Eusebius (c 260-339 A.D.) is widely considered to be the father of church history. He traced the history of the church from Christ to Constantine and provided a detailed account of many important events during that time period.
Although Eusebius was not perfect in his theology, he was a fairly thorough recorder of events.
In Book 8 of his ten books on church history, we learn that the church, after years of periodic persecution, began to gain greater freedoms in the Roman world. Christians were appointed to high offices and enjoyed freedom of worship in an otherwise pagan society.
However, this favor did not last.
According to Eusebius, “…greater freedom brought with it arrogance and sloth. We began envying and attacking one another, making war on ourselves with weapons formed with words. Church leaders attacked church leaders, and laymen formed factions against laymen, while unspeakable hypocrisy and pretense reached their evil limit.”
Eusebius continues, “Those who were supposed to be pastors, unrestrained by the fear of God, quarreled bitterly with one another and only added to the strife, threats, jealousy, and hate, frantically claiming the tyrannical power they craved.”
In the nineteenth year of Diocletian’s reign, an imperial edict was issued demanding that churches be demolished and the scriptures burned. This edict was issued on Resurrection Day (a.k.a. Easter) in 303 A.D. The pastors went into hiding, and when arrested, were held up to ridicule. Anyone who professed Christianity would be imprisoned unless they recanted. Other edicts soon followed as the heathen began to demand that Christians sacrifice to their gods.
The prisons eventually became so full there was no room for the criminals.
It would be helpful for us today if we had greater detail as to which false doctrines inspired the Godless to visit evil upon the church. However, using the limited evidence that Eusebius has provided, we can begin to speculate as to where the church began to fall into error.
In Book 7 of Eusebius’ seminal work, we learn about the “Schism of Nepos.”
Apparently, there was a man named Dionysius (c200-265), the Bishop of Alexandria, who fancied himself to be the great defender of the faith. He studied under Origen, who was an ‘allegorist’ regarding scripture. A Christian allegorist at that time was one who apparently believed that God was done with the nation of Israel. They were not that different than the allegorist of today.
According to this theology, any promises that were made to the people of Israel were ‘abrogated’ by God and served only as allegories for the church.
Dionysius believed he was appointed by God to correct heresies for all of Christendom. According to Eusebius, he received an extra-biblical revelation in which God commanded him, “Read everything that comes to hand since you are able to test everything, which is why you came to faith.” As this was not the word once delivered to the saints, we can assume it was a false revelation.
His objective was to readmit penitent apostates to the church in opposition to those who wanted them excluded permanently. We must assume that the apostates were those who were engaged in the ‘error’ of taking scripture, especially prophetic scripture, literally.
Dionysius denied that the Book of Revelation was written by John, the apostle of Christ (although Origen believed that it was). He studied the grammar diligently and ‘found’ that it was not in keeping with how John wrote. Further, he denounced the millenarians who based their arguments on a literal reading of Revelation. He completed this assessment by denouncing the doctrine which held that Jesus would return to establish a 1,000 kingdom on earth.
According to Eusebius, Nepos, a bishop of a church in Egypt, taught that the promises made to the saints in the divine Scriptures should be interpreted ‘in a more Jewish fashion.’ He further taught that there would be, according to Dionysius, “a millennium” of bodily ‘indulgence’ on this earth.
Eusebius relates how Dionysius approached the followers of Nepos and what transpired from his perspective (with my commentary in bold).
They (the literalists) rely heavily on a treatise of Nepos (who wrote the book ‘Refutation of the Allegorists)’ as indisputable proof that Christ’s kingdom will be on earth (the Millennium). Now, in general, I endorse and love Nepos (Bishop of Egypt) for his faith and industry. His study of Scripture…. But truth is paramount, and one (Dionysius) must honor what is correct…. (Nepos was a strong opponent of the Gnostics and a great defender of the faith).
Dionysius’ chief complaint against Nepos was that he attempted to:
… persuade them (Christians) to hope in a kingdom of God for what is petty, mortal, and like the present (Bishop Nepos was not alive to defend directly this rendering of his position). When they (followers of Nepos) brought me this book (Refutation of the Allegorists; A.D. 265) as some invincible fortress, I sat with them three days in a row … criticizing what had been written. In the end, Coracion, the originator of this teaching… agreed and promised us that he would no longer adhere to it, mention it, or teach it since he was convinced (or intimidated) by the counterarguments. As to the rest, some (but not all) rejoiced at the conference and the concord achieved.
There were many in the church at that time who rejected the Book of Revelation altogether. They criticized it as unintelligible and illogical and claimed that its title was false. They testified that it was neither John’s nor a “revelation” in any sense since “it was veiled by its thick curtain of incomprehensibility.”
Dionysius, after examining the Book of Revelation, ‘proved’ that it could not be understood in a literal sense. He also apparently ‘proved’ that it could not have been written by John the apostle. He did offer up (alleged) ‘fine sounding arguments in defense of his position, and these arguments were certainly plausible.’
However, Paul did warn us not to be deceived by such arguments (Colossians 2:4).
The fact is that Dionysius proved nothing of the sort. What he did prove was that he had the ability to ‘overintellectualize’ scripture to the point where he did not understand it properly.
Like his teacher, Origen, Dionysius was an intellectual. This might sound like a compliment, but it is not. There are many intellectuals who are wrong, and what is worse, their genius leads them to arrogance. There are many liberal Ph.D.’s in Christianity today who have a penchant for saying things of little value.
Eusebius recorded that Origen was so committed to the faith that he gave himself an Orchiectomy. In other words, he removed his scrotum. His intention was to be faithful to ‘Christ’s teachings’ by making himself a eunuch in the faith (Matthew 19:12). History does not record why he did not pluck his eyes out, puncture his eardrums, and remove his tongue as well.
I guess some people’s commitment to the ‘Christian’ faith only goes so far.
I knew an old country pastor who would often state that Ph. D stands for ‘Post Hole Diggers.’ The problem with this designation is that Post Hole Diggers actually serve a useful function in society, whereas many Ph.D.’s in Christianity do not.
The Gospel is not an intellectual endeavor. One does not have to be erudite to share God’s law and then share his Gospel. Even those with average intelligence can do that. In fact, I doubt that someone needs more than a 70 IQ to proclaim it in a way that leads people to salvation.
As stated previously, Origen, like his student Dionysius, was an allegorist. Those who engaged in allegorism were the intellectual elite in ancient society as they are today. They were well instructed in Neo-Platonic philosophy, which made them aristocrats of the faith. Unfortunately for them, Neo-Platonic philosophy is actually quite useless when sharing the Gospel.
The failure of the church to share the Gospel was obviously another huge problem that led to its persecution.
What is most amazing about the Schism of Nepos is that the allegorists were not considered heretics. Instead, it was the literalists who were considered the apostates by the bulk of Christendom at that point in history. They were also apparently excluded from fellowship with other Christians.
This sheds a little more light on what led to the Great Persecution of the Church.
The only reason to doubt that John the Apostle was the writer of Revelation was if you wanted to doubt its authenticity. John was once the pastor to the church of Ephesus, and, according to Ignatius (35-107A.D.), he was banished to Patmos.
Therefore, despite objections over syntax, there is no legitimate reason to doubt that John the Apostle was the writer of Revelation.
He was mostly just taking dictation anyway.
Papias (60-130 A.D.) claimed that he was taught by the Apostle John himself. He declared he was taught by John the Apostle that, after the resurrection of the dead, the kingdom of Christ would be set up on earth, in material form, and last one thousand years.
Eusebius attempted to claim that Papias did not know John but corrected himself in a later work.
However, Eusebius reveals that he was seduced by the ‘over-intellectualizers’ when he wrote:
“(Among the stories that Papias told), he said that after the resurrection of the dead, there will be a thousand-year period when the kingdom of Christ will be established on this earth in material form. I suppose that he got these notions by misunderstanding the apostolic accounts, not realizing that they had used mystic and symbolic language (Platonic ‘forms)’. For he was a man of very limited intelligence, as is clear from his books” (Book 3, The Writings of Papias).
This seems to be a fairly nasty assessment of someone who learned at the feet of John the Apostle.
There is no question that the Old Testament prophets predicted Jesus would reign upon the earth and, in the words of Dionysius, in bodily ‘indulgence.’ Isaiah 11:1-9 stated that the Branch of Jesse would bear fruit, and this Branch would rule the world with wisdom and justice. The (literal) wolf would lie down with the (literal) lamb, and the (literal) lion would eat (literal) straw like the (literal) ox.
We find the same ‘bodily indulgence’ in Micah 4:1-5, Isaiah 65:17-25, and Zechariah 14:16-21, just to name a few. How the great minds of the third century missed this is not that big of a mystery. They started with bad theology, and then it, combined with their arrogance, grew into something much worse.
Those who ‘allegorized’ the Book of Revelation ran afoul of God’s word and brought judgment upon themselves and the church.
John the Apostle wrote:
“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it (Revelation 1:3).”
Clearly, the ‘allegorists” did not partake of this blessing. To make matters worse for themselves, Jesus further stated:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of this prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to them the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life, and in the holy city [of Jerusalem during the Millennium], which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
The allegorists were guilty, as they are today, of “taking away” from John’s book of prophecy and brought the judgment of God down upon themselves. They do this by ‘allegorizing’ scripture that is meant to be taken literally.
It was only 38 years after this incident that the church underwent one of the greatest persecutions in its history.
The Great Persecution was not caused by this incident, but this incident was certainly a symptom of a much larger problem in the church.
The great over-intellectualizers, or’ Neo-Platonists,’ of our day are the Calvinists and their ‘Reformed Theology.’ This is basically a theology about how God saves people. They propose that since God is sovereign, he has selected some people to be saved but not others. Put another way, God is not patient with us, wants most of us to perish, and could care less if anyone comes to repentance since we have no free will anyway.
There is also no need to call on the name of the Lord. If you do so, you will not be saved; you will be ignored. People who do not have free will do not have the ability to call on the name of the Lord. Therefore, this scripture has no relevance as it has been ‘allegorized’ out of existence like so many other scriptures.
They (we can call them the TULIP people) propose the idea of ‘no-free will predestination’ in which God either zaps us with salvation or he withholds his ‘zap.’ All we have to do is go blindly through life and hope that God decides to zap us with eternal life. As you may have guessed, they are staunch opponents of the literal interpretation of prophetic scripture.
When you follow this ideology to its logical conclusion, you find it is a recipe for inactivity. We are called to testify that Jesus is the Christ and to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name. Since we are all just waiting for the ‘God zap,’ according to this theology, it seems that the Gospel has been ‘allegorized’ out of existence as well. I do not think these people are going to be too much help when persecution occurs with greater ferocity.
For more information on the ‘TULIP’ people, please use a search engine and type in TULIP and Calvinism.
This is the intellectual elite view of Christianity. And they are not shy about letting the rest of us plebs know where we stand.
Anyone who wishes to wade through the tedious nonsense of their theology is welcome to it. There is no question in my mind that prophetic scripture is to be read literally. There is also no question in my mind that the Bible presupposes free will. Every time God issues a command to his servants, he expects them to obey it of their own free will.
Among the commands that God issues to his people are:
- Do not harden your heart against the word of God (Hebrews 3:15)
- to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38)
- to remain in the faith (John 15:4-7)
When God issues these commands, he does so in recognition that we are free agents who can reject his commands. For instance, God would not command us not to harden our hearts against him unless we had the ability to do it.
If you want to engage in a productive ‘spiritual exercise,’ you can read each chapter of the Bible, beginning in Genesis, through the lens of the Gospel. This is far superior to reading it through the lens of ‘no free will predestination.’ Jesus already told us that all scripture revolves around “repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name.” If you train yourself to view all scripture through this lens, you will find it difficult to be deceived by poor theological arguments.
It is not possible to read the Bible coherently without the understanding that man has free will. Those who attempt it are in the same boat as the moral relativists who say there is no absolute truth. Although they claim there is no absolute truth, they cannot speak other than in terms of absolute truth. The ‘TULIP’ people claim there is no free will, but when you listen to them debate, they cannot help but speak in terms that acknowledge that there is free will.
Bad theology places us in a world of unreality. Because of this, arguing with the ‘TULIP’ people is an exercise in futility since they are literally incapable of reading scripture plainly. They also truly believe they are far more intelligent than the average Christian. Those who drank the ‘TULIP’ Kool-Aid will claim that any argument against their theology is ‘taken out of context’ or perhaps ‘proof-texting.’
Proof texting is an illegitimate criticism designed to discount scripture that interferes with the theology of the ‘TULIP’ people.
Just because God knows the end from the beginning, who will be saved and who will not, does not mean that calling sinners to repent is no longer relevant. You may have noticed that there are very few people calling sinners to repent and be forgiven in the name of Jesus. This is partly due to the effect that ‘no free will predestination’ has on Christianity.
Have you ever wondered why few Ph.D.’s ever question whether there is any such thing as ‘transgenderism?” Why is there such limited resistance to the social construct of ‘gay marriage?’ If an intellectual ever came out and denied that either of these concepts even exists, he would certainly be in the extreme minority. He would also lose his reputation as ‘an intellectual.’
Losing one’s status as an ‘intellectual’ is a fate worse than death.
Those who proclaim the Gospel as Christ intended are likely to be labeled as ‘right-wing extremists’ by the heathen and our intellectual class. We are the ‘low brow’ Christians who get scoffed at when we fail to evolve with society. Our ‘moralizing’ is beneath them. If that is not a reason that the church is in desperate need of persecution, nothing is.
The question that we need to consider is, will history repeat itself? The Great Persecution in the early fourth century was instigated by one powerful man. His name was Galerius, and he was punished for his evil by God, but not until he caused great suffering among the faithful over a ten-year period.
It is possible that history is about to repeat itself, and we are on the cusp of another great persecution. We in America will not be protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the people currently enforcing it are Godless, lawless, and evil.
Therefore, let us remember Paul’s charge to Timothy:
“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:10-17).