The Third Century
Part III (200-300 AD)
We finished the last post with the understanding of the two-pronged strategy of the enemy (Satan) to undermine the truth through infiltration and then to try to stamp out God’s people by brutality and force. Our enemy will always operate by two basic principles: appearing as either an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:13-15) or a roaring lion (I Peter 5:8). Once we know that, the next step is to identify the individual people in history who were used by Satan, fitting one of these roles to further his purposes.
This is a common tactic in many ventures of life. We are using chess as an illustration, which is a game, but expand it to some of the more well-known sports. When preparing to face the New England Patriots, the opponent will spend a lot more time studying Tom Brady than the third-string center. If you were playing against the Lakers in their recent prime, you want to know where Kobe Bryant is at every moment. In church history, there are certain key players that you absolutely must be aware of. If you ignore LeBron James, he will put up 60 on you and you will have no chance. If you ignore men like Origen and Constantine, you will get run out of the gym just as fast. Since this post covers the third century, we will spend time with Origen, and hold our discussion of Constantine for the final post in this series. There are plenty of other key figures, but none more significant than these two men.
If thou wilt be perfect…
The historical information available to us about the life of Adamantius Origenes (his full name) is voluminous. He lived from 184-254 AD. I have summarized his work in my book, but you could spend a solid decade reading and researching his beliefs and “contribution” to the work of Satan to leaven the church. Just as with any athlete who has a dominant skill, Origen’s main work was in the perversion of the biblical text itself.
Origen did most of his work on the New Testament after he moved to Caesarea. His commentaries and writings in the New Testament continued the same practice of editing the Bible whenever it did not suit his liking. For instance, Origen commented on the passage about the rich young ruler who came to Jesus in Matthew 19:16-22. Dean John Burgon was a scholar who championed the Received Text and the King James Bible in the late 1800’s at the same time that the Revised Version was being published. In his book The Last Twelve Verses of Mark, he writes:
“Origen reasons that Jesus could not have concluded his list of God’s commandments with the comprehensive requirement, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ For the reply of the young man was, ‘All these things have I kept from my youth up’, and Jesus evidently accepted this statement as true. But if the young man had loved his neighbor as himself, he would have been perfect, for Paul says the whole law is summed up in this saying, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ But Jesus answered, ‘If thou wilt be perfect…’ implying that the young man was not yet perfect. Therefore, Origen argued, the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ could not have been spoken by Jesus on this occasion, and was not part of the original text of Matthew. This clause, he believed, was added by some tasteless scribe.”
Examine this carefully. First, the context of the story of the rich young ruler shows that the disciples were present for this exchange. The story is also recorded in Mark 10 and Luke 18 as well as Matthew. Matthew was one of the 12 apostles. He would have been present for this story. For Origen to come along 250 years after the fact and question the account of an eyewitness is something that would be thrown out of any honest court.
a better translation would be…
Second, we again see Origen’s works-based idea of salvation. He assumes the rich young ruler was “perfect” or at least could attain to perfection by the law. Since Origen believed that sinless perfection could be obtained this way—and that of, course, he had indeed obtained it himself—he then feels free to edit the text to line up with his theology. This makes the theology and opinion of Origen the final authority. So instead of believing the Bible and lining up his life with it, he altered the Bible to line up with his ideas.
The worst part of this is the actual changing of the text of the word of God. This is at the very heart of the new Bibles. We have manuscripts found in a Catholic monastery at Mt. Sinai and the Vatican library. They differ in many places from what was accepted for centuries. Why do they differ? Remember, a manuscript is a MAN-U-SCRIPT. It is something that a man scripted (wrote). Who was the man? Why did he script what he scripted? Was he simply copying the text in front of him or was he editing the text?
This example fairly depicts Origen and his theology and practice of Bible perversion. One of the main hot-button topics of our day is the issue of Bible versions in English. There are hundreds, and it has caused massive confusion in the body of Christ. The problem can be traced back to men such as Origen who did not just comment on a text, but rather altered it to suit their fancy. The issue of textual science is far too involved to do any justice to it in a blog post such as this. Entire college courses are devoted to the subject, and countless men have devoted their entire lives to the issue. But don’t get sidetracked. Where is LeBron? Is Tom Brady under center? Boiling the issue of Bible versions down to its basic fundamental element means looking for Origen and his buddies. We have manuscripts that differ from the generally accepted majority text. Why? Who was behind them?
Whenever any scholar or pastor says that “a better translation would be…” he is parroting Origen whether he knows it or not. Origen is the G.O.A.T. No man in human history has been more responsible for Bible perversion. Plenty of others have been involved, and many are involved even to this day. But no one can match the master. He popularized the process and planted the tares in the early church, and those today who question the preservation of the word of God are simply following in his footsteps. Though Origen and others appear as pious angels of light, they were contrary to God’s desires.
hold fast the faithful word
Don’t forget that the other method of the enemy was in full operation at this time as well. Roman persecution was in warp drive in the third century under the Imperial Caesars. From our vantage point at the close of the church age, we should take heed to the lessons of history. While so-called “scholarship” does everything it can to undermine your faith in the word of God, the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4) desires nothing more than to eliminate us from the face of the earth. You will get this attack in varying forms and in varying degrees the rest of your Christian life.
Our job is to “hold fast the faithful word” (Titus 1:9). We are to put a death grip on the authority of our Bible and never, under any circumstances, allow anyone to draw us away from its truth. Then we are to “hold forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:16) to a lost world in need of the Saviour. These two principles are vital to your walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot hold forth a book that you do not hold fast. It would be like finding a drowning man in the sea and throwing him a life preserver, but not anchoring it to the boat. It would do no good. If someone can slap your Bible out of your hand with “the latest scholarship,” your effectiveness in trying to rescue the perishing will be squat.
The black-pieced chess master desires to eliminate Bible believers from the earth. At some point very soon, he will get his wish, and we will be “caught up together to meet the Lord in the air” (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Until then, let history teach you. Hold fast and hold forth until he comes.