Posts Tagged ‘Early Church Fathers’

Christmas Is Christian

Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness we were constantly taught that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had re-established authentic Christianity that was originally taught by the Apostles but had been corrupted by pagan practices and beliefs such as the celebration of Christmas.  Therefore, as Jehovah’s Witnesses we did not celebrate Christmas.

The story is that the date of Christmas was basically chosen by the Early Church to co-opt a pagan Roman holiday that celebrated the “Unconquerable Sun”.  Because of this, the Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Christmas and the traditions associated with the Christmas celebration are pagan and this is just another example of how Christianity was corrupted in the centuries after the apostles died.

I usually respond to these objections in a couple of ways:

1. As a Catholic, I believe that human nature, while wounded, is basically good and that all religions contain some truth in it.  So, it is a common practice for Christian missionaries to look at a native non-Christian culture and religion and to emphasize those practices that are good and consistent with Christian beliefs so as to evangelize.  Therefore, if the claims made by the Jehovah’s Witnesses are true and the early Church did Christianize a pagan holiday and did take those elements of a pagan holiday that were good and give them a Christian meaning, I really have no problem with it.  That is an example of how we, as Christians, are commanded to evangelize and use those good beliefs and practices found in a native non-Christian culture or religion as a springboard to giving these people the fullness of truth in Christ.

2. In recent years, it has been demonstrated that much of the historical scholarship making the claim that the Early Church chose December 25th as the date for the birth of Christ because they wanted to co-opt a pagan festival is not accurate.  According to Professor William Tighe, the date that the Early Church chose for Jesus’ birth had nothing to do with the ancient Roman festival of the Sun but had to do with the Early Christian’s attempts to set a date for the death and resurrection of Christ.  In the West, the date that many Christians settled upon for this event was March 25th. Evidently there was a tradition in the early Church based on a Jewish understanding of the birth and death of the great Jewish prophets that Jesus, who would be the fulfillment of all of the prophets, would be conceived on the same date that he would die just like all of the Jewish prophets of old.  This means that the early Church believed that the Blessed Mother conceived Jesus on March 25th.  In fact, to this day, the Western Church celebrates March 25th as the Feast of the Annunciation when Jesus was conceived.  If one counts nine months from March 25th, one gets December 25th as the birth date for Jesus.

Furthermore, the earliest Christian source that places Jesus birth on December 25th is recorded for us by Hippolytus of Rome in his Commentary On Daniel in 202 A.D.  While this section of his work was thought to have been a forgery, it appears as though more current scholarship suggests that this section of his writing is authentic.

If one realizes that the earliest record we have of a pagan Roman celebration occurring on December 25th is dated to 274 A.D., one could conclude that Christians claimed this date as Christ’s birth some 72 years before the pagans chose that date for their festival. In fact, Professor Tighe suggests:

“Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine’s time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.

And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians. The Christians, in turn, could at a later date re-appropriate the pagan “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the “Sun of Salvation” or the “Sun of Justice.””-Calculating Christmas

Kind of funny as with most things taught to us by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that just the opposite of what they claim is most likely true.

In any case, the birth of Our Lord is a joyous occasion for Christians throughout the world.  It is something that was celebrated with song by the angels in heaven and with amazement by the Shepherds of the fields and with gifts from the Wise Men of the East.  When I read the Christmas story in the Gospels, it sounds like a party to me and it is one party that I would like to celebrate with the hosts of heaven and all people of good will.

For more information, here are some links to other sources:

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v

http://piousfabrications.blogspot.com/2010/12/pagan-origins-of-christmas.html

http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp#location1

Are the JWs Really the Re-establishment of 1st Century Christianity?

The JWs taught me that their organization is the re-establishment of authentic 1st Century Christianity without the “pagan” influences found in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Churches.  So, I reasoned that if the JWs are correct, then I should be able to find their doctrines in the writings of those Christians who were alive when the Apostles were still alive.  What I found was quite shocking to me.

I started with the writings of St. Ignatius who was the Bishop of Antioch.  He was taken to Rome where he was martyred for the faith.  During his trip to Rome, he wrote a series of letters to the Christian communities along the way.  These letters are believed to have been written as early as 98 A.D. which means that St. Ignatius was a contemporary of St. John the Apostle.

In the his writings, St. Ignatius confesses Jesus as God and, furthermore, is willing to die for this belief.  He also refers to the Eucharist as the flesh of Jesus Christ which is a very Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.  Here are some examples:

“being united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God.”-The Epistle to the Ephesians

“There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible— even Jesus Christ our Lord.”-The Epistle to the Ephesians

“For our GodJesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.”-The Epistle to the Ephesians

“Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles”.-The Epistle to the Trallians

For our GodJesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed[in His glory]. Christianity is not a thing of silence only, but also of [manifest] greatness.-The Epistle to the Romans

“I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”-The Epistle to the Romans

“Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God.”-The Epistle to the Romans

The writings of Ignatius really affected me because as a JW I was taught that after the Apostles died all of the “Catholic type of false doctrines” began to arise among the early Christians.  However, here was a leader of the Christian community in Antioch willing to die for these “Catholic” beliefs and he was alive during the time of the Apostle John.  Furthermore, no matter what Early Church Father I read, I discovered that their beliefs were in no way, shape or form similar to anything that the JWs taught or continue to teach at this time.  Therefore, I had to wonder if the claims that the JWs make of being the re-establishment of organized first century Christianity on earth was really something that I could believe in.


If you would like more information on the Early Church Fathers and what they believed compared to what the JWs claim you may wish to read the following:

THE WATCHTOWER AND THE ANTE-NICENE CHURCH FATHERS  by Michael J. Partyka

Jehovah’s Witnesses on Trial:  The Testimony of the Early Church Fathers by Robert U. Finnerty

After I read about the beliefs of the Early Church Fathers, I began wondering how it is that Christians decided what books to place in the New Testament or, as the JWs call it, the Christian Greek Scriptures.  The information I discovered here went a long way to attracting me to the Catholic Church.  I will talk about this in my next blog post.

Academic Dishonesty or Incompetence-What Did the Experts *Really* Say?

About the time Wayne Rogers and I had our discussion on how to properly interpret those proof text used by Trinitarians on the nature of God, I got a phone call from some Lutheran friends of mine who lived in Nebraska.  At the time I was a professor at Concordia University in Seward, NE and there was a small Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall there. 

Evidently, some JWs were visiting some Lutheran friends of mine who attended the local Lutheran parish in Seward and these JWs had given them a copy of the brochure “Should You Believe in the Trinity?”  I had heard that the JW author of this booklet, which is still published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, had included many quotes in this booklet from history and theology experts to support the JWs’ views on the nature of God.  When my Lutheran friends had read the booklet they were confused by these quotes and troubled because there were no references in the booklet other than at most an author’s name and perhaps a title to a book or article.

Since, the local Lutheran college had a rather extensive theological collection, I told my Lutheran friends to meet me at the college library and that we would try to find as many of the references cited in the JWs’ booklet as we could to see if they had been taken out of context in some way.  The results of this exercise were shocking not only to my Lutheran friends but to me as well.

Here is an example of one of the many misquotes we found in the JWs’ booklet “Should You Believe in the Trinity?”  The JW author of the booklet is constantly making the argument that a faithful Christian would reject the Trinity doctrine because the Christian Greek Scriptures (that is JW speak for the New Testament), does not clearly present the Trinity doctrine.  In support of this view, they quote a ton of scholars who appear to support the JW author’s point of view.  Here is an example of one of the quotes that they use:

“Bernhard Lohse says in A Short History of Christian Doctrine: “As far as the New Testament is concerned, one does not find in it an actual doctrine of the Trinity.””  http://www.watchtower.org/e/ti/article_03.htm

For the trusting reader, this quote seems to be quite convincing.  However there is no page number cited in the booklet where one can go and read the original quotation in its entirety.  If one does, then one would get a whole different perspective on what Bernhard Lohse was trying to say.  Here is the quote in its entirety on page 38 of the book A Short History of Christian Doctrine:

“As far as the New Testament is concerned, one does not find in it an actual doctrine of the Trinity.  This does not mean very much, however, for generally speaking the New Testament is less intent upon setting forth certain doctrines than it is upon proclaiming the kingdom of God, a kingdom that dawns in and with the person of Jesus Christ.  At the same time, however, there are in the New Testament the rudiments of a concept of God that was susceptible of further development and clarification, along doctrinal lines.”

As one can see from the entire quote (as well as by reading the entire book), Lohse does not reject the Trinity and neither does he say that the Trinity is not found in the New Testament at all as the JW author claims he does.  What Lohse does say is that the fully formulated Trinity doctrine is not found in the New Testament but the “rudiments” of such a concept of God are found in the New Testament and the Church, over time, developed those ideas into the Trinity Doctrine.  In fact on page 41 of the book A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Lohse says:

“From the beginning, of course, certain fundamentals were firmly held by the church, namely, that God is one, i.e., that it did not believe in two, let alone three gods; that this one God has revealed himself in a threefold way as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;”

The worse of the misquotes and misrepresentations that the JW author uses is when he quotes from Father Edward Fortman’s book entitled The Triune God.  To the trusting reader the JW author makes it appear as though Father Fortman, a Catholic priest no less, rejects the central doctrine of the religion that he is supposed to be advocating.  However, any reasonably intelligent individual can tell by reading just the first few pages of his book that Father Fortman is a very strong believer and defender of the Trinity doctrine and that his book is dealing with how the Church formulated this belief from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. 

The JW author’s reputation for misrepresenting and misquoting scholars in this booklet alone is the subject of TONS of websites.  If you want more examples, I will refer you to the following links:

http://www.bible.ca/trinity/trinity-jw-deceptions.htm

http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/trinity.php

http://www.towertotruth.net/ShouldYouBelieveintheTrinity.htm#top

In any case, after discovering these misquotes and misrepresentations, my Lutheran friends were very upset that someone would write and publish such a dishonest brochure.  They made photocopies of the full quotes and also checked out those books from the college library that they could to show their JW visitors how the author of the “Should You Believe in The Trinity?” booklet was misrepresenting things. 

About two months later, I got another call from my Lutheran friends and they told me that they had shared their information with their JW visitors.  They told me that the JW visitors were visibly shaken at what had been shared with them and that they took the photocopies with the promise that they would come back with an explanation.  However, my Lutheran friends said that their JW visitors never returned on the day they said they would.  In fact, when my Lutheran friends saw their JW visitors at a local restaurant and went over to say hello to them, the JWs quickly left the restaurant and refused to speak to my Lutheran friends.

I told my Lutheran friends that they should now pray for their JW visitors because obviously some seeds of doubt had been planted in them about whether or not the Watchtower Society leaders could be trusted when it comes to dealing with subjects about the nature of God.  It is one thing to believe differently than others but it is a whole other thing to grossly misrepresent the beliefs of others in such an academically dishonest, at worse, or academically incompetent, at best, way.

About a week or so after I had coached my Lutheran friends and after they had been shunned by their JW friends at the local restaurant, two JW elders knocked on my door.  The little town where I lived in Nebraska was quite small so it did not take the local elders long to discover who it was who had been coaching the local Lutherans in their discussions with the local JWs.

 Evidently, one of the elders who visited me was the Presiding Elder of the local congregation and his daughter was one of the JWs who had visited my Lutheran friends.  I imagine that the presentation that my Lutheran friends had given her must have really shaken her up to make her father go on a search and visit mission to meet with me.  The two elders tried to discover who I was and where I was from and when I did not give them the information they wanted and when I told them my intention was to continue to share this information with whomever would visit my home and the homes of my Lutheran friends, the two JW elders got quite angry.  (In fact, one of them got in my face and began to close his fist as if getting ready to hit me when the other elder pulled him back and convinced him to leave.)

Another thing that happened during this time was that in addition to misquoting Biblical Scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries in this booklet, the JWs also misrepresented a group of individuals known as The Early Church Fathers.  These individuals wrote about the beliefs of the Christians during the end of the 1st Century and beyond.  I will discuss what I discovered in these writings next.

The Creation Contradiction

One of the contradictions that was pointed out to me by Jay Hess had to do with answering the question, “Who created the heavens and the earth?”

For example in the New World Translation the following scriptures from the Old Testament indicate that Jehovah, whom the Jehovah’s Witnesses would say is God the Father, is the One who created everything by Himself with no assistance from anyone:

“This is what Jehovah has said, your Repurchaser and the Former of you from the belly: “I, Jehovah, am doing everything, stretching out the heavens by myself, laying out the earth.  Who was with me?”-Isaiah 44: 24 -New World Translation

“This is what Jehovah has said, the Holy One of Israel and the Former of him: “Ask me even about the things that are coming concerning my sons; and concerning the activity of my hands you people should command me. I myself have made the earth and have created even many upon it.  I –my own hands have stretched out the heavens, and all the army of them I have commanded.” –Isaiah 45: 11, 12 New World Translation

However, the JWs believe that Jesus was created directly by Jehovah and was used by Jehovah to help him create the rest of the Universe.  To support this view of Jesus being responsible for the creation of the Universe they cite the following scripture (remember that the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Word (in Greek “Logos”) is Jesus in his pre-human existence):

“In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This one was in [the] beginning with God.  All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” John 1:1-3 New World Translation

Note that the JWs’ own Bible indicates that not one thing that came into existence came into existence apart from the work of the Word-Jesus Christ.  However, if one accepts the belief that Jesus is not equal in nature to God the Father and that the Word, Jesus, cannot also be rightly referred to as Jehovah (or Yahweh), then it appears as though the Old Testament claims made by Jehovah in Isaiah are contradicting the New Testament claims made about the Word, Jesus, in the Gospel of John.   In other words, how could Jehovah (or Yahweh) make the claim that He created the heavens and earth by Himself if Jesus was there to help Him as the JWs claim?

For a Trinitarian, however, this is not a problem because Trinitarians believe that Jesus has all of the attributes and abilities of God the Father and, therefore, can also be referred to as Jehovah (or Yahweh) so then there is no contradiction here.   As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 292:

The Old Testament suggests and the New Covenant reveals the creative action of the Son and the Spirit, inseparably one with that of the Father. This creative co-operation is clearly affirmed in the Church’s rule of faith: “There exists but one God. . . he is the Father, God, the Creator, the author, the giver of order. He made all things by himself, that is, by his Word and by his Wisdom”, “by the Son and the Spirit” who, so to speak, are “his hands”. Creation is the common work of the Holy Trinity.”

If you remember, this discussion on the Trinity started when a former JW, Wayne Rogers, asked me why I accepted the divinity of Christ after leaving the JWs. What I have written over the last few weeks is what I learned from mostly Protestant Bible Scholars about what most Christians believed about the nature of God.  After sharing these views with Wayne, his response to me was, “You know, all of these scriptures that you shared with me were pretty much the same ones we used as JWs, you have just interpreted them differently now.  How do you know that your interpretation of these scriptures is correct?”

I thought that was an excellent question so I told him that I would do some reading to see how Christians interpreted these scriptures back in the first and second centuries.  This lead me to discovering the writings of the Early Church Fathers.  I will share these findings with you in the coming weeks.