Tag Archives: eusebius

Mythmaking of Early Christian History by Eusebius

Question:

A lot of what we know about the early Church comes from Eusebius, is he a reliable source of information?

Answer:

In his work, Praeparatio  Evangelica (Preparation for the Gospel), Book 12, Chapter 31 is titled as follows:

“That it will be necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such a mode of treatment.”

Eusebius makes it clear that Christians have to necessarily lie, use falsehoods for the propagation of the Gospel message. It is therefore quite difficult to trust someone who is seen as a historian who openly argues that as a Christian, it is necessary for him to use falsehoods. This is not a teaching that is hidden away or poorly translated, this is someone making it absolutely clear that lying is necessary when it comes to the Gospel message. Chapter 31 reads as follows:

“But even if the case were not such as our argument has now proved it to be, if a lawgiver, who is to be of ever so little use, could have ventured to tell any falsehood at all to the young for their good, is there any falsehood that he could have told more beneficial than this, and better able to make them all do everything that is just, not by compulsion but willingly?”

Eusebius is referencing a Platonic argument from Plato’s Laws. This argument essentially means that it’s okay to lie, it’s okay to hold a false belief, if in the end the lie benefits someone morally. An example of this is to teach the Gospel message and even if the Gospel message is false, invented, a myth, by believing in this lie, someone may stop being promiscuous. They may stop stealing due to their belief in a false Gospel message. The person does not know the Gospel message is false, they believe it to be true, and so despite unknowingly believing in a false teaching, they still morally benefit in the end.

Plato’s Laws

Eusebius is referencing the following argument from Plato found in Plato’s Laws (translated by R.G. Bury 1926):

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The Greek phrase we need to focus on is, “ἀγαθῷ ψεύδεσθαι” (agatho pseudesthai):

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Which he translates as follows, “useful fiction”:

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Plato puts forth the idea of “ἀγαθῷ ψεύδεσθαι”, or as translated, “useful fiction”. Eusebius then borrows this idea and applies it to Christianity, with the conclusion being that it is necessary to lie  as a Christian because even if the belief is false, a useful fiction, in the end a person is morally better off due to believing in that lie. As he (Eusebius) argues, “is there any falsehood that he could have told more beneficial than this“.

Christian Apologists on Eusebius’s Controversial Argument

In “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus”, by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, they offer a re-contextualizing of what Eusebius said. Their argument can be summarized as claiming that Eusebius’s use of the phrase, “ἀγαθῷ ψεύδεσθαι” (useful fiction, falsehood, lie), does not mean what the text says. They begin by saying on page 275:

“It may be helpful to look at the Greek employed. The word used by Plato is pseudos, which typically means a lie or imitation”.

They acknowledge that the standard use and meaning of the word, “ψεύδεσθαι”, is one of dishonesty. After establishing the normal use of the word, they attempt to argue that Eusebius (in quoting Plato), meant to argue for a “good lie”.

“However, Plato’s context and the passage may justify a nuance for the following reasons: (1) Plato uses the term, “good lie” (agatho pseudesthai), eliminating harmful intent.”

They continue:

“One translator renders the term as “useful fiction,” instead of “falsehood” (Plato in Twelve Volumes, 12 vols, R.G. Bury, trans.[Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1914-1935], 10.125).”

The leaps in reasoning they make are quite ridiculous to say the very least. A good lie, is still a lie. Though the intent may not be harmful, to say that it is necessary to use fiction and falsehoods to achieve some moral goal, does not preclude the fact that he argues that it is necessary, required, obligatory to use falsehoods to convince people of the Gospel message. For some odd reason, they found it important to mention that one translator uses the term “useful fiction” instead of “falsehood”. I’m not sure why they found that this difference in translation needed to be mentioned as the end result is still that Eusebius argued for the necessity of fiction and falsehoods within the Christian faith.

Usage of “ψεύδεσθαι” (fiction, lie, falsehood) in the New Testament

There are some 12 occurrences of this word in various forms throughout the New Testament, every instance of which uses it in the context of dishonesty:

  • Matthew 5:11, “…against you falsely, for my sake.”
  • Acts 5:3, “…your heart to lie to the Holy…”
  • Acts 5:4, “…in your heart? You have not lied to men…”
  • Romans 9:1, “… in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience…”
  • 2 Corinthians 11:31, “…God, I lie not.”
  • Colossians 3:9, ” Do not lie to one another…”
  • 1 Timothy 2:7, “…the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher…”
  • Hebrews 6:18, “…for God to lie, we who have taken refuge…”
  • James 3:14, “…do boast against and lie against the…”
  • 1 John 1:6, “… in the darkness, we lie and do not practice…”
  • Revelation 3:9, “…that they are Jews and are not, but lie— I will make…”

Thus, the normative use of the term in the New Testament literature, agrees with the aforementioned conclusion that it refers to dishonesty, falsehood and lying.

Conclusion

From having read both Plato’s use of the argument and Eusebius’s copying and appropriating of it, the end result is that:

  1. It is a necessity to use falsehoods to spread the Gospel message,
  2. because it is better to believe in a falsehood that makes you morally pure,
  3. than to live and behave unjustly.

Even if Eusebius had good intentions, he still considered it a necessity to lie about Christianity to win converts, for him, the ends justify the means. It would therefore be difficult to believe that his writings are historically accurate and objective. His representations of competing groups of Christian sects may not be impartial, and there is no way to validate his version of early Christianity.

and God knows best.

 

 

The Markan Gospel’s Systematic Development in Light of Miracle Sets

Traditionally speaking, Christian apologists have always appealed to the Gospel ascribed to Mark’s haphazard narrative inconsistencies (in regard to the narratives of the synoptics) as a proof of its early authorship being attested by Papias, as recorded in Eusebius’ Church History:

“This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely. These things are related by Papias concerning Mark.” – 3.39.15.

However, using narrative criticism, we are able to examine the patterns of literary development as envisaged by the Markan author. Thus, as we will see, the Markan Gospel cannot be considered disorderly, but should be considered as a work of systematic literary development. Whatever work Papias was referring to, has not remained with us (not a single papyri of the Markan Gospel exists earlier than the mid to late 3rd century), or what later Christians (such as Eusebius) identified with earlier Christians (Papias) is mistaken and as such, should be taken as mere anachronistic apologetic revisionism. As the “Church” began to develop, so did its history, especially in regard to its origins. This might seem odd to some, but we need to remember that as the various early Christian communities began to coalesce, a homogenous “universal” or Catholic history of the “true” Church began to manifest itself, what we refer to today as the proto-orthodox Church.

Jaroslav Pelikan says in the Christian Tradition Vol 1:

“There is a sense in which the very notion of tradition seems inconsistent with the idea of history as a movement and change. For tradition is thought to be ancient, hallowed by age, unchanged since it was first established once upon a time. It does not have a history, since history implies the appearance at a certain point in time, of that which had not been there before.

According to the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, orthodox Christian doctrine did not really have a history, having been true eternally and taught primitively; only heresy had a history, having arisen at particular times and through the innovations of particular teachers Roman Catholics polemics has frequently contrasted the variations of Protestantism with the stable and unchanging doctrine of Roman Catholicism.

It seems that theologians have been willing to trace the history of doctrines and doctrinal systems which they found to be in error, but that the normative tradition had to be protected from the relativity of having a history or being, in any decisive sense, the product of a history.” – pp. 7 – 8.

Many Christian scholars on early Christian traditions, agree that Church history tends to be generative as opposed to retentive (as is often claimed):

“At the same time, such individual memories also typically come to be calibrated in relation to an emerging communal consensus— either reactively or, more often, in convergence with it. Memory of this sort is of course highly episodic, lumpy, and often somewhat formulaic— characteristics to which even eyewitnesses are hardly immune. And it can often be generative of meaning, rather than merely retentive.” – Markus Bockmuehl, Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (pp. 11-12).

So, while the quote attributed by Eusebius to Papias may be more of a generated communal teaching which later manifested itself in Church tradition, can we truly say that the Gospel ascribed to Mark is the work of a scribe hastily writing down an orator’s recounting, as opposed to a work of systematic literary development? The answer is no. There are two sets of miracle stories in the Markan Gospel that follow a specific pattern, that bear witness to an intentional development of the Christ’s image in comparison with the Messianic archetype prevalent throughout Judaic literature.

Markan Miracle Sets 2

As we can see from this simple break down, the miracle stories are equally divided into two sets. Each set has the same pattern and form of miracles: one sea/ water – three healings – one mass feeding. Both sets of miracles, also occur within six successive chapters, with the first set ending and the second set beginning within the same chapter and within one verse of each other. These are not and cannot be coincidences, or disordered in any way. They are quite specific in pattern and form, the ordering of these miracle stories are intentional and systematic. Further analysis shows, that the author derived these miracle stories from earlier Jewish Messianic types, who were to guide their people in times of great turmoil:

Markan Miracle Sets

Thus, the intention of ordering and mentioning these specific miracles attributed to Christ, was done with the purpose of painting Christ in the same image and stature as that of Moses, Elijah and Elisha. In fact, the author who developed these miracle sets, does include specific mention of Jesus being like, or being Elijah within the same chapters:

Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” – Mark 6:15.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” – Mark 8:28.

Therefore, it should be concluded from reading the Gospel ascribed to Mark, that this piece of literature has undergone intentional development, with specific goals in mind to paint Christ in light of earlier Messianic archetypal figures. The narratives are in order, for the purpose the author intended to achieve, and as such, we can understand that it is the case that either Papias’ statement refers to some other piece of literature, or that the Gospel of Mark has undergone significant systematic literary development with a Jewish audience in mind and as such, is no longer in its original form.

and God knows best.