As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Tradition

I went to my brother-in-law's (Presbyterian) church Sunday. The sermon was interesting. It was based on the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda from the 5th chapter of the gospel of John. Before preaching the sermon, the man (not the pastor of the church) spoke of textual differences in his version (RSV) and the pew versions (NIV). The latter contained verse 4 while his did not. Here is verse 4 in the KJV:
For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
He went on to say that the verse, according to "most authorities" was a later addition or a side note scribbled by a ... scribe.

Well, this caught my attention, so I decided to do a little checking for myself. My first thought was that the KJV, having come largely from the Greek, would have preserved the Greek version. I was correct. Here is a list of translations of the verse, including the Greek. As you can see, most of them do include verse 4.

I noted, with some interest, that the Vulgate did not. This list of translations bears that out, as well as the lack of verse 4 in the RSV. Looking on the online Catholic Encyclopedia, I saw that, despite Jerome's omission, they seem to believe that the later verses show that verse 4 was meant to be included, specifically verse 7:
The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
Why, then, does this man and other "authorities" see fit to remove the verse? Granted, it seems a little fantastic, but what in the Bible doesn't?

Actually, I already knew the answer. He may or may not have known it, but there is a long-standing tradition in the Church as to why the pool at Bethesda was so important, why it had healing qualities. I've mentioned the legend, that of the True Cross, before on other blogs, but it bears repeating. This time I'm including some source material for your perusal.

First, here is a brief summary with illustrations from a famous set of murals about the True Cross.

Next, I turn to the Golden Legend, which includes this account of the death of Adam:
But all the days of Adam living here in earth amount to the sum of nine hundred and thirty years. And in the end of his life when he should die, it is said, but of none authority, that he sent Seth his son into Paradise for to fetch the oil of mercy, where he received certain grains of the fruit of the tree of mercy by an angel. And when he came again he found his father Adam yet alive and told him what he had done. And then Adam laughed first and then died. And then he laid the grains or kernels under his father's tongue and buried him in the vale of Hebron; and out of his mouth grew three trees of the three grains, of which trees the cross that our Lord suffered his passion on was made, by virtue of which he gat very mercy, and was brought out of darkness into very light of heaven.
I turn again to the Golden Legend for this excerpt from the entry on the True Cross:
It is read in the gospel of Nicodemus that, when Adam waxed sick, Seth his son went to the gate of Paradise terrestrial for to get the oil of mercy for to anoint withal his father's body. Then appeared to him S. Michael the angel, and said to him: Travail not thou in vain for this oil, for thou mayst not have it till five thousand and five hundred years be past, how be it that from Adam unto the passion of our Lord were but five thousand one hundred and thirtythree years. In another place it is read that the angel brought him a branch, and commanded him to plant it the Mount of Lebanon. Yet find we in another place that he gave to him of the tree that Adam ate of, and said to him that when that bare fruit he should be guerished and all whole.

When Seth came again he found his father dead and planted this tree upon his grave, and it endured there unto the time of Solomon. And because he saw that it was fair, he did do hew it down and set it in his house named Saltus. And when the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, she worshipped this tree, because she said the Saviour of all the world should be hanged thereon, by whom the realm of the Jews shall be defaced and cease. Solomon for this cause made it to be taken up and dolven deep in the ground.

Now it happed after, that they of Jerusalem did do make a great pit for a piscine, whereas the ministers of the temple should wash their beasts that they should sacrifice, and there found this tree, and this piscine had such virtue that the angels descended and moved the water, and the first sick man that descended into the water, after the moving, was made whole of whatsoever sickness he was sick of.

And when the time approached of the passion of our Lord, this tree arose out of the water, and floated above the water, and of this piece of timber made the Jews the cross of our Lord. Then, after this history, the cross by which we be saved came of the tree by which we were damned, and the water of that piscine had not his virtue only of the angel but of the tree. With this tree, whereof the cross was made, there was a tree that went overthwart, on which the arms of our Lord were nailed, and another piece above, which was the table wherein the title was written, and another piece wherein the socket or mortice was made, wherein the body of the cross stood in, so that there were four manner of trees, that is of palm, of cypress, of cedar, and of olive. So each of these four pieces was of one of these trees.
As an aside, it is also taught that Golgotha derives its name from Adam's skull, which was buried where Christ was crucified. Here's an excerpt from a page outlining the symbolism of the cross pictured:
Firstly, the skull locates the Crucifixion as taking place at Golgotha, "place of the skull". But tradition has it that this is the skull of Adam. Iconographically, if not literally, it certainly is that: because its inclusion is an assertion that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (l Cor. 15: 22). Here, we encounter the understanding of Christ as the New Adam who brings about the restoration of all things. This is the beloved theme of St. Irenaeos of Lyons (c. 130 - 200).

The whole purpose of God is summed up and effected in Christ - the New Adam: all the yearnings of the prophets for the Messiah, a new redemption, a new Exodus, a new Covenant, a new inheritance, a new hope: 'With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Him, things in heaven, and things are on earth." (Ephesians l: 9-10) and of course the vertical bar of the Cross links heaven and earth as Christ is the Heavenly man who descended from heaven and dwelt on earth and extended salvation even to those under the earth - again signified by Adam's skull.
There's also this excerpt from a poem by John Donne called Hymn to God in My Sickness:

We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ's cross and Adam's tree, stood in one place ;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.

Needless to say, I was put ill at ease from the outset, so my opinion of his sermon was biased. I didn't like it. I wasn't sure of the purpose of the sermon, although it seemed to touch on a sensitive issue for the church. Perhaps, if I had known more of the situation, I could have judged it better. Towards the end, he mentioned The Da Vinci Code. It raised questions, he though, which was good, except that people were "obsessing over Nicea". He portrayed the council as relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Compared to the fact that Christ healed a lame man at Bethesda, what does Nicea matter.

Had I not already had my hackles up because of his intro, I might have missed this. Nicea not important? The Bible from which he got his story was approved at Nicea. The Symbol of Faith which the majority of the Church recites every Sunday was composed during that council. Not important? That's like saying the Bible itself isn't important.

I know what he meant, really. He was restating Luther, that traditions are fine as long as they don't obscure the Gospel. He meant to say (as he said later) that we shouldn't care whether we're singing Graham Kendrick or Fanny Crosby. I found that humorous, actually. Fanny Crosby is traditional? How about the hymns of St. Ambrose or St. Augsutine. There's some traditional hymns for you. Maybe even Luther or the Wesley brothers. But Fanny Crosby? That's kind of my point, though. To compare Fanny Crosby and the Council of Nicea shows a severe mis-prioritization in tradition ranking. And if that is what that particular church is arguing over, perhaps they should do a little historical survey and argue about some of the big things, like the Filioque or even Works vs. Faith. Fanny Crosby?

I don't mean to mock this particular church. As far as LIVING the Christian life goes, they trump many churches whose theology I find more true to that of the Early Church. I did learn this from the sermon. Probably, in the eyes of God, some of the struggles I named as "big" ones seem as petty and isignificant as being true to Fanny Crosby does to me.

4 Comments:

Blogger Hajiburton said...

I hope that I can lend a little balance to your musings, esteemed frater. If you desire to find theology that is "true to that of the Early Church," you would do well to omit the Golden Legend (10th c. (?)) from it. While you're at it, you should really remove John 5:4 from your Bible as well (in the interest of Primitive Christianity). Frustratingly, I cannot reach my Greek Testament, so I will have to work from memory here. The manuscripts (2) used to produce the King James Version of 1611, and not substantially updated in the New King James Version of this century, were not good manuscripts, in terms of their fidelity to the primitive text. They followed a late form of the Byzantine text type, a manuscript family that tended towards adding explanations and parentheses where the original had none. The translation into English, of course, is peerless. Nothing has matched the style of the King James to the present day for gripping, contemporary (in 1611) expression in the target language. The fact remains, though, that it is based on a corrupt Greek manuscript.

During the last 150 years, piles of new manuscript evidence has come to light. Thanks to men like Constanine Tischendorf and Irving Nestle, who are just a few of the "authorities" you found so suspect, men, I might add, who searched the closets of monasteries with their own eyes for evidence, and whose opinions, based on the evidence of not two, but 5000 manuscripts, of the New Testament, has ultimately issued in the new critical text (The Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th ed.), and translations like the RSV. The edit, furthermore, is a result of the discovery of those ancient and faithful manuscripts, and not theologically-motivated, Marcionistic attempt to edit out the Christianity "we don't like." The Golden Legend and the Legend of the True Cross may find support in John 5:4 or not, but the fact remains that the earliest witnesses do not include John 5:4 at all, whatever late medieval romantics thought. It is not likely that verse four appeared in the original text, and I find your Dan Brown-esque questioning of sound text criticism all too internet-worthy.

To continue, I believe what the speaker may have been refering to when he said people were "obsessing over Nicea" is the persistent urge people seem to feel to invent shady deals and betrayals, and the greedily consume the inventions of others as more probable than the truth. I am quite sure that the Council was not unimportant in the Grand Scheme of things, it is certainly not (as some New Testament scholars would say) as important to Christianity as the life of Jesus itself!
Of course Nicea adopted the famous Creed, and yes, Nicea formally recognized (it is my term- I am Protestant, and cannot change) the 27 books that had been in use from the late first century, but the idea that has arisen in people's minds that Nicea could have twisted and betrayed the Primitive tradition in glaring ways. It is not possible. The manuscripts predate it. The Ante-Nicene fathers are consistent. The traditions about Jesus before the late 2nd century (when the Gnostic Gospels appeared) are uniform. Nicea is not the most important lesson in Church history. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ is.
Therein lies the tie-in with the rather mundane battle over worship styles, which I think you have understood arightly. The banality of both the parties' tastes is regretable, but doesn't necessarily speak to poor theology. I think Mat Redman may actually have been the one cited as a "contemporary," not Graham Kendrick, which actually would improve the calibre of theology involved quite a bit.

To conclude, let me say comment on your the rhetorical question you placed in the pastor's mouth: "compared to the fact that Christ healed a lame man at Bethesda, what does Nicea matter?"

The answer to that question must be, if you have understood John the Evangelist's point, NOT VERY MUCH. Christ healed (on the Sabbath) because He was LORD and God, and in taking up the divine perogative for Sabbath labor, he stated that fact. Compared to Christ's Lordship- compared to his declaring the Kingdom of God and establishing the Church as the first glimmer of that Kingdom's coming throug his Life, Death, and Resurrection, what is Nicea but a pale, true shadow- a "yea and amen" to the greatest truth that ever crossed man's lips?

with fear and trembling,
Sir R.F. Burton

11:26 AM  
Blogger Hajiburton said...

I see a sentence escaped me in the second paragraph. What man can tame the tongue?

Sir R.F. Burton

12:03 PM  
Blogger fra edwin said...

Regarding John 5:4

From the NAB:

Toward the end of the second century in the West and among the fourth-century Greek Fathers, an additional verse was known: "For [from time to time] an angel of the Lord used to come down into the pool; and the water was stirred up, so the first one to get in [after the stirring of the water] was healed of whatever disease afflicted him." The angel was a popular explanation of the turbulence and the healing powers attributed to it. This verse is missing from all early Greek manuscripts and the earliest versions, including the original Vulgate. Its vocabulary is markedly non-Johannine.

3:24 AM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

>>If you desire to find theology that is "true to that of the Early Church," you would do well to omit the Golden Legend (10th c. (?))<<

First, the Golden Legend is a compilation of much older legends. Second, not only do I know from what century it came, but I also know that the Orthodox reject many parts of it, like the life of St. Christopher, as without bases. I used it as a source to tell the story, not an early source. Finally, I didn't say I was seeking theology akin to that of the Early Church, only that the lives of your church mirrored that ideal. I seek Truth. I feel like I find that more in Early (which is not to say "first ten years after Pentecost") Christianity.

>>The fact remains, though, that it is based on a corrupt Greek manuscript. <<

You call it a "corrupt Greek manuscript", I suppose, because it diverts from the original autograph. But I do not believe that the original autograph has any greater authority than said corrupt manuscripts. I'll get to this later, but the reason this is relates to epistemology, specifically, authority and revelation. You need an authentic text. I need an authentic Church.

>>During the last 150 years, piles of new manuscript evidence has come to light.<<

And this trumps the previous 1,900 years ... how?

>>Thanks to men like Constanine Tischendorf and Irving Nestle,<<

I'll go with Irenaus and Athanasius, thanks. (Although I don't know if any of them believed said legend or what they thought about John 5:4.)

>>and translations like the RSV.<<

I know the Orthodox dislike the NRSV, and aren't entirely keen on the RSV either, although they're a little wary of most English translations (as they have had little part in any of them). Why? Because they are indeed more concerned with theology than faithful, factual rendering (which is impossible).

>>and not theologically-motivated, Marcionistic attempt to edit out the Christianity "we don't like."<<

Like Luther and the rest of the Church that ignores the Apocrypha?

>>I find your Dan Brown-esque questioning of sound text criticism all too internet-worthy.<<

I'm a little surprised at this, Aaron. You're not normally one to attempt to win an argument by comparing me to such a person, especially one so incredibly loose with history. My criticism has real basis. The problem is that you misunderstand it.

It's not about whether the original had the verse. It's about whether the Church decided the verse should be included. It appears to me that the greatest majority of witnesses say that it should, and some modern person trying to use modern methods on something so far beyond human effort is laughable. I believe the Spirit led that verse to be included, or could have. I haven't studied enought to know for sure. It was that central misunderstanding I was highlighting, not the verse itself. I continue ...

>>I believe what the speaker may have been refering to when he said people were "obsessing over Nicea" is the persistent urge people seem to feel to invent shady deals and betrayals, and the greedily consume the inventions of others as more probable than the truth.<<

Possibly, but by extension, he was also saying that the Council itself was not nearly so important as to warrant such scrutiny. I point to your next statement as proof:

>> I am quite sure that the Council was not unimportant in the Grand Scheme of things, it is certainly not (as some New Testament scholars would say) as important to Christianity as the life of Jesus itself!<<

"I am quite sure that the Council was not unimportant..." Damned by faint praise, if I do say so myself. Not unimportant? It's vitally important, even for a Bible only person. If God did not lead the Council in the compilation of the Canon, then the Canon itself is suspect and open to debate. But the Council is even more important than just that, for it is part of the Authority of which I speak.

>>It is not possible. <<

Sure, it's possible Nicea twisted the faith. Sure, it's possible that Constantine manipulated it. Anything is possible.

>>The manuscripts predate it.<<

The manuscripts predate the Council, but the Church predates and outranks the manuscripts always.

>>Nicea is not the most important lesson in Church history.<<

No, but it goes to a greater lesson, that of authority and fidelity in transmitting Truth.

>>The life, death, and resurrection of Christ is.<<

But what is our authoritative source? The Bible? But who wrote it? Who compiled it? Who chose which books would be in and which wouldn't? This is important!!!

>>The banality of both the parties' tastes is regretable, but doesn't necessarily speak to poor theology.<<

I didn't say "poor theology." I said poor "priorities." There is no comparison, as he did, with Nicea and Crosby.

>>I think Mat Redman may actually have been the one cited as a "contemporary," not Graham Kendrick, which actually would improve the calibre of theology involved quite a bit. <<

I couldn't remember the other guy.

>>To conclude, let me say comment on your the rhetorical question you placed in the pastor's mouth: "compared to the fact that Christ healed a lame man at Bethesda, what does Nicea matter?"<<

Wow. You're pulling out all the rhetorical punches. "Placed in the pastor's mouth..."? I didn't place it there, it's a direct quote, or as close to as I can recall.

>>The answer to that question must be, if you have understood John the Evangelist's point, NOT VERY MUCH. <<

Yes, it does matter. If we cannot trust the source, we cannot trust the story. That's why Nicea is important.

Peace,
Christopher

5:47 AM  

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