Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus

''Christ in Glory'', commissioned by Emperor Iyasu I Yohannes of Ethiopia


- Our faith is not European.
- Our list of Bible books was not decided by politics or councils, but through miraculous unity and charity among believers.

    The gospel news of Jesus' kingdom (Mt24:14) originated in Asia in the area of modern Israel. Just three of Jesus' primary eleven apostles crossed into Europe (Peter, Andrew and James the son of Zebedee). Five traveled into Africa (Matthew, Bartholomew, Jude Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and James the son of Alphaeus), several going as far as Morocco and Ethiopia. While all eleven of them first labored in Asia, four (Bartholomew, Thomas Didymus, Jude Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot) went further East into Armenia, Georgia, Persia and India. The Apostles Philip and John remained in Asia Minor, traveling only as far as the West coast of modern Turkey. In addition to these eleven, Jesus personally commissioned Paul plus the seventy Apostles of Luke 10:1 including Mark, Barnabas, Matthias, and another Thaddeus.

    As the Apostles won their crowns of martyrdom, the men whom they appointed as bishops over each city carried on the torch. Contrary to modern re-imaginings of the early church, ancient documents show the widespread (but not universal) practice from the time of the Apostles of appointing one bishop over the congregation of each city with elders, deacons, and deaconesses serving under the bishop. Bear in mind that the "cities" were far smaller than most modern cities. No bishop in the early centuries held the same authority as an Apostle, but the unanimous decisions of all bishops were held in similar esteem as that of the Apostles. Miraculously, the Apostolic line of bishops maintained unity for four hundred years. Often they disagreed, but never did they break fellowship until 431AD.
    Eusebius of Caesarea tells us that Peter, James, and John "strove not after honor, but chose James the Just bishop of Jerusalem." Most early writers acknowledged James the Just as the half brother of Jesus and author of the Epistle of James. Over time, Rome, Byzantium (later called Constantinople), Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem became the earliest "patriarchates" where an archbishop held authority over other cities in their region to appoint bishops and settle disputes.
    Just as Jesus prophesied, many false teachers quickly rose up, including Simon the Magician (as mentioned in Acts 8), Valentinus, and later Mani of Seleucia. Gnosticism (as exemplified by Valentinus) persisted as a challenge for the new Christian faith for several hundred years. By condemning the material world and our material bodies as evil, Gnostics offered escape from evil through a secret knowledge by which the human mind becomes spiritual or even divine. Just as John the Apostle warned, Gnostics rejected the testimony of the Apostles that the Word of God had come in the flesh in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah-King of earth.

    As the saints exposed Gnosticism, they relied on the unity of the Apostolic line bishops as a primary proof of what was true and false. Not once in the first 300 years did a bishop of the Apostolic lines teach a heretical theology, much less offer one of the Gnostic writings as scripture. When many in the Nestorian "Church of the East" later exhibited gnostic leanings, even the Church of the East never recognized Gnostic writings as holy writ, despite the fact that they operated independently without any pressure or authority from the Roman, Eastern Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox hierarchies. Bishops of the Apostolic line on three continents unanimously rejected Gnosticism and Gnostic writings.

    Jesus taught the Apostles, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are called 'benefactors,' but not so with you. Instead, let the greatest among you become as the least, and one who governs become the slave of all." Just as Peter, James and John shied away from glory by appointing James the Just as bishop of the first congregation, so too the earliest bishops sought not to control one another, but to work together and to build up each other. We may find the most striking example of cooperation and mutual deferral in their declarations of what they considered divinely inspired, Christian Scriptures.
    Modern myths claim that religious politicians wrangled and voted books in and out of scripture at the Council of Nicaea or elsewhere. The consistent witness however of early Christian writers shows otherwise. The basis for accusing Nicaea of deciding the canon comes from a single comment by the Latin scholar Jerome around AD 400. Jerome stated that one book was not listed among the holy writings of Nicaea. Despite the appearance of his comment, the records of Nicaea reflect no discussion of the canon. Presumably Jerome simply intended to note that no one at the Council of Nicaea quoted from the that particular book as authoritative.
    Rather than argue about what was scripture, early Christian writers charitably listed what they understood to be holy scripture. They listed books which everyone considered holy and books which Christians disagreed. Yet such disagreements were not the cantankerous, condemning arguments of our modern age. As foreign as it seems to modern believers, early disagreements were simple admissions of differing opinions. Since the Apostolic line of bishops did not universally agree regarding the list of holy books, no bishop from the Apostolic line or even a synod of bishops ever tried to force their list of scripture on the universal church in those early centuries. The Synod of Carthage in 397 gave an excellent example as they drew up a list which they agreed for their region as holy scripture, yet they stated that the congregation "across the sea" should be consulted about their canon.

    To see how miraculous our Christian New Testament is, we must understand the tragic divisions which occurred in Christianity before the current canon of scripture miraculously came to be agreed upon without ever being agreed upon. In the year 325AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine famously called for the council of Nicaea to resolve the "Arian" controversy. For the first time, a bishop from the Apostolic line (Eusebius of Nicodemia) supported a doctrine which all other Apostolic bishops considered heretical. Eusebius of Nicodemia supported the doctrine of a priest named Arius who claimed that Jesus was not just begotten of God, but created by God from nothing. His claim painted the Son of God as less divine than God the Father.
    At Nicaea, Eusebius of Nicodemia pretended to recant that claim and to agree with the council. All appeared well, but all was not well. He soon reverted to Arianism which became as much a problem for Christians as Gnosticism had been before it. Emperor Constantine also gave birth at Nicaea to the idea that doctrinal disagreements should be mended by political clout rather than relationships.
    Archbishop Cyril of Alexandria next took up the sword of politics in 431AD against Bishop Nestorius of Constantinople, winning the political battle but losing the Church of the East at the Council of Ephesus. Cyril's victory proved short-lived however. His successor, Dioscorus argued and used politics against Archbishop Flavian of Constantinople so that the second council of Ephesus literally came to blows. In the subsequent Council of Chalcedon in 451AD, dyophysite and miaphysite believers were deeply and tragically divided from each other. What Cyril did to Nestorius, Flavian likewise did to Dioscorus, dividing Christianity through politics and excommunicating large swaths of Christians from one another.
    Diaphysites are accused along with Nestorius of believing that the person of the Logos (the Son of God) took flesh by joining Himself to Jesus of Nazareth at conception, so that the divine Word became flesh without becoming human. Historians today disagree as to whether Nestorius actually taught diaphysitism. Diaphysitism believes just as the two natures of Jesus (human and divine) were distinct from one another in the one flesh, and so likewise the two persons (the Word & Jesus) remained distinct in the one flesh. Miaphysitism disagrees, saying the two natures were joined not only in flesh, but also in person and in nature. Dyophysitism differs from both by believing the two natures remained distinct in the singular person of the Logos (also called Jesus) in human form:
Diaphysite - Christ is 1 flesh and 2 natures in 2 persons (Jesus and the eternal Word of God)
Miaphysite - Christ is 1 flesh and 1 compound nature in 1 person
Dyophysite - Christ is 1 flesh and 2 natures united in 1 person 
    To recap, Nestorius was excommunicated in 431. His followers were accused of diaphysitism and most commonly called the "Assyrian Church of the East." Miaphysitism was anathematized in 451 and is today most commonly known as the "Oriental Orthodox Church." Dyophysites in the Byzantine empire remained (relatively) unified until the eleventh century when they split into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, also commonly called Greek Orthodox.

    Despite the divisions of dia, mia and dyo, we had no similar battle regarding the canon of scripture. Almost as quickly as the faith spread into Persia, India, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, and Italy, so too evangelists translated the holy writings from Greek and Hebrew into Aramaic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Greek, and Italian. The historian Eusebius of Caesarea (not of Nicodemia) said Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew as he ministered first in Jerusalem for several years before going on missionary journeys. Eusebius of Caesarea also said Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews in Hebrew which Luke or Clement of Rome later translated into Greek.
    The many early translations of scripture held great agreement in the content of words so that even modern skeptics agree that the various scripture translations handed down from 800AD to 1800AD across the world came from a single line of manuscripts, with the exception of the Coptic translation in Egypt! This remarkable feat may be rightly called a miracle, especially considering how divided Christianity became in the fifth century. Our various translations agreed not only in manuscript-origin, but also in the list or "canon" of writings which each region deemed to be scripture. Despite our tragic breaks in fellowship, believers across all three continents came to regard the modern canon in great harmony. We can see how miraculous is our Bible through a brief survey of the seven earliest translations of scripture which continued to be used for well over a thousand years from the time of their creation until the present without any break in use:

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