Friday, December 28, 2007

The Preterism of James the Just [A.D. 62]

In the Holy Writ, The Apostle James, the brother of Jesus, writing to “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1), warns them of the imminent coming of the Lord.

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8)

James tells his first century readers to “be patient” (vs. 7-8), “do not grumble” (v. 9), etc. The reason given is that “the coming of the Lord is at hand”.

The twelve tribes mentioned here could not have been the Jews of the 70 AD “Diaspora”, since James was martyred in A.D 62. Likely, this was a reference to Jewish Christians who had to flee Jerusalem, is the church of the First Century.

In addition, we have this extra-biblical account of the Martyrdom of James, given by Eusebius, where he proclaims that the Son of Man “is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.”

“On account of these words some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the sects mentioned above did not believe either in a resurrection or in one's coming to give to every man according to his works. But as many as believed did so on account of James. Therefore when many even of the rulers believed, there was a commotion among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said that there was danger that the whole people would be looking for Jesus as the Christ. Coming therefore in a body to James they said, 'We entreat thee, restrain the people; for they are gone astray in regard to Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat thee to persuade all that have come to the feast of the Passover concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in thee. For we bear thee witness, as do all the people, that thou art just, and dost not respect persons. Do thou therefore persuade the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus. For the whole people, and all of us also, have confidence in thee. Stand therefore upon the pinnacle of the temple, that from that high position thou mayest be clearly seen, and that thy words may be readily heard by all the people. For all the tribes, with the Gentiles also, are come together on account of the Passover.' The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: Thou just one, in whom we ought all to have: confidence, forasmuch as the people are led, astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.' And he answered with a loud voice,' Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.'” (Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History - Chapter XXIII).

Certainly, no one among James’ listeners would have expected Christ’s coming “upon the clouds of heaven” to have been a distant future event. Any objective reader would have to conclude that James was a Preterist.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Silent Night on the Western Front

Herbert Otto Winckelmann tells of his father's experience in World War I.

“The war began on August 1, 1914. The order to mobilize the troops disrupted our vacation on the Baltic Sea. We rushed home since my father, an officer in the reserve, was eager to wear his uniform. He, along with most of the men, went into battle with enthusiasm. They were firmly convinced that war had been forced upon Germany, and that the fight was for the country’s very existence.

Father returned home on furlough before his artillery regiment departed to the front and optimistically promised to be home at Christmas. After mother pinned a small bouquet on his tunic, he kissed us heartily and left. He departed alone to avoid any more heartbreaking good-byes at the train station.

During the first months, it appeared that my father’s promise of a family Christmas would be realized. The Russian armies had been decisively beaten on the eastern front in the battles of Tannenberg and Masuran Lakes. On the western front, our armies advanced deep into France but were checked on the river Marne. As winter approached, both sides went into the trenches. They were sometimes so close to each other that they could hear the clatter of their foes canteens.

The stalemate had its effect on the spirit of the combatants. The initial enthusiasm gave way to stoicism. At Christmas, there was a momentary growth of spirit and some fraternization on the front lines. When the night became quiet on Christmas Eve, some German soldiers began to sing Stille Nacht (Silent Night). The English soldiers recognized the familiar tune and joined in. Their singing quickly traveled for miles along the trench lines and ragged Christmas trees were set up by German soldiers on their parapets. The following morning the English answered with large signs of “Merry Christmas”. It went even further. One by one the men ventured from their trenches and crawled beneath the barbed wires to meet each other in the no-man’s land. They sat together like brothers. They did not hate each other as their governments did. They had been ordered to kill one another. Unfortunately, the soldiers’ truce could not last. The higher echelons on each side, shocked by the incident, ordered their men back into the trenches.”

Jahresringe: A Journey of my Life, Herbert Otto Winckelmann, pp. 13-14

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Saint Nicholas: Bishop of Myra

Yes, there was a Santa Claus, though it is difficult to separate the facts from the legends.

Mostly recognized as the patron saint of children and sailors in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Nicholas of Myra was born in the village of Patara (Asia Minor) in the third century to a Christian family. Apparently, an epidemic of some sort afflicted his family and left him as an orphan.

Nicholas became the bishop of Myra during a time of persecution under Emperor Diocletian. According to some sources, Nicholas was indeed a “secret giver”, and there is historical merit to some of the legendary stories about his giving. In one story, a wealthy man with three daughters fell on hard times, and was unable to provide a dowry for his children. Since girls without dowries back then were unlikely to marry, the man’s daughters faced the prospect of being sold into slavery. It is said in one account that each daughter was given a bag of gold in her stocking. Nicholas was known for giving to poor children, rescuing some drowning sailors, appealing to the emperor for tax relief, and intervening on behalf of those who were accused unjustly.

He also appeared to be a great defender of the faith, having destroyed the pagan Temple of Artemis, and fighting Arianism as a participant in the Council of Nicea.

An interesting looking movie about the life of Nicholas of Myra is set for release for Christmas in 2008. See trailer: