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Monday, February 25, 2008

What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?

“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from ‘the porch of Solomon.’....Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition!....With our faith, we desire no further belief.” So Tertullian in De Praescriptione Haereticorum. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 3, p. 246)

Apparently for Tertullian, syncretism was synonymous with sin. Jerusalem had its divine revelation; Athens represented the blander fruit of human endeavor. Tertullian was expounding on Colossians 2:8, 9, in which the Pauline writer employs the Greek term philosophia, “philosophy” for the first and only time in the New Testament, and that pejoratively. He connects the word to "empty deception." (Coptic, tefilosofia mn tapath etSoueit). He argues that the fullness of divinity rests bodily in Christ alone. (Coptic, Je ere pJwk thrF ntmntnoute ouhH nHhtF swmatikws). Those who believe in another All or Pleroma have been "kidnapped, carried away as spoil" (Coptic, Swl) by false teachers.

Some scholars feel that the whole thrust of Colossians is to combat one or another form of gnosticism. Certainly that was Tertullian's concern since he specifically mentions "the Aeons...in the system of Valentinus, who was of Plato's school" and "Marcion's better god." (ibid.)

For moderns, however, that struggle has lost its urgency. "Jerusalem" today is the mirror image of "Athens." It's basically "game over," and philosophy won out in Western thought. The fruit of human endeavor has trumped claims of divine revelation.

I find it of more interest that the orthodox aversion to gnosticism apparently found its way into the Sahidic Coptic version of the New Testament. At Colossians 2:8, they make it plain that true salvific work is only through pecristos ihsous , i.e., Christ Jesus, whereas the best Greek texts only say "Christ." There must be no division, in the mind of these translators, between Christ and Jesus.

An even more obvious example is found in the Sahidic Coptic version of 2 Corinthians 4:4. This translation unabashedly follows the exegesis of Irenaeus against Marcion.
Among other things that conflicted with orthodox belief, Marcion taught the gnostic idea that the Creator God of the "Old Testament" was a separate, inferior God to the God of the "New Testament," and that this inferior God was the one responsible for all the evils of the world.

Irenaeus and other leaders of the church fiercely combated this view of two Gods, so much so that Irenaeus did not accept that the "God of this world" mentioned at 2 Corinthians 4:4 could be other than God himself. In Against Heresies book 3, chapter 7, he writes: "The true sense...is contained in the expression, "God has blinded the minds of the unbelievers of this world."....For Paul does not say, "the God of this world," as if recognizing any other beyond Him; but he confessed God as indeed God. And he says, "the unbelievers of this world," because they shall not inherit the future age of incorruption. I shall show from Paul himself, how it is that God has blinded the minds of those that believe not."

This rendering by Irenaeus of 2 Corinthians 4:4 does not follow the plain sense of the Greek, which indeed says "the God of this world," but evidently referring to the devil. (Jesus called the devil the "ruler of this world," Coptic parcwn mpeikosmos at John 12:31.) However, the Syriac Peshitta according to George Lamsa’s Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text reads similarly: "To those in this world whose minds have been blinded by God, because they did not believe, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the likeness of God, should shine on them."

Likewise, the Sahidic Coptic text of 2 Corinthians 4:4 says: "In these, God has closed the minds of the unbelievers of this world, so that they might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (Coptic, Hn nai pnoute aFtwm nnHht nnapistos mpeeiaiwn Je nneunau epouoein mpeuaggelion mpeoou mpecristos ete pai pe qikwn mpnoute)

It appears that the Coptic translators wished to translate this verse of Scripture as far away from gnostic teaching as possible.

Today, however, "Athens," philosophy, and even gnosticism permeate Western thought in many ways.

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