Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Good News Tour Meets Origen

Recently one of the people involved in the Good News Tour asked me for my opinion of the final presentation of the series: God's Reputation: The Worthiest Calling? - Sigve Tonstad Here is what I would term the summation of the intent of the talk, beginning at minute 31:50 Tonstad saying:
“Now Granted that it is not easy to explain any of these things but the relative merit of Origin story is not bad, no one says Origen “No one will be able to know the origin of evils who has not grasped the truth about the so-called devil and his angels, and who he was before he became a devil, and how he became a devil, and what caused his so-called angels to rebel with him.”( Contra Celsum 4.65) So this is just an overview here and this is something that you might find familiar and you might kick yourself that you have not heard about Origen before. As I have kicked myself sometimes that I had to become quite well advanced in years before I discovered this person early in the Christian history, who took a cosmic conflict view of reality and made it explain a number of things. And also made it be the foundation upon which some of his most cherished values rest.

So what’s the point of this what about the early church and our church the first point here is that cosmic conflict theology is not a Seventh-day Adventist invention it is not an invention of John Milton, it is not an Ellen G. White Invention. If you go far enough back and you need to go farther then the Reformation and you need to go still further, need really to go into the pre-Constantinian era…you need to go back to that time because that is when this view was thriving and after that it was Cosmic Conflict theology was in some ways lost theology is theology lost and in some ways at least has been to some extent in the Adventist context reclaimed, theology that is reclaimed.”

He includes a slide with bullet points saying:

Cosmic conflict theology is theology lost and –perhaps—theology reclaimed.

My first reaction was “Wow it is hard to imagine someone actually speaking so positively of Origen particularly in the Adventist church”. I see the reason here though, it introduces the great controversy theme that overrides the GNT presentations. Origen is the key factor who introduced the Lucifer myth into Christianity. As my article on WHO IS LUCIFER...OR SATAN MISIDENTIFIED says:

“It is not to Jerome, however that we owe the teaching of Lucifer but to that most creative of theologians, Origen. (185-254 A.D.) It was he who first made the new connection between Satan and Lucifer. He brought together diverse Old Testament references from Job, Ezekiel and Isaiah. Arguing that Lucifer, the Prince of Tyre, and the Leviathan of Job, were all identical with the Devil. He used these texts to emphasize Satan's pride and his fall from heaven.

With the aid of Tertullian (155-After 220 A.D.) who taught that before Satan's fall he was not only an angel but the foremost angel. It is mainly to these three theologians, Origen, Tertullian, and Jerome that we derive the Lucifer myth. It should also be noted that the Lucifer myth can also be found in the Psedepigrapha in the book The Secrets of Enoch. But since it is currently felt that The Secrets of Enoch is likely a seventh century document (at least in its present form), therefor it is probably not the source of this Lucifer myth. ( I will for now refer to the idea that Lucifer is Satan as the Lucifer myth, hopefully by the end of the article you will agree that it is indeed a myth.)”

What Origen has done is supplied the extra Biblical details that were needed to flesh the story of an opponent of God. Then he uses his newly created story to argue against Celsus. Interestingly Celsus speaks of the war among the gods which sounds a lot like what latter becomes the way some Christians view the war in heaven between the dragon and Michael. Celsus writes:

“The ancients allude obscurely to a certain war among the gods, Heraclitus speaking thus of it: ‘If one must say that there is a general war and discord, and that all things are done and administered in strife.’ Pherecydes, again, who is much older than Heraclitus, relates a myth of one army drawn up in hostile array against another, and names Kronos as the leader of the one, and Ophioneus of the other, and recounts their challenges and struggles, and mentions that agreements were entered into between them, to the end that whichever party should fall into the ocean should be held as vanquished, while those who had expelled and conquered them should have possession of heaven…”
There are a lot of people who like Tonstad probably have not known much about early church history. Adventism has for a long time thought church history began at the Reformation. But when we look at the earliest Christian church history we see a world of confusion. A mixture of Proto-orthodoxy and Gnostic Christianity, Proto-Orthodoxy is a term Bart Ehrman uses to describe the views of early Christians who became the Roman Catholic church as Orthodox came to mean what the Church in power came to accept and hold as true declaring other views as heresy, which today we would call heterodoxy. For more see: LOST CHRISTIANITIES: The Battle for Scriptures and Faiths We Never Knew
by Bart D. Ehrman Oxford University Press September 2003, 294 pages, $30

It is therefore difficult to know for sure what kind of Christianity Celsus was attacking. No doubt it is a mixture there was a time when even the Proto-Orthodox held to such books as the Gospel of Barnabas which contains such statements as:

Barnabas 10:6
Moreover thou shalt not eat the hare. Why so? Thou shalt not be found a corrupter of boys, nor shalt thou become like such persons; for the hare gaineth one passage in the body every year; for according to the number of years it lives it has just so many orifices.
Barnabas 10:7
Again, neither shalt thou eat the hyena; thou shalt not, saith He, become an adulterer or a fornicator, neither shalt thou resemble such persons. Why so? Because this animal changeth its nature year by year, and becometh at one time male and at another female.

Barnabas 10:8
Moreover He hath hated the weasel also and with good reason. Thou shalt not, saith He, become such as those men of whom we hear as working iniquity with their mouth for uncleanness, neither shalt thou cleave unto impure women who work iniquity with their mouth. For this animal conceiveth with its mouth.

I will leave the reader to think about the possible meanings there, back to Origen.

Origen is an interesting figure, not only did he really create the Lucifer myth and propose the dualistic nature and immortal soul. He was a believer in universalism. So it is no surprise that he speaks in terms of healing as Tonstad mentioned, he believes all will be saved including Satan. So he is clearly not going to go along with the idea of God destroying the wicked.

Here are a few of the peculiar teaching which made Origen an Unorthodox Church Father as this previous link suggests, though there was no orthodoxy at that time, later the church would try and term people orthodox or not based upon what they had come to believe. A few quotes from the above site:
The Bible. While Origen claimed that the Bible was divinely inspired, he did not accept the complete historicity of Scripture, nor did he interpret it all literally. Like others in the Alexandrian school of interpretation, he often allegorized crucial sections of Scripture.
Preexistence of the Soul. Finally, Origen argues that "If the soul of a man, which is certainly inferior while it remains the soul of a man, was not formed along with his body, but is proved to have been implanted strictly from without, much more must this be the case with those living beings which are called heavenly." Furthermore, "How could his soul and its images be formed along with his body, who, before he was created in the womb, is said to be known by God, and was sanctified by Him before his birth?" (De Prinicipiis, 1.7.4).
Universalism. Origen believed that in the end everyone would be saved. His view is explicitly universalistic:
Spiritualism. Origen also denied the permanent physical nature of the resurrection, for which he was condemned by the bishops of the Fifth Ecumenical Council of the Church when they wrote: "If anyone shall say that after the resurrection the body of the Lord was ethereal, and that such shall the bodies of all after the resurrection; and that after the Lord himself shall have rejected his true body and after others who rise shall have rejected theirs, the nature of their bodies shall be annihilated: let him be anathema" (Canon 10 cited by Schaff, 14:314-19). Likewise, "If any one shall say that the future judgement signifies the destruction of the body and that the end of the story will be an immaterial nature (phusis), and that thereafter there will no longer be any matter, but only spirit (nous): let him be anathema" " (Canon 11 cited by Schaff).
Christ Inferior to the Father. Although he did not deny the deity of Christ, nonetheless, Origen did believe Jesus has a subordinate status to the Father even to the point that he forfeited his deity while on earth. Origen wrote: "The Son of God, divesting Himself of His equality with the Father, and showing to us the way to the knowledge of Him, is made the express image of His person" (De Prinicipiis, 1.2.8).
Evaluation. Origen was at best a mixed blessing for Christian apologetics. He did defend the basic inspiration and historicity of the Bible. He stressed the use of reason in defending early Christianity against attacks of paganism and other false teachings. He was a textual Scholar.
…He held an aberrant view on the nature of Christ, which gave rise to the later Arian heresy…
Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (ISBN 0-8010-2151-0)

The story of why he castrated himself is also interesting:

“By all accounts Origen lived an extremely ascetic life - he had changed little from the impulsive youth who was more than willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. Famously, his great zeal even caused him to castrate himself. It seems his primary motive was to avoid any possible scandal due to his private instruction of women. He also seems to have literally interpreted Matthew 19:12, "There are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." Eusebius comments that this drastic measure was "proof of an inexperienced and youthful heart but also of faith and self control." {5}
The previously mentioned website also mentions the allegorical method of Bible interpretation that enabled Origen to produce his Lucifer myth.
“One of the primary distinguishing characteristics of Alexandrian thought is the allegorical interpretation of Scripture. Origen was not the first to employ this method, but he was the most influential.
A prolific writer of commentaries, Origen held the Scriptures in the highest esteem. As the Word of God, he believed them to be perfect and incapable of error. Yet he also fully acknowledged the numerous problems and contradictions that can be found within its pages. He asked, for example, "What man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and the third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without the sun and moon and stars?" (De Princ. 4.3.1)
To resolve the problem of an inerrant book that contained errors, Origen taught that there were layers within Scripture:
... And when God is said to "walk in the paradise in the cool of the day"... I don't think anyone will doubt that these are figurative expressions which indicate certain mysteries through a semblence of history and not through actual events. (De Princ. 4.3.1)
Origen found three levels of meaning in the Scriptures: the common or historical sense, for the simple-minded or beginning reader, the "Soul" of the Scriptures which edifies those who perceive it, and a meaning hidden under those passages that are repugnant to the intellect by means of allegory.”
So what does it mean when Tonstad uses Origen to backup the Adventist acceptance of Traditional Christianities acceptance of the Lucifer myth? No one thinks it was Ellen White who came up with all the battle between good and evil, that has been found in the Bible all along. It is just that today we understand how the Lucifer myth began, we understand how and to whom the tradition first began and that it is not based upon any type of logical or reasoned Biblical exegesis. To make the basis of your belief system a large foundation which is truly fictional will make your entire position weak. Others took Origen’s Lucifer myth farther, Milton took it farther and Ellen White took it even farther. But the myth is still a house of cards. I do wish the Lucifer myth portion of the cosmic conflict were really lost but through time it has become tradition, modern Christian scholars realize it’s dubious beginnings but most in the pews still don’t realize that it is not from the Bible, either New or Old Testament.
You can see all of the last three years of the Good News Tour here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read your articles but still am not clear as to your point. Specifically what points do you disagree with? Lucifer myth, would that mean Lucifer, even in a secondary sense, does not equate to Satan? Lucifer’s desires are not the same as Satan’s desires? What would you say are the underlying reasons for the cosmic conflict?