Updated: Jan 22, 2022
Closing out our “Biblical Literacy” series is the Christian witness from the early 2nd century in Athens. What is curious & convicting about our brothers and sisters is that many would have been illiterate and unable to have private copies of scripture. As you read the following observations, consider the access to Scripture & ability to study it that we have today. Then ask how well the 21st century Church mirrors her 2nd century sister.
Aristides the Philosopher
The following excerpt is from an Athenian philosopher, Marcianus Aristides. It is part of his larger apology concerning the reverence of God, that was presented to King Hadrian. I will provide a link to the whole text, below, for those so inclined to be enriched.
“XV. But the Christians, O King, while they went about and made search, have found the truth; and as we learned from their writings, they have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. Wherefore they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs. They honour father and mother, and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols (made) in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat, for they are pure. And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies; and their women, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful union and from all uncleanness, in the hope of a recompense to come in the other world. Further, if one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction. They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to Him. And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near. And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God; and if moreover it happen to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. And further if they see that any one of them dies in his ungodliness or in his sins, for him they grieve bitterly, and sorrow as for one who goes to meet his doom. XVI. Such, O King, is the commandment of the law of the Christians, and such is their manner of life.” (Kirby, Peter. “Historical Jesus Theories.” Early Christian Writings. 2021. 27 Sept. 2021.)
Does this testimony move you? Does it convict you? How does this documented observation challenge the Body of Christ today?
When I read this for the first time a couple years back, it seared itself into my mind and conscience, and I oft think about the implications their witness has for today, both personally & corporately. Here is a fitting quote I recently came upon and one to ponder for a time: "My conscience is a prisoner of the Word of God" Martin Luther (Miguel Núñez: Vivir con integridad y sabiduría: Persigue los valores que la sociedad ha perdido. Oct. 1, 2016)
In closing, I offer you a question constant in my mind: With ease of access to the full counsel of God & having sound resources that aid in better understanding Scripture, what would Aristides’ observation be of my life and that of those who claim to be the Church? In other words, what kind of letter is the Body of Christ to a lost and dying world? What kind of letter are you?
Paul’s exhortations to Timothy and Titus are God’s expectations of us as well!
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Tim. 2:15
“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.” Titus 2:2-6
So let it be true of us!
My love to you in Christ,