Peace - Advent 2018

In his famous poem, “Christmas Bells,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captures his despair and hope as he wrestles with “peace on earth” or the lack thereof in the final two stanzas:

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Part of the answer to Longfellow’s despair is that the text of Luke 2:14 actually intends a peace in the present time. The song of the angels has not failed in the present for they declared Glory to God in the highest (true then, at present, and forever) and peace on earth among people of favor. The text should be read as “people of favor,” that is, people on whom God’s favor rests (see NIV translation of this verse). Therefore, fundamentally the peace declared at Christmas time should remind us that the angels sang about peace to people on whom God’s favor rests, that is, those who have experienced his saving grace.

Christ Jesus fulfilled that declaration of peace in his first advent. Christ came to preach the favorable year of the Lord (see Isaiah 61:2; Luke 4:19-21). He ushered in this favorable year by shedding his own blood and inaugurating the covenant of peace (see Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 34:25; compare with the new covenant in Luke 22:14-20), which secured the forgiveness of sins for all who repent of their sin and trust in him (see Luke 24:44-49). Christ’s sacrifice made peace and created a people, a new humanity—the Church (see Ephesians 2:14-18; Romans 5:1; Colossians 1:20). Therefore, Longfellow should have rejoiced in the present peace the Church has with God in Christ. However, we can sympathize with Longfellow’s observation of the absence of peace on earth. The Church must regain a vital part of its mission of peacemaking, energized by the Holy Spirit bearing the fruit of peace within us.

The Bible describes the church as those who are to be at peace (1 Thessalonians 5:13), peaceable with all men (Romans 12:18), striving for peace (Hebrews 12:14), and maintaining unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). A good example of the use of shalom (Hebrew for peace) is Jeremiah 29:7, where God instructs the people of Judah to seek the welfare (shalom) of the city (Babylon!), for in its welfare (shalom) you will find your welfare (shalom). Here “peacemaking” means that we should seek to be a blessing in whatever context God places us. First and foremost, we are to be agents of the gospel that brings peace to repentant sinners. Second, we are to be agents who seek the welfare and the good of the people with whom we come into contact.

This Christmas, may we be diplomats of peace between people and God and people and people as we reflect on the peace of God that dawned in the first advent of Christ Jesus.

By Dr. John Meade

The Council of Nicaea and Biblical Canon

Ideas have consequences. The idea that the Council of Nicaea (325 AD), under the authority of Roman Emperor Constantine, established the Christian biblical canon attempted to show how the Bible originated from conspiracy and power play on the part of a relative few, elite bishops. That this idea persists today can be shown not only from Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code but also from scanning Twitter (and even some blogs):

The tweet combines several elements. Though it does not mention the Council of Nicaea by name, that is usually the chief venue at which these  bishops carried out Constantine's politically motivated order and where they created the Bible. There is no historical basis for this idea that the Council of Nicaea discussed and established the Canon of Scripture and thus created the Bible. As the early Christian canon lists and other evidences show, there were discussions over the canon before and after the Council of Nicaea. Furthermore, none of the early records from the Council nor eyewitness attendees (e.g. Eusebius or Athanasius) mention any discussion over the Canon of Scripture. So whence did this idea originate?

The Origin of the Council Myth

The source of this idea appears in a late ninth-century Greek manuscript, now called the Synodicon Vetus, which presents itself as an epitome of the decisions of Greek councils up to that time (see pp. 2-4 here). This MS was brought from Morea in the sixteenth century by Andreas Darmasius and was bought, edited, and published by John Pappus in 1601 in Strasburg. I give the English translation of the relevant section from the source, linked above:

The council made manifest the canonical and apocryphal books in the following manner: Placing them by the side of the divine table in the house of God, they prayed, entreating the Lord that the divinely inspired books might be found upon the table, and the spurious ones underneath; and it so happened.

According to the source, the church has its canon because of a miracle that occurred at the Council of Nicaea in which the Lord caused the canonical books to stay on the table and the apocryphal or spurious ones to be found underneath it. From Pappus's edition of the Synodicon Vetus, this quotation circulated and was cited (sometimes even as coming from Pappus himself, not the Greek MS he edited!), and eventually found its way into the work of promin


ent thinkers such as Voltaire (1694–1778). In volume 3 of his Philosophical Dictionary (English translation here) under Councils (sec. I), he says:

It was by an expedient nearly similar, that the fathers of the same council distinguished the authentic from the apocryphal books of Scripture. Having placed them altogether upon the altar, the apocryphal books fell to the ground of themselves.

And a little later in sec. III, he adds:

We have already said, that in the supplement to the Council of Nice it is related that the fathers, being much perplexed to find out which were the authentic and which the apocryphal books of the Old and the New Testament, laid them all upon an altar, and the books which they were to reject fell to the ground. What a pity that so fine an ordeal has been lost!

Earlier in his article, Voltaire had already mentioned that it was Constantine who convened the council. At the Council of Nicaea, therefore, the fathers distinguished the canonical from the apocryphal books by prayer and a miracle. The publication of Synodicon Vetus by Pappus's edition in 1601 and the subsequent citing of the miracle at Nicaea, especially by Voltaire in his Dictionary, appears to be the reason why Dan Brown could narrate the events so colorfully and why many others continue to perpetuate this myth.


Thus this myth of the Council of Nicaea's role in the formation of the biblical canon was promulgated over the years. Dan Brown did not invent it but certainly exploited it and perpetuated it in this generation. Although the history of the canon of scripture is a bit messy at junctures, there is no evidence that it was established by a relative few Christian bishops and churches such that convened at Nicaea in 325. Christians discussed the canon's boundaries long before and after this council.

UPDATE (4/26/18): it is possible to read Jerome's words in the preface to Judith, "But since the Nicene Council is considered (legitur lit. "is read") to have counted this book among the number of sacred Scriptures, I have acquiesced to your request (or should I say demand!)," as a reference to Nicaea discussing the scriptures, and therefore the beginning of the myth. I didn't include it previously because it seems so different in kind from the later myth, and there could have been discussions about "scriptures," which would differ from a vote on the canonical list and differ further still from the later miracle story. Since adopters of Nicene orthodoxy such as Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Hilary of Poitiers do not include Judith in the canon, we need to read Jerome not as referencing the canon but the scriptures. This interpretation is in line with fourth-century biblical theory. How others read Jerome on this point could have been different, and thus Jerome's statement, misunderstood, could be the departure for the later myth. I still have many questions about this conclusion. For more on the Jerome prefaces to Judith and Tobit see the article by Ed Gallagher on the question.

About the Author

Dr. John Meade is Associate Professor of Old Testament and Codirector of the Text & Canon Institute at Phoenix Seminary. He has recently published The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis with Oxford University Press. You can learn more about him at his faculty page and also follow him on Twitter at @drjohnmeade.

Musings on The Intellectual Life

The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods by A. G. Sertillanges (repr. CUA Press, 1998) is a classic of which the seminarian should be aware. I draw attention to a few of the salient points made by Sertillanges in hopes that the reader will pursue matters further by reading the whole book. Its preliminary chapters treat matters of vocation and virtue, and later chapters offer practical advice for how to carry out the work of the mind.

The Intellectual Vocation

At the beginning, Sertillanges defines the intellectual vocation as follows:

When we speak of vocation, we refer to those who intend to make intellectual work their life” (3).

How is this vocation related to the seminarian? Much of what we do at seminary is related to the mind. After all, we are commanded to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (cf. Mark 12:30). The activities of reading and writing will fill the time of the seminarian and also the future pastor. If this is so, then how will our intellectual work deepen?

He continues saying:

I say the deepening [that is, the calling to the intellectual life], in order to set aside the idea of a superficial tincture of knowledge. A vocation is not fulfilled by vague reading and a few scattered writings. It requires penetration and continuity and methodical effort, so as to attain a fullness of development which will correspond to the call of the Spirit, and to the resources that it has pleased Him to bestow on us” (pg. 3).

A seminarian as intellectual is called to the deep things of the study of God and his Word. Not only are these good and right objects of study in themselves, but deep study of them will lead to a faithful ministry of the Word (2 Tim. 2:15).

The Virtues of an Intellectual

Lest one think that the intellectual life is merely a matter of the mind, Sertillanges unpacks the intellectual life in the next chapter with a clear discussion of virtue. He says:

The qualities of character have a preponderant role in everything. The intellect is only a tool; the handling of it determines the nature of its effects....Life is a unity: it would be very surprising if we could give fullest play to one of its functions while neglecting the other, or if to live our ideas should not help us to perceive them (17–9).

Sertillanges argues, "virtue in general is necessary for knowledge, and that the more moral rectitude we bring to study, the more fruitful the study is" (24–5). He illustrates this point earlier:

How will you manage to think rightly with a sick soul, a heart ravaged by vice, pulled this way and that by passion, dragged astray by violent or guilty love? ... Think it out. On what, first and foremost does all the effort of study depend? On attention, which delimits the field for research, concentrates on it, brings all our power to bear on it; next, on judgment, which gathers up the fruit of investigation, Now, passions and vices relax attention, scatter it, lead it astray; and they injure the judgment in roundabout ways...(21).

Right and fruitful thinking essentially depends on right and virtuous living.

The Work of Direct Meditation: Piety

But what fuels the soul? Devotion or piety is the source of a flourishing intellectual. There will be a temptation to lay personal devotion aside in the name of study. The reality is that disregarding devotion will dry up one's ability to study rightly and to discover the truth because it neglects the basic order that study of things is an indirect meditation while devotion is a direct meditation on the Creator of all things.

Sertillanges captures this reality well:

But study must first of all leave room for worship, prayer, direct meditation on the things of God...Study carried to such a point that we give up prayer and recollection, that we cease to read Holy Scripture, and the words of the saints and of great souls—study carried to the point of forgetting ourselves entirely, and of concentrating on the objects of study so that we neglect the Divine Dweller within us, is an abuse and a fool’s game. To suppose that it will further our progress and enrich our production is to say that the stream will flow better if its spring is dried up” (28–29).

The cultivation of the virtue of studiousness depends on devotion and piety. We will not succeed in the work of the mind if we neglect the Triune God. When we read Holy Scripture, worship, pray, and directly meditate on the things of God, we return to the source of all good and truth, to the source of the matters with which we are engaged. In short, we should devote ourselves to God and then to the work God has called us.


Sertillanges challenges the reader to conceive of the work of the mind as a vocation. The book calls the reader to the deeper things of the intellectual life, and the seminarian must be acquainted with aspects of that life. Later in the book, Sertillanges provides a clear treatment of the organization of life and the various aspects of the work he envisions. Above, I have attempted only to show something of the vocation and virtues of the intellectual life. This life is a unity, and its depth of knowledge depends on its source in piety and devotion to God.

About the Author

Dr. John Meade joined the Phoenix Seminary faculty in 2012 and he teaches Old Testament and Hebrew. You can learn more about him at his faculty page here.

John Meade on The Biblical Canon Lists

"What is a biblical canon list," you ask? It is an ancient list of biblical books usually drafted by a church father or synod to specify those books churches recognized as authoritative for doctrine. For example, St. Gregory of Nazianzus drafted a canon list of books (381–90 AD) that promoted piety on the one hand and defended from heterodoxy on the other. At the end of his list, he made clear, at least in his mind, that this list was final and exclusive, "You have all. If there is any book outside of these, they are not among the genuine ones." Gregory was aware of "many, strange books" and "interpolated evils" that had come into being, and his list specified the genuine books so that the reader might also be able to recognize the spurious ones.

Sometimes in the context of a canon list, a father would also draft another list that included other books of a secondary status or position; that is, books not recognized as canonical but books to be read to new converts or useful and beneficial books (e.g. Wisdom of Solomon or the Shepherd of Hermas).

Why are these canon lists important? They provide the clearest, most specific information regarding the Bible's contents in antiquity and therefore will be of interest to anyone who has wondered how they got their Bible.

Until now, access to these ancient biblical canon lists was a challenge for the student and scholar alike. Ed Gallagher and John Meade wrote the The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis (Oxford University Press, 2017) to make these sources available in one volume. After a substantial opening chapter on the evidence and views of the early period, they provide a chapter on Jewish lists (Josephus; Babylonian Talmud); three chapters on Greek, Latin, and Syriac Christian lists respectively; a substantial chapter on the contents of early Christian manuscripts; and finally, an Appendix which treats the disputed and more common apocryphal books. The famous canon lists of Eusebius, Athanasius, Jerome, and Augustine along with many others are now included in one volume. The book presents each list in two columns, the first containing the list in its original language, while the second contains an English translation with commentary in footnotes.

About the Author

Dr. John Meade joined the Phoenix Seminary faculty in 2012. He teaches courses in Hebrew Language and Old Testament Literature along with elective courses on the Septuagint, the Apocrypha, the Canon of Scripture, and Biblical Theology. He and his wife and four kids attend Trinity Bible Church where he serves as community group leader and Sunday School teacher.