy, E. C. Whitaker, SPCK (1970). Out of print, but can be found second hand, both hardback and paperback.- (an extremely useful collection of translations of many of the principal texts on Baptism from the first millennium from both east and west.)

The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation, Edward Yarnold, St Paul Publications (1971). This has now been reissued by The Liturgical Press: Paperback (1994) The Liturgical Press; - (Sub-titled “Baptismal Homilies of the Fourth Century”, this contains translations of some the baptismal homilies of four of the Fathers of the late fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem (for these see also the version from SVSP below), Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia, together with the parts of the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus concerning Baptism. It includes an excellent introduction of some sixty pages and a good bibliography.)

The Church at Prayer. Volume 3: The Sacraments, ed A.G.Martimort, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville. Paperback — 331 pages (January 1988) - (this translation of the latest edition of the French Roman Catholic L’Eglise en Prière contains a good up to date summary of the evidence from the first six centuries with good bibliographies - mainly of French material - and notes.)

On the Christian Sacraments, St Cyril of Jerusalem. A translation of his five Mystagogical Instructions to the newly baptized (see above Fr Yarnold’s book). St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

The Life in Christ, St Nikolas Cabasilas, (translated by Carmino J. Decatanzaro). Paperback — 229 pages (1 March, 1997) St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Selected bibliography for Part 2:

(1) The most extensive collection of services (according to Russian usage) is given in the "Great Book of Needs" (4 volumes) published by St Tikhon's Seminary Press. The translation is often less than satisfactory, and the usefulness is diminished by the inclusion of numerous explanations of the rubrics.

(2) A limited selection of services (again following Russian usage) is found in the Hapgood "Service Book". Again the translation often leaves something to be desired.

(3) A different selection can be found at http://www.anastasis.org.uk/eucholog.htm These excellent translations are made from the Greek and are beautifully accurate, if sometimes rather literal.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (various editions)

Philip Sherrard, Christianity: The Lineaments of the Sacred Tradition (esp. Chapter Eight)

Jospeh Allen, The Ministry of the Church (SVS)

Fr Alexander Elchaninov, Diary of a Russian Priest

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (various editions)

Jessica Rose, Sharing Spaces (DLT 2002)

David Melling, ‘Suffering and Sanctification in Christianity’ in P. Kegan, Religion, Health and Suffering (London 1999)

A Calivas, ‘The Eucholigion: A Brief History’ in Agape and Diakonia (Holy Cross 1998)

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Life after Death (Levadi, Greece, 1996)

Sergei Hackel, Pearl Of Great Price (SVS)

Constance Babington-Smith, Iulia de Beausobre (DLT 1983)

Iulia de Beausobre, Creative Suffering

 

Other contemporary general studies (not specifically Orthodox)

Harold Baumann, Living through Grief, 1999

Paul Binski, Medieval Death, 1996

John Bowker, The Meanings of Death (esp. Part I), CUP 1991

Martha Whitmore Hickman, Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief, 1994

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Beyond the Mirror: Reflections on Death and Life, 2001

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, 2002

Colin Murray Parkes, Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life, 1998

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, 1973

William Worden, Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy, 1991

 

Further reading on ‘issues of life and death’

John Breck, The sacred gift of life : Orthodox Christianity and Bioethics (SVS)

God with us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith (SVS)

Tristam Engelhardt, The Foundations of Christian Bioethics. (Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger, 2000

On abortion, the debate is usefully summarized in: Paul Watson and David Attwood, Researching Embryonic Values - A Debate, E83 (Grove Books: Cambridge, 1991), 25pp. Michael Banner, who is Professor of Moral and Social Theology at King’s College, London, has a chapter inclining to the ‘hardline’ view which offers serious criticism of ‘gradualist’ positions: it is entitled ‘The practice of abortion: a critique’ in Michael Banner, Christian Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1999), pp. 86 - 135. 

Rick Simpson, Abortion: Choosing Who Lives, E126 (Grove Books: Cambridge, 2002), is particularly good on describing how the availability of abortion on demand in Britain has corrupted public attitudes.

Though it is a pro-abortion tract, the booklet Abortion in Law, History & Religion (Childbirth by Choice Trust: Toronto, Canada, revised 1995), 62 pp. is a useful and reasonably accurate guide to the history, law, and practice of abortion around the world.

On euthanasia, an outstandingly helpful booklet is: Margaret Whipp, Euthanasia - a Good Death? E117 (Grove Books: Cambridge, 2000), 24pp. See also its bibliography.

CF104 Mysteries of Life and Death Summary

Part 1: Baptism and Chrismation

Lecturers: Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, Dr Marcus Plested

Aims of the Module:

  1. To introduce students to the text of the Eastern Orthodox rites of Baptism and Chrismation.
  2. To explore with students the nature and practice of Christian initiation in the New Testament Early Church.
  3. To introduce and discuss the pastoral and theological dimensions of the rites of Baptism and Chrismation in Eastern Orthodox tradition.

Course description:

Session 1: 'The spine-chilling Mysteries and their setting'. An introduction to Christian initiation. (Fr Ephrem)

Session 2: 'Baptism in the New Testament and Early Church' (Fr Ephrem)

Session 3: 'Orthodox Initiation in the contemporary situation: Pastoral and Theological issues. (Fr Ephrem)

Session 4: Case study I: St Cyril of Jerusalem (Dr. Marcus Plested)

Session 5: Case study II: St Ambrose of Milan (Dr. Marcus Plested)

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of the module, students should be able to:

  1. Understand the basic structure of the Orthodox rites of Baptism and Chrismation.
  2. Articulate the principal theological themes of the Orthodox rites of Baptism and Chrismation.
  3. Grasp the lineaments of the practice of Christian initiation in the New Testament and Early Church.
  4. Have an informed appreciation of pastoral issues surrounding the use of Baptism in contemporary Orthodox practice.

 

Part 2: Sanctifying Life and Death

Lecturers: Fr Ian Graham, Professor David Frost

Aims of the Module:

To introduce students to the treatment of life and death in the liturgical tradition and pastoral practice of the Orthodox Church.

Course description:

Session 1: Sanctifying Life 1: The Occasional Services of the Book of Needs

Session 2: Sanctifying Life 2: Prayers during illness, visitation of the sick, and the Euchelaion (service of anointing)

Session 3: Sanctifying Death: the funeral and memorial services of the Orthodox Church

Session 4: Issues of Life and Death (I)

Session 5: Issues of Life and Death (II)

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of the module, students should be able to:

  1. Appreciate the way in which the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church sanctifies both life and death.
  2. Have an insight into the pastoral practice of the Orthodox Church when dealing with sickness, death and bereavement
  3. Grasp the lineaments of the Orthodox theological understanding of life and death
  4. Articulate an Orthodox response to selected bio-ethical questions.

Personal Learning Statement - CF103 Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology I

1. What do you think you have gained from the course?

This is the first opportunity I have had to do any detailed reading on Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology. I gained so very much from this course, especially understanding how heresy (point of view/ school of thought), was introduced into the early Christian community, leading some astray into believing that Christ was only God, or that Christ was only man (that is the denial of one of the natures of Christ, in effect believing in a single 'physis'). I learnt that Christ's two natures were in perfect harmony; but that there were not "two separate Sons" or "two separate Christs", or multiple "prosopa" but rather a "hypostatic union" in Him, the God-man. So finely balanced is the doctrine of Christology, that any particular denial of a given nature, would completely disrupt the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Additionally, if Christ was not God, and just a man, our salvation could not come from a mere creature, and we would be forever enslaved by our sins.

2. Please comment on any unanticipated outcomes of the course.

More broadly, and beyond my assessment I felt entirely blessed to hear the lectures of Associate Professor Marcus Plested of Marquette University and Hon. Associate Professor Mary Cunningham of the University of Nottingham so many times over. I learnt so much by listening to their deliveries, their depth of learning, and their love of the Apostolic Fathers. Both lecturers were able to share stories that took me back to a time 2000 years ago. Who were these brilliant men (and women) who drew so near to Christ and passed down His teachings in the continuum of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? From Ignatius of Antioch to Justin Martyr and Ireneaus of Lyons, to St Basil the Great and his younger brother St Gregory of Nyssa. Great orators, men who knew much about philosophy, and above all loved our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I kept thinking whilst listening to Plested and Cunningham, how incredibly well-read these two lecturers are, and yet so humble in their delivery. I felt like I was listening to an abridged version of Philip Schaff, and then so much more from decades of labouring over reading deeply the Church Fathers. Plested was excellent in his delivery of describing the heresies, all the way from Ebionism, to Apollonarianism, Docetism, and Arianism, Nestorius and more. He also showed great skill in discussing the Ecumenical Councils, and presenting on groups who took the position of anthropological maximalism and anthropological minimalism but was careful to distinguish that it wasn't that clear-cut in reality to group the Fathers into "sides". Cunningham was so eloquent in conveying the fire of faith of the Apostolic Fathers. I was very moved, by the way in which Cunningham presented the fervour and faith of the Apostolic Fathers- Ignatius on his way to martyrdom, Justin Martyr believing after a conversation with an old man, and Irenaeus who spent much of his time dedicated to refuting heresy.

At last, about A.D. 130, after a conversation with an old man, his life was transformed: "A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do." (Saint Justin Martyr)

3. Did your course change your view of the topic, and if so, in what way?

When I was in high school, Year 10, our religious studies teacher, made us learn the Creed off by heart in English. Our test was to not only be able to recite the Prayer, but also to record it in writing during an actual examination. As a young person, I do not believe I understood the weight of this prayer, the Symbol of Faith as titled in the Divine Liturgy (Greek-English translation) I would hold at each service. It was only after studying little bits of the outcomes of the Ecumenical Councils in this session (up to the end of the 4th century) did I realise how "hugely" momentous that actually documenting the Nicene Creed was for Christians. And despite growing up, I held close to me the Our Father, and The Creed, I feel now I have a better grasp why any changes in the Creed, would affect Eastern Orthodox doctrine. The words, "...begotten not made; of one essence with the Father" are now crystal clear in my mind. 

I have really come closer to comprehending the role that our Early Church Fathers played in the formation of Eastern Orthodox doctrine. So many Fathers, when compared one against the other, almost spoke in a single united voice. I especially was moved to read about theosis, deification of man, salvation, soteriology, the theadric, the God-man, the Divine Logos, in so many different ways by so many different fathers, Saint Athanasius the Great, Saint Alexander of Alexandria, Saint Damascene I, Irenaeus of Lyons, and so many more.

4. Please use this space if you wish to comment further on the academic experience of your course

I found this course unsurprisingly demanding but so fundamental to me knowing more about the Holy Trinity and Christ the God-man. So much information was covered over time and geographic span that I had to listen to the recordings dozens of times each.

In the past, the prayers practiced in our Church have informed me of the existence of the Holy Trinity, doing the sign of the Cross has reaffirmed the Holy Trinity, reading the Scriptures and looking out for specific passages where the Son has pointed to the Father, or the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove, all of these things denoted to me the existence of the Holy Trinity.

I remember entering into a discussion with a friend who openly considered 'what if there was no Holy Trinity', that 'there was just a Holy Father and Holy Son', given there was 'no trace of it in the Scripture'. I feel that I can now confidently address a response to such a question, whereas I would have only been able to say previously, "just believe it, it is the truth".

How heresies shaped the development of Christology up to the end of the fourth century

Below is the final version of my essay for course CF103 on Christology and Trinitarian Theology. I received solid feedback after my draft submission, but also some critical additions I needed to make before this final submission. I tried my best to address these as per the suggestions of my tutor. My thanks to my tutor Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft for his guidance and time in extensive feedback provided. 

Katina Michael

This paper is about heresy that shaped the development of Christology up to the end of the fourth century. Heresy can be defined as a deviation away from established Orthodoxy (i.e., the right beliefs) into error. In Christology, the Person of Christ refers to the study of the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ as they coexist within the one person. Specifically, this raises the question of who Christ was? Christology is the meeting point between the human nature of Christ (the Son of Man), and the divine nature of Christ (the Son of God, the Word of God, the Divine Logos) represented together in the one person (Gk prosopon, πρόσωπον) without mixture. Departing from the truth of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is not only dangerous but destructive because it disrupts the transformative process of theosis that can be attained, since Christ died for our sins on the cross, for one truth not several relative truths. Diluting the truth or changing it in any way, has detrimental ripple effects for the ekklesia at large but also for the impact it would have on believers as their faith would be based on a moving target.

I hope to prove that heresy predominantly took the form of either denying Christ’s divinity (in extreme forms of anthropological maximalism), or denying Christ’s humanity (in extreme forms of anthropological minimalism), consequentially imbalancing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity formed by the consensus of the Early Church Fathers. Two well-defined heresies in the Arian strain (Christ is less than God) and the Apollinarian strain (Christ is less than man) will be compared as representative of other earlier heresies, for example, Ebionism and Docetism respectively. I will present evidence of how Christological debates between various points of view were refuted by the Apostolic Fathers who focused their attention on the God-man and the Incarnation in the Ecumenical Councils. This culminated in the formation of the doctrine of hypostatic union which recognised that Christ was fully divine and at the same time fully human. Of great significance is that heresies chiefly impacted upon soteriology (i.e., the religious doctrine of Salvation), and inexorably on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Early Church Fathers as a result sought to document their beliefs forming Christian doctrine in the process, and eliminating erroneous points of view in the expression of the Christian faith.

The early church struggled to express the ineffable mystery of Jesus Christ. They were forced to articulate their experiences out of necessity and not for want of philosophical interest. They had to explicitly find the words to document what they believed based on a tangible experience of Christ, as opposed to what they did not believe or which deviated from Christ’s own teachings and those of the Apostles. Thus, the Apostles communicated their eyewitness experience to their disciples through oral transmission, who then communicated it down the continuum of the Church generation after generation, which we now know as Holy Tradition. But gradually, the Church had to use written formulations based on the original preaching of the Gospel to dispel certain points of view that were deemed to be inconsistent with the deposit of faith (Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition). Enter the term “heresy” (Gk hairesis, αἵρεσις), defined as “the formal denial or doubt of any defined doctrine of the Catholic faith”(Cross, 2005: 762). In antiquity the term denoted a “choice” or “thing chosen” or following a particular “philosophical school” or “school of thought”. In this way, heresy in the early church was understood as a particular “point of view” that was deemed to be wrong because it did not accord with the basic experience of the Apostles as witnessed to in their experience of Christ. So one reason why we have texts from this period regarding the Person of Christ is to eliminate points of view that were deemed to be erroneous and inconsistent with the Apostolic preaching. And the second reason was to express to the wider Graeco-Roman pagan world, concepts and language that were in some way comprehensible toward drawing unbelievers to the faith.

When we look at the early church, particularly as we see the beginning of the reflection on the Person of Christ, there is an attempt to answer the question that Christ himself posed to his disciples in Mark 8:29: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter was able to answer categorically to Him: “You are the Christ.” Yet, when Christ asked, “Who do men say that I am?” his disciples answered: “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:27, 28). Even after the witness of the single most important transhistorical event, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, still there were those who did not accept that Christ was God and formed their own elucidations, and others who believed in Christ’s deity but said a god would never take on a material body and suffer shamefully on a cross and die. Saint Paul and Saint John the Evangelist through their respective epistles warn the faithful to beware of the false teachers (2 Peter 2:1, 4, 12, 18) and the false prophets (1 John 4:1). The Apostles, were not only warning of a time far into the future, but in their Sitz im Leben, i.e. current context and setting. Thus, inconsistencies on who Christ was, even arose within the lifetime of the Apostles. Summing up the tendencies of these early heresies, without risking oversimplification of these sects, there are those who denied Christ’s divinity and those that denied Christ’s humanity, although it was seldom that “black and white”. Of course, unrelated to heresy, there were also those Early Church Fathers who emphasised the divine nature over and above the human nature of Christ (anthropological minimalism, e.g. the Alexandrian school of thought that emphasised the Logos-Sarx), and those who emphasised the human nature over and above the divine nature (anthropological maximalism, e.g. the Antiochian school of thought that emphasised the Logos-Anthropos) (Rausch, 2003: 153). An emphasis of one nature over the other did not equate to heresy, but extreme points of view that significantly unbalanced the symmetry in the God-man, such as Arianism and Apollinarianism that ensued into the 4th century, emphasised that Christ had only one nature, not two, i.e., one physis. Looking at these two heresies in some detail suggests that an express denial of the fullness of the truth was adopted by presbyters who lead the faithful astray.

Arianism: Denying Christ's Divinity

A major fourth century heresy was Arianism, named after a priest of Alexandria, Arius (256-336 A.D.) who was taught and mentored by Lucian of Antioch. Arianism in summary, denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. In 318 Arius wrote: “the Son is only a creature, made out of nothing, like all other created beings. He may be called God but only by an extension of language, as the first and greatest person chosen to be divine intermediary in the creation and redemption of the world” (Socrates, 2017). In his Thalia, Arius categorically stated: “there was [a time] when he (the Son) was not” (McDonald, 1975: 23). According to Arius, Christ might have sinned but did not, and was thus adopted by God because of his merits, by grace. Haldon (1966b: 41) writes that Arius believed that: “instead of being God he is a kind of demiurge who advanced in virtue and merit and thus came to be closely associated with the Father. But his nature is not of the same substance as the Father’s.” Most of the heretical sects that denied Christ’s divinity held boldly anti-Trinitarian beliefs. Haldon writes, that even the notion of the Incarnation (that the second Person of the Trinity became flesh and assumed a human nature) was reduced but to a figure of speech. In the Arian way of thinking “the logos was created and not divine”, Arius and his followers recognised Christ as Messiah but denied that he was “the natural Son of God” (Haldon 1966: 41).

It was Saint Athanasius the Great (296-373) who was the main obstacle to the rise of Arianism in the East, and one of the primary reasons why the First Council of Nicaea was convoked in 325. At this Council, Arianism was condemned (Schaff, 1894: 134) and the Nicene Creed formed, directly making emphasis of the words “begotten, not made”, making it clear that Christ was an eternal being and not created by God the Father: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (The First Council of Nicaea, 325). The specific words incorporated into the Nicene Creed was "being of one substance” (Gk homooúsios, ὁμοούσιος) rather than Arius' heretical teaching “being of a similar substance” (homoioúsios, ὁμοιούσιος). Note the crucial difference, Arius’ ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar", rather than ὁμός, homós, "same" (Erickson, 1966: 55-57). Athanasius, and others like Saint Alexander of Alexandria, upheld that man’s deification would only be possible if Christ indeed was truly God. If Christ were only a “creature”, then he could not be worshipped (Macleod, 1998: 123), and he would be unable to redeem or unite man to God (deify) (Schaff, 1910: 644-649). Athanasius charges Arius and his followers with dualism and heathenism, the worship of two separate “Gods”- an uncreated one and a created one- accusing them of polytheism (Schaff, 1910: 648f). In the final decades of the 4th century, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, and Saint Basil the Great each played a significant role in reconciling with the many semi-Arians, swaying further theological momentum toward the Nicene Creed. In the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381, outcomes of the Nicene Creed were reaffirmed and expanded upon. By the 7th century, Arianism had all but vanished. Apollinarianism which we will consider next, was not of the magnitude or threat to Christianity as Arianism. The numerous edicts against it very early on, meant that it dwindled as a movement by 420 A.D. It could be said that Apollinarianism was diametrically opposite to Arianism in every sense, save for the fact that it too presented that Christ had only one nature. Arianism and Semi-Arianism were much more dangerous a heresy to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, because in denying Christ’s divinity, it then followed that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was destabilised and open to ongoing attack.

Apolliniarianism: Denying Christ’s Humanity

Apollinarianism is a heretical doctrine of Apollinaris the younger (310-390), bishop of Laodicea in Syria. According to Schaff (1910: 708-710), Apollinaris was esteemed by many Alexandrian fathers, including Saint Athanasius the Great, for his virtue, classical culture, scholarly vindication, and commitment to the Nicene faith. Schaff (1910) notes, Apollinaris fundamentally took the crux of the Trinitarian debates and reapplied them to the Person of Christ. He reoriented the discussion to the “psychical and pneumatic side of the humanity of Christ” (Schaff, 1910: 709), claiming that “Christ had a human body and only a sensitive soul, but had no rational mind [nous] or free human will. His rational soul was replaced by the Divine Logos, or word of God” (Haldon, 1966a: 33). But in his zeal to declare Christ’s deity, he attributed to Christ a human body and soul, but negated a human spirit, overriding the reasoning mind of Christ with the Divine Logos. Apollinaris is thus known for his ‘Word-flesh Christology’ which claimed that God did not conjoin with man but merely with the sarx (Erickson, 1966: 58ff). He believed entirely that God and flesh had collocated into one nature (McDonald, 1975: 16) because anything different would have meant that one nature would strive to overcome the other. As Kenneth Paul Wesche (1984: 85) has explained furthermore, Apollinaris’ beginning point was the “prosopon” derived out of Christ’s essence (ousia). Thus it logically followed that one person could only have one nature, “one physis, one hypostasis, one energeia, one prosopon”. Now for Apollinaris, who believed that Christ the Son was of one essence (homouousia) with the Father, it was only logical that Christ’s humanity would give way to his divine nature. For him, the only possible way for Christ to have been sinless, for instance, was to declare that Christ was also not fully human, and that he did not possess free will (Thomsett, 2011: 38).

Apollinaris’ teachings were condemned by the Roman councils in 377 and 381 and also the Council of Constantinople in 381. In 377, Pope Damasus I declared Apollinaris a heretic. In the seventh anathema in the Council of Rome 381 Pope Damasus I wrote against Apollinaris: “We pronounce anathema against them who say that the Word of God is in the human flesh in lieu and place of the human rational and intellective soul. For, the Word of God is the Son Himself. Neither did He come in the flesh to replace, but rather to assume and preserve from sin and save the rational and intellective soul of man” (Thomsett, 2011: 38). Schaff writes critically, that “Athanasius, the two Gregories, Basil and Epiphanius combated the Apollinarian error… from behind and from the flank, than in front” (Schaff, 1910: 713). The fundamental issue with Apollinaris’ teachings was specifically to do with soteriology: if Christ had not assumed then He has not healed (Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101). In support of his beliefs, Apollinaris cited the following Scripture: “and the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and also Philippians 2:7 and 1 Corinthians 15:47. The Early Church Fathers retorted, that Saint John’s usage of the word “sarx” (i.e. flesh) as in other parts of Holy Scripture, were used to mean the whole human nature. In placing the Apollinarian controversy historically, the heretical sect disappeared in the early fifth century. The short-lived controversy acted to shift the debate from the Trinity to Christology, resulting in the Chalcedonian symbol in 451 A.D. Relatively speaking, Apollinarianism did not last long, disappearing by the early fifth century.

The Formation of the Doctrine of Hypostatic Union

Deviations in explaining the Person of Christ, inevitably have led to declarations deemed to be heretical by the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as recorded in the Ecumenical Councils. In the case of Arianism it was in denying the divinity of Christ which then had direct consequences on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and in the case of Apollinarism it was in denying the humanity of Christ and subsequent salvation of man. Both of these heresies were representative of many early Christian heresies that surfaced just after the time of Christ unduly influencing their followers to stray away from the truth to varying degrees (see Figure 1). Importantly, these Christological debates led to the critical formation of the doctrine of hypostatic union (Gk ὑπόστασις) in the First Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Simply put, hypostatic union is the union of the two natures of Christ, divine and human, in one and the same person. One nature of Christ, is not usurped and is not absorbed by the other, for instance, the human nature overtaken by the divine nature. And yet, both natures are united symmetrically in the person of Christ. We do not have two persons, or two Sons, or two Christs, but one person who is both fully God and fully man (Tyneh, 2003: 66f). They are not divided into two prosopa (Tyra, 2013: 97). And here is where two well-known Antiocheans, Theodore of Mopsuestia, followed by his disciple Nestorius, deviated from the truth in believing in a mere prosopic union of the two natures of Jesus Christ rather than the accepted doctrine of the hypostatic union. The confusion stemmed from the fact that translations of “prosopon” and “hypostasis” in the Greek equated to “person”, despite that a more correct translation of “prosopon” is “face”. It then follows, that “prosopon” is the form in which “hypostasis” appears (Grillmeier, 1975: 431).

 

Figure 1. Christological perspectives on the two natures of Christ adapted from Tyra (2013: 99).

Caption: The doctrine of the hypostatic union is shown at centre. Deviating from this centrist view, believers then fall into heresy emphasising the one nature position, declaring to varying degrees the denial of Christ’s humanity (e.g. Arianism) or the denial of Christ’s divinity (e.g. Apollinarianism).

 

In hypostatic union is the belief in a perfect and harmonious union of “two distinct but never separate natures” (Olson, 2002: 230). There is a communicatio idiomatum (characteristics) of the one nature to the other. We can say that the God-man thirsted, hungered, suffered and died and that he was all-wise, all-powerful, all-omniscient at the very same time. It is why Saint Athanasius the Great (c. 296–373) has written that the Son of God “…became man so that we might become God” (Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34) . It is this doctrine of divinization, deification, theosis, that provides humans with divine grace (atonement) toward the possibility of everlasting life (Bartos, 1999: 174). In the second century, Saint Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 130–202) similarly said that God "became what we are in order to make us what he is himself" (Against Heresies, Book V), and then again, “If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods” (Against Heresies, Book V). Saint Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), similarly wrote: "Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god." (Exhortation to the Greeks, 1).

As Saint John Damascene (676-c. 754) put it so eloquently: “Whatever Christ said and did, He did so as the God-man, and all His actions and deeds were theandric… “He did not execute the human humanly for He was not only man but also God; nor did He execute the divine divinely, for He was not only God but also man” (Tyneh, 2003: 67f). No matter how hard theologians have tried to provide explanation, the hypostatic union remains a great divine mystery, “transcendent to our rational categories” (Baker, 2015). Tyra (2013: 97f) concurs that this was intentional as a “paradoxical protection of the mystery against rationalising explanations that effectively destroy the mystery”. It is clear from their contributions that the Early Church Fathers, spent considerable time concerned with refuting heresy, and in so doing articulated their position. It was in the Ecumenical Councils, one by one, that declarations became established and recognised as Christian doctrine and Dogmatic theology was formed. “The hypostatic union in Christ achieved an absolute proximity and communion of man and God, at the same time becoming the model and the power for the moral unity between man and God” (Bartos, 1999: 174). This mystery is what grants man the hope of eternal life, and cannot be scrutinised through deeper levels of logical reasoning for it would otherwise not be a mystery at all. It is also the very reason, why some Christian flocks have fallen into heresy to this day; the same errors repeating themselves over and over again in various guises throughout the centuries. When individuals take matters into their own hands, and proclaim to be above the consensus patrum, they will inevitably err, taking their followers with them. It is for this reason we must cling to the doctrines formed during the Ecumenical Councils.

 

References

Baker M. (2015) T.F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy: Theology in Reconciliation, USA: WipfandStock.

Bartos E. (1999) Deification in Eastern Orthodox Theology, Milton Keyes: Paternoster Press.

Cross FL. (2005) Heresy. In: Cross FL and Livingstone EA (eds) Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Erickson MJ. (1966) The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology, New York: Baker Book House.

Grillmeier A. (1975) Christ in Christian Tradition: from the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Haldon JA. (1966a) Apollinarianism. In: Haldon JA (ed) Modern Catholic Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 33.

Haldon JA. (1966b) Arianism. In: John A. Haldon SJ (ed) Modern Catholic Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 41.

Macleod D. (1998) The Person of Christ, Nottingham: SPCK Publishing.

McDonald HD. (1975) Development and Christology. Vox Evangelica 9: 5-27.

Olson RE. (2002) The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Rausch TP. (2003) Who is Jesus?: An Introduction to Christology, Minnesota: Liturgical Press.

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies (Book V). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103500.htm.

Schaff P. (1894) A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, and Practical Theology, Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls.

Schaff P. (1910) History of the Christian Church (Vol. III. Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity), 124, Michigan: Eerdmans.

Socrates. (2017) Division begins in the Church from this Controversy; and Alexander Bishop of Alexandria excommunicates Arius and his Adherents. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.ii.iv.vi.html.

The First Council of Nicaea. (325) The Nicene Creed. Nicaea.

Thomsett MC. (2011) Heresy in the Roman Catholic Church: A History, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

Tyneh CS. (2003) Orthodox Christianity: Overview and Bibliography, New York: Nova Publishers.

Tyra G. (2013) A missional orthodoxy: theology and ministry in a post-Christian context, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Wesche KP. (1984) The Union of God and Man in Jesus Christ in the Thought of Gregory of Nazianzus. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 28: 83-98.

 

Christian Theology (Millard Erickson, 1985)

Christological Heresies


Heresies Regarding Christ’s Deity
• Heresies which deny the genuinenss of Christ’s deity: Ebionism (1)
• Heresies which deny the completeness of Christ’s deity: Arianism (2)

Heresies Regarding Christ’s Humanity
• Heresies which deny the genuineness of Christ’s humanity: Docetism (3)
• Heresies which deny the completeness of Christ’s humanity: Apollinarianism (4)

Heresies which divide Christ’s person: Nestorianism (5)

Heresies which confuse Christ’s natures: Eutychianism (6)

Ebionism (1): An early heresy stemming from some Jewish Christian circles (Ebionite was the Hebrew word for “poor”; these may have been poor Jewish Christians). Strongly monotheistic, they denied that Jesus was God, rejected the virgin birth, and believed Jesus was born naturally. He was human but possessed of unusual gifts. They believed God’s power descended on him in a special way at his baptism.

Arianism (2): Named after Arius of Alexandria, a presbyter whose views were condemned by Athanasius and others at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Saw God as absolutely unique and transcendent (inflexible monotheism). They believed God alone possesses attributes of deity; to share these with anyone would be to render God less than divine. Everything besides God is created and temporal. The Word was a created being, though the first and highest created being. He was a demigod, an intermediate being, not God (this is the
theology of modern-day Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Docetism (3): Docetism is based on the Greek word for “seem” or “appear”--Jesus only seemed or appeared to be human; in reality he was God. An early heresy strongly influenced by Greek dualism which saw the invisible spiritual things as good, the visible, fleshly things as evil.

Apollinarianism (4): The views of Apollinarius, a close friend and associate of Athanasius, the leading champion of orthodox Christology (the one who defeated Arius at the Council of Nicea). He saw Jesus as a compound unity: some of Jesus was human, the rest was divine. Jesus was physically human, but psychologically divine (the divine Word took the place of his human soul). This view was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381.

Nestorianism (5): Named after Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople in 428. Nestorius had trouble with the idea that the divine and human natures were united in one person in Christ (he felt this obscured them both). He preferred to see them as a conjunction, operating in stages of Christ’s life, or distinctly side-by-side. This tended to divide the natures of Christ, render him somewhat schizophrenic.

Eutychianism (6): Eutyches, an elderly church leader in the 440s, apparently sought to counter Nestorius’s division of Christ by teaching the “one nature” formula. He saw Jesus’s humanity as completely absorbed into his divinity. A variant of this taught that Jesus’s nature was a hybrid of divine and human, and therefore a third, altogether new nature.

More here

CF103 Lecturers

Mary Cunningham is a lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham. She completed her MA at the Centre for Byzantine Studies at the University of Birmingham in England, where she later received her PhD, with a thesis on the eighth-century Byzantine preacher and hymnographer, Andrew of Crete. In 2002 she published her work: Faith in the Byzantine World. Further details about her research you can find here

 

 

 

 

Dr Marcus Plested is Vice-Principal and Academic Director of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. He took his doctorate from Oxford in 1999 with a thesis on the Macarian Homilies supervised by Bishop Kallistos (Ware). Dr Plested has taught, lectured, and published widely in the field of Orthodox Christian studies. His most recent book is The Macarian Legacy: The Place of Macarius-Symeon in the Eastern Christian Tradition (Oxford: OUP 2004).

The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS) has brought together some of the world's leading scholars in their respective fields of expertise. Reading the brief biographies of my instructors is humbling, in so many ways. I admire their scholarship, and feel very fortunate to be listening to their lectures via distance learning.

CF103 Lecture Summaries - Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology I

Overview

  • To introduce students to the concept and theology of the Trinity and the theology of the person of Christ and their development in the Christian Church from the apostolic period through the fifth century A.D.
  • The course will focus both on the development of doctrine and on the ways in which the Trinity was understood and experienced by Christians in this period. The course will also explore the formulation of Christian belief in the first four Ecumenical Councils and introduce selected aspects of the importance and significance of these doctrines in the later Orthodox tradition.
  • It will explore the manner in which intellectual and religious controversies forced Christian thinkers to formulate a definition of the Trinity, which was expressed formally in the creeds of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and Constantine

On completion of the module, students should be able to:

  • Understand the importance of a ‘rule of faith’, or doctrinal creed, in the early Christian Church.
  • Realize the significance of the Ecumenical Councils in formulating the doctrine.
  • Discuss some of the key differences between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox formulations of the creed in relation to the Holy Trinity.
  • Have a grasp of the development of Trinitarian doctrine in the early Church.
  • Recognize the importance of the formulation of doctrine for later Church history and for the Orthodox Church today.

Knowledge and understanding:

• knowledge of the lineaments of Orthodox Trinitarian and Christological doctrine
• understanding of the historical dimension of the articulation of Christian doctrine
• familiarity with selected key theologians of the early Church
• knowledge and understanding of the first four Ecumenical Councils

 

Lecture 1 - Christian understanding of the Trinity in the New Testament and Sub-Apostolic periods 

Key Sources

  • Dr Mary Cunningham's Lecture
  • Handout for the study of Holy Trinity in the NT
  • Fr Boris Bobrinskoy: The Holy Spirit in the Church
  • The Apostolic Fathers: Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus (pp.5-42; 116-120, 129-132, 141-149; 244-304; 508-903)

 

Lecture 2 - Further development of Trinitarian doctrine in the late Second and Third Centuries A.D.

Key Sources

  • Dr Mary Cunningham's Lecture Handout
  • St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon- The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching
  • Origen (esp. pp,422-449)
  • Audio file- Metropolitan Kallistos on Orthodox Approaches to the Trinitarian Theology before and after Nicea
  • Origen's "Philokalia" (with a schematic representation of Origen's Theory of Interpretation)
  • Karen Jo Torjesen, Hermeneutical procedure and theological method in Origen's exegesis (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1986), pp. 108-149.

 

Lecture 3 - Arius, Athanasius, and the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) 

Key Sources

 

Lecture 4 - The Cappadocian Fathers and the Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.) 

Key Sources

 

Lecture 5 - The Christology of the first four centuries

Key Sources

  • Handout for the Lecture by Dr Marcus Plested
  • Grillmeier: Christ in Christian Tradition
  • Placher: Truly Human-Truly Divine

 

Lecture 6 - The Christology of the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451)

Key Sources

  • Handout for Lecture on Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon- Dr Marcus Plested
  • Further Handout on the Lecture (Dr Marcus Plested)
  • Dr Marcus Plested- Eutychianism
  • Hall: Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church
  • Fr John Meyendorff: Christ in Eastern Christian Thought
  • Chadwick: The Early Church
  • Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas)- Christology

 

Lecture 7 - Optional Resources

My Next Course: CF103 Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology I

I realised yesterday that it was the 1st of February- anticipating my next course in my Certificate Studies, which will be the first of two courses on Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology. My personalised email from IOCS arrived overnight given the time zone differences with the UK. As I awoke and got down the long list of emails once at my desk, the last one I got to was the welcome message for CF103. I caught myself smiling and shared with my husband later what an incredible thing it is to do something you have always wanted to! I quickly scanned the assessment questions to get a feel for where this course was headed, and also looked at the 8 lecture delivery and recommended readings. I would identify my reading level in this area as very basic. I am going to have to do so much reading- I can tell- but I am so looking forward to the learning journey once again.

The few things that come to mind in worship however, are how often as Orthodox Christians we remember Christ as fully God and fully man, and also do the sign of the Cross by saying "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit" in prayer and liturgical services. 

 

 

 

CF102 Lecture Summaries - The Gospels

The John Rylands Fragment John 18:31-33 (117-138 AD). The earliest known copy of any portion of the New Testament is from a papyrus codex (2.5 by 3.5 inches). It dates from the first half of the second century A.D. 117-138. (P.52)The papyrus is written on both sides and contains portions of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33,37-38). Because this fragment was found in Egypt a distance from the place of composition (Asia Minor) it demonstrates the chain of transmission. The fragment belongs to the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England.

The John Rylands Fragment John 18:31-33 (117-138 AD). The earliest known copy of any portion of the New Testament is from a papyrus codex (2.5 by 3.5 inches). It dates from the first half of the second century A.D. 117-138. (P.52)The papyrus is written on both sides and contains portions of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33,37-38). Because this fragment was found in Egypt a distance from the place of composition (Asia Minor) it demonstrates the chain of transmission. The fragment belongs to the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England.

Overview

This module explores the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel according to St John from an Orthodox perspective, with the intention of enabling students to develop an understanding of the historical context and theology(ies) of the Synoptic Gospels and that of St John.

The module aims to dedicate particular attention to understanding the writings of Evangelist John within the Orthodox tradition. It intends to do this by identifying and reflecting on some of the principal theological themes and questions of the Johannine writings.

Finally, the module will entertain the question how can modern biblical scholarship be useful to Christian believers wishing to grow closer to the Gospel text.

Lecture 1 - The Synoptic Gospels: Introduction

Students are introduced into the question of how Gospels should be studied. We touch on such methods as form criticism, narrative criticism. Special attention is given to the so-called “Synoptic Problem”. These methods are critically exposed in the light of an Orthodox approach.

Required Study:

Sanders and Davies: Studying the Synoptic Gospels
Stanton: The Gospels and Jesus
Fr John Florovsky: Bible Church Tradition (Chapter 1)
Fr John Breck: Orthodoxy and the Bible Today
Fr Demetrios Bathrellos: The Eastern Orthodox Tradition for Today and the Bible
Vesselin Kesich: The Gospel Image of Christ (Chapter 2)
Fr George Florovsky: The Lost Scriptural Mind
Fr George Florovsky: The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church

Key Sources:

  • Stanton Graham, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford, 1989).
  • Sanders E.P. and Davies M., Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London, 1989).
  • Tuckett, C. M. (ed.) Synoptic Studies (Sheffield, 1984).

 

Lecture 2 - The Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of St Matthew is examined in a way that focuses on its treatment of the Jewish roots of Christianity. Students will be introduced to an Orthodox approach to Matthean theology: how does Christ “fulfil the Law and the Prophets” according to St Matthew?

Key Sources:

  • Kingsbury, J.D., Matthew: Structure, Christology, and Kingdom (London, 1976)
  • Meier J. P., The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church and Morality in the First Gospel (New York, 1979)
  • Hill D., The Gospel of Matthew (London, 1972).
  • Beare F.W., The Gospel according to Matthew (Oxford, 1981).

 

Lecture 3 - The Gospel of Mark

The lecture studies theological traits of St Mark’s account, attempting in an Orthodox way to answer questions raised by modern scholarship, such as the so-called Messianic secret (W. Wrede) and others.

Key Sources:

  • Best E., Mark — the Gospel as Story (Edinburgh 1983).
  • Best E., Following Jesus: Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark (Sheffield, 1981)
  • Hooker M., The Message of Mark (London, 1983)
  • Nineham D. E., The Gospel of St Mark (Harmondsworth, 1963).
  • Schweizer E., The Good News according to Mark (London, 1971).

 

Lecture 4 - The Gospel of Luke

Major theological themes of St Luke’s Gospel are examined, such as St Luke’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit, his universalism, his view of history, as well as his concern for women, the poor, outcasts and sinners.

Stanton: The Gospels and Jesus

Key Sources:

  • Barrett C. K., Luke the Historian in Recent Study (London, 1961).
  • Conzelmann H., The Theology of St Luke (London, 1960).
  • Marshall I.H., Luke, Historian and Theologian (Exeter, 1970).
  • Caird G.B., Saint Luke (Harmondsworth, 1963).
  • Firzmayer J. A., The Gospel according to Luke (New York, 1981-1985).

 

Lecture 5a - The Parables

Why did Christ speak in parables? The lecture examines this main form of Christ’s teaching. We shall look for an Orthodox answer to the question of the purpose and nature of Christ’s parables.

  • Dodd C. H., The Parables of the Kingdom (London, 1935).
  • Drury J., The Parables in the Gospels (London, 1985).
  • Jeremias J., The Parables of Jesus (London, 1963).
  • Hendrickx H., The Parables of Jesus (London, 1986).
  • Breech J., The Silence of Jesus. The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man (Philadelphia 1983)
  • Jones G. V., The Art and Truth of the Parables : a Study in Their Literary Form and Modern Interpretation (London, 1964)

Lecture 5b- Miracles

We also consider the theological function of Christ’s miracles as it is understood by the Synoptic writers. 

 

Lecture 6 - The Synoptic Gospels - Eschatology

The lecture introduces students to the field of recent biblical studies on St John. It considers the methods of the historical approach such as form and redaction criticism, as well as narrative criticism, with particular attention to the theories about Johannine community developed by R. Brown and L. Martyn. The critical evaluation of these methods from the Orthodox point of view produces a set of assumptions essential for an Orthodox approach to the Gospel.

Key Sources:

  • Moore A.L., The Parousia in the New Testament (Leiden, 1966).
  • Culmann O., Salvation in History (London, 1967).
  • Conzelmann H., The Theology of St Luke (London, 1960)
  • Meier J. P., Matthew (1985)

 

Lecture 7 - The Gospel of John

This presentation briefly explores Incarnational Christology (with particular attention to the Prologue and concept of the Logos), and highlights the intensive Johannine interest in the personhood of Christ, focusing on the concept of the “Lamb of God”. It further examines the “relational” aspect of Johannine Christology and Triadology (the concept of the Paraclete receives special attention). 

Key Sources:

  • Kysar R., The Maverick Gospel (Atlanta, 1993).
  • Koester C. R., Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel (Minneapolis, 2003).
  • Lindars Barnabas, John (Sheffield, 1990).
  • Smailey S., John – Evangelist and Interpreter (Exeter, 1983).

 

Lecture 8 - The Christology of John's Gospel

Here we look at Johannine ethics with their focus on “personalistic righteousness”, thus explaining the difference of presentation when compared with the Synoptic Gospels. It focuses on St John’s language of stories and personages, which serve as hypostatic paradigms. It further examines the paradigms of righteousness and discipleship (Peter, Beloved Disciple) and the paradigmatic presentation of sin (Judas, the Jews).

Key Sources:

  • Smith D. M., The Theology of the Gospel of John (Cambridge, 1995).
  • Ashton J., Studying John: Approaches to the Fourth Gospel (Oxford, 1998)

 

Chester Beatty Papyri (250 AD). This important papyri consists of three codices and contains most of the New Testament. (P.45, P.46, P.47). The first codex(P.45) has 30 leaves (pages) of papyrus codex. 2 from Matthew, 2 from John, 6 from Mark, 7 from Luke and 13 from Acts. Originally there were 220 pages measuring 8x10 inches each. (P.46)The second codex has 86 leaves 11x6.5 inches. 104 pages of Paul’s epistles. P.47 is made of 10 leaves from Revelation measuring 9.5 by 5.5 inches.

Chester Beatty Papyri (250 AD). This important papyri consists of three codices and contains most of the New Testament. (P.45, P.46, P.47). The first codex(P.45) has 30 leaves (pages) of papyrus codex. 2 from Matthew, 2 from John, 6 from Mark, 7 from Luke and 13 from Acts. Originally there were 220 pages measuring 8x10 inches each. (P.46)The second codex has 86 leaves 11x6.5 inches. 104 pages of Paul’s epistles. P.47 is made of 10 leaves from Revelation measuring 9.5 by 5.5 inches.

Lecture 9 - Language of the Person, Hypostasis in the Gospel of John

This lecture highlights the fundamental significance of the human person and personal relationship in St John’s kerygma. From this perspective the central concepts of “πιστεύειν”, “eternal life”, “flesh and spirit” are examined . It further focuses on St John’s ethics of interpersonal relationship with particular attention to chapter 17 and the epistles. 

  • Prof. Panagiotis Nellas: Why Did God Become Man? The Archetype of Humanity is the Incarnate Word

Key Sources:

  • Brown R., The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York, 1979).
  • Martyn L., History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (Nashville, 1979).

 

Lecture 10 - St John's Gospel - The genesis of persona: Johannine anthropology

In focus here are some questions raised by modern biblical studies concerning the ecclesiological and sacramental perspectives in St John, as well as the significance and function of Christ’s symbolic actions and miracles in the 4th Gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Learning Statement - CF102 The Gospels

1. What do you think you have gained from the course?

This term I completed the unit, The Gospels (CF102). I feel like I learnt so much in such a very short space of time (circa 2 months of continuous study, several hours per day on average). I have attempted to document this end-to-end learning journey on my personal web site. These snippets include, my notes from the lectures, sources for my essay on parables, key definitions I thought I should document over time, key software and online systems to help with studying the Bible and much more.

The two main things I gained from this course are:

a. Knowledge of The Gospels and their contents, especially how the background setting of each evangelist may have affected how they wrote their gospel for their specific outreach communities (e.g. Matthew for outreach to the Jewish community, often quoting from the Old Testament). Also the difference between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John in style (Jesus teaches the crowds using parables in the Synoptic Gospels, and Saint John instead provides accounts of where Jesus meets individuals one-to-one, i.e., universal typologies), the role of miracles in the early church, and the introduction of the hypostatic paradigm, and the device of antinomy and paradox throughout the Gospels. I enjoyed the focus on each Gospel and corresponding evangelist, and then several weeks on John the evangelist, christology, the person and finally anthropological aspects. I especially appreciated understanding more about the way that modern scholars conduct biblical criticism as opposed to the way the Early Church Fathers focus more on content of the Scriptures than form.

b. Even greater faith in the Euaggelion as the inspired word of God. In studying, for instance, the Parables, I see how unique Christ's teachings are, in form, in content, in layered meaning- literal, moral and spiritual. I have found myself in continual amazement over God's gifts to us. I have wanted so much, especially in the morning and before going to sleep, to consider Christ, and to pray to Him as the living God, even more convinced of His eternal presence. I have also come to a closer more intimate awareness through the Gospel of John of Trinitarian theology and can better detect passages that signify intercommunion between the divine members of the Holy Trinity.

2. Please comment on any unanticipated outcomes of the course.

I have persistently been challenged by this course- yes, knowledge is important, but of greater importance is a stable prayer life, and acquiring the mindfulness of the Fathers. As I researched deeply into the topic I had chosen to be assessed in, I realised how much more important the acquisition of spiritual lessons embedded in our life is (e.g. the lessons of the parables) beyond creating an exhaustive library of reference citations for my essay in a worldly sense. The continual challenge for me personally will be to excel in my studies at IOC but at the same time to strive to cultivate harmony in all other aspects of my life to the best of my ability. It is perhaps why I so much appreciated the 10 lectures delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. He struck a fine balance between the content we should be introduced to given our candidature and the required knowledge to understand various approaches to the Bible WITH beautiful stories from the Fathers and Mothers of our Church. This was exactly what I looked forward to while I listened to the lectures again and again -- hardcore content of biblical studies, intermingled with learnings from stories that have been passed down from generation to generation and documented in the lives of the Saints. 

3. Did your course change your view of the topic, and if so, in what way?

I did not exactly understand the place of the "person" prior to this course as I had not really thought about it too carefully, outside a human rights context.

I also came to a better understanding on the structure of the Gospels, whereas previously I would not query for instance, why accounts differed one to the other, and why one Gospel included more detail than the other.

I thought the discussion on the formation of the Canon was also critical. In addition, the importance of interpreting Scripture using the consensus patrum and not one's own ideas.

4. Please use this space if you wish to comment further on the academic experience of your course

This course is set out so well using the online learning platform. The lectures by Rev. Dr. Nikolai are treasures. He makes such complex things so simple to understand, is so thorough, and a pleasure to listen and learn from. A lot of material is covered in a single lecture. I found the weekly meetings with Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft to be highly complementary to my learning- he was a wonderful guide and every interaction on group chat was something I looked forward to at 6am. The materials provided of required reading and recommended reading links were excellent. I found myself more comfortable with the intensive mode of delivery, going through the lectures back to back, and then re-playing them again. This experience has been such a positive start that I cannot wait for the next course to begin.

Why Did Christ Speak in Parables? An Essay by Katina Michael (Final Submission)

Below is the final version of my draft essay. I received very positive feedback after my draft submission, but also some critical changes to be made before final submission. I tried my best to address these as per the suggestions of my tutor. I gained so much from taking this final redraft process seriously. My thanks to my tutor Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft for his guidance and time in extensive feedback provided. In many ways I almost felt this was like a peer review of my paper, and I likewise responded by addressing a line by line list of corrections made.

_______________________________________________________________________________

This paper explores why Christ spoke in parables in the context of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The word parable, means “putting things side by side”. In the Synoptic Gospels, official parables number thirty, however this number varies depending on the criteria for accepting a passage of New Testament (NT) Scripture as a standalone parable. Importantly, a parable should not be confused with mashal, which is to be found in the Old Testament, and which contained only a single message. The parables of Christ are rich in form and content in the Synoptic Gospels and lend themselves to being interpreted allegorically, as well as literally. In the Gospel of John, Christ’s parables are presented using hypostatic language. Somehow Christ is able to reach out to the crowds who have come to hear Him, using only simple stories they could grasp that were contextually set in everyday life. And yet at once the listener who stood among the masses could place himself or herself typologically within the parable; free to choose whether they would follow the Great Storyteller or would resist His message (Beavis 2001, p. 3). Christ’s parables are universal, they have traversed space and time, they are equally relevant today as they were over 2000 years ago. Plainly, Christ wished to ensure that everyone who heard him teach could comprehend his profound message and come to the realisation of the state of their personhood with a clear way forward toward salvation. I intend to prove that the parables of Christ are the basis of Christian ethical judgement, and not merely explicit didacticism. This paper is broken into five parts: definitional; biblical sources; Early Church Fathers; modern scholarship; and discussion.

Parable as Allegory in Context of the NT

The word parable (the Greek root-word παραβολή [Gk], parabole) means “comparison”, and was the manner in which the primitive Christian Church described the stories that Christ used to illustrate his teachings (Potapov 2000). According to Victor Potapov (2000), "a parable is a spiritual lesson of a story developed by comparison to everyday life. The Lord's parables draw memorable details from nature, human, social, economic, or religious life of His time." A parable is similar to an allegory, although the latter usually denotes a more detailed comparison of elements of a tale (Tasker 1962, p. 932). There is no doubt among Eastern Orthodox scholars, that the parables of the New Testament were allegories and lent themselves to allegorical interpretation demonstrated by Christ Himself and the Fathers of the Church. Christ masterfully uses vivid images from everyday life to ensure the listener has every opportunity to connect with spiritual truth in a life-long manner (Beavis 2001, p. 11).

At various times in one’s life, the parables might take on layered meaning, or dependent on the state of the penitent, he or she may find himself or herself as one or more of the characters depicted. For example, in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Christian might find himself in the role of the forgiving father, the repentant younger son, or the older son. The ultimate language of the parables is not one of coercion but love and freedom. Somehow the listener/ reader of the parables of the New Testament is led to a place of self-confrontation (Kirkwood 1983, p. 59), awareness and logical conclusion, that the only means of salvation is through love in action.

In examining Scripture, Christ answers the question posed by the disciples: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (Matt. 13:10) explicitly in the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10).

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it?

Matt. 13:10-17

 

Despite the seeming simplicity of the stories through which Christ revealed deep spiritual truths, it was those innocent at heart, whose soul was ready to accept the light shining forth, who understood what Christ taught (Orthodox Study Bible 1991, p. 37) and who were given to “know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees who were present in the large crowds, and who were highly educated, were hard of heart, so did not “see” and did not “perceive”, and could not “hear” and had not “understanding” (Matt. 13:13) (Marshall 1978, p. 321, 323).

The result of the Pharisaic blindness and deafness was that they would remain in their sin, while the faithful who repented were open to the good news of the Kingdom of God (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 93; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). Christ relies on the parabolic approach to minister to the crowds, “but to those who are outside, all things come in parables” (Matt. 13:11-12). Yet he emphasised, even to the disciples (Marshall 1978, p. 318 citing Schürmann 1976), that if they could not comprehend even this parable, then how were they to understand the rest (Matt. 13:13). It is important to note, that Christ does not deliberately make people unreceptive to His message, rather it is individual persons who must take responsibility for being insensitive to the truth (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38). It was also this form of teaching that allowed Christ to execute the divine plan without a premature arrest by the authorities. The sacred parables then, served three distinct purposes, namely: “to reveal, to conceal, and to perpetuate” (Whedon 1874, p. 163).

What is at stake here for those who have shunned the light? While the Parable of the Sower only appears in the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John adopts the language of hypostatic paradigms. While John’s style of writing differs from that of the Synoptics, the message is the same. Only, in John, the dialogue between Christ and a representative typology through a given individual (i.e. paroimiai 'figures') becomes the hypostatic parable. Consider Christ’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. After explaining to Nicodemus that he must be “born again” (John 3:3), Nicodemus is confused (John 3:4). Christ questions him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10). And again, “if I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). Compare this passage of Scripture with “all things come in parables” (Mark 4:11). John’s form of “parables” are recorded using a different style, to emphasise one’s personal relationship with Christ, and demonstrate that the faithful need spiritual eyes and ears to comprehend the multiple layers of meaning in the parabolic method we find in the Synoptic Gospels (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38), and in this way come to know God intimately.

The Early Church Fathers on Interpreting the Parables

Certainly the Early Church Fathers interpreted the parables using the allegorical method (Stein 1981, p. 42; Papakosta 1929). And this method gained momentum over time and geographical expanse (Table 1). No doubt the Fathers were influenced by Christ’s own example. He offered a detailed explanation for the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8). As Trench (1867, p. 15) noted, “as the allegory proceeds, the interpretation proceeds hand-in-hand with that, or, at least never falls far behind.” There is also strong speculation that the allegorical method, was already popularised through the heroes of Homer, making it a “ready-made tool” which could be applied to the Scriptures (Stein, 1981, p. 43). But why the form of a parable?

Table 1 Representative Early Church Fathers Who Allegorised the Parables

Caption: Descriptions are summarised and slightly adapted from Stein (1981, ch. 4) and Stavrianos (2012, pp. 29-48). For example, while the Early Church Fathers might have differed on identifying who the “robbers” were in the story of the Good Samaritan, they indeed all agreed that the Good Samaritan was none other than Christ Himself. For a comprehensive analysis of Patristic Thought with respect to The Good Samaritan, refer to Stavrianos (2012).

Parables provide an avenue for layered meanings- from the superficial experiences of every-day living (which must have come forth from Christ’s own exposure to various controversies), to the very deep spiritual layer where the believer is confronted with one’s own sin and through the parables finds a means to recalibrate his or her life to Christ. In many ways, Christ is delivering an ethical discourse using guiding principles, without well-defined direct commandments as found in the Old Testament, prevalent in Exodus 20:1-17 with the words “You shall not” and also in the exhaustive ritual, legal and moral practices described in Leviticus. Rather, Christ uses non-coercive language to bring the listener to a point in the transmission of the word of realisation, if their heart is open to the message of Christ.  As W.H. Auden has so magnificently put it: “You cannot tell people what to do, you can only tell them parables; …particular stories of particular people and experiences, from which each according to his immediate and peculiar needs may draw his own conclusions” (Bozorth 2005, p. 183). Christ’s parables are unique and allow for flexibility in allegorical interpretation throughout the ages, which is what makes them so accessible. In John’s Gospel, when the language of the “person” is instituted, and typological characters are presented to us in dialogue with Christ, every Christian is being encouraged to develop a deeper relationship with Christ the Son of God through the Parables. Yet for some, “the tradition of the early church is seen almost exclusively as something to be overcome” (Kingsbury 1972, p. 107, Sider 1983, p. 62).

Warnings Against Over-Elaborating the Parables

It should be emphasised however, that not all of the Early Church Fathers agreed with the extreme use of the allegorical method of interpretation. According to Stein (1981, p. 47): “Men like Isidore of Pelusium (360-435), Basil (ca. 329-379), Theodore of Mopsuestia (350?-428), and Chrysostom (349-407) protested against the allegorical method.” Stein quotes St. John Chrysostom who believed it was neither wise nor correct: “to inquire curiously into all things in parables word by word but when we have learnt the object for which it was composed, to read this, and not to busy oneself about anything further.” And Papadopoulos (1999, p. 108) noted that St. Chrysostom interprets the parables as “the elevation of the soul to the heavenly”. Perhaps Stein uses language that is too strong here, rather than “protest” he should have rather said, that Fathers like St. Basil and St. Chrysostom were more preoccupied with the whole message of the parable, than trying to tie back every word to a present context. For example, there were stark differences in the way that St. Augustine and Origen of Alexandria allegorised the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Caird 1980, p. 165). Had they gone too far? Possibly.

The interpreter should be wary of over-elaboration or over-simplification when it comes to the parables (Tasker 1962, p. 933).  But this does not mean we reject the allegorical interpretation that was always intended by Christ. For if allegory was missing, the Parables found in the New Testament would not have differed to those of the Old Testament, they would have been merely simple illustrations (e.g. 1 Sam. 24:13; Ezekiel 18:2-3). Rightly, St. Chrysostom of Constantinople who was from the Antiochian School, was resistant to “flights of fancy,” preferring to discern the scope and purpose for each parable, rather than to “find a special significance in each circumstance or incident” (Unger 1980, p. 824). This does not mean however, that St. Chrysostom shied away from interpreting the Parables himself. See, for example, Homily XLV. Matt. XIII. 10, 11, where St. Chrysostom explains why the Pharisees did the very opposite to what Christ called the crowds to do: “not only disbelieving, not only not hearkening, but even waging war, and disposed to be very bitter against all” that Christ said, all because, “They heard heavily.” St. Gregory of Nyssa considered “allegorical interpretation necessary at points where symbolism or the words covered a deeper meaning”, and he also accepted the literal interpretation (Stavrianos 2012, p. 43). Even St. Basil of Caesarea wrote in the Hexaemeron VIII.2 (PG 29:188), as quoted by Stavrianos (2012, p. 44): “to take [just] the literal sense and stop there is to have the heart covered by the veil of Jewish literalism.”

The Rise and Impact of the New Hermeneutic

In 1888 Adolf Jülicher's two volume seminal work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu was a major influence against the centuries-old tradition of allegorical interpretation of the Parables of Christ. Jülicher was more preoccupied with the form of parables, seeking “clear-cut definitions” of differences between parables, allegories, similes, and metaphors. He simply took the parables literally and stressed they only had one point of comparison, not many (Caird 1980, p. 161). C.H. Dodd (1935) who was then followed by J. Jeremias (1947) and A.M. Hunter (1958) “rejected Jülicher's moralistic interpretations in favour of the now generally accepted thesis that the parables had a particular reference to the ministry of Jesus and the crisis it inaugurated…” (Caird 1980, p. 162). In an attempt to develop and in some cases correct Jülicher’s claims, form criticism and redaction criticism scholarship in Germany, and literary-critical studies in the United States, have proliferated in the field of “new hermeneutics” (Blomberg 1991, pp. 50-55; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). As a result, there are now definitions abounding for different types of parables (e.g. simple simile, simple metaphors, simile story, metaphor story, example story). Stein (1994) beautifully, dedicates several chapters to the form of Jesus’s writings, and the parables, describing him as an “outstanding” and “exciting” teacher; a “personality” who was “authoritative”. He continues to describe that Christ used certain devices of language to attract attention from his audience, including exaggeration, hyperbole, ‘paronomasia’ (i.e. pun), simile, metaphor, riddles, paradox, fortiori statements, synonymous parallelism, and more (Stein 1994, pp. 7-24). The whole topic has become somewhat of a minefield if the critic is drawn in to the details of labelling. Perhaps about the only light to have come forth from all of this modern scholarship, is the uniqueness of the Parables of Christ in the Gospels. No matter how hard scholars have tried to encapsulate the formula used by Christ when speaking in Parables, they have found themselves in a tangle. They could have only been written by the Son of God (Lithgow 1907, p. 538). Scripture is the living Word, the text is dynamic and ever-changing, it is universal yet personal (Hogan 2016, pp. 119-120), and couched in history, all at the same time.

Modern Scholarship versus Early Christian Teaching on the Parables

It would be all too easy to dismiss the work of the modern scholars which has gone against the grain of tradition, as being written by those ‘who had eyes but could not see’. Jeremias lays blame for the state of parabolic interpretation with the “early Christian teachers” (Tasker 1962, p. 932). But even Stein (1994, p. 37) himself had to admit: “[i]t would appear that some parables possess undeniable allegorical elements” (e.g. the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matt. 22:1-14). Dodd, in particular, takes exception with the fact that Christian preachers today deliver sermons that are far removed from the original meaning/ function of the parable, as set in the time of Christ (i.e. Sitz em Leiben). Stavrianos (2012, p. 29), in his study of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in Patristic thought, emphasises: “…even though the central truth of the parable remains the same, Christians in every era can adapt it to their reality, thus giving it new meaning and perspective.”

There is no doubt, that outside the confines of the established church, there are so-called preachers who teach falsehoods, for example, the so-named “prosperity gospel” whose message bears no relationship to what was intended by Christ. These are contemporary secular interpretations. St. Basil of Caesarea warned against those who would take Holy Scripture, and instead of using common sense for their explanations, use “fancy wishes… to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end” (St. Basil quoted in Stavrianos 2012, p. 44). Of course, the Fathers seemingly would agree with Jülicher, that the "parables were intended to illustrate one truth only" (Tasker 1962, p. 932) but the Fathers would deviate in their belief, emphasising that each Parable consisted of multiple layers of the “one truth”. Consider a kernel and its shell; it is one object that contains several layers, despite that scholars such as Via and Crossan prefer the onion motif of layering (Parris 2002, pp. 34-37). As devoted Christians, the more layers uncovered, the closer the relationship hypostatically proceeds to Christ the Saviour.

Discussion on Why Christ Spoke in Parables

Christ Incarnate came to deliver His message by empathically placing Himself in the shoes of humans: “Jesus comes and stands where the hearer already stands" (Craddock 2002, pp. 88-89). His parables (i.e. teachings) were inextricably linked to His Person (Blomberg 1991, p. 74). Such was His love for humankind that he set his parables in everyday life, to captivate the imagination equally of the rich and poor man, the educated and uneducated, the respected and the outcast, the healthy and the sick. Whether tax collector, fallen or adulteress, Samaritan, Publican or farmer- all people are His Creation, and He went to great lengths, even descending from on high to reach all people, and to save all people, using accessible language. “He mixes the realistic with the extraordinary and improbable” (Via 1974, p. 105). He gives the hearer the freedom to manoeuvre (Peta Sherlock private comms cited in Goldingay 1995), to find the space required to make correction. It is a daily choice one makes whether or not to follow Him. Christ’s parables were not only prophetic in depicting how He Himself would suffer (Matt. 5:1-12; Barbu 2009, pp. 262-263) but somehow simultaneously represented universal contexts in which hearers could fully relate: “[d]ifferent facets also come home to individual hearers at different times in their lives; there is no once for all hearing of a story” (Goldingay 1995, p. 78).  A sound Orthodox Christian framework that can be followed for understanding why Christ spoke in parables is presented by Potapov (2000). He has written, Christ spoke in parables for three reasons: (1) to help listeners recall vivid images from ordinary life, and to ponder on the deeper message behind the allegory; (2) parables carried a double meaning and were deliberately indirect so that Christ could carry out the divine plan in full without being prematurely accused by the Pharisees; and (3) the parable format preserved the purity of Christ’s teachings.

Christ’s parables were comprehensible, accessible, and non-coercive. Christ spoke in parables so that everyone could understand His teachings. The parables are illustrations set in-context that help people to remember to love others, despite the preconceived stereotypes. Christ was not coercive. We the hearer of the Word, can place ourselves almost with certainty in the shoes of one or more of the characters depicted in the parable itself. At times, the penitent might feel convicted, for example in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, having sown seed by the wayside (v. 4), on stony places (v. 5), among thorns (v. 7) (Marshall 1978, p. 320). Christ spoke simply to give the masses a choice to believe in Him through faith. The unbelievers would not understand his parabolic message, because they maintained their unbelief through hardness of heart. G.A. Kennedy cited by Black (2000, p. 389), concurred with Potapov’s second point noting that Christ spoke in parables to ensure the divine plan would be completed without interruption. If the Pharisees would have detected his claim to being the Son of God, Christ would have been unable to continue preaching to the crowds freely.

Christ's parables are unique, beautiful, and moving to one's soul (Rindge 2014, p. 403). They are better than the finest poetry or music; artistic and imaginative. They often began or closed with rhetorical questions that Jesus Himself went on to answer, that “transforms the audience” by imagination (Rindge 2014, p. 408). Christ's parables stand apart from any other writing of its type: they are layered in meaning but maintain one truth. This shows the connection to allegory, and multiple meanings that can be derived from the same story- literal, moral and spiritual. Christ's parables are also universal, they have withstood the test of time and continue to be relevant (Hebrews 13:8), and applicable to all. Christ pierces the conscience and personal thoughts and heart of every person through the parables, and offers him a way toward personal and inner transfiguration (Barbu 2009, p. 262). So Christ might have preached to the masses only through the parabolic device, but inwardly, every individual would reflect on their personal state of spirituality. The believer is compelled to participate in God’s mystery, being drawn in to hear His word. For example, in Matthew 21:30-32, Christ asks rhetorically: "Which of the two did the will of his father?” Each individual knows in his/ her heart, which did the will of his father, despite that the outcome is paradoxical and antinomic. In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) the hero is the son who repented, not the second son who seemingly never sinned because he did not take his father's inheritance squandering it away in the world like the prodigal. This approach turns things upside down but does so legitimately. There is hope for even the greatest sinner. Are we willing to believe and grow in faith?

Conclusion

While modern parabolic scholarship (e.g. form criticism and literary-critical studies) has been at odds with the tradition as recorded by the Early Church Fathers, there are two main points of agreement. First, that in fact some of the Parables are truly meant as “allegories” in the technical literary sense, and second, each parable has a single truth, though the Fathers would contend there are multiple layers of the one truth to be extracted at face value, in moral value and spiritual, among other perspectives. The warnings of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great should be heeded when the Parables of Jesus are over-elaborated but at the same time Christ’s example is altogether present in the Scriptures. In this paper, the Parable of the Sower was used to illustrate “allegory in action”, and here is found Christ’s own example of explaining what He Himself meant by the story. While the Parables are easily recognisable in the Synoptic Gospels, there are numerous examples of parables present in the Gospel of John. The technique however in John’s writing, seems juxtaposed against the writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke the evangelists. In the Synoptics, Christ speaks to the crowds in Parables and then each has the choice of whether or not to apply these principles to themselves personally. In the Gospel of John, rather, we see “encounters” between Christ and typological figures (e.g. the Good Samaritan) that then can be used to represent universal principles. The Parables are the basis for Christian Ethics despite that they are never made explicit, hearers who wish to come to a closer knowledge of God and enter a deeper personal relationship with Him, are led to a place of everlasting love.

Bibliography

(1993) The Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms (New King James Version), Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Barbu L. (2009) The ‘poor in spirit’ and our life in Christ: an Eastern Orthodox perspective on Christian discipleship. Studies in Christian Ethics 22: 261-274.

Beavis MA. (2001) The Power of Jesus' Parables: Were they polemical or irenic? Journal for the Study of the New Testament 82: 3-30.

Blomberg CL. (1991) Interpreting the parables of Jesus: Where are we and where do we go from here? Catholic Biblical Quarterly 53: 50-78.

Bozorth RR. (2005) Auden. In: Smith S (ed) The Cambridge Companion to W.H. Auden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 175–187.

Caird GB. (1980) The Language and Imagery of the Bible, London: Duckworth.

Christos P. (1989) Greek Patrologiae, Vol. 4, Thessalonika: Kyromanos.

Craddock, F.B. (2002) Overhearing the Gospel: Revised and Expanded Edition, Chalice Press.

Dodd CH. (1978) The Parables Of The Kingdom, Glasgow: AbeBooks.

Goldingay J. (1995) Models for Interpretation of Scripture, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Kingsbury JD. (1972) The Parables of Jesus in Current Research. Dialog 11: 107.

Hogan PC. (2016) Jesus’s Parables: Simulation, Stories, and Narrative Idiolect. Narrative 24: 113-133.

Hunter AM. (1960) Interpreting The Parables, London: SCM Press.

Jeremias J. (2002) The Parables of Jesus, London: SCM Press.

Jülicher A. (1888) Die Gleichnisreden Jesu, Freiburg: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).

Kennedy GA. (1984) New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Kirkwood WG. (1983), Storytelling and self‐confrontation: Parables as communication strategies. Quaterly Journal of Speech 69, 1: 58-74.

Lithgow, RM. (1907), The Theology of the Parables. Expositor Times 18: pp. 538-542.

Marshall IH. (1978) The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Papadopoulos S. (1999) St John Chrysostom, Vol. 2, Athens: Apostolic Mission.

Papakosta S. (1929) The Parables of the Lord, Athens: Zoe.

Parris DP. (2002) Imitating the Parables: Allegory, Narrative and the Role of Mimesis. Journal for the Study of the New Testament 25: 33-53.

Potapov V. (August 6, 2000) Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary. Available at: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/parables_potapov.htm.

Rindge MS. (2014) Luke’s Artistic Parables: Narratives of Subversion, Imagination, and Transformation. Interpretation: Journal of Bible and Theology 68: 403-415.

Schürmann, H. (1976) Das Evangelium Lukas, Berlin.

Sider JW. (1983) Rediscovering the Parables: the Logic of the Jeremias Tradition. Journal of Biblical Literature 102: 61-83.

Stavrianos K. (2012) The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Patristic Thought. Greek Orthodox Theological Review 57: 1-4.

Stein RH. (1981) An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Stein RH. (1994) The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Tasker RVG. (1962) Parables. In: Bruce FF, Tasker RVG, Packer JJ, et al. (eds) The New Bible Dictionary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 932-934.

Trench RC. (1867) Notes on the Parables, New York: D. Appleton & Company.

Unger MF. (1957) Parable. Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press.

Via O. (1974) The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimension, Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Whedon DD. (1874) A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, London: Hodder & Stoughton.

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A comprehensive bibliographic search was conducted and over 110 references recorded in Endnote. Feel free to download the complete Endnote Library here.

Rev. Dr Nikolai Sakharov's Lecture Notes 1-10 on The Gospels, shortened

The following notes are those made available by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov in the CF102 course on The Gospels, but severely cut down to respect IOC authorship. If you are interested in studying more about The Gospels formally, please consider becoming a remote student by doing a certificate or diploma at the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS) @ Cambridge. Visit here for more information. I take responsibility for any transcription errors in the text below, or omissions placing the notes out of context etc.

 

Lecture 1

 

Lecture 2

 

 

Lecture 3

 

Lecture 4

 

Lecture 5

 

 

Lecture 6

 

Lecture 7

 

Lecture 8

 

Lecture 9

 

Lecture 10

Why Did Christ Speak in Parables: An Essay by Katina Michael (Draft Only)

Tutor: Fr Dr Alexander Tefft

Lecturer: Fr Dr Nikolai Sakharov

Course: The Gospels - CF102

Institute: IOCS - Cambridge

 

 

Contents

Introduction. 3

What is a Parable in the Context of the NT?. 4

Parable as Allegory. 4

Layered Meanings of Parables. 4

Evidence in Scripture. 5

The Parable of the Sower Explained. 5

The Parabolic Approach to Teaching the Crowds. 5

“Hypostatic Parables” in the Gospel of John. 7

Early Church Fathers. 7

Interpreting and Explaining the Parables. 7

Warnings Against Over-Elaborating the Parables. 8

The Rise of the New Hermeneutic. 10

The Influence of Form Criticism and Literary-Critical Studies. 10

Modern Scholarship versus Early Christian Teaching on the Parables. 11

Discussion. 12

Christ’s Parables are Accessible, Personal, Prophetic and Universal 12

Conclusion. 14

References. 15

Bibliography. 17

 

Introduction

This paper explores why Christ spoke in parables in the context of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The word parable, means “putting things side by side”. In the Synoptic Gospels, official parables number thirty, however this number varies depending on the criteria for accepting a passage of New Testament (NT) Scripture as a standalone parable. Importantly, a parable should not be confused with mashal, which is to be found in the Old Testament, and which contained only a single message. The parables of Christ are rich in form and content in the Synoptic Gospels and lend themselves to being interpreted allegorically, as well as literally. In the Gospel of John, Christ’s parables are presented using hypostatic language. Somehow Christ is able to reach out to the crowds who have come to hear Him, using only simple stories they could grasp that were contextually set in everyday life. And yet at once the listener who stood among the masses could place himself or herself typologically within the parable; free to choose whether they would follow the Great Storyteller or would resist His message (Beavis 2001, p. 3). Christ’s parables are universal, they have traversed space and time, they are equally relevant today as they were over 2000 years ago. Plainly, Christ wished to ensure that everyone who heard him teach could comprehend his profound message and come to the realisation of the state of their personhood with a clear way forward toward salvation. This paper is broken into five parts: definitional; biblical sources; early church fathers; modern scholarship; and discussion.

What is a Parable in the Context of the NT?

Parable as Allegory

The word parable (the Greek root-word παραβολή [Gk], parabole) means “comparison”, and was the manner in which the primitive Christian Church described the stories that Christ used to illustrate his teachings (Potapov 2000). According to Potapov (2000), "a parable is a spiritual lesson of a story developed by comparison to everyday life. The Lord's parables draw memorable details from nature, human, social, economic, or religious life of His time." A parable is similar to an allegory, although the latter usually denotes a more detailed comparison of elements of a tale (Tasker 1962, p. 932). There is no doubt among Eastern Orthodox scholars, that the parables of the New Testament were allegories and lent themselves to allegorical interpretation demonstrated by Christ Himself and the Fathers of the Church. Christ masterfully uses vivid images from everyday life to ensure the listener has every opportunity to connect with spiritual truth in a life-long manner (Beavis 2001, p. 11).

Layered Meanings of Parables

At various times in one’s life, the parables might take on layered meaning, or dependent on the state of the penitent, he or she may find himself or herself as one or more of the characters depicted. For example, in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Christian might find himself in the role of the forgiving father, the repentant younger son, or the older son. The ultimate language of the parables is not one of coercion but love and freedom. Somehow the listener/ reader of the parables of the New Testament is led to a place of self-confrontation (Kirkwood 1983, p. 59), awareness and logical conclusion, that the only means of salvation is through love in action.

Evidence in Scripture

The Parable of the Sower Explained

In examining Scripture (Table 1), Christ answers the question posed by the disciples: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (Matt. 13:10) explicitly in the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10). Despite the seeming simplicity of the stories through which Christ revealed deep spiritual truths, it was those innocent at heart, whose soul was ready to accept the light shining forth, who understood what Christ taught (Orthodox Study Bible 1991, p. 37) and who were given to “know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees who were present in the large crowds, and who were highly educated, were hard of heart, so did not “see” and did not “perceive”, and could not “hear” and had not “understanding” (Matt. 13:12) (Marshall 1978, p. 321, 323).

The Parabolic Approach to Teaching the Crowds

The result of the Pharisaic blindness and deafness was that they would remain in their sin, while the faithful who repented were open to the good news of the Kingdom of God (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 93; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). Christ relies on the parabolic approach to minister to the crowds, “but to those who are outside, all things come in parables” (Matt. 13:11-12). Yet he emphasised, even to the disciples (Marshall 1978, p. 318 citing Schurmann), that if they could not comprehend even this parable, then how were they to understand the rest (Matt. 13:13). It is important to note, that Christ does not deliberately make people unreceptive to His message, rather it is individual persons who must take responsibility for being insensitive to the truth (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38). It was also this form of teaching that allowed Christ to execute the divine plan without a premature arrest by the authorities. The sacred parables then, served three distinct purposes, namely: “to reveal, to conceal, and to perpetuate” (Whedon 1874, p. 163).

Table 1 Scriptural Comparison of the Parable of the Sower in the Synoptic Gospels

 Matt. 13:10-17

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it?

Mark 4:10-12

10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that
‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’”

Luke 8:9-10

9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”
10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that
‘Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.’

 

“Hypostatic Parables” in the Gospel of John

What is at stake here for those who have shunned the light? While the Parable of the Sower only appears in the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John adopts the language of hypostatic paradigms. While John’s style of writing differs to that of the Synoptics, the message is the same. Only, in John, the dialogue between Christ and a representative typology through a given individual (i.e. paroimiai 'figures') becomes the hypostatic parable. Consider Christ’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. After explaining to Nicodemus that he must be “born again” (John 3:3), Nicodemus is confused (John 3:4). Christ questions him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10). And again, “if I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). Compare this passage of Scripture with “all things come in parables” (Mark 4:11). John’s form of “parables” are recorded using a different style, to emphasise one’s personal relationship with Christ, and demonstrate that the faithful need spiritual eyes and ears to comprehend the multiple layers of meaning in the parabolic method we find in the Synoptic Gospels (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38), and in this way come to know God intimately.

Early Church Fathers

Interpreting and Explaining the Parables

Certainly the early church fathers interpreted the parables using the allegorical method (Stein 1981, p. 42; Papakosta 1929). And this method gained momentum over time and geographical expanse (Table 2). No doubt the Fathers were influenced by Christ’s own example. He offered a detailed explanation for the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8). As Trench (1867, p. 15) noted, “as the allegory proceeds, the interpretation proceeds hand-in-hand with that, or, at least never falls far behind.” There is also strong speculation that the allegorical method, was already popularised through the heroes of Homer, making it a “ready-made tool” which could be applied to the Scriptures (Stein, 1981, p. 43). But why the form of a parable?

Parables provide an avenue for layered meanings- from the superficial experiences of every-day living (which must have come forth from Christ’s own exposure to various controversies), to the very deep spiritual layer where the believer is confronted with one’s own sin and through the parables finds a means to recalibrate his or her life to Christ. In many ways, Christ is delivering an ethical discourse using guiding principles, without well-defined direct commandments as found in the Old Testament, prevalent in Exodus 20:1-17 with the words “You shall not” and also in the exhaustive ritual, legal and moral practices described in Leviticus. Rather, Christ uses non-coercive language to bring the listener (and later, the reader), to a point in the transmission of the word (and later, text) to a point of realisation, if their heart is open to the message of Christ.

As W.H. Auden has so magnificently put it: “You cannot tell people what to do, you can only tell them parables; …particular stories of particular people and experiences, from which each according to his immediate and peculiar needs may draw his own conclusions” (Bozorth 2005, p. 183). Christ’s parables are unique and allow for flexibility in allegorical interpretation throughout the ages, which is what makes them so accessible. In John’s Gospel, when the language of the “person” is instituted, and typological characters are presented to us in dialogue with Christ, every Christian is being encouraged to develop a deeper relationship with Christ the Son of God through the Parables. Yet for some, “the tradition of the early church is seen almost exclusively as something to be overcome” (Kingsbury 1972, p. 107, Sider 1983, p. 62).

Warnings Against Over-Elaborating the Parables

It should be emphasised however, that not all of the early church fathers agreed with the extreme use of the allegorical method of interpretation. According to Stein (1981, p. 47): “Men like Isidore of Pelusium (360-435), Basil (ca. 329-379), Theodore of Mopsuestia (350?-428), and Chrysostom (349-407) protested against the allegorical method.” Stein quotes Chrysostom who believed it was neither wise nor correct: “to inquire curiously into all things in parables word by word but when we have learnt the object for which it was composed, to read this, and not to busy oneself about anything further.” And Papadopoulos (1999, p. 108) noted that Chrysostom interprets the parables as “the elevation of the soul to the heavenly”. Perhaps Stein uses language that is too strong here, rather than “protest” he should have rather said, that Fathers like Basil and Chrysostom were more preoccupied with the whole message of the parable, than trying to tie back every word to a present context. For example, there were stark differences in the way that Augustine and Origen allegorised the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Caird 1980, p. 165). Had they gone too far? Possibly.

Table 2 Representative Early Church Fathers Who Allegorised the Parables

Caption: Descriptions are summarised and slightly adapted from Stein (1981, ch. 4) and Stavrianos (2012, pp. 29-48). While the early church fathers might have differed on identifying who the “robbers” were in the story of the good Samaritan, they indeed all agreed that the good Samaritan was none other than Christ Himself. For a comprehensive analysis at Patristric Thought with respect to The Good Samaritan, refer to Stavrianos (2012).

Caption: Descriptions are summarised and slightly adapted from Stein (1981, ch. 4) and Stavrianos (2012, pp. 29-48). While the early church fathers might have differed on identifying who the “robbers” were in the story of the good Samaritan, they indeed all agreed that the good Samaritan was none other than Christ Himself. For a comprehensive analysis at Patristric Thought with respect to The Good Samaritan, refer to Stavrianos (2012).

The interpreter should be wary of over-elaboration or over-simplification when it comes to the parables (Tasker 1962, p. 933).  But this does not mean we reject the allegorical interpretation that was always intended by Christ. For if allegory was missing, the Parables found in the New Testament would not have differed to those of the Old Testament, they would have been merely simple illustrations (e.g. 1 Sam. 24:13; Ezekiel 18:2-3). Rightly, John Chrysostom of Constantinople who was from the Antiochian School, was resistant to “flights of fancy,” preferring to discern the scope and purpose for each parable, rather than to “find a special significance in each circumstance or incident” (Unger 1980, p. 824). This does not mean however, that Chrysostom shied away from interpreting the Parables himself. See, for example, Homily XLV. Matt. XIII. 10, 11, where Chrysostom explains why the Pharisees did the very opposite to what Christ called the crowds to do: “not only disbelieving, not only not hearkening, but even waging war, and disposed to be very bitter against all” that Christ said, all because “They heard heavily.” St Gregory of Nyssa considered “allegorical interpretation necessary at points where symbolism or the words covered a deeper meaning”, and he also accepted the literal interpretation (Stavrianos 2012, p. 43) Even St Basil of Caesarea wrote in the Hexaemeron VIII.2 (PG 29:188), as quoted by Stavrianos (2012, p. 44), wrote: “to take [just] the literal sense and stop there is to have the heart covered by the veil of Jewish literalism.”

The Rise of the New Hermeneutic

The Impact of Form Criticism, Redaction Criticism & Literary-Critical Studies

In 1888 Adolf Jülicher's two volume seminal work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu was a major influence against the centuries-old tradition of allegorical interpretation of the Parables of Christ. Jülicher was more preoccupied with the form of parables, seeking “clear-cut definitions” of differences between parables, allegories, similes, and metaphors. He simply took the parables literally and stressed they only had one point of comparison, not many (Caird 1980, p. 161). C.H. Dodd (1935) who was then followed by J. Jeremias (1947) and A.M. Hunter (1958) “rejected Julicher's moralistic interpretations in favour of the now generally accepted thesis that the parables had a particular reference to the ministry of Jesus and the crisis it inaugurated…” (Caird 1980, p. 162).

In an attempt to develop and in some cases correct Jülicher’s claims, form criticism and redaction criticism scholarship in Germany, and literary-critical studies in the United States, have proliferated in the field of “new hermeneutics” (Blomberg 1991, pp. 50-55; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). As a result, there are now definitions abounding for different types of parables (e.g. simple simile, simple metaphors, simile story, metaphor story, example story). Stein (1994) beautifully, dedicates several chapters to the form of Jesus’s writings, and the parables, describing him as an “outstanding” and “exciting” teacher; a “personality” who was “authoritative”. He continues to describe that Christ used certain devices of language to attract attention from his audience, including exaggeration, hyperbole, ‘paronomasia’ (i.e. pun), simile, metaphor, riddles, paradox, fortiori statements, synonymous parallelism, and more (Stein 1994, pp. 7-24).

The whole topic has become somewhat of a minefield if the critic is drawn in to the details of labelling. Perhaps about the only light to have come forth from all of this modern scholarship, is the uniqueness of the Parables of Christ in the Gospels. No matter how hard scholars have tried to encapsulate the formula used by Christ when speaking in Parables, they have found themselves in a tangle. They could have only been written by the Son of God (Lithgow 1907, p. 538). Scripture is the living Word, the text is dynamic and ever-changing, it is universal yet personal (Hogan 2016, pp. 119-120), and couched in history, all at the same time.

Modern Scholarship versus Early Christian Teaching on the Parables

It would be all too easy to dismiss the work of the modern scholars which has gone against the grain of tradition, as being written by those ‘who had eyes but could not see’. Jeremias lays blame for the state of parabolic interpretation with the “early Christian teachers” (Tasker 1962, p. 932). But even Stein (1994, p. 37) himself had to admit: “[i]t would appear that some parables possess undeniable allegorical elements” (e.g. the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matt. 22:1-14). Dodd in particular takes exception with the fact that Christian preachers today deliver sermons that are far removed from the original meaning/ function of the parable, as set in the time of Christ (i.e. Sitz em Leiben). Stavrianos (2012, p. 29), in his study of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in Patristic thought, emphasises: “…even though the central truth of the parable remains the same, Christians in every era can adapt it to their reality, thus giving it new meaning and perspective.”

There is no doubt, that outside the confines of the established church, there are so-called preachers who teach falsehoods, for example, the so-named “prosperity gospel” whose message bears no relationship to what was intended by Christ. These are contemporary secular interpretations. St Basil of Caesarea warned against those who would take Holy Scripture, and instead of using common sense for their explanations, use “fancy wishes… to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end” (St Basil quoted in Stavrianos 2012, p. 44). Of course, the Fathers seemingly would agree with Jülicher, that the "parables were intended to illustrate one truth only" (Tasker 1962, p. 932) but the Fathers would deviate in their belief, emphasising that each Parable consisted of multiple layers of the “one truth”. Consider a kernel and its shell; it is one object that contains several layers, despite that scholars such as Via and Crossan prefer the onion motif of layering (Parris 2002, pp. 34-37). As devoted Christians, the more layers uncovered, the closer the relationship hypostatically proceeds to Christ the Saviour.

Discussion

Christ’s Parables are Accessible, Personal, Prophetic and Universal

Christ Incarnate did not come speaking in complex technical “God language” that no one would be able to understand but using baby language, “goo-goo, ga-ga” principles. He came to deliver His message by empathically placing Himself in the shoes of humans, with all their weakness and frailty: “Jesus comes and stands where the hearer already stands" (Craddock 2002, pp. 88-89). Born in a manger, Christ continued his mission with the humble parabolic “story” formula which carried the most profound of messages. His parables (i.e. teachings) were inextricably linked to His Person (Blomberg 1991, p. 74). Such was His love for humankind that he set his parables in everyday life, to captivate the imagination equally of the rich and poor man, the educated and uneducated, the respected and the outcast, the healthy and the sick. Whether tax collector, fallen or adulteress, Samaritan, Publican or farmer- all people are His Creation, and He went to great lengths, even descending from on high to reach all people, and to save all people, using accessible language. “He mixes the realistic with the extraordinary and improbable” (Via 1974, 105). He gives the hearer the freedom to manoeuvre (Peta Sherlock private comms cited in Goldingay 1995), to find the space required to make correction. It is a daily choice one makes whether or not to follow Him.

Christ’s parables were not only prophetic in depicting how He Himself would suffer (Matt. 5:1-12; Barbu 2009, p. 262-263) but somehow simultaneously represented universal contexts in which hearers could fully relate: “[d]ifferent facets also come home to individual hearers at different times in their lives; there is no once for all hearing of a story” (Goldingay 1995, p. 78). As Potapov (2000) has written, Christ spoke in parables for three reasons: (1) to help listeners recall vivid images from ordinary life, and to ponder on the deeper message behind the allegory; (2) parables carried a double meaning and were deliberately indirect so that Christ could carry out the divine plan in full without being prematurely accused by the Pharisees; and (3) the parable format preserved the purity of Christ’s teachings. In Table 3, an original table, is presented stating 15 main reasons why Christ spoke in parables.

Table X. 15 Reasons Why Christ Spoke in Parables

Reason/ Description

Comprehensibility: Christ spoke in parables, effectively stories with meaning, so that everyone could understand his teachings.

Uniqueness: Christ's parables are unique in their manner. He only spoke to the masses without using this approach.

Non-Coercive: Parables are illustrations set in-context that help people to remember to love others. It is easier to forget a list of commands versus a story that has a setting in everyday life. Christ did not come giving laws to be followed. He could have said: "I command you to do x or y." But he was not coercive and did not wish to force anything on anyone. Instead, he spoke lovingly and softly, and even gave the listener the opportunity to reflect on the interpretation of his story.

Tangible: Everyone remembers stories because they are tangible and people can relate to them.

Artistic and Imaginative: Christ's parables are unique, and beautiful, and moving to one's soul (Rindge 2014, p. 403). They are better than the finest poetry or music. They often began or closed with rhetorical questions that Jesus Himself went on to answer, that “transforms the audience” by imagination (Rindge 2014, p. 408).

Participatory: There is a moral at the end- that take home message for each listener. They were therefore in some way participatory. The listener would be drawn in to hear His word. E.g. Matthew 21:30-32: "Which of the two did the will of his father?”

Layered Meaning, One Truth: Christ's parables have got more than one meaning as the traditional parables found in the Old Testament had only one single meaning (mashal). This shows the connection to allegory, and multiple meanings.

Accessible: Christ spoke simply to give the masses a choice to believe in Him through faith. The unbelievers would not understand even his simple parables, not because they were complex but because they maintained their unbelief through hardness of heart. Still because Christ was not speaking in sophisticated language to deliver his teachings, he gave each person a choice whether or not to follow him.

Universal: Christ's parables were universal, would withstand the test of time and continue to be relevant (Hebrews 13:8), and applicable to all even if they had not been in a given described context. E.g. we may not all sow seeds today but we have all seen in one way or another on television or the internet someone else sowing seeds. We get that seeds need to be thrown into furrows in soil in order to take root etc.

Empathic: A fine methodology ensues in the parables themselves. We the hearer of the Word, can place ourselves almost with certainty in the shoes of one or more of the characters depicted in the parable itself. We all know whom we'd like to be in the story, yet find ourselves challenged at various times having sinned against God and our fellow brothers and sisters in a manner that places us somewhere where we do not wish to be. At times the penitent might feel convicted especially in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, that they have sown seed by the wayside (v. 4), on stony places (v. 5), among thorns (v. 7) (Marshall 1978, p. 320). The hope, of course, for the Christian is to always sow seed on "good ground" (v. 8) and that is one’s life-long challenge.

Human: Christ places himself on the same 'level playing field' as his fellow man by speaking to them using every day contexts.

Perfection: Christ comes preaching a unique message in a unique way. There is something different about Him. His message is perfect. It is fair, and it is true. The parables were perfect, like the Logos. The parables are profound, like nothing that has ever been preached before. The moral of the stories are so convincing in terms of ethics, living by these principles would mean a life worth living.

Antinomic & Paradoxical: There is something antinomic, almost paradoxical about Christ’s message. Often members who would otherwise be shunned by a community, are held up as an example to us, because they have repented of their ways. In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) the hero is the son who repented, not the second son who seemingly never sinned because he did not take his father's inheritance squandering it away in the world like the prodigal. This approach turns things upside down but does so legitimately. There is hope for even the greatest sinner. Are we willing to believe and grow in faith?

Personal: Christ pierces the conscience and personal thoughts and heart of every person through the parables, and offers him a way toward personal and inner transfiguration (Barbu 2009, p. 262). He takes us to that point so effortlessly it seems, until we recognise through a process of self-awareness that we need to continue to develop our character. So he might have preached to the masses, but inwardly, every individual would reflect on the person he/she was. The allegory is a strong device type. But despite the seeming simplicity of the stories they are so difficult to uphold morally.

Concealment: Christ spoke in parables to ensure the divine plan would be completed without interruption (G.A. Kennedy cited by Black 2000, p. 389). If the Pharisees would have detected his claim to being the Son of God, Christ would have been unable to continue preaching to the crowds freely.

Caption: The research conducted in preparation for Table 3 has been taken from a vast list of sources which appear in the wider Bibliography of this paper. Note: while the table is original in full, it has been greatly inspired by the ten Lectures of Fr Nikolai Sakharov for CF102 at the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies.

Conclusion

While modern parabolic scholarship (e.g. form criticism and literary-critical studies) has been at odds with the tradition as recorded by the early church fathers, there are two main points of agreement. First, that in fact some of the Parables are truly meant as “allegories” in the technical literary sense, and second, each parable has a single truth, though the Fathers would contend there are multiple layers of the same truth to be extracted at face value, in moral value and spiritual, among other perspectives. The warnings of St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great should be heeded when the Parables of Jesus are over-elaborated but at the same time Christ’s example is altogether present in the Scriptures. In this paper, the Parable of the Sower was used to illustrate “allegory in action”, and here is found Christ’s own example of explaining what He Himself meant by the story. While the Parables are easily recognisable in the Synoptic Gospels, there are numerous examples of parables present in the Gospel of John. The technique however in John’s writing, seems juxtaposed against the writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke the evangelists. In the Synoptics, Christ speaks to the crowds in Parables and then each has the choice of whether or not to apply these principles to themselves personally. While in John, we see “encounters” between Christ and typological figures (e.g. the Good Samaritan) that then can be used to represent universal principles. The Parables are the basis for Christian Ethics despite that they are never made explicit, hearers who wish to come to a closer knowledge of God and enter a deeper personal relationship with Him, are led to a place of everlasting love.

 

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Green EH. (2009) Speaking in parables: the responses of students to a Bible‐based ethos in a Christian City Technology College. Cambridge Journal of Education\ 39: 443-456.

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Topic Lecture 9 - Language of the Person, Hypostasis in the Gospel of John

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

Triadology

We spoke about Christology of relationship about theology of relationship and how important it is. The question now about translation at the beginning of the gospel of John. What does it mean when John writes “pros ton Theon”? There is much speculation but the word “pros” meaning in Greek “towards”. In the authorised version of the Gospel of John the translation stands as: “and the Word was with God”. But the actual translation of this proposition is “towards”. And many have noted, that this is exactly what John means. The Logos all of Christ’s being was towards God the Father. And this is a formula of love. This being towards the other is the true realisation of, not only divine person, but also the human person. So really what we have here is the notion, “and the Word was towards God”. And perhaps in the English language, that cannot be said, because it implies movement. And this principle of Christology being, towards God, is spelt out in the rest of the gospel. And if you look at any authentic relationship in the gospel it is always “pros ton allon”, towards the other. But as humans, we find a relationship towards others, through our love towards others, in self-sacrifice for another.

And if you notice, all the holy gifts in our church they are given, whatever you might name, priesthood, any other sacraments, they are given as a service to other people. The priest for example, cannot confess himself. He only has this authority towards service of another. So this is a principle that is a product of John’s Gospel. So perhaps, if we translate the word Logos, in principle there was this principle of love towards God in the beginning. 

Q&A. When do we know if the great “I am” is intended versus an everyday “I am”? For example, in John’s Gospel when the disciples are in the boat and the Lord retorts in chapter 3: “do not worry I am”, how are we to understand this I am? In John’s Gospel, you will find different ways that this saying is used at times, Christ says “I am a good Shepherd”. But here it is obviously a different I am, to the “I am” of Sinai. But there are definitely uses of “I am” without predicate. These definitely imply, this Sinai revelation, “I am that I am”. In Greek language, you may know that you do not need to use the pronoun “I am”, you simply say where you may be, for example: “I am home”, could simply be “home”. So it is indeed an emphatic use of the term “I am” with Sinaitic roots in Exodus.

In the Gospel of John, things are not as straightforward, as other writings. He operates at a level that we cannot presuppose intense at times, in order to analyse logically. In the Gospel affects us in various ways, in various levels. When we consider for example symbolic actions of Christ’s actions, in the fourth Gospel, John has many levels of appeal to his reader. And one of his techniques, is to play on these associations. To member in Exodus: where God says, “I am I am”. In the Gospel of Matthew, it would be a direct quotation so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But John, does not write like this. He wishes to maintain, a level of mystery, which is important, for the depth of Christian message. Because once you have no mystery, and everything is clear, our text may lose its power, and depth.

Hypostatic language

And speaking about mystery, and things that are not set, or not written, we should move to the next topic. If we compare, our Christian new Testament, or our Gospels to any other religious book, be it the Quran, or the Old Testament, perhaps your notice, that it is much much smaller in size. In this respect, Christian scripture is unique. In fact it offers very little instructions for us to do, in our everyday life. There is no instruction for our codex of behaviour. But if you take for example the old Testament law, the whole day of an Israelite, is prescribed to morning to end. It is like a 24-hour manual, what to do and how to. And this idea, of what to do and how to do it is the focus of the old Testament. But the new Testament starts very differently. Yes of course, there are some parallels, but it doesn’t constitute the core, the focus of the new Testament. And furthermore if you compare the fourth Gospel with the synoptic gospels one thing immediately strikes us, that there are hardly any that could be subsumed even remotely in a consistent ethical teaching of Christ.

The fourth Gospel offers us very little, in fact, a kind of instruction in codex of behaviour, in what we should do in our daily life. And if you look at the synoptic gospels, and compare the fourth Gospel with the Synoptics, you will see that for example in Matthew you do find chapters where Christ expounds the way people ought to be, and the way they should behave, because for Matthew, Christ’s teaching was important linking back to the old Testament, that even resembled old Testament law. In chapter 9 in Matthew for instance we hear that Jesus speaks about, “bless it are the poor”, the meek, the merciful, the good heart, and there are some kind of ethical instructions here. In Matthew, we also hear “thou shall not kill… But I say to you whoever is angry…” There are specific amendments.  But when we come to John’s Gospel, there are none of these commandments of Christ. In fact, very few. And they seem to concentrate about one theme, love and faith. None of such formulations found in Matthew shall find John. In John there are no instructions for daily life.

Also we do find, occasional parables in John’s Gospel. Of course, Christ taught in parables. But all of them are of a completely different nature. They do not function as allegorical encoding of his teaching, at least for the synoptic gospels, but as short illustrations, to his message. So it looks like in the fourth Gospel we have a shift of concern. Instead, there are stories about Christ, his miracles, he signs, his dialogues with the Jews, and finally the Last Supper where we see three chapters dedicated to this toward the crucifixion. It seems to be all about Christ, and not about how and what to do. In John we do not have any of that. So, can we say that, that John presents us with a different kind of spirituality? Does it pass over in silence, ethics that Christ wished to teach the crowds, in the other Gospels?

So why the difference? What can we make of it? Is this a radically different form of Christianity? Course, one possibility is that Matthew had recorded all of these things in his gospel, and if John had seen and read this Gospel, then there wouldn’t have been any need to repeat. However, some scholars believe that John had not read the Gospel of Matthew before he wrote his gospel. So what other reasons can we summate? So we need to remember, that none of the other evangelists, felt the need to write down every single detail that he witnessed of Christ’s teaching, or life. There is something more to this. And we will see, that there are sayings of Christ that are recorded in the Gospel, that reappear later in the Pauline epistles, and also in our church services. For example, in the service the blessing of myrh and oil, we find the commandment of Christ, which is not recorded anywhere apart from the service. And Christ says: “Whosoever falls and raises himself will be saved.” And you won’t find such a saying in none of the Gospels. It appears only there.

None of the evangelists has in mind to record an exhaustive teaching of Christ’s words. In John, we find the very essence of Christian spirituality. If you compare the new Testament with the old Testament, you will find that especially the Leviticus priestly code, it is obsessed with flesh, the physical parts of the human being. All these rites of purification, the type of food you’re supposed to eat the type of clothes you’re supposed to wear, the customs to purify your physical existence, this is very much in focus of the Leviticus code. And even the very mark of the old covenant is circumcision. It is very much to do with human flesh. So we can say in the old Testament, man was addressed, and treated by God above all as flesh, as mortal. But in the new Testament, we witness a completely new phenomenon. Consider Dr Zhivago, a novel by Pasternak (?), where he writes about, what is different in Christianity? What is the main contribution of Christianity, for the history of civilisation? And one of the expository dialogues, Pasternak says, before Christ there was no notion of person. He said, there was a history of anonymous masses, suffering unrecorded, and then Christ comes and gives place and name to each of these little sufferers, and that is how the concept of person was born. And indeed we may say that, the new Testament deals with the new category of the human person in the new Testament addresses man, above all as person. That’s why you won’t find this of session, with flesh, as refined in the old Testament. Christ says, it is not where you eat that if I was you, but will proceeds out of you from your person holds, from your heart. And indeed a person becomes like a point of departure, for new Testament ethics. For example, you remember this example, “the Sabbath is for man, and man not for the Sabbath.” And recall the story of the widow casting two mites, Christ said that she contributed more than anyone else, because she gave all that she had. So the person becomes a measure of righteousness.

And John takes the spiritual dimension, man not as flesh, but as person, as spirit. He takes this personal, spiritual dimension to the extreme. And he explains the new type of being to Nicodemus. Christ says in chapter 3, ”what is one of the flesh is of the flesh, but what is born of the spirit is spirit” “ the spirit that makes life flesh profits nothing” (?). So, this marks a radical departure from the old Testament flesh type of righteousness. Instead, of flesh, John shifts our attention to the domain of spirit. And Johannine writings, in fact promotes the ultimate essence of this spiritual righteousness.

And I do not believe we should press the differences between the Gospel of John and the Synoptics. Yes, we do not find, in John’s Gospel the same set of commandments, but in fact they have the same message. Even if all of Christ’s commandments, were lost, and were not recorded but if we would learn about his life, his example, it would still be enough for us to see in Christ’s fulfilment of all his commandments to which he had given to us in his person. And this idea of commandment, being encoded, in Christ’s person, as an example, is very much present in John’s Gospel. Simply by presenting Christ in his life, his actions, and his relationship, John communicates much more than just a set of commandments and down on paper. Christ said, in chapter 13, “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you”, so Christ sets himself as an example. He is exactly the word of God, the Logos became flesh, the word of God, the Torah that became flesh. He is presented to us as our living commandment.

And in this respect let us consider John 14:31, the idea of person becoming a commandment: “but the world might know that I love the Father, the father has given me commandment, even so I do”. This notion commandments, is in singular. What kind of commandment with the father give Christ? So Christ, lived by the father, he does everything according to the father, he does everything in the name of the Father, father becomes the focus of his existential concern and expression. Thus, the father, becomes a living commandment for Christ: what he hears from the father, he does is the father does. There is a dynamic dimension to this idea of Christ as a commandment. It is not something which was once said, and finished. No, Christ looks up to the father and acts and lives according to his will. “I lived by the father”, Christ says.

And as the father becomes a living commandment Christ, Christ becomes a living commandment for us. In fact, if you think, Christ he left us his commandment, “this is my commandment to love one another as I have loved you”. But what definition can you give to this commandment of love? How can you prescribe what we should do when you love another person? Is it possible to give a definition of life? So perhaps in a family relationship, if I were to list down all the things that are done as an expression of love e.g. if a spouse is the washing up et cetera you could not possibly exhaust all the things that are done in love. You cannot give a definite list of all the things that are done to manifest love in a relationship. Descriptions don’t help us. So the only way you can teach how to love is by example. And that is why, Christ is set for us as a living example, is a living commandment. And by his example, we learn, what it means to love another person. And not only for Christ, but interpersonal relationship with the Trinity. It is an eternal cycle of love, “perixorisis” within the Trinity. And this is something that John wishes to be projected, on a human plane.

And this idea of person as a commandment, is also in the synoptic gospels. The story of the young men who comes to cries what shall I do to inherit eternal life. And Christ says to him, do you know the oldest commandments, then he said to him one thing which you lack, “sell every thing that you have, and follow me”. Possibly, it would be enough just to follow Christ. Another example, Matthew chapter 11:29 “learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart”. Christ sets himself as an example. But we can say that the whole of John’s Gospel is this formula “learn of me”. Christ is primordial hypostatic paradigm. And this is presented to us dynamically not statically, in his actions, in his words, in his deeds, in his reactions and his relations. And he for us to follow and imitate him. There is no in fact difference in message between John and the synoptic gospels, concerning teaching, concerning the commandments of Christ. Christ, in John’s Gospel, fulfils all these commandments which he was given in the synoptic gospels. Christ himself fulfils them in John’s Gospel.

When we look, at the sermon on the Mount, and we hear the words “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, of course Christ is speaking about himself, given he could do nothing without the father, and would do nothing without the father. If you take, “blessed that they that mourn”, we do know that Christ was moved to tears on occasion.” And then, “Blessed are the meek”. And Christ was meek, he even washed the disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. And the same occurs throughout the whole sermon, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst”, and again Christ is found hungry “give me something to eat” and later thirsting on the cross. “Blessed are the merciful”, of course Christ fulfils his own commandments when they bring to him the woman who has been accused of adultery, and shows mercy. “Blessed are the peacemakers”… This is a recurring theme, where Christ says “peace unto you”. Whenever Christ appeared he would spread peace around him. And back in Matthew we hear, “Blessed are the persecuted…”, v15, “let your light shine on men… Glorify your Father in heaven”… And everything is done by Christ for his father’s glory.

John. “Be reconciled with your enemies”; Christ constantly invites the Jews to reconcile with him, but they do not. “Do not resist evil”. Remember, when the mob come to take him away, and he commends them “whatever you do, do it quickly” (John 13:27). “Therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. And Christ himself fulfilled this commandment to the absolute extent possible, people who saw him, saw the father. We could study the synoptic gospels in the same way, and see how Christ fulfilled all the commandments, sometimes directly, and at other times indirectly. John sets him as an example for us to follow.

So the way of salvation, leads to life, according to Matthew’s Gospel. The way in John’s Gospel, is not what, but who. He is Christ himself, “I am the way”. It is a dynamic commandment, that is in the living Christ. If we look, at the whole, sayings of Christ in John’s Gospel, this idea of “follow me”, “come after me” is dominant. The Gospel begins, with this idea following Christ, and it ends with this idea of following Christ. Chapter 1 the idea is used three times, “they followed Jesus”, and we now know for John it was a theological notion to follow Jesus, and to follow his example. “And he said to Philip, follow me…” So it is the very first commandment that Christ gives in the Gospel of John. Again it comes up in many chapters, ch 8: “who follows me shall not walk in darkness”. Ch 10: “the good Shepherd… And he goes before them”, and the sheep follow him. What is interesting and unusual about this presentation about a good Shepherd. It is in the ordering, and usually the sheep go before the Shepherd. The shepherds go behind the flock showing direction from behind… But sometimes in the Middle East if the sheep know the Shepherd, the shepherd will go sometimes a little bit ahead and the sheep will follow. And Christ said in chapter 12: “anyone who serves me, let him follow me.” This following of Christ, is precisely the way of salvation. “Where I am, there also my servants shall be”. It is not speaking about geography, he is speaking about a mode of being, divine being.

Now, following Christ in geographical terms doesn’t mean they will be saved many followed Christ right down to the crucifixion and were part responsible for what occurred. There was a crowd who constantly followed Christ in geographical terms, but nevertheless turned against him. And indeed, once you start to live the gospel in your own life, you will notice, you will find yourself exactly in these types of experiences that Christ had in the gospel. Once you start to follow him in this way you will find situations like this that are very familiar.

This language of hypostatic paradigms, is very effective. If you look at a modern culture, young kids they are very much into their own idols, their heroes their worldly icons, you can teach a kid what he should do and what you shouldn’t do but once he says a movie, or is fascinated by some kind of image all your teaching is gone in an instance. He will imitate the hero, just after one hour. And that is the language of hypostatic paradigms that works it is far more powerful than just words.

It is remarkable that the Gospel actually ends with this dynamic idea of following Christ, or perhaps dozen and because it is open ending. We hear about Peter, following Christ, and the beloved disciple joining them. So the Gospel actually joins with this idea of following Christ.

Hypostatic paradigm

It is crucial, because of the language and early because Christ is represented in this way to us, as an example as a paradigm, it is also the language of John, of righteousness and sin. They are exemplified, they are not spelled-out for us, what is seen, but they are at exemplified in his example is. Most of the heroes of the gospel you will see, they are shown to us in their relationship with Christ. They are examples of relationship with Christ. They are some who love Christ like Lazarus, like Martha and Mary, who will end up in the resurrection but there are also those who reject Christ and lose their salvation, like becoming Christ enemies, and we notice an interesting trend in all the Gospels, but especially in John. But after the resurrection of Christ, know one of the enemies of Christ is mentioned, only the ones who loved him, Mary, his mother, his beloved disciple, Nicodemus. Positive examples survive to the next life, after the depiction of the resurrection.

Q&A. Imitating Christ sounds like sublime ethics, but how can the average person begin? It sounds too difficult? It is a positive experience, that comes not from reading the gospel and following every commandment etc. It involves a personal knowledge of Christ, and desire of communion with Him. That is what we do in the Liturgy, we prepare and come closer to him through the Holy Eucharist. And not just partaking in the body and blood of Christ in the physical sense but also in the spiritual sense. We try to participate in the Spirit of Christ, not just in his flesh and body in bread and wine, but also in his spirit- there is also spiritual communion. Once a person goes to Church, regularly participates in the life of the Church, the following happens defacto, because in one way or another, our ecclesiastical tradition has provided, all necessary means for our following Christ, by itself but also in our life and liturgical service.

Q&A. If you try to take ethical rules out of the New Testament like there were in the Old Testament, you cannot do it. Fr Sophrony once said, “when he was on Mt Athos, for him the Gospel looked like Utopia. It was impossible to fulfil. That is why he valued very much his encounter to Silouan the Athonite who gave him an answer, how to understand this paradox in this life. We are given an example of divine life in Christ’s commandments… perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. And the answer of Silouan is this revelation of Christ: “keep your mind in hell, and despair not”. This is the paradox of Christian ethics. Someone published a book in Russia, on how to be pious. They just singled out all of these commandments of “teachings of Christ”, and of course, it wasn’t even the teaching of Christ without His example, and without a personal relationship with him. It is a very complex experience.

This idea of hypostatic paradigms which teaches us Christian ethics

If you notice, every character in John’s Gospel has a representative trait. In every dialogue, which is recorded in the Gospel, there is an opening of the dialogue, and then the dialogue runs into from a particular character to the universal. This is a remarkable thing, this flexible movement between the individual, and then this individual becomes representative of the group. So John gives us an indication that what he wants to see us, in every character, is a type of person, type of relationship with Christ. Father Sophrony like to employ the same principle in the monastery, he would often say, if you learn to live in peace and love in the monastery with one father, then you will learn to live in peace and love with millions of people in the world. This is a good example of the idea how every person represents a type of people that we might live by, and once we learn to live in peace with that person then you are able to live in peace and concord with all people. And we see that in John we have this existential presentation both of sin and righteousness for these characters.

Let us examine a few examples. John 3:1, we hear that a Pharisee a ruler of the Jews comes to Christ. And that once John sets him as a paradigm, represents a type of attitude to Christ faith that doesn’t have roots. And he switches dialogue into plural. Begins to speak on behalf of certain groups, and if you look at verse two, “Rabbi, you know that you come from God”. Immediately Christ also switches into plural, in verse 11. He says: “I say to you, we know… You don’t receive our witness”. Why would Christ speak in plural?  Well, I think John wants us to see in every person and example, paradigm, a type.  And indeed, we see how John moves from particular individual dialogue into universal, it becomes parabolic in its character. In fact in itself this dialogue becomes a parable.

By the end of the discourse, their meeting becomes a microcosm of encounter between Jesus and the world, the universal truth is exposed, man is born by water and spirit. Towards the end of the dialogue, we see how he moves to these universal themes. He speaks about condemnation, and the light that has come to the world, it of darkness rather than light, takes off on this universal domain. One of the authors called his commentary on John, ”the maverick gospel”. He says, John like an eagle takes off from the ground, and then he sores in heaven on this pan-universal scale.

Yes, Nicodemus, provides us an interesting example, paradigm. He is rather confused about Christ. Perhaps his faith is not strong enough that he can follow Christ. Perhaps many people would find familiar these same kind of spiritual problems. Nicodemus is mentioned again in chapter 7. Remember he’s the one that tried to defend Christ against the Jews - he said, “does our law judge the man before it hears him and knows what he does?” And indeed, out of reverence Nicodemus comes to Christ’s tomb at the end of the Gospel, chapter 19: “… And he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, to anoint Christ”. But John gives us a very profound psychological analysis of what really happened to Nicodemus, why he followed Christ. John in chapter 12 after he speaks about Pharisees, he says: “out of the rulers many did believe in him because of the Pharisees they did not confess Leicester should be put out of the synagogue, for they love the glory of man more than the glory of God.” So Nicodemus is given to us as an example of one who was afraid to follow Christ. Many of the rulers out of fear, didn’t confess Christ because they were afraid to be put out the synagogue. Does this phrase remind you of anything from the synoptic gospels? There was a rich man who could not follow Christ because of his treasures on earth. But of course, the parable of the sower, this world, the temptations, and riches of this world, that is the faith that has no roots. This is not the seed that fell on stony ground it had no deep roots. And what we have here is a similar teaching, that Christ gives us in Nicodemus, but it is like a parable in the synoptic gospels. This is the same message, but in a different form, communicated to us in this language of hypostatic paradigms. So the message of the hypostatic parables in John’s Gospel and the message in the Synoptics is the same.

Let us see how the same principle works in other characters. The very next chapter, chapter 4 where Christ meets the Samaritan woman. Again, we have this leap from individual particular to representative in the broader spectrum. Again, a change from singular into plural. Remember Christ begins his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, and then he addresses her in singular but later by verse 22 he begins to speak in plural: “you worship, what you do not know…” We see again, Christ switches into this plural. So in essence, she becomes a representative a certain group of people, the Samaritans. Another dynamic portrait, a hypostatic paradigm, another person who came to believe in Christ. It had she come to believe? And many of Christ’s teachings according to the synoptic gospel, reveals itself in a different way, the Christ talking about marriage et cetera. He discusses, the question of marriage with the Samaritan woman, and he says to her: “five men that you are with…” Because Christ speaks against adultery here. He is teaching here about how to pray, “worship of God in spirit and in truth”. In one way or another, all the synoptic messages and teachings, are to be found also in the Gospel of John, but through a different style of writing.

Why did Christ speak in parables?

And why does John, speak in this way using hypostatic paradigms? Why doesn’t he want to give us the direct commandment of Christ? Such as, do this or do that. Why this Christ speaking parables? Why does John use the same language, parabolic language, for this hypostatic paradigms? Why do you think this is the case? If we compare, the language of Christ, the way he gives his commandments, his teachings, with that of the old Testament you will find that he doesn’t use imperative very often. Occasionally he does, been the old Testament commandments, they always use imperative is: “thou shall not”. But English poet W.H. Auden once said, “you can’t tell people what to do, you can tell them a parable”. And this is very much what Christ employs when he speaks in parables. Because as I said earlier we’re dealing in the New Testament with the spiritual history of mankind, of the human person. Person whose freedom, God is eager to preserve. That is why he doesn’t impose himself, but he represents truth in this parabolic language. So that person, is free to make a choice on whether or not to follow Christ. And this is perhaps why we can translate “I speaking parables, so seeing they have the opportunity not to see, and hearing they have an opportunity not to hear.” That is why Christ speaks in parables. He leaves us to be free. The same goes with hypostatic language, and paradigms, in John’s Gospel. We are left free to decide for ourselves who we can associate ourselves with in the Gospel. The beloved disciple, perhaps Judas, perhaps Mary Magdalen, and this is how this language of paradigms works.

Q&A. There is a book by Jonah he actually mentions that, if Christ did wish to communicate this idea of deliberately blinding people he would have used the Isaiah quotation in full, but he did not. In Isaiah there is some very strong language where God wishes for this people to be blinded. But Christ omits the most important part of that quotation.

Man is a fact for God himself. Once you remove human freedom, you no longer have human beings. That is why there was a restoration of the fallen Adam into this freedom. This freedom that Christ brought to mankind, which lets humans be free. This gives them the choice of whether they wish to follow Christ not, it is a personal choice which God does not want to interfere with. And this is a choice that we make in the very depths of our heart. And the language that is employed by St Peter afterwards, it is the same language of non-coercion. He says: “I am going fishing” and the apostles replied: “we will go with you”. He did not impose, “we shall all go fishing”. This is the basis of our orthodox ecclesiology. Like Komakhov (?) wrote, “Christ bequeathed his truth, not to power, but to love”. Instead of legal authority we would possibly find perhaps in some other confessions, a legalistic understanding of authority. In the orthodox understanding of authority, this an authority of love above all not of power. And we venerate Christ, not for his power but for his love.

The Paradigm of Peter

We read passages where Peter is mentioned. And we can think what the evangelists wishes to communicate to us. If we considered the whole spiritual career of Peter, was following Christ from the beginning to the end, even to the point of his death. And in fact Christ did mention, that he predicted that Peter would suffer martyrdom as Christ did. And Peter is given to us as an example of a follower of Christ, as he has his own witnesses but nevertheless he follows Christ to the end. And indeed, Peter experienced his own Golgotha, and his own crucifixion. What actually happened to him, if we begin to analyse the situation in human terms and you went to Jerusalem with Christ. And in the Last Supper he said: “I will never betray you, I would die if it was necessary”. And after a few days he betrays him, it was a real personal tragedy when he realised what he had done. He felt a real cheapness about his personhood, that he betrayed eternal God that Peter himself had witnessed the Transfiguration with his own eyes. And if you take the attestation further, he was the oldest of the apostles, how embarrassing it was for him to set such example, he was in a state of nothingness, ultimate.

Father Sophrony said: “just imagine as pre-eternal God to have all this universal mission laid upon you, that is what happened later after the resurrection, but Peter felt such unworthiness, he said, “I will go fishing, I will do what I did at the beginning before I met Christ. After all this experience with Christ, Peter was broken with his betrayal of Christ so much, that he went back to doing what he was doing before, being fishermen.  This act in self, is a sign of profound spiritual property, humility. He does strange things, when he sees Christ in the boat, he jumps into the water. So have this very complex portrait of a Christian who has his weaknesses, his moments of not knowing what to do when he jumps and see. It is a very lively paradigm.

And there is also that of the beloved disciple. And if you notice the beloved disciple never speaks in the Gospel, he’s always silent, as someone who is always present with Christ.

Opposite of Righteousness

The opposite of righteousness is sin. What is sin? What is sinful? Can you give a definition? The way sin is portrayed in the new Testament, you cannot give a definition. In the same way that you can give a definition of love, cannot give a definition of sin. Sin, has now a personal dimension. In the old Testament, it was is to identify sin because you are doing certain actions to prescribed in the old Testament law the should be doing, if you’re doing this your sin. Sin in the old Testament is defined. But in the new Testament yes, Christ gives a list of the evils like what comes out of your heart (e.g. adultery), but this list of sins is not exhaustive. Can you give a definition of the sin of Judas, for example? What was wrong with what he did? The holy Fathers speak of Judas’s love for money, this perhaps was not the main point. The very fact that he betrayed Christ, was the major sin. He sinned against love. Judas was in a relationship of a follower to Jesus, and he severed that link by betraying him. But if you look at it according to the old Testament, Judas may not have committed any sinful action. He went to the Pharisees, told in the truth he didn’t lie, according to the old Testament he didn’t sin. But according to the new Testament, he sinned. And Judas did not only betray but delivered Christ to the Pharisees.

Sin is also given to us in this way, in the language of this hypostatic paradigm. And of course, there is a moment, where Satan enters Judas’s heart. Father Sophrony said that Judas was scandalised by Christ’s behaviour because remember the moment that he decided to betray him, a woman came to anoint him, and put precious oil and wiped his feet with her hair, and Judas at that moment thought, he receives pleasure from a woman, but he could not see the Christ was accepting her repentance. And this is the moment that Judas decided to betray him. But for Christ at this moment the salvation of this woman was so important. So what I am saying is that it is impossible to provide a definition of sin. Again, there is an infinite category of sin. Just like there is an infinite category of love, and love can be expressed in many forms. It is the same thing with sin, it can be expressed in many forms. In Soviet Russia people would report about their neighbours to authorities and they would think that they were doing nothing special because they were not seeing lies. So there were saying the truth, so what is wrong with the truth? Always in the right to say the truth? But you see according to the New Testament it is a sin which cannot be defined but it is a sin. In fact this personal dimension, people think at times that even if they see nice words but with a heavy heart, people can hurt, depends on the personal dimension. In the Akathist in our hymns to Christ we say: “Hail, now king of the Jews, king of Israel”. And of course, the same words were used by people who mocked him before the crucifixion. We can see that the same words can be understood differently given the different contexts infecting opposite ways.

Another hypostatic paradigm, in the fourth Gospel, other crowds. The concept of the crowd in John’s Gospel, is again, a very flexible and dynamic concept. If crowds are positively disposed towards Christ, find among the crowds his disciples. But in chapter 6, once the crowds turn hostile to Christ, they acquire a technical term “the Jews”. We see this dynamic from crowds to Jews. Bassler (?) Who asserts that the evangelist is not concerned with nationality, or geography, but he’s concerned with the type of attitude towards Christ, people who reject Christ and who do not accept Christ. So juice is not a nationality, but a type of people. This is crucial for our understanding, for political issues these days. Some fathers of the church believes the Gospel was anti-Semitic, but no this is not the case, and I would side with modern scholars that the term “Jew” was based on the type of attitude and behaviour.

Topic Lecture 7 - St John's Gospel

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

The Gospel of John is a unique Gospel. It is particularly close to the Orthodox Church. Once the Catholic Church was compared to the apostle Peter, the Protestant church to the apostle Paul, and the Orthodox Church was compared to St John the evangelist.

What the synoptic mean? Is synopsis. A common vision. This is in reference to the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke. If we speak about Christ, then we need to present a common vision of Christ. Now John's Gospel gives us a different aspect. It is no coincidence that many people of this particular Gospel, because it has a profound personal impact like no other Gospels. St John's Gospel sends us into the most intimate dialogue with its reader. And the works of Christ recorded in this gospel penetrate the very depth of our inner selves. Father Nikolai was raised in an atheistic society, but he witnessed many people coming to Christ as a result of St John's Gospel, and it was no coincidence as it had a profound personal dimension.

How should we approach the text of the Gospel? How should we study it? What should we study? As mentioned, every form of literature has its own criteria. We might be looking in some texts for the politics style, and other text for the whether historical facts are recorded and consistency of the account.

So what criteria should we be using to study St John's Gospel? Scholars believe that to the 19th century that the Gospels were some kind of memoir of the apostles. And this view was held by the church actually until very late. See the book by David Stross (?), The life of Jesus, written in 1885. For the first time Stross used the term myth in relation to the new Testament. And in the 20th century, science and ousted the church from the field of biblical studies altogether. These included the structure of the narrative, historical analysis, historical verifiability, logical consistency. An interesting in the field of theology, the field of science brought to modern man.

We also find testimony about the authorship of the gospel in St Irenaeus, who wrote about 180 A.D. John remained at Ephesus until the time of his passing around 117 A.D.also have reference John's authorship of the gospel in Clement of Alexandria: "and last for the evangelist, John perceived that all the external facts been made plain in the Gospels, and he was urged by his friends by the Holy Spirit, to compose a spiritual Gospel". If you want to know more about what the fathers of the church set about the Gospel, there is a book by Maurice Wiles (?) Which is recommended for those who wish to study a patristic approach to the Gospel.

But some say that the language of the gospel implied a much later date. And there is no historical evidence that John was actually present at Ephesus. St possible for example, never mentions John in his letter to the Ephesians. Is this a valid argument? This is rather an invalid argument, if we think about it in the modern terms, if a scholar was to write to a particular university, he/she would not go mentioning another name which was unrelated.

So scholars started to search for another author, another John. 

Do we remember in the Gospel of John who it says whom Jesus loved? Of course, it was Lazarus. Because Jesus wept, at his death. So one of the scholars indicated that possibly it was Lazarus who wrote the Gospel of John. And if you look at chapter 21 there is a question about the death of the disciple. And in the Gospels we will never hear, anything that is said, from the beloved disciple. He is rather silent personality. He never speaks. And some even question whether he would live forever, on earth, although Christ never said this.

Barnabas Linders (?) commentary, said that the whole Johannine community was the beloved disciple. And yet another scholar believed it was Lazarus and Mary who wrote the Gospel of John together since Mary was the 1st to witness the Lord's resurrection. In this instance it was considered to be a cooperative endeavour. And there are many books on this topic, and there are very many candidates. But the Orthodox perspective is of course the youngest disciple, John wrote this gospel.

So scholars searched for various influences to the Gospel of John, and they found themselves in a jungle, confused state, mess. Because the whole period from from the first 60 years of the first century to the middle of the second century, was one of the most intensive religious quests. Various philosophers, the Gnostics, special monastic communities, various myths and sacraments, and Eastern religions, all this constituted one complex setting. It was very difficult to place any direct dependence on John.

Influences on St John's Gospel

Platonism

Bultmann (?) believed that St John Hellenized Christianity. First of all there are very strong parallels with Platonism. Platonic philosophy maintained that behind this passing from this material world, there was a real eternal change in this world which led to the contrast between mind and body, spirit and flesh, world above and world below. Perhaps you can hear similarities with John's Gospel, about from on high, he speaks about the true minds about the truth, about one true God, this is very much Platonic vocabulary.

Stoicism

Secondly, stoicism: a particular and very important point is the concept of the Logos (?). The Stoics as you know, believed that focus was God, and in some sense also the whole universe. The Stoics were by no means crude pantheists. For they found seeds of divine Logos in the mind of man. There was a possibility of a special relationship between divine eternal universal laws and any human being. And what they saw as a duty of a human being was to live in accordance with this divine logos, to cultivate the seed of eternal logos within ourselves. This is how man becomes a child of God. Again we see parallels with John's Gospel.

Hermetic writings

A third remaining trend or influence comes from so-called Hermetic writings. What are these? At the beginning of the first century these two branches of Greek thought, Platonic and Stoic merged into one, and they appeared in a collection of works which were distributed in the second third and fourth centuries, known as hermetic writings. What can we say but these writings? There is a considerable emphasis on knowledge. Salvation was really to be found in knowing the truth knowing about God and the world, how to pass through and beyond this world, into the heavenly spheres. Much emphasis is placed about knowing the true God, chapter 17:3. Consider also light and life, in the context of the nature of God.

Gnosticism

John's Gospel is used widely by Gnostic writers to claim their apostolic authority for their views. But also by the Orthodox fathers of the church, who wanted to refute that Gnostic heresies. The first commentary that survived in almost its complete extract, was the work of of Gnostic Heraklion (?). Again similar ideas in the Gospel of John, I'd is about knowledge, about life, about truth about sacraments. In this context what saves us is knowledge, one has to know the authorities of the world, about man about God, and about the way for man to escape from this world and to be united with God. But really the fourth Gospel is decisively different.

There is a difference between knowledge of God in the Gospel, and the knowledge within that Gnostic context. Or any other difference which deals with incarnation? What is it? The knowledge in the Gospel of Christ, is really about personal knowledge, it is not about information in the world. In the Gospel, it is about relation, and communion with God. It's about ontological knowledge, personal knowledge. We know God through love, through communion. This is what is implied by knowledge. Our type of knowledge implies ontological knowledge, ontological union, with God. Consider for example the term knowledge in the context of Adam and Eve, when we are told: Adam knew his wife. Which means he entered in full communion with his wife, including all levels, physical, spiritual, all of the levels. It was that tell a tear of the communion. And this is type of knowledge that is implied in the fourth Gospel, knowledge as communion.

Rudolff Bultmann believes that in the fourth Gospel, nothing else but the question form of the salvation myth which belongs to the Mandaeism. These were a Jewish sect, whom broke with Judaism in the first century, and they believed Jesus was the son of the founder of the Mandaeism, supposedly sent John the Baptist. They believed that it was sent John the Baptist who was sent from above, not Christ. And they believed that this world was made out of a fusion of light and darkness to the body of man belong to the kingdom of darkness but his soul comes from the kingdom of light. Thus it is the light that is trapped in the darkness of the human body. 

If you notice in the fourth Gospel we have a very interesting portrait of sent John the Baptist. There was a tendency to emphasise that John the Baptist was not the Messiah. And this is perhaps where the notion of myth arose. How did the Mandeists see  it? The king of light sends down to earth his son suitably disguised in a human form so he can reveal to human beings there are heavenly origin. And to instruct them how to return back to their true home. This sounds very much like the fourth Gospel. And then the person who was sent to do this work by God... And when their work is done they go back to heaven and the son collects their sparks of light, their souls into his hands, it is kingdom. And when they have all returned to heaven the work is done. There is a passage with Christ talks about bringing together all the children of God. This is very much like the notion of the Mandaeis. The Mandaens had a special liking towards the baptism ceremony. And not just once but regularly. For them the baptism rite equated to the rite of purification. They would wear white robes for every baptism, and for the ceremony. Thus the similarity between the Mandaeis and the fourth Gospel is obvious. So Bultmann believes that the Christians turned the cosmological myths of the Mandaeis into Christianity. They applied what was applied to sent John the Baptist, to Christ.

However we can see weaknesses in this point. Firstly the Mandaeis literature is very much later in the piece, the documents were distributed around the seventh century. Many scholars now tend to believe like Barrett and Burkitt (?) That actually it is not Christianity that is dependent on the Mandaeis but the Mandaeis on Christianity very much. There are also many other differences. For example, how do we become children of God? We're not defacto children of God until we find our salvation in Christ. And then become a child of Christ through Christ. And the Mandaeis believed that every man is heavenly de facto. The real innocence is the divine light that is contained within the person. The Mandaeis, as well as many other Greek writers and hermetic writers, believe that man's redemption comes through information. For us it comes through personal love and communion. There is a difference in the concept of knowledge. And how did they see sacraments? For us any sacrament increases out into communion with Christ himself. Every sacrament is Christ himself. For example consider Eucharist, we communion of the body and blood of Christ himself. And it is there, that the sacrament finds its fulfilment. If you take baptism for example, it is not just about washing hands, or going for a swim. We are baptised into Christ, St Paul says. We are baptised into the person. And for the Mandaeis did not have that notion of person. Sacraments were a kind of magical ritual. Your apply a certain formula and then something happens.

And so some scholars believed, that the Gospel of John could not have been written by John the apostle because many of the things spoken come from later date, e.g. ideas, and vocabulary much later than the first century. But all these theories collapsed in the recent archaeological discoveries prove them wrong. We're speaking here but the dead Sea Scrolls. When they came to light, there are no less parallels with contemporary Judaism in the fourth Gospel than in the Greek world or the Mandaeis. E.g., the manual discipline, the Damascus covenant, the commentary under cavicle (?). John Ashton, the Oxford Scholar believes that in light of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of John is now considered as thoroughly Jewish document. In many ways these Scrolls have demonstrated that many of John's ideas which were thought to be of Greek influence, and probably of a later date, are quite explicable of a Palestinian-Jewish... there was already and established Jewish community when Christ was born. This means that the early date of the fourth gospel is not impossible, and we as Orthodox can only welcome this finding. We can prove that yes John was actually John the Apostle who was the writer of the Gospel of John.

When we come to the synoptic gospels, scholars believe that John belong to an independent tradition. He probably didn't even know the synoptic gospels. And it is a question whether he knew them or not. Our Orthodox tradition says yes he knew because of what St Clement of Alexandria said: "John, the last of all evangelists, after all the external facts had been made plain in other Gospels..." This phrase implies that he actually read them. And perhaps the question itself is not entirely relevant for us today.

There are stories that are not in the synoptic gospels: the woman of Samaria, the miracle at Canaan, which is an interesting detail which is not recorded in the Synoptics. The disciples of Christ baptised, as well as John the Baptist baptising. Even distinguished professors like George Mantzarides in your Orthodox tradition, have asked why is such an important event like the raising of Lazarus is not mentioned by any other evangelist. Well what do we say to that? Why was that the case? It was such a grand event the whole of Judaea witnessed it.

For John, the raising of Lazarus, had a very important theological significance. And that is why he records it. The synoptic writers, they speak about, other resurrections that John doesn't mention. For instance the raising of the son of the widow of Nine (?), And the raising of Jairus daughter. In fact it is possible that Christ raised many people, and all his miracles are not recorded. Christ did much more than we here in the Gospels but for John, he perceived the raising of Lazarus is having a special significance in the career of Christ as a whole, and having a theological significance, as a holy action which would proceed Christ's own resurrection. 

Yes, there are similarities as well, but the temple entry into Jerusalem, the anointing Bethany, and some other parallels like miracles like feeding a 5000 between the Gospel of John and the Synoptics etc. There are some differences in chronology and in geography in the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John. For example, in the synoptic gospels Christ comes a Jerusalem in the last stage of his ministry, while in John's Gospel he frequents Jerusalem often, and Jerusalem is mention quite a few times, in visits to the temple quite often there. One of the other differences is the style of writing of the Gospel of John, which are very different in terms of its structure. The synoptic gospels, for example, are composed of stories, little short stories about Christ. In John we find developed dialogues between Christ and other heroes of the Gospel. 

What can we say as a result of all of this findings? How does this comparison with the synoptic gospels help us to understand John's Gospel? How far does historical research advance our understanding of the actual text? And if you read modern biblical scholarship, the books try to contextualise the words of the Gospel. They try to put them in their context, into their Sitz im Leiben. There is a tendency to treat the Gospel, not as a universal of revelation but as a reflection of a particular historical situation. Something, that we can admit as Orthodox, but we wouldn't dwell on that. Because any Gospel is a universal revelation, because it is tied to particular historical context, but for us the new Testament is universal in its nature.

Possible Inconsistencies in the Text

Let's examine how this logic works of historical analysis. We have already gone through the various strands of thought, platonic, stoic, Gnostic, and so on, so scholars combine all this findings and they believe it is possible to reconstruct the actual history of the Johannine community, where the needs of the community dictated the content of the Gospel. Raymond Brown, writes on the "community of the beloved disciple", which still stands as the starting point for any Johannine study. And Lewis Martin (?), the "history and theology in the fourth Gospel". So let's examine how their logic works.

These scholars have noticed that the text of the fourth Gospel has been edited and re-edited several times. So how can we see this for example in the prologue of the Gospel is a far more theologically developed piece of the text it obviously doesn't correspond any style to the rest of the Gospel. It is like a poetic him. E.g 1:1-17. There are also in the text, many chronological and geographical inconsistencies for example chapter 6, we suddenly find ourselves in Galilee but in chapter 5 Christ was in Jerusalem. And another interesting example, chapter 14, verse one, Christ says: "Arise, let's go away from here", it looks like the end of the discussion but here Christ carries on with his discourse of the Last Supper for another couple of chapters. This can easily be explained by our cultural context whereby it is not that easy to remove oneself from a dialogue depending on the background.

In chapter 5, verse 25: "Christ said: 'I say to you that the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the son of God, and they who hear shall live". And just three verses below, Christ repeats the same thing: "for the hour is coming, who all in the graves shall hear his voice... And therefore come forth to the resurrection of life... And those who have done evil". It looks like the original idea in chapter 5:25, is corrected, clarified, interpreted. Additionally, we hear about the wedding in Canaan, where Christ turns water into wine, but then there is a puzzling comment in chapter 2, verse 11: "this is the beginning of miracles that Jesus did in Canaan of Galilee"; okay, but where is the rest? We don't hear about the rest of the miracles in Canaan. Well it depends how you interpret this phrase. We can always interpret this, is that this was the first miracle and there were many more to come throughout Christ's life. Scholars like Faulkner, "the Gospel of science: the reconstruction of the narrative source", believes there was a miracle walk that was incorporated into the Gospel of John by John. And this is why we have that strange phrase "the beginning of miracles". In chapter 20:30-31, reads like it is the end of the Gospel, "and truly Christ did many other signs... Which are not written in this book... But these are written so you could have life in his name." But the Gospel continues, we do not say in there. There is chapter 21. Scholars believe the chapter 21 is actually an appendix. And so scholars believe that the text has been edited, and re-edited.

But when we come to the actual content of the Gospel, we find that there are numerous polemical passages. Christ is said to be arguing with Jews, Pharisees, the Samaritans, in such a way that he seems to speak on behalf of a certain group. As if the evangelist, tries to give Christ his own voice and concerns, he puts on his lips the words that express concern not of the subject of Christ himself but the Christian community. See the conversation with Nicodemus, in chapter 3. Christ says: "truly, truly I say to you we speak what we know and we testify what we have seen". Why this Christ speaking plural, about himself? As if Christ is speaking on behalf of a certain group. And also there is a Samaritan woman, and Christ says in 4:22, "you worship what you do not know, we know to worship the salvation of the Jews". Who is speaking in this passage? Christ speaks, "we know", about himself. Like, he speaking on behalf the Jews. So the evangelist, tries to sort out polemical questions, that are vested in his own community.

St John the Baptist continually repeats "I am not the Messiah", 1:20, and 3:28. So why to drive this point so persistently? There must be something behind. And if we look at the Johannine Epistles, we seen the first epistle that in John's community there was a schism, a split. 1 John 2:19, John the evangelists says: "they went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they were of us they would have continued with us". He speaks of a certain group of people who departed from his community. How do we explain these polemics? Brown, suggests that we need to dig deeper into the historical setting, as to understand all of these strange passages, these strange polemics, which formed an influence the content of the Gospel. That is how we can ultimately understand the fourth Gospel.

What would be the historical settings of these polemics? Perhaps the main historical event in the first century, which gave birth to Christianity as religion, was the expulsion of the Christians from the synagogue. When did this happen? Because we know that Christians worshipped alongside Jews in the synagogue. Until the mid-first century all Christians were Jews, who were worshipping in the temple when Christ came. And these early Christians, understood that Christ was the fulfilment of the old Testament prophecies, and were standing in the temple and confessing Christ as the Messiah. And in fact, Judaism was quite liberal at that time, in the first half of the first century, it was pluralistic in its nature, it would accommodate many other religions, such as Platonism, other Greek philosophy, and Christianity as well was in this liberal environment. That's why Judaism flourished, in a universally acknowledge religion. It's a liberal trend increased its popularity. But what happens next? We know that around 66 A.D. Jewish laws began, and they were directly formed for the Jews against the Roman authorities. And in 70 A.D. the Jewish feast of Passover, Emperor Titus, the Roman leader arrived in Jerusalem and the siege began. It consisted of five months of siege, and the great temple of Jerusalem was burned. And the whole city, 1 million Jews were killed at this time. Just imagine what this meant for Jewish people at that time. Hundreds of thousands of captives were taken to Caesarea. And after this devastation, the cultural and religious and educational centre of Judaism, that is Jerusalem, there was a Jewish party that settled in Jamnia. A place which was away from Jerusalem. And it is there that the pharisaic party took a leading role in the revival of Judaism. The Pharisees were not liberals at all. They wanted to read Judaism from outside influences. And they introduced new liturgical texts into their services, one of them which was cursing Christians, and it was from that moment the Christians could no longer be side-by-side in the temple with the Jews. Christians had to confess through these liturgical texts that Christianity was heresy, and they honestly couldn't do that as Christians themselves. And at this time, the Christians began to be expelled from the synagogue. And he's around this point, that Raymond Brown and Lewis Martin, build their theory of the history. 

So now if we open the text in the first chapter, verse 35, Raymond Brown believes that here we are dealing with the very outset of the Johannine community. "The next day John was standing with two of his disciples... And they follow Jesus". This is how the community started. So the Johannine community consisted of Jews who believed in an old Testament type Christology. In verse 38 if we look at the kinds of Christological titles written by John they include: "Jesus called Rabbi"; verse 41 "the Messiah", "one of whom Moses wrote in the law in the Prophets"; "the son of Joseph", "son of God", "king of Israel". What kind of ID to these titles give us? Do they speak about the pre-eternal existence of Christ? Do they speak about his divinity? Not at all. They speak about him as a kind of old Testament prophets, but nothing special about him and his divinity. This kind of Christology which was at the outset for the community when they worshipped in the synagogue, which is why the Jews in the temple initially accept these notions there was nothing wrong with them. But then, if we move further into chapter 4, we hear about Christ's visit to Samaria which is not found in the synoptic gospels. And here we hear about an interesting type of Christology, Christ is now not just the son of Joseph, he is like 4:42 says: "he is the saviour of the world". Now we have a very different type of Christology. This is a theology which is universal, speaks about Christ is the saviour of the world. And this side of Christology Brown believes is precisely what caused the controversy between Judaism and Christianity. This is the kind of Christology that brought Christians into conflict with the synagogue. And from that time, from the time of expulsion, the middle period begins in the history of the community. After the expulsion, life in the community is preoccupied with the polemics with the Jews. After chapter 4 we hear, how the Jews are portrayed constantly in a negative light. Christ rebukes them, he argues with them, in a very intense way. And chapter 15, crisis: "now they have no excuse for their sin". But it was at this stage that the Gospel was written down.

And then there comes a new period where the community was expelled from the synagogue, and it became exposed to the rest of the world. Christ is now the true light of every man. And along with these influences from the Greek world and the gnostic tendencies, and finally the community is split into two. John is within the Orthodox Church, separating himself from the Gnostics. This is how we understand the history of the Johannine community.

Raymond Brown himself, and once written in an introduction, that we should be careful not to exaggerate, not to give a wrong weight to  every little detail, however it seems he has himself not taken his own advice. For example why couldn't Christ simply have said "Love one another"? You don't need a historical context for these words. It was simply Christ expression of divine love.

Orthodox Approach to John's Gospel

How should we as Orthodox, treat the text of the gospel? Why can we accept this narrowing down of the gospel to this particular historical setting? For us the gospel is a universal revelation. Yes it was born within the context of history, but for us it is an eternal self revelation of God, no less than this. Of course it touches upon history but it shouldn't deny its universal nature. Secondly, for us, the Gospels, and the new Testament as a whole is a spiritual text, we cannot deny a spiritual dimension to our Scripture. If we say it was just the product of human talents, we will narrow the gospel to this drama of literature. For us Scripture above all is a revelation of God, which came into being through synergy, through co-working between God and man. And we preserve in our church the right attitude toward the gospel, within our Orthodox tradition. We keep our gospel in the altar, we venerate the gospel and this is the attitude that the first Christians had. For us, if you want to entertain an Orthodox approach to Scripture, without this belief in scripture, we believe in the divinely inspired character of the text. If we choose a different path it could be very interesting but it won't be Orthodox.

And we shouldn't be afraid to take this perspective into our academic studies, until now Orthodox biblical scholarship, has not yet entered the international arena of biblical studies. There is a great contribution to be made worldwide. 

Q&A. John Barton, re-read the new Testament, and once wrote: "we are dealing not with actual text we are dealing with a person". Through texts we have this notion that every evangelist is communicating to us the person of Christ, so we as readers can enter communion with Christ. For example, St Clement of Alexandria uses the same word "to partake" (metalavo) both for the holy Eucharist and for being immersed in the holy Scripture.

One of the gnostic myths which tell us very much about the certain medical figures, that would deliver information about, about God but a personal communion is not is not required, personal knowledge of the saviour is not required. In all of these Gnostic myths, the Redeemer is only one who delivers information, but he doesn't actually die for his flock. In our case, Christ died for us, he is the good shepherd that lays down his life for us, and this produces a completely new category which is unknown did Gnostics. It is indeed love. The gospel expects our response through love, in the gnostic doesn't require it. For Gnostics all that is required is certain sets of ideas and proofs, not love. Who has read the Jesus gospel? This piece of literature, it is said that Jesus laughs at finding his disciples in prayer, and he said to give information about how to pass from this world to the next. And from our personal experience of Christ as Orthodox, we could not possibly recognise Christ in this kind of literature.

In our church the gospel is a companion for our whole life, it is not just an object, for academic study. This is the main difference between Gnosticism and Christianity. Through Christ we enter into communion and are able to know God. In the other monotheistic religions, we are not told of a pre-eternal God being Incarnate, and entering into a relationship with humans. To such an extent that we know him not only as God but we know him as a person. The new Testament is above all his revelation for us personally. If you look at the old Testament we knew how magnificent God was his impotence, adjust it was, yes he was still a universal God but there was something missing. Remember in the book of Exodus Moses said "he couldn't see the prosopon" the person of God. And that is why Moses said, there is something more to come, there will be another Prophet who will teach you everything. Because he was speaking about Christ.

Q&A. Yes we read the Gospel person but also in the context of sobornost. There is no truth for us without this idea of sobornost. It means that we live in a believing community, within a body of Christ, in our church. And for instance this may be a main difference between Pentecostal understanding of the gospel as individual truth given to every man who is free to interpret what he wants, Christ speaks to everyone personally… Yes we acknowledge the latter, but we also have in mind this community, and ecclesiastical dimension, which allows for the common understanding of Scripture, tradition, and above all sacraments. Because if you know for the first Christians who would gather for their agape meals, they actually communed in the body and blood of Christ, was linked completely with words about Christ. And once we separate the sacrament the communion of the Eucharist, from the gospel itself, then both sides lose. Because we enter personal communion with Christ through our Eucharist as well from Scripture, they are one and the same thing for us as Orthodox. We cannot interpret scripture without tradition, as well there is no tradition without scripture, without a church. 

Where can we see a touch of gnosticism? Above all, when people are trying to read the Gospels with impersonal spectacles. Once you have an idea of knowledge which is not related to your personal life then we're dealing with gnosticism. And this is the same tendency which prevails in biblical studies these days, when researchers feel you do not have to enter communion with Christ, God, to study the Gospel. In fact it has now become a scientific discipline and people are detached from what they are studying, in the hope they can introduce objective pronouncements. And really when we consider this, if we want to be objective, as Orthodox, we strive to interpret what the Gospel always intended us to understand as objective; which is faith in Christ. Really, this so-called objectivity in modern academic circles, is limiting. For some of these academics, if not most working in biblical studies, faith is a non-starter because it is something which would influence, or bias your approach to the study. 

Q&A. We know that there is something fishy going on, when people try to dissect texts. For example a logical analysis, based on logical positivism, cannot accept the logic of the Gospels, so it dissects. When John says for example "the hour is coming, and now is", from a chronological perspective how is it possible to say is coming, and is now is; it is either coming or is. So scholars try to dissect the text to make sense of it. And the same goes with mistranslations. Once you start doing this, it is not canonical, it is a symptom that something is not consistent within your perception of the new Testament. If something doesn't fit your ideology, then you can change it. So you can have faith which is truth or you can have ideology which places different meaning on the actual text. We must avoid ideology.