A small personal amendment to the Lord’s prayer

A few weeks ago I was asked to attend a memorial service for someone that I never met in my life.  Such are family commitments.  The service was for a child, and was every bit as sentimental and content-free as I had feared.

I have never suffered from any urge whatsoever to be “religious”.  As I endured the empty words, inevitably the temptation emerged to, shall we say, modify them slightly.

This got me into trouble when we reached and recited the Lord’s Prayer:

And forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.  The bastards.

I did not realise that I had said this aloud, but the lady sitting next to me tugged at my sleeve and firmly instructed me to be quiet!

But actually, isn’t that exactly what Our Lord is asking us to do?  To forgive the bastards who did us an injury.  To forgive those we think of in such terms?

All the same, I don’t think that I will be asked along to another such endurance test soon.  Thankfully!


Tomorrow is Easter Day

It is Easter Saturday.   I do not use my PC on Sunday, so let me now wish all my readers a Happy Easter!  Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!

Many will make the effort to go to church, in an ordinary year.  But doing so under the current regulations requires booking in advance, with limited numbers.  So only a few will be able to attend.

This week some will have been busy attending daily Easter services.  These services are important, especially to those for whom following the liturgy is all.  Such people must find every element of modern society conspires against them.

But I would guess that at the moment very many people are rather isolated, just as I am.  It feels like being on Mars – a constant, slightly spacey feeling of detachment.  Even simple things are a strain.

Without imposing any burden, may I suggest that all those who have given their life to Jesus will take the time on Sunday to just kneel in prayer and sing a song or hymn of praise, however short.  God listens to our hearts, not the length of our prayers and services.

Happy Easter.  Get yourself an Easter egg, if you haven’t got one already.  And celebrate, even if you are alone.  Celebrate along with the angels, and with all of Christendom!


The late antique use of “Christianitas”

The word “Christianitas” became important during the Dark Ages.   Charlemagne inherited the kingdom of the Franks, and he sought to do something about the pointless barbarian kingdoms atop the decaying ruins of the Western Roman Empire.  Out of these he forged a vision of a new world, and one that his contemporaries could understand and relate to.  He connected the German idea of the High King with the idea of a Roman empire.  He made use of the only surviving Roman institution, the church.   All these forces for stability he connected together.  His kingdom did not survive him; but his vision did.  Instead of the steady decline and splintering that had preceded him, he left a world with an idea: the idea of Christendom.

The word “Christianitas” comes to mean “Christendom” at this time, in the Carolingian period.  It still retained its meaning of “Christianity”.  But as such it is important as a vehicle for stability within the medieval period and indeed beyond, into our own day.[1]

But this usage is not that found in antiquity.  It belongs to a future unimaginable to a civilised Roman, even as late as St Augustine.  The Roman collapse was unimaginable – until it happened.  So the word is used to mean “Christianity” in late antiquity.

There is in fact a monograph on the subject: Tim Geelhaar, Christianitas: Eine Wortgeschichte von der Spätantike bis zum Mittelalter, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015.  This is in German, which probably means that nobody in the English- or French-speaking world has read it!  In fact the author might be wise to publish a related journal article in each language in order to raise the profile of the study.  It’s also inaccessible to me, being offline.  The English language summary of the book is interesting:

The word “christianitas” arose as an abbreviation for the medieval idea of united Christendom, which entered the historical narratives concerning Christianity, the Papacy and emperorship, the crusades and Europe. In fact, in late Antiquity and the Carolingian period “christianitas” stood for many different concepts. In this volume Tim Geelhaar disconnects the term and the idea behind it and determines the situations in which it came to be used, how it was reprogrammed and politicized. He demonstrates the historical semantics behind “christianitas” as well as the plurality of Christianized, Latinized Europe.

Fortunately the Google Books preview is generous, and so it is possible to read some of the key pages.   Page 53 for instance shows tables of authors who use the word in late antiquity.  Page 414 gives more detail on each.

Here are Dr Geelhaar’s two tables from p.53:

The authors are divided into 4 sections, as Dr G. is interested in exploring the different ways in which the word is used in late antiquity.  But note the table header: this is authors from 360-490 AD.

The first two references listed are two obscure works by pseudo-Cyprian: the Epistula ad Turasium, chapter 4 (PL 30, 278C-282A, esp. 279D), and the De singularitate clericorum, c. 7 (CSEL 3.3, p.180; PL 4, 835B-870A, esp. 841C-842A).  Dr Geelhaar tentatively assigns them to ca. 360 AD.

The Clavis Patrum Latinorum (CPL 62 and 64) lists them both as spurious, and suggests that nothing can really be known for certain about the date or author of either.  De singularitate clericorum has been attributed to an obscure Donatist writer named Macrobius, but the CPL point out that there is nothing Donatist about it, and Rufinus tells us that the Novatianists found it necessary to put forward their works under the name of Cyprian, towards the end of the 4th century.

The first real usage appears in Marius Victorinus, ca. 363, in his commentaries on Ephesians, 3:19, 4:5-6, 5:2 (CSEL 83.2, p.53 f., 58, 75 – not in the PL) and Galatians 3:10 (CSEL 83.2, p.130) and Phillipians 2:5 (p.184).  This is followed by the first of the passages in the Theodosian Code, that we looked at in my last post.

Unfortunately the text of the commentaries by Marius Victorinus was not printed until 1828, by Angelo Mai in his Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio, vol 3, part 2, and the manuscripts that he used were very lacunose.  Migne of course just reprinted Mai.  The first critical text is that of Locher in the Teubner series in 1972, which is unreliable.  The reliable text is that of the CSEL, and this is not online.  I believe a German translation exists of all three commentaries; and likewise an Italian one.  But I was unable to find any English or French translation other than Cooper’s 2005 translation of the commentary on Galatians.[2]

We shall therefore have to content ourselves with only one passage, using the text given by Dr. G (p.415-6) from the commentary on Galatian 3:10, and Dr Cooper’s translation of it (p.292):[3]

3, 10. Quicumque enim ex operibus legis sunt, sub maledictione sunt. Vehementer igitur adiunxit non modo non benedici eos qui ex operibus sunt, sed etiam eos esse sub maledictione qui ex operibus legis sunt. Quod autem dixit ex operibus legis, intellegamus esse etiam opera christianitatis, maxime ilia quae saepe apostolus mandat atque ei mandatum est, pauperum memores simus et cetera quae in hoc apostolo ad vivendum praecepta retinentur, quae que opera ab apostolo omni Christiano inplenda mandatur.

For all who live based on works of the Law are under a curse (3: 10). Forcefully, then, he has added that not only are those who live based on works not blessed, but also that those who live based on the works of the Law are under a curse. Now, as he said based on works of the Law, let us understand that there are also works which belong to Christianity, especially those works which the apostle frequently commands (and also what has been commanded to him: let us be mindful of the poor) and the additional precepts for living which are included in this apostle’s writings. Each one of these works is commanded by the apostle to be fulfilled by every Christian.

Interesting stuff.

  1. [1]There is a considerable literature about all of this.  Inevitably the topic is political today.  Some references may be found in John Tolan, “Constructing Christendom”, in: J. Hudson &c, “The Making of Europe”: Essays in Honour of Robert Bartlett, Brill, 2016, p.277-298.  Google Books preview here.
  2. [2]These details from S.A.Cooper’s translation of the commentary on Galatians, p.5.
  3. [3]Stephen Andrew Cooper, Marius Victorinus’ Commentary on Galatians, Oxford University Press, 2005.

More on “Christianitas” in the Codex Theodosianus

Yesterday we saw that the earliest reference for “Christianitas” = Christianity (rather than the earlier Christanismus) was in the Theodosian Law Code (Codex Theodosianus) of 450 AD:

Christĭānĭtas, ātis, f. Christus.
I. Christianity, = Christianismus, Cod. Th. 16, 7, 7; 12, 1, 112.—
II. Meton.the Christian clergy, Cod. Th. 12, 1, 123.

I thought that I would look up these passages.

Those unfamiliar with the book should know that it is a compilation of rescripts, letters written by emperors of the dynasty of Constantine and afterwards.  Book 16 is dedicated to theological matters, and the tone of it is extremely aggressive.

Impp. theodosius et valentinianus aa. basso praefecto praetorio. post alia: apostatarum sacrilegum nomen singulorum vox continuae accusationis incesset et nullis finita temporibus huiuscemodi criminis arceatur indago. 1. Quibus quamvis praeterita interdicta sufficiant, tamen etiam illud iteramus, ne quam, postquam a fide deviaverint, testandi aut donandi quippiam habeant facultatem, sed nec venditionis specie facere legi fraudem sinantur totumque ab intestato christianitatem sectantibus propinquis potissimum deferatur. 2. In tantum autem contra huiusmodi sacrilegia perpetuari volumus actionem, ut universis ab intestato venientibus etiam post mortem peccantis absolutam vocem insimulationis congruae non negemus. nec illud patiemur obstare, si nihil in contestatione profano dicatur vivente perductum. 3. Sed ne huius interpretatio criminis latius incerto vagetur errore, eos praesentibus insectamur oraculis, qui nomen christianitatis induti sacrificia vel fecerint vel facienda mandaverint, quorum etiam post mortem comprobata perfidia hac ratione plectenda est, ut donationibus testamentisque rescissis ii, quibus hoc defert legitima successio, huiusmodi personarum hereditate potiantur. dat. vii id. april. ravennae theodosio xii et valentiniano ii aa. conss.

7. Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian Augustuses to Bassus, Praetorian Prefect.

(After other matters.) The voice of unremitting accusation shall assail the sacrilegious name of each and every apostate, and the investigation of such a crime shall not be prevented by any time limitations. 1. Although previous interdicts suffice for such persons, We repeat, nevertheless, the well known provision that after they have deviated from the faith, they shall have no power to make a testament or gift, nor shall they be permitted to defraud the law by the pretense of a sale, and on intestacy all their property shall be bestowed on near kinsmen, preferably on those who are adherents of Christianity. 2. It is Our will, moreover, that the right of action against such sacrilege shall be perpetuated to such an extent that to all persons who come to an inheritance on intestacy We shall not deny the unrestricted right of due accusation, even after the death of the sinner, nor shall We allow the action to be obstructed if it is said that nothing was adduced in attestation during the lifetime of the profane person.

But in order that the aforesaid crime may not be interpreted too broadly through the error of uncertainty, by Our present divine response. We pursue those persons who have made sacrifices or who have commanded them to be made, after they had assumed the name of Christianity.  The proved perfidy of such persons, even after death, shall be punished as follows: their gifts and testaments shall be rescinded, and their inheritances shall be obtained by those heirs upon whom this right is conferred by statutory succession.

Given on the seventh day before the ides of April at Ravenna in the year of the twelfth consulship of Theodosius Augustus and the second consulship of Valentinian Augustus. (April 7, 426)

Charming stuff.  Now from book 12, title 1, 112.  This is one of a bunch of rescripts jointly from the emperors Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius.

Idem aaa. florentio praefecto augustali. in consequenda archierosyne ille sit potior, qui patriae plura praestiterit nec tamen a templorum cultu observatione christianitatis abscesserit. quippe indecorum est, immo ut verius dicamus, illicitum ad eorum curam templa et templorum sollemnia pertinere, quorum conscientiam vera ratio divinae religionis imbuerit et quos ipsos decebat tale munus, etiamsi non prohiberentur, effugere. emissa xvi kal. iul. constantinopoli honorio n. p. et evodio conss.

The same Augustuses to Florentius, Augustal Prefect. In obtaining the office of chief civil priest,[archierosyna] that person shall be considered preferable who has performed the most services for his municipality, and who has not, however, withdrawn from the cult of the temples by his observance of Christianity. Indeed it is unseemly, and further, that We may speak more truly, it is illicit, for the temples and the customary rites of the temples to belong to the care of those persons whose conscience is imbued with the true doctrine of divine religion, and who ought properly to flee such compulsory public service, even if they were not prohibited by law from performing it.

Issued on the sixteenth day before the kalends of July at Constantinople in the year of the consulship of Emperor Designate Honorius and of Evodius. (June 16, 386)

In 386 paganism was still the state religion.  Here the edict prohibits Christians from filling the office of chief priest.

12.1.123, from Valentinian, Theodosius and Arcadius, (July 28, 391) is about the efforts of local men to avoid being ruined by imperial taxes on those who became members of the city council.

Idem aaa. ad tatianum praefectum praetorio. dudum super his, qui relicta curia vel senatoriam dignitatem adepti sunt vel christianitatis obtentu curialium se consortio separarunt, evidens sanctionum nostrarum processit auctoritas, ut, si eorum personas vel honor vel religio defenderet, quod ex curiali substantia vel ipsi retinerent vel in alios transtulissent, obnoxium publicis descriptionibus haberetur.  1. Evidens etiam praecepto nostro tempus expressum est, ex quo consulatu, si qui de curialibus ad ecclesiam confugissent, omni scirent patrimonio curiae esse cedendum.  …

The same Augustuses to Tatianus, Praetorian Prefect.  The evident authority of Our sanctions has previously been issued in regard to those persons who have deserted the municipal councils and have either acquired the rank of Senator or by the plea of Christianity, have separated themselves from the association of decurions, to the effect that, if such persons were protected either by rank or by religion, the property from their holdings as decurions which they either retain themselves or which they transfer to others should be held obligated to public assessment.  1. A definite time limit was also defined by Our regulation, stating from what consulship they shall know that they must cede all their patrimony to the municipal council, if they should flee from the decurionate to the Church.  …

All well and good, and very official, of course.

But a kind correspondent has pointed out that the TLL contains other, potentially earlier, uses of the word, notably in ps.Cyprian.  I will discuss these next.


More on the earliest use of the word “Christianity”

I can’t believe that I forgot to hit the “Publish” button last night on yesterday’s post

Yesterday I was asking when the word “Christianity” appears in our sources.  In Greek it is Χριστιανισμός, and it appears in Ignatius of Antioch; then in Origen; and then in post-Nicene sources.  It’s not a widely-used word in surviving ante-Nicene literature, plainly. 

But today I wondered what the Latin word might be.  I thought perhaps “Christianitas”, with Romanitas in mind.  But a little searching around gave me:

Christĭānismus , i, m., = Χριστιανισμός,
I.ChristianityTert. adv. Marc. 4, 33; Aug. Civ. Dei, 19, 23, 1; Hier. in Gal. 6, 4.

Christĭānĭtas , ātis, f. Christus.
I. Christianity, = Christianismus, Cod. Th. 16, 7, 7; 12, 1, 112.—
II. Meton.the Christian clergy, Cod. Th. 12, 1, 123.

These are both from Lewis and Short, via PerseusGaffiot gave me much the same.

So the rather Germanic-sounding Christianismus is our word, originating with Tertullian – who else? – in Adversus Marcionem book 4, chapter 33, verse 8:

[8] Quasi non et nos limite in quendam agnoscamus Ioannem constitutum inter vetera et nova, ad quem desineret Iudaismus et a quo inciperet Christianismus, non tamen ut ab alia virtute facta sit sedatio legis et prophetarum, et initiatio evangelii in quo est dei regnum, Christus ipse.

As though we too did not know that John has been set as a sort of dividing-line between old things and new, a line at which Judaism should cease and Christianity should begin—not however that by the action of any alien power there came about this cessation of the law and the prophets, and the inception of that gospel in which is the kingdom of God, Christ himself.

I don’t have access as far as I know to any search tool for Latin texts like the TLG, but it does indeed make sense that Tertullian would originate the term, as the first of the Latin fathers.  Equally it makes sense that the Latin term should be the Greek term, transliterated.

But the mention of “Judaismus” is interesting.  Ignatius also uses “Christianity” as a foil for “Judaism” (Ἰουδαϊσμὸς).  Possibly the term “Christianity” exists solely because of the existence of “Judaism”, and the fact that Christians were not included in it?

I wondered how frequently Ἰουδαϊσμὸς or Ἰουδαϊσμὸν, etc was used, so I did a search.  Here again it was Ignatius, Origen, then post-Nicene writers!  Although in this case it also appears in the fragments of Porphyry’s Against the Christians.  This is surprising really.

A google search reveals that it also appears in 2 Maccabees, so perhaps my lack of results is a reflection of the search tool available to me.


What is the earliest use of the word “Christianity”?

When did the word “Christianity” actually come into use?  The Greek is Χριστιανισμός.

A certain amount of searching online brought me to an Italian article,[1] from which I learned that the first person to use the word is none other than Ignatius of Antioch.  There are 4 references, in Ignatius’ letters to the Magnesians 10,1 and 3;  Romans 3,3;  and Philadelphians 6,1.

Let’s see what he says!  The Greek is from the TLG, the translation is Lake’s Loeb, the links are to the ANF.  Note that the ANF translation online for each chapter gives first the original (“short”) text, and then the “long” text as interpolated in the 4th century by the Apollinarist heretics.  We’re quoting here the original.

Magnesians c. 10:

Ἄτοπόν ἐστιν, Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν λαλεῖν καὶ ἰουδαΐζειν. Ὁ γὰρ Χριστιανισμὸς οὐκ εἰς Ἰουδαϊσμὸν ἐπίστευσεν, ἀλλ’ Ἰουδαϊσμὸς εἰς Χριστιανισμόν, εἰς ὃν πᾶσα γλῶσσα πιστεύσασα εἰς θεὸν συνήχθη.

3. It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practise Judaism. For Christianity did not base its faith on Judaism, but Judaism on Christianity, and every tongue believing on God was brought together in it.

Romans c.3:

Ὁ γὰρ θεὸς ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦς Χριςτὸς ἐν πατρὶ ὢν μᾶλλον φαίνεται. Οὐ πεισμονῆς τὸ ἔργον, ἀλλὰ μεγέθους ἐστὶν ὁ Χριστιανισμός, ὅταν μισῆται ὑπὸ κόσμου.

3. Nothing visible is good, for our God, Jesus Christ, being now in the Father, is the more plainly visible. Christianity is not the work of persuasiveness, but of greatness, when it is hated by the world.

Philadelphians 6:  (Strangely the ANF renders “Christianity” as “Christian doctrine”)

[Unable to locate the Greek!]

1. But if anyone interpret Judaism to you do not listen to him; for it is better to hear Christianity from the circumcised than Judaism from the uncircumcised. But both of them, unless they speak of Jesus Christ, are to me tombstones and sepulchres of the dead, on whom only the names of men are written.

The word Χριστιανισμ** appears in Ignatius, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen before the council of Nicaea, and then entirely in post-Nicene writers.

  1. [1]Enrico Norelli, “Χριστιανισμός e Χριστιανός in Ignazio di Antiochia e la cronologia delle sue lettere”, in M. B. Durante Mangoni ; D. Garribba ; M. Vitelli (ed.), Gesù e la storia. Percorsi sulle origini del cristianesimo, Trapani, Il Pozzo di Giacobbe , 2015, 171-189.  Online here.  Note that the Greek is given in a non-unicode font in the article.

If death did not exist, would Stalin still rule in Russia?

I was reflecting on the career of Josef Stalin, the brutal bandit from the Caucasus, who rose to become Soviet dictator, and enslaved, first a huge nation, and then half of Europe.  He had total power.  The only thing that he could not control was death.  One day death came for him, and his empire crumbled soon after.

But what if he had had the choice, about whether to die or not?  We can be sure that he would have chosen to live.  Would Stalin still be ruling his empire from the Kremlin, even today?  It would be a brave man who would bet against it.

From time to time men arise, and impose their wills upon their fellow men.  A movement, an ideology, a class, a society.  We might like to think that the well-meaning will prevail; but it is not necessarily so.

We do not need to invoke the shade of Stalin, even.  If any of those scientists who are investigating age should ever find a “cure” for death, we may be sure that it will not be available equally.  An undying elite will arise, comprised of the wealthy and powerful, looking down, we may be sure, on all the “deplorables”.  Such men tend to despise those not like themselves.  History does not suggest that such a gilded elite will be a good thing.

However all men die, and so every tyranny has a limit.  We can escape from every monster, given time.

In Niven and Pournelle’s Inferno, a retelling of Dante, the fact that the damned cannot die, but can continue to suffer, is exploited by the devils as a way to impose sufferings impossible on earth.  But in reality men die, and thereby they can escape from their suffering, which is mostly caused by their fellow men.

In Genesis we learn that death was the penalty for the sin of Adam.  But if we look at it like this, then, like most things that God does, it was a mercy.  No undying tyrants shall reign forever.  No man shall suffer beyond a certain point.

In Greek myth, Tithonus was granted immortality, but not eternal youth.  In consequence he soon became incredibly old and withered, and was finally transformed into the cricket.  In a world where men can live forever, they must likewise receive eternal youth; but also sinlessness, for otherwise they will certainly become tyrants.  I fear that curing sin may be rather beyond the powers of our scientists, however.

We live in a  broken world, and all sorts of awful things happen within it.  But some of those things may be benefits, if we did but consider the alternatives.  In a world where all men are sinners, then we truly need some of these things.  Let us be grateful for death.


Preaching with cartoons?

This week I saw on Twitter that a certain Jack Chick had died.  I was rather astonished at the outpouring of jeering, bile and vitriol in response!  In fact I had never heard of the man until a few years ago, when I heard some atheist cursing him. But apparently he was well-known in the USA as a writer of evangelistic tracts in cartoon form.

The tracts themselves are simple but rather compelling, and the message of the gospel of Christ is certainly preached very directly.  I don’t think that I have ever seen any; but they can be found on his website.

An article on Taki’s Magazine here gave a review of his work.  It also listed two of his tracts as particularly typical.

The Last Generation was written in 1992, and reads somewhat presciently now.

This was your life is a typical tract.

The first example of his artwork is one that I saw online on Instagram, in condensed form:


It’s all a useful reminder to focus on Christ.

We all spend our lives busy, earning a living, and pursuing our hobbies.  But unless we have given our lives to Christ, in the end, it’s just like ploughing the sand.  The graveyards are full of people who knew that they were irreplaceable.  Everything screws up in the end.  But … there is a way out, if we meet Christ.


Did Antinous pull Zeus from Olympus? Did Hadrian pave the way for Christ?

The emperor Hadrian made the curious decision to deify his deceased favourite, Antinous, and to build temples and a city in his memory.

It’s worth reflecting a little Hadrian’s absurd-seeming action of deifying his bum-boy.  It’s too easy to dismiss this action as merely the product of grief.  To do so makes  a good story, but politicians are very capable of exploiting grief.  Men like Hadrian, who have obtained supreme power by virtue of their own ability, do nothing without a reason.

Let’s be realistic.  Is it really possible that Hadrian himself  supposed that a boy, whom he picked up while on tour, and whose pleas and tears and cries of pain he ignored for his pleasure, was any sort of deity whatsoever?  Can anyone else in Rome have thought so either?  Surely every ordinary Roman must have smirked or scowled at the very thought, precisely as they would have laughed at the emperor deifying a mistress. It’s either a joke or an impiety.  So … why did the wise, intelligent emperor – and Hadrian was both these things – do this?

If we leave aside the picture of an oriental despot enacting his whims – for Hadrian’s rule was not that absolute – then we have to ask what practical effect the measure had.  The most obvious effect is that it subordinates the gods to the emperor.  A god is nothing, if Antinous is a god.  What matters is the emperor.  Indeed we already see this attitude in Martial’s flattery of Domitian.  There can be no sensible criticism of an emperor as impious, if piety is whatever the emperor says it is.  I wonder, in fact, whether this action is related to some kind of now lost criticism of Hadrian as impious for not spending more of his time in Rome?

If the gods are the creatures of the emperor, then this is a measurable step towards despotism, towards the late empire.  It’s impossible to imagine Augustus doing this.

We must also ask what the effect was, on Roman social capital. The effect, obviously, is to degrade Roman self-image.  Romanitas and pietas and virtus are all diminished by the act of deifying Antinous.

Finally we have to ask what the effect in the long term was.  If a god is just a man – even a vile one – whom a ruler has marked out for distinction, then what becomes of Olympian Zeus and his band of allies?  Are they too just men, “deified” by men of the past?  It must be a natural inference that they are.  So … are there any real gods at all?  And, if there are, mustn’t they be something quite other than the regular pagan pantheon, which is populated at the whim of a man?  Something like the Sun, which no ruler can affect?  Something like the God of the Hebrews, who is universal?

It’s impossible to say.  It is a strange act by a clever man.  Maybe it really did lay open the way for the Christians.


An almost forgotten anti-Christian jibe by Golding, misquoting Richard Sisson, “Answering Christianity’s most puzzling questions”

I’m purging my shelves at the moment, and I came across a volume which I bought only because of an online argument.  I can’t help feeling that I dealt with this online long ago, but if so I cannot find it.  So let me document here what was claimed, and the facts, and then I can clear another half-inch of shelf!

Here‘s an example of the claim:

Now let’s turn to a reference on page 18 and 19 of The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy by Dennis McKinsey (quoting from Schmuel Golding’s Biblical Polemics Newsletter): …

Golding adds–“In other words, men, rather than a god, composed the Bible. Many Christians, especially Protestants, have great difficulty with any assertion to the effect that men are responsible for the Bible coming into existence. On page 8 Answering Christianity’s Most Puzzling Questions, Vol. one, apologist Richard Sisson states (On page 19)–“In fact, after the death of Jesus a whole flood of books that claimed to be inspired appeared. Disputes over which ones were true were so intense that the debate continued for centuries. Finally, in the fourth century a group of church leaders called a council and took a vote. The 66 books that comprised our cherished Bible were declared to be Scripture by a vote of 568 to 563”. (Unquote)

The same quote used to appear sometimes online, in various places, but has thankfully been forgotten.  But did this “Sisson” really say this?

Well, I acquired a copy of Sisson’s book, and I now upload a few pages containing the relevant section:

To save us all time, here’s the actual passage:


Many charge that it took our contentious church fathers 350 years to agree on which books belong in the Scriptures. The Bible was written over many centuries. Every time a new book was written there were new questions. In fact, after the death of Jesus a whole flood of books that claimed to be inspired appeared. This argument claims that the dispute over which ones were true was so intense that the debate continued for centuries. Finally, in the fourth century a group of church leaders called a great council and took a vote. The sixty-six books that comprise our cherished Bible were declared to be Scripture by a vote of 568 to 563.

It is amazing to see how many people believe that argument. Actually, what really happened was not like that at all. …

In other words, as sometimes happens in hate literature, a convenient quote has been taken out of context.  The statement by Sisson is made in order to disagree with it.  His book, in fact, is a mass of “difficulties”, with his response, grouped into sections.

Such frauds were more common when the internet was young, and “argument by (offline) book” was a favourite ploy.  I see it less today, partly because more material is online, and mainly because the forums in which such arguments took place have vanished.

But in case this canard ever appears again, well … I’ve documented it here.