All things considered, she really looks quite good for her age

On Saturday mornings I try to meet with a group of men reading through the church fathers. This past week we read 2 Clement- an ancient Christian sermon. While not the thrust of the sermon, there is a bit of robust ecclesiology:

So then, brothers, if we do the will of God our Father we will belong to the first church, the spiritual one, which was created before the sun and the moon. . . the Books and the Apostles declare that the church not only exists now, but has been in existence from the beginning. For she was spiritual, as was also Jesus, but was revealed in the last days in order that she might save us.

In the mornings I read from the fathers just for myself. Currently I am working through Origen’s work on Song of Solomon. This week he too got to talking about my mom:

For you must please not think that she is called the Bride or the Church only from the time when the Savior came in the flesh: she is so called from the beginning of the human race and from the very beginning of the human race and from the very foundation of the world—indeed, if I may look for the origin of this high mystery under Paul’s guidance, even before the foundation of the world.

Clement goes on to say that no one can know the marvels God has prepared “for his chosen ones.” Origen immediately quotes from Paul’s overflowing sentence on election and predestination in Ephesians 1. This mixture of an eternal mother and predestination plays out in rather fascinating ways today.

The Orthodox Church believes in an eternal church, but not predestination—man must be free to choose. Plenty of evangelicals believe in predestination, but not an eternal church—Israel and the church must never meet. Speaking broadly, it is only orthodox Reformed congregations that would hold to the teachings of the fathers. Because God has eternally chosen all who will believe, that assembly has existed forever.

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Origen on Jesus Alone

Jesus alone was able to take to himself the whole load of sins on the cross that was for all things other than God; he alone was able to bear it by his great might. For he alone was able to bear subjection, as the prophet Isaiah has it, saying, “A man under blows and knowing what it is to bear subjection.” And he it was who bore our sins and suffered ignominy for our sakes, and the punishment that was necessary for our instruction and reconciliation fell on him. Origen, Commentary on John, 28:19 (trans. Mark J. Edwards)

The Trinity in Scripture: Acts 18(?)

There is a possible reference to the Trinity in Acts 18. The passage under consideration is Acts 18:24-26:

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

The disputed phrase is the description of Apollos in verse 25, “And being fervent in spirit. . .” Is Apollos zealous in his own spirit, or was he zealous in the Spirit (i.e. the Holy Spirit)?

In his Catena on the Acts of the Apostles, Chrysostom takes it as a reference to the Holy Spirit. But this may be due to the established Patristic habit of talking all non-specific occurrences of “the spirit” as referring to the Holy Spirit. Origen details this in On First Principles 1.3.4-8. Even so, this view is also held by Calvin, Henry, and Marshall (though he only says it is “probable” that Luke is referring to the Holy Spirit).

All modern translations (that I could consult) take it as it is given in the ESV cited above—as a reference to Apollos’ own spirit. This seems to be the most common interpretation today. It is adopted by Bruce (NICNT), Munck (Anchor), and Stott (BST). (Although The Jerome Biblical Commentary and The Interpreter’s Bible (1954) both consider it a reference to the Holy Spirit.)

This aspect of uncertainty is not unique to Acts 18. There are several other passages in the New Testament that might be Trinitarian in nature, or might speak of only the Father and the Son. Passages that I know of like this include John 4:21-26; Colossians 1:9-10; 1 Tim. 3:14-16; 1 Peter 3:18; and Rev. 5:6. In the course of this blog-study these texts will be considered on an individual basis.

So for the sake of completeness, I mention Acts 18:24-26. Though I am not yet sure it should be mentioned for the sake of accuracy. Given what we have seen so far in the book of Acts, I am inclined to side with the translations and modern commentators. The text seems to emphasize two things for certain about Apollos: he was very able but not complete. If Apollos was “fervent in spirit” this makes sense of both facts. Given what Luke has shown so far about the work of the Trinity bringing full salvation, it is difficult to see how a man instructed in the way of Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit could be missing essential truths about salvation.