Israeli Archaeologists Find Rare Mosaic Possibly Pointing to Where Jesus Fed the 5,000

JERUSALEM, Israel – Israeli Archaeologists have discovered an unusually well-preserved mosaic apparently depicting the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 on the floor of an early Christian Church overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Researchers from the University of Haifa exposed the mosaic during excavations on the so-called “Burnt Church” at the Hippos-Sussita excavation site. Researchers believe the 6th century church was most likely burned down during the Sasanian conquest in the 7th century. The fire actually helped preserve the floor because when the roof burned down, it covered the mosaic floor in a layer of ash, thus protecting it from being damaged by the elements over time.

When archaeologists broke through the ash layer, they found a colorful mosaic depicting images of baskets with loaves and fish, a miracle that is believed to have occurred close to the Sea of Galilee.

“There can certainly be different explanations to the descriptions of loaves and fish in the mosaic, but you cannot ignore the similarity to the description in the New Testament: for example, from the fact that the New Testament has a description of five loaves in a basket or the two fish depicted in the apse, as we find in the mosaic”, said Dr. Michael Eisenberg, head of the excavation team in Hippos on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, Israel.

This church was partially exposed about a decade ago, and now Dr. Eisenberg, his colleague Jessica Rentz, and their team have returned to expose the remains. The discovery of the mosaic featuring baskets full loaves and fish challenges the traditional belief that the New Testament miracle took place at what is now called the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, on the north-west side of the Sea of Galilee.

Some experts theorize that it occurred closer to the Hippos-Sussita excavation site.

“Nowadays, we tend to regard the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha on the north-west of the Sea of Galilee as the location of the miracle, but with careful reading of the New Testament it is evident that it might have taken place north of Hippos within the city’s region,” explained Eisenberg.  “According to the scripture, after the miracle Jesus crossed the water to the north-west of the Sea of Galilee, to the area of Tabgha/Ginosar, so that the miracle had to take place at the place where he began the crossing rather than at the place he finished it. In addition, the mosaic at the Church of Multiplication has a depiction of two fish and a basket with only four loaves , while in all places in the New Testament which tell of the miracle, there are five loaves of bread, as found in the mosaic in Hippos. In addition, the mosaic at the burnt church has a depiction of 12 baskets, and the New Testament also describes the disciples who, at the end of the miracle, were left with 12 baskets of bread and fish.”

Dr. Michael Eisenberg during a tour of the church, presenting one of the roof tiles which covered the floor (photo by: Arleta Kowalewska)

However, Eisenberg isn’t convinced that the miracle happened near the Burnt Church in Hippos. He points out key differences between the newly discovered mosaic and the New Testament account.

For example, some baskets in the mosaic are full of fruit and not just bread. Other places depict three fish together instead of only two.

“The church is located right at the western edge of Mount Sussita and is the most western point in the city and overlooks – today as it did then – the Sea of Galilee and Jesus ministry and where most of his miracles occurred. There is no doubt that the local community was well familiar with the two miracles of Feeding the Multitude and perhaps knew their estimated locations better than us. The assumption that the artisan or the persons who ordered the work wanted to create an affinity to a miracle which took place nearby must be logical. We will finish the excavation and cleaning of the remaining twenty percent of the mosaic and will carefully examine this assumption. The fish themselves have a number of additional symbolical meaning in the Christian world, and their interpretation requires caution”, he summarized.

During the preservation process, headed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, two inscriptions in Greek were also exposed in the mosaic.

The first inscription talks about the two fathers of the church, Theodoros and Petros creating a sanctuary in honor of a Christian martyr. The second inscription reveals the name of the martyr to be a man named Theodoros. Not much else is known about the martyr.

Researchers also discovered the burnt remains of the church’s doors, a pair of door knockers in bronze casting in the form of roaring lions.

Credit: Emily Jones
CBNNEWS.COM

Bible Proven ‘Trustworthy’ Again after This Archaeological Discovery

Archaeological discoveries like this are important victories because although Christians believe Biblical accounts of history, non-Christians strive to disprove the Bible.

Mount Zions Site

(Israel) — [CBN News] Academics are saying the Bible is trustworthy after discovering evidence of the 6th century Babylonian siege of Jerusalem as it is described in 2 Kings, Chapter 25(Image: via CBN News)

Archaeologists from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, excavating on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, say they have found physical evidence of the Babylonian attack, including burnt material, arrowheads, carbonized wood, bronze, iron, jewelry, and broken pottery.

Dr. Shimon Gibson, co-director of the university’s Mount Zion archaeological project, told CBN News the discoveries were “unexpected.”

The Bible describes King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces burning “every great house” down, including the house of the Lord—Solomon’s Temple. The soldiers also took bronze pillars and vessels from the Temple and carried them back to Babylon while the children of Israel were thrown into exile.

“What we’re finding are the results of that destruction,” Gibson said, adding that Nebuchadnezzar was known as the “Destroyer of Nations” at the time.

The researchers also found a particularly rare piece of jewelry with unclear origins.

“It might have been an earring. It might have been a tassel, some kind of ornament. It’s unclear at this point in time. It consists of a golden bell out of which extends this bunch of grapes made out of silver,” Gibson said.

“There have been over the past several decades a lot of discussion as to the veracity of the Biblical account. Some would like to see it more as mythically based, maybe having a basis in history, but still largely a document that is not really to be relied upon,” he explained.

“Our excavations prove that to not be the case.”

Gibson said the archaeologists will return to Jerusalem next summer to excavate the site in its entirety. 

Credit: CBN News

The Eyewitness Testimony That’ll Make You Never Doubt the Resurrection Again

Christianity’s core belief is that the Son of God took on human form, died for our sins and then rose from the dead to give us eternal life. But if Jesus Christ didn’t come back to life, it undoes His claim to be the all-powerful, eternal Son of God, Savior and Messiah.  So, Christianity hangs on the Resurrection.

To believe the events around that first Easter, you pretty much have to believe that Jesus did indeed exist and that the New Testament can be trusted.

At the Impact 360 school in Pine Mountain, Georgia, Prof. Jonathan Morrow preps college-bound Christians in how to fight with the facts of their faith.

Jesus Isn’t Just in the Bible

He told CBN News, “Investigating the Resurrection is a historical question that you can do with eyes wide open; it’s not a blind faith kind of thing, like believing in the Easter Bunny or a lucky rabbit’s foot.  This is real world kind of stuff.  And you can investigate the data for it.”

Morrow added, “So when it comes to the Resurrection, we say ‘Well, how do we know Jesus existed?’ Some people even doubt that.  The fact is, we have far more sources for Jesus of Nazareth than we do for many historical figures in the first century.  We have at least 18. Twelve of those are non-Christian sources.”

There’s more evidence Jesus existed than Julius Caesar. Anyone doubt Caesar existed?

As for the Scriptures, Prof. Darrell Bock of the Dallas Theological Seminary explained that any piece of a surviving ancient work is called a manuscript. And more ancient pages or fragments of the Bible have survived by far than any other book from antiquity.

“It’s exceptional,” Bock said. “You’re talking about over 5,800 Greek manuscripts, over 8,000 Latin manuscripts. Most books that we work with in the ancient world have maybe at best a dozen manuscripts.”

Jonathan Morrow is a defender of the faith, the literal meaning of “apologist.”  But he says Christians shouldn’t just defend the faith and the Resurrection. They should embrace it and let it change their lives just like it changed the ancient world. Watch below: 

Christians: If Jesus Is Dead, So Is Your Religion

For some people, they might be ready to believe the Bible is legitimate, but they have a hard time believing Jesus Christ could have actually risen from the dead.

The problem with that, as far as Morrow is concerned, is that everything hangs on that fact.

This author of Questioning the Bible explained, “Paul made the argument in I Corinthians 15, saying ‘Look, you can test this: if the Resurrection didn’t happen, Christianity is false. Whether you believe it or not, whether you’re sincere about it, if the Resurrection didn’t happen, Christianity’s false – go to the next religion.”

If He’s Dead, Then They Lied

Some suggest that the apostles all lied in a vast conspiracy to turn the deficit of Jesus’ death into the positive of a risen Lord. But biblical apologists insist when you examine it all the way through, it’s actually easier to believe in the Resurrection than its alternatives.

Such Bible experts say that to dismiss the Resurrection, any theory you come up with to explain the historical happenings has to explain away three historical facts:

  1. That there was an empty tomb three days after Jesus’s body had been placed in it, though it had been constantly guarded by Roman soldiers;
  2. Jesus appeared to hundreds of people in numerous places for almost seven weeks after His crucifixion;
  3. And something huge did happen to suddenly and forever turn all the cowering, cowardly disciples into bold believers, proclaiming a risen Messiah they were willing to be tortured and die for.

Top biblical experts point out all the holes in these and other anti-Resurrection theories. Watch below.

Did Jesus Die, or Just Almost Die?

Still, alternative theories live on.

Some theorize that Jesus didn’t die on the cross but just went into a death-like state that fooled everyone who checked His body. Then under this theory, He awoke in the tomb, got up and walked out.  Proponents say that explains His many appearances after His supposed death.

What this doesn’t explain is how in a near-death state and with exceedingly crippling wounds, He could work His way out of tightly-wrapped, glued-on burial garments and then roll away the massively heavy stone sealed onto the tomb by the Romans.  And it doesn’t explain why He’d suddenly disappear after several weeks among His disciples, never to be seen again.  Nor does it explain how so many people saw Him ascending up into the heavens.

Oops, Wrong Tomb

Some suggest the female disciples who first found the empty tomb might have just had the wrong one, and the other disciples took advantage of that, concocting a Resurrection myth to explain the empty tomb. But surely the Jewish leaders who’d had Roman guards placed by Jesus’ burial place, and Joseph of Arimathea who owned the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid, would have quickly displayed the body and corrected the mistake if indeed the women had gone to the wrong tomb.

“If you’re going around preaching Jesus was physically raised from the dead and people knew where He was buried and knew where they could find His bones, that message wouldn’t even get off the ground,” insisted Bock, author of Truth Matters.

Not Smart to Lie Where Everyone Knows You’re Lying

Josh McDowell, author of New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, said the disciples knew this well.

“In the Resurrection, where was the hardest place in the world to convince anyone it was true if it was false?  Jerusalem, where a 15-minute walk by anyone could confirm the emptiness of the tomb,” McDowell said.”

Matthew 28 points out the Jewish leaders bribed the tomb’s guards to say they’d fallen asleep and the disciples then stole Jesus’ body. But if these guards were asleep, how would they know it was the disciples?  And how could they have slept through the disciples rolling away the huge stone that covered the entrance to the tomb, a stone some have suggested was so heavy, it may have taken more than a dozen men to push it away?

Debunking this conspiracy idea, Morrow said, “Conspiracy theories unravel very quickly because people will eventually tell what they know. And the more people who are involved, and the more people who saw the event, you multiply your chances of the story getting out. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is the Gospels, the earliest historical record we have, don’t show the tales of being doctored to say the same thing, like they got their stories straight. They had the ring of truth to them.”

Would You Die for a Lie You Made Up?

And if the disciples were making up Jesus’ Resurrection, would they have lived and died for Him and a fiction they themselves made up?

McDowell explained, “They said after He was crucified and buried, He was raised from the dead and for 40 days — not 40 hours, not four days — for 40 days, they lived with Him and walked with Him, with overwhelming proof that He’d been raised from the dead.”

McDowell concluded, “If the Resurrection was a lie, they had to know it. And if they knew it, then you’d have to say here were these men who not only died for a lie, but they knew it was a lie. I challenge you to find others in history who that’s true of. It’s not.”

Morrow added, “The earliest disciples would have known – not just believed, but would have known – that either Jesus was who He claimed to be and was actually raised from the dead or they were making this thing up. And yet history tells us that we have good reason to think they all went to their death with the exception of one for that core belief: that Jesus was raised from the dead. They didn’t recant that. Conspiracies break down under pressure.  And this conspiracy would have cost them their lives.”

What Would Cause Such Radical Transformations?

These and other experts say that in truth, it would take something as radical as Jesus’ Resurrection to completely transform the disciples like cowardly Peter, who was so scared just before the crucifixion, he swore he didn’t even know Jesus. Watch below.

But just a few weeks later Morrow pointed out Peter went from hiding away, fearful the Jewish leaders might have him killed as well, to boldly preaching salvation through Christ before a crowd of thousands, including some who sought Jesus’ death.

Morrow explained, “You see Peter with this radical transformation, going from coward to this courageous champion who’s saying ‘Look, here I stand, this is what I’m saying, this is what’s true. You crucified this guy, but this is what He offered.’ You’ve got that radical transformation right at the heart of what’s going on around that earliest Christian movement.”

From Christ-Hater to Christian Martyr

Morrow pointed out Jesus’ doubting brother James was also instantly changed.

He said, “James – the brother of Jesus —didn’t follow Jesus during His earthly ministry; thought He was crazy.”

McDowell agreed, saying, “James despised his brother. Thought He was embarrassing the family. And then Jesus appeared to him in James’ own word, and he became the leader of the church of Jerusalem.”

Morrow added, “And after the fact, James becomes an early leader in the Church, and was persecuted and eventually killed for that belief.”

And biblical apologists say it could only be a resurrected Jesus showing up forcefully and vividly two to three years later that could transform the church’s worst persecutor into its main missionary.

Greatest Murderer Turned to Greatest Missionary

“Saul of Tarsus was anything but a follower who believed in Jesus,” McDowell said. “He went from city to city casting his vote to have them imprisoned and executed. But in his own words, Christ appeared to him. Whether you believe that or not, something took.  One of the greatest murderers into one of the greatest missionaries.  A Christian-hater to a Christian-lover.”

Morrow stated,  “What in the world would flip Paul – or actually, Saul of Tarsus – to Paul, the chief proclaimer in the early Church?  He was a smart guy. He was holding the coats when people were killing the first Christians.  He was adamantly opposed to this movement. And then he became a Christian. What accounts for that?”

Short of the risen Jesus appearing to Paul, Bock believes it’s an unfathomable transformation.

As he put it, “So the main thing is just explaining how someone like a Saul who becomes Paul even exists.”

McDowell concluded, “Something happened in Paul’s life that I’ve never found any other explanation that even comes close to satisfying me intellectually except: ‘And Jesus appeared to Paul after the Resurrection.'”

Liars Wouldn’t Have Testified About the Female Disciples’ Role 

Another crucial factor that debunks the idea all these disciples were trying to sell a false Resurrection to the world: the fact that they proclaimed it was females who found the empty tomb and let the male disciples know Jesus was missing.

The first century Jews believed women were second-class citizens.  So if the disciples were lying about the resurrection, they made their story all the harder to accept by putting women at the forefront.

“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – they all recount Jesus’ earliest women followers finding the empty tomb,” Morrow said. “In the first century, where a woman’s testimony would have been about the level just above a slave, that would not be your best foot forward.”

Bock imagined being with the disciples plotting how they’ll push a false Resurrection.

The Criterion of Embarrassment 

“‘We’re going to sell this difficult idea, and the people we’re going to get to sell it are people that the culture doesn’t believe have the right to be witnesses,'” Bock imagined them saying.

But he insisted, “You’d never make up a story that way.  This is what’s called the Criterion of Embarrassment in historical Jesus studies: that you’d never make up the story this way.  So the reason the story is this way is because it must be grounded in what happened.”

Morrow completely agreed, stating the Gospel writers testifying about the women’s role has “the ring of truth.”

Morrow said, “That would have been an embarrassing detail you would have never led with UNLESS it actually happened. And the fact that all four (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) say it happened just gives it that much stronger evidence that it actually did happen.”

Hard to Simply Dismiss 500 Eyewitnesses

Saying the disciples lied about Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t explain His post-Resurrection appearance before 500 people. The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15 suggested doubters go talk to them.

Morrow said of that, “You’ve got living history. You’ve got the people who were there to cross-check whatever message is being put out there. So, it’s not as though these things could have been invented and no one would have challenged it. You’ve got this idea that ‘there are witnesses; go investigate them.'”

He added about this call in I Corinthians to talk to witnesses, “Ancient historians loved eyewitness testimony. That’s what they all wanted. Livy, Herodotus, Tacitus, Thucydides – they all wanted eyewitness testimony to get back to the original.  And that’s what you have.”

McDowell said of such eyewitness testimony, “I put a lot of weight on this.  You see, people today say, ‘How do you know Jesus said that? How do you know He did that?’ Well, they had the same question in the New Testament times. Even more so than today because they were dying for it. And they wanted to know: ‘Is this true? Did Jesus really do this? Did He really say this?’ ”

‘Can’t Get Much Better Evidence’

McDowell pointed out, “In I John 1, how did John answer that? They said ‘How do we know this is true?’ John said , ‘What our eyes have seen, what our eyes have heard, what our hands have handled is what we’re declaring unto you.’ In other words, ‘We were eyewitnesses. We were there.’  And then with their opponents they would say, ‘You were there, too. You saw Jesus do this; you heard Him do this.’  And you can’t get much better evidence historically than that.  And we have that in the Scriptures.”

Morrow returned to how Paul pushed his readers in I Corinthians 15 to gather proof that Jesus rose from the dead: “He says, ‘It’s not a matter of wishful thinking.  Investigate this.’ That’s why he mentions the eyewitnesses. He mentioned that Jesus appeared to more than 500, and as well as His disciples, and to Paul himself and to others. Because eyewitnesses authenticated that event. And it was central to Christianity.”

Morrow concluded, “It has all the ring of truth and not the ring of that conspiracy theory where they just made this thing up to invent their own religion.”

Jonathan Morrow and Josh McDowell share more of their insights regarding eyewitness testimony below:

Could 500 People Have the Same Hallucination?

Some doubters try to do away with all the post-Resurrection appearances by saying those who thought they were seeing, talking to and touching Jesus were all hallucinating, even the 500 Paul discussed in I Corinthians.

McDowell told CBN News believing that takes more faith than simply accepting that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

The writer explained, “Here’s the key: what is a hallucination? A hallucination is an internal experience, not triggered by anything externally.  This is why no two people ever have the same hallucination. Because it’s all internal; subjective. Well, to have 500 people have the same hallucination would be 500 miracles equal to the Resurrection.”

Speaking of miracles, Morrow called on people to not dismiss them as casually as most folks do these days.

If God Exists, so Can Miracles

“When historians investigate this, in our modern mindset, there’s this idea that ‘Look, miracles are out of bounds.’ Well, why? Because if it’s at least possible that God exists, then miracles become possible,” he insisted.

But Morrow added, “We shouldn’t believe just any and every miracle. We then investigate them on a case-by-case basis. And when you look at the Resurrection evidence, it’s pretty remarkable how strong it is, and that’s why it’s at the core of Christianity. And so, I don’t think it’s intellectually credible to rule out miracles before you investigate the event, out of hand.”

Bock insisted, “The faith is very, very defendable. That’s why it’s lasted for 2,000 years.  And not only that. There’s a rationale that shows the uniqueness of what Jesus is that’s important to appreciate as well. And so all the time that’s often spent on the Resurrection makes sense because that really is the hub of the discussion.”

Morrow added, “Christians don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible says so. They believe He rose from the dead because that’s what the earliest and best historical documents show, and that’s what’s the best explanation of the data.”

Early Is Important

Just like historians put great weight on eyewitness testimony, they also give more respect to early historical writings done close to the events they discuss.

With Peter, John, and James, you have both: They’re eyewitnesses who wrote early.

“You can push the earliest core teaching of Jesus – His death, deity, and Resurrection – within months of the Resurrection. Because then it goes back to Peter, James, and John,” Morrow said. “These people were eyewitnesses, they were there, and it was early.”

Paul’s encounter with Jesus came just two or three years after Christ’s death and Resurrection, and not long after that, he interviewed Peter, James, and John.

“Then 18 years later he cross-checked himself again,” Morrow said of Paul. “In I Corinthians 15, he goes ‘Look, I met with them again and they added nothing to my gospel. We’re preaching the same exact thing.’ This is the core message. And you can trace it back to the beginning, that there was never a Christianity without that at the heart of it.”

Bock said that’s crucial knowledge for those who might instead have believed these key Christian doctrines were dreamed up much later.

He explained, “The issue that’s sometimes raised up: ‘well, these books were written many decades later. And so they reflect a theological development coming down the road.’  All that shrinks back when you look at the person of Paul.”

“He was writing within a few years of the time of Christ,” McDowell added. “And this is why for many of the scholars will give I Corinthians incredible credence: because of its closeness.”

The Resurrection Proves Jesus Was Who He Said He Was

Morrow said of Paul, “He understood why Jesus of Nazareth was different in the unique claims that He made, but that then those claims were authenticated through His Resurrection that said ‘What I said is what is real. This is who I am.'”

Morrow summed up, “These claims to forgive sins sound crazy unless you’re the Son of God, you’re the Son of Man, you’re the Messiah. And that’s who He showed Himself to be. And Paul is probably our earliest and best witness to that. And our critical scholars will grant us Paul being that eyewitness.”

McDowell spoke of evidence that can help readers believe the words of Paul and other New Testament writers, like archaeological findings.

He explained, “Right now you can almost say every single reference in the Book of Acts has already been verified through archaeology: 600 some references to kings, people, places, everything. In Luke 3, in the first three verses, there are 17 historical references. Every single one now has been confirmed by archaeology.”

‘The Evidence Is Only Getting Better’

Biblical expert Bock flat-out stated, “These books are the best-attested pieces of ancient literature we possess.”

Morrow added, “One of the fascinating things about New Testament manuscripts: We have over 5,700 Greek manuscripts alone. And more manuscripts are being discovered all the time.”

He summed up, “I think what Christians need to know is that there’s really good reason why we believe what we believe, and the evidence is only getting better. The more we discover and the more we find, the more confidence you can have that this is really true.”

By Paul Strand

Credit: CBNNEWS.COM

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WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT GOOD FRIDAY?

What is Good Friday and why do we call Good Friday “good,” when it is such a dark and bleak event commemorating a day of suffering and death for Jesus?

For Christians, Good Friday is a crucial day of the year because it celebrates what we believe to be the most momentous weekend in the history of the world. Ever since Jesus died and was raised, Christians have proclaimed the cross and resurrection of Jesus to be the decisive turning point for all creation. Paul considered it to be “of first importance” that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised to life on the third day, all in accordance with what God had promised all along in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3).

On Good Friday we remember the day Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (1 John 1:10). It is followed by Easter, the glorious celebration of the day Jesus was raised from the dead, heralding his victory over sin and death and pointing ahead to a future resurrection for all who are united to him by faith (Romans 6:5).

Still, why call the day of Jesus’ death “Good Friday” instead of “Bad Friday” or something similar? Some Christian traditions do take this approach: in German, for example, the day is called Karfreitag, or “Sorrowful Friday.” In English, in fact, the origin of the term “Good” is debated: some believe it developed from an older name, “God’s Friday.” Regardless of the origin, the name Good Friday is entirely appropriate because the suffering and death of Jesus, as terrible as it was, marked the dramatic culmination of God’s plan to save his people from their sins.

In order for the good news of the gospel to have meaning for us, we first have to understand the bad news of our condition as sinful people under condemnation. The good news of deliverance only makes sense once we see how we are enslaved. Another way of saying this is that it is important to understand and distinguish between law and gospel in Scripture. We need the law first to show us how hopeless our condition is; then the gospel of Jesus’ grace comes and brings us relief and salvation.

In the same way, Good Friday is “good” because as terrible as that day was, it had to happen for us to receive the joy of Easter. The wrath of God against sin had to be poured out on Jesus, the perfect sacrificial substitute, in order for forgiveness and salvation to be poured out to the nations. Without that awful day of suffering, sorrow, and shed blood at the cross, God could not be both “just and the justifier” of those who trust in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Paradoxically, the day that seemed to be the greatest triumph of evil was actually the deathblow in God’s gloriously good plan to redeem the world from bondage.

The cross is where we see the convergence of great suffering and God’s forgiveness. Psalms 85:10 sings of a day when “righteousness and peace” will “kiss each other.” The cross of Jesus is where that occurred, where God’s demands, his righteousness, coincided with his mercy. We receive divine forgiveness, mercy, and peace because Jesus willingly took our divine punishment, the result of God’s righteousness against sin. “For the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus endured the cross on Good Friday, knowing it led to his resurrection, our salvation, and the beginning of God’s reign of righteousness and peace.

Good Friday marks the day when wrath and mercy met at the cross. That’s why Good Friday is so dark and so Good.

 

A Good Friday Prayer

Today, God, I ask that You would teach me to mourn. Don’t let me rush to Easter Sunday too quickly. Give me grace to linger here, in the place where sorrow meets redemption. Make Your death as real to me as Your resurrection. Keep me always near the cross.

As I wait at the foot of the cross, God, reveal to me again the costliness of my sin. Don’t let me live in an imaginary world where Easter’s happy ending makes my selfishness irrelevant. Remind me that Your all-consuming grace came at a highest price. Forgive me for the times I’ve lived as if sin is no big deal, as if Good Friday never really happened.

Fill me with the joy and sorrow and reverence and gratitude that befit a Good Friday funeral: joy for Your victory, sorrow for Your death, reverence for Your holiness, gratitude for Your grace. Don’t let me settle for just one of those emotions at the expense of the others. Give me a heart big enough to hold them all in tension. Make me bold enough to search after a truth that’s really true, not just a truth that fits easily in the palm of my hand.

Give me eyes, God, to see the triumph of the cross. Even when all seems lost, even as I mourn Your death, remind me that You conquered the grave by sneaking inside of it and unraveling it from the inside out. In the midst of defeat and disappointment, sing songs of victory over me. Turn my world on its head so I can recognize the upside-down Kingdom of God at work.

Jesus, You tell me to take up my cross and follow You. Today more than ever, I remember what a weighty invitation that is. You won by dying—and it’s only by dying that I can follow in Your footsteps. It’s only by dying that I’ll ever truly come alive.

Teach me, God, to mourn and celebrate Your death. Then take me by the hand, lead me into my own death, and teach me to mourn and celebrate that death too. Amen. ~ written by Gregory Coles

Good Friday Bible Verses

Romans 5:6-10 – “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

1 Peter 2:24 – “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Isaiah 53:3-5 – “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Matthew 27 – The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Christ

By Justin Holcomb

Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on FacebookTwitter, and at JustinHolcomb.com.


This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

 

 

Christmas celebration and its significance today

Introduction:
Christmas is being celebrated every year in all the Christian countries around the world to mark the coming of Christ, the Son of God, in a human form to the human world. The word Christmas though very familiar with most us is in use only in the English speaking countries and it is known by different names in different countries. As for examples, Christmas is known as “Yule Day” in Scandinavian countries, “Weihnucht” meaning ‘Holy Night’ in Germany and Switzerland, “Natividad” in Spain, “Natale” in Italy, “Noel” in French, “Baradin” perhaps in India and many others names in different dialects.

The word Christmas actually is a combination of two separate words – “Christ” from the Greek word “Christos” meaning “anointed one” and from the Hebrew “Mas” meaning “Tribute” which together form the word Christmas connoting “Tribute to Christ”. In other word, Christmas is a tribute paid to Christ.

Origin of Christmas:We now have inherited so many Christmas traditions. But it is said that for almost 300 years after the birth of Christ there was no observance of Christmas. As a matter of fact, some of the ancient church fathers held it to be a sin if a man ever celebrated at all the Savior’s birth.  No one can tell exactly when Christmas celebration originated.

The only fact available to us is the record of a physician turned Evangelist Luke telling us that it was by night when some shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock, an angel of the Lord stood before them, the glory of the Lord shone around them and announcing to them the birth of Christ the Lord and Savior in the city of David (Luke 2.8ff.).

Christmas was observed on different days in the past. The observance of December 25 most probably took place in Rome in A.D. 325 under the pursuance of a Christian Emperor in the person of Constantine and by the decree of Bishop Liberius of Rome in A.D. 354. The early church fathers probably chose December 25 as the feast of the Sun or Winter Solstice was a familiar Roman pagan feast celebrating the Victory of Light over Darkness. This idea, though, was rejected at the famous council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, is understandable that the church intentionally opposed it to mean that the pagan festival SUN was foreshadowing the birth of Christ as prophesied by prophet Malachi as the SUN of RIGHTEOUNESS (Mal. 4.2). A righteous and devout man Simeon in the Gospel also affirmed Jesus Christ as “A light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2.32;cf. Matt. 4.16; 1 John 1.5).

Significance of Christmas Today:
Much traditions, customs and legends have been adapted in the celebration of  Christmas in our day. In whatever way and manner we may celebrate Christmas in our day and even in the days to come. But, one thing, we all must be clear about is that the meaning and significance of Christmas should never be deviated.

As it has been pointed out earlier, the first ever celebrated Christmas was the account given by Evangelist Luke in his Gospel Chapter 2. The first ever Christmas message brought by the angel with a multitude of heavenly host was, “…on earth peace among men…” (Luke 2.14). Peace is a gift of Jesus Christ. His birth was prophesied by the Israelite prophets as “The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9.6; Mic. 5.5).

WHAT IS THE MEANING AND SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRISTMAS FOR CHRISTIANS?

It’s the time of year when we explain what Christianity is about.

God exists

Basically, we know from a variety of scientific arguments that the universe was created and fine-tuned for life by an intelligent agent that existed causally prior to the beginning of the universe, because this agent brought the universe into being. Our purpose as humans is to enter into a two-way loving relationship with this Creator/Designer of the universe. This is the only way that we can ultimately be happy and fulfilled.

We avoid God

Now, when you look at human experience, none of us is interested in finding out about the character of this Creator/Designer, because we are afraid that if we find out too much about him then we will have our freedom to do as we please constrained by the demands of a relationship with an all-powerful, all-good being. Just knowing that such a person exists and has a character distinct from our own is enough to cause us to flee from him so that we can stay autonomous from the obligations of the moral law that he expects us to follow.

Christians believe that this universal desire to avoid an all-powerful, all-good God who will judge us is a result of bad behaviors inherited by us from the very first rebellion against God by our ancestors. Ever since that rebellion, the capability for relating to God has been lost, because we no longer have the ability to stop our rebellion against God. Christians call the first rebellion of our ancestors “The Fall of Man”.

What does this rebellion look like for us today? Well, we want to do whatever we want, in order to be happy, and to ignore God’s demands. We want to have happy feelings, including security, community and being morally good, all without a relationship with God. We want to acquire and rearrange matter for our selfish ends without acknowledging and honoring the Creator/Designer of that matter. And, of course, we would like other people to affirm, voluntarily or involuntarily, that our rebellion against God is really the height of moral goodness.

Additionally, some people imagine that God, if he exists at all, must desire our happiness. And of course when their needs are not met by this invented God, then they become even more bitter at God, and eventually decide that God could not really exist since their selfish needs are not being met by him. It never seems to occur to us humans that some pain and suffering may be permitted by God in order to turn our attention away from pleasure and security in this life, and back towards a relationship with him.

This is the mess we find ourselves in. This propensity for turning away from God and trying to pursue selfish happiness and security apart from a relationship with God is what the Bible calls “sin”. Every single one of us deserves severe punishment for refusing to pursue a genuine two-way love relationship with the God who is there. That is the mess we are in before Jesus appears to address this problem.

Jesus saves the day

I cannot say much about how Jesus solves the problem of rebellion against God, because that is really the story of Easter, and today we are dealing with the story of Christmas. But I can say that the solution to the problem requires that God step into history to communicate with his creatures and to perform actions in order to be reconciled with them. That is the message of Christmas: God is stepping into history to do something to end our rebellion. Easter is the story of what he does.

This is talked about in the Bible in John 1, for example.

John 1:1-5:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

You can substitute the word “Word” there for Logos, which really means logic or reason or wisdom. This is a person with a divine nature, identified with the eternal being of God, who exists causally prior to the creation of the universe, who is going to take on an additional human nature, including a human body. (Christians believe that there is one divine “what” being and three divine “who” persons). Software engineers, you can think of Jesus having two natures as multiple inheritance in C++.

And it continues in John 1:10-14:

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here the word grace doesn’t mean like a graceful ballet dancer. It means an instance of mercy received from a superior. A person (a “who”) identified with the divine being (a “what”) has decided to make us a top-down offer of mercy.

The same message of God stepping into history is found in the Christmas carols that people sing at Christmas.

Christmas carols

Here’s the best one, “O, Holy Night“, and it says:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

When we were in rebellion, we had lost our most valuable capacity – the capacity of being in a direct relationship with God. And if the newborn baby Jesus can accomplish his mission (and he did), then we are going to regain that capacity for a direct relationship with God.

Now look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing“, which one of my favorites:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Basically, as I often say, there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are people who are willing to respond to the offer of a relationship with God, with all the little sacrifices and compromises that a relationship entails, and then there are people who are not willing to respond. For the people who are willing to respond, the appearance of Jesus is the best thing that could possibly happen, because now we are finally going to have a chance to deal directly with God, face-to-face, to find out what he is like, and change ourselves to be more like him, with his help.

And that is why people celebrate Christmas. It’s the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. It is the story of God stepping into history to be reconciled with his rebellious creatures. It’s the story of the divine Logos subjecting himself to the life of a creature in order to rescue us from our sinful, self-destructive rebellion. This love for undeserving creatures is above and beyond the call of duty. We didn’t love him, but instead he loved us first, and he loved us enough to come down here and suffer with us so that we could be reconciled with God.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

The Function of Bishops in the Ancient Church  

There are people who think that in New Testament times, a bishop (episkopos, which has the literal meaning of overseer) and a priest (presbyteros, presbyter, elder; the ancient term for a Christian minister) did not hold distinct offices, but that these were just two names for the same thing. Some people base this on their subjective conviction that the organizational structure of the church developed over time, but many base it on their reading of the New Testament. However, the New Testament only gives us the qualifications for these offices, not their functions. Understandably, the qualifications are pretty much the same, but that does not mean that their functions were the same. So the question is still open.

Ignatius’ letters used to be the epicenter of the dispute over the roles of bishops and priests in the ancient church.

Ignatius was a bishop who was arrested in Antioch for being a Christian and was taken to Rome by Roman soldiers for his execution. He traveled about the same route as Paul, and he wrote letters to churches that Paul founded, plus a few more that were not mentioned in the New Testament and may have been founded in the meantime. In these letters, it is clear that there are people who still have personal memories of Paul and that Ignatius is deeply affected by the fact that he is recapitulating Paul’s journey to Rome. Ignatius defers to the bishop of each of these major churches and commends the people to their bishop’s leadership. In fact, he mentions that Onesimus is the bishop of Ephesus, which may (or may not) give us the ending to the story in Philemon.

Ignatius’ letters were accepted as authentic by Roman Catholics but they were rejected by Protestants. Catholics felt that since Ignatius mentioned bishops, bishops were present in the early church. Protestants felt that since Ignatius mentioned bishops, the letters were late forgeries. It turned out that everybody was right! The ancient church had bishops, and the letters were a conflated Latin version.

In the 17th century James Ussher, an Anglican, reconstructed the authentic letters of Ignatius, and John Pearson, also an Anglican, pretty much proved their authenticity. There was renewed dispute about them in the 19th century, but that was settled by J. B. Lightfoot. Today the matter is pretty well settled. Ignatius wrote about bishops because there was a clear functional difference between bishops and priests at the end of the first century. Bishops presided over the priests in the main church of a major city and supervised the priests who served in smaller churches in the outlying towns. Since only priests can become bishops, you could say that all bishops are priests, but not all priests are bishops. All of the churches, from Antioch to Rome, were set up that way.

Some people are convinced by their own subjective judgment that the organizational structure of the church developed over time into the bishop-priest system that I just described. I am skeptical of this idea, because I think that it is highly unlikely that ad-hoc organizational changes here and there would produce a uniform polity over such a wide and diverse area. It seems to me that such a process would produce diversity, not uniformity. But let’s think this out anyway. The church was founded in Jerusalem in about AD 33. Ignatius was born about AD 35, he became bishop in about AD 69, and he traveled to Rome in about AD 105. At the time of his trip, all the churches he encountered, from Antioch to Rome, had the bishop-priest system. Now if priests and bishops were synonyms for the same office in AD 33, but different enough in AD 69 for Ignatius to hold an office of bishop that was distinct from the office of a priest, the change would have taken place during a 35-year period. It would mean that a complete innovation in the organizational structure of the church swept over the world within the last generation that knew Jesus and the apostles personally! I do not think that is even possible, let alone likely.

How can we explain why so many churches that were founded by so many different people over such a wide geographical area had the same bishop-priest system in such a short time? The best explanation, I think, is that they were all set up that way in the beginning.

I observe that many of the people who believe that priests and bishops were originally synonyms for the same office belong to churches that do not have bishops. So it appears that this theory is driven not by historic or biblical evidence, but from the desire to invalidate the historic churches or to avoid invalidating one’s own church polity. This has more to do with history and circumstance than Scriptural understanding. All branches of the church had bishops until the Protestant Reformation. Protestant bodies that originated in areas where the Catholic bishops exercised political authority or were corrupt, tend not to have bishops. Protestant bodies that originated in areas where Catholic bishops were not problematical do have bishops. So this is why Swedish Lutherans have bishops, but German Lutherans don’t. Protestant bodies without bishops came up with scriptural justifications for their polity after the fact. Many Protestant bodies deny that they have bishops, even though they do have regional structures with authority over the regular clergy, which amounts to the same thing.

I think we should ask whether it is necessary for us to reproduce historic polity in modern churches for the modern churches to be valid. I don’t think it is, because the Roman Catholic Church has cardinals, which the ancient church did not have. And I’m pretty sure that none of the churches in the New Testament had a Minister of Music, either. So my opinion is that the bishop-priest system (evident in one form or the other in the Orthodox, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and many Protestant churches) is the ancient and original time-tested system, and that it is a very good idea to make individual ministers accountable to a regional authority. But does it have any affect on the validity of a church body if they are not called bishops and priests? Is there a commandment to have or avoid any particular church polity?

Acknowledgements
Bible quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV® ©1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

William Tyndale c. 1494–1536

The Underground Translator

In the early 1530s, an English merchant named Stephen Vaughan was commissioned to find William Tyndale and inform him that King Henry VIII desired him to return from hiding on the Continent. In a letter dated June 19, 1531, Vaughan wrote about Tyndale (1494–1536) these simple words: “I find him always singing one note.”

That one note was this: Will the King of England give his official endorsement to a vernacular Bible for all his English subjects? If not, Tyndale would not come. If so, Tyndale would give himself up to the king and never write another book.

The king refused. And Tyndale never went to his homeland again. Instead, if the king and the Roman Catholic Church would not provide a printed Bible in English for the common man to read, Tyndale would, even if it cost him his life. Which it did.

Plowboys Will Know Their Bible

 When Tyndale was 28 years old in 1522, he was serving as a tutor in the home of John Walsh in Gloucestershire, England, spending most of his time studying Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, which had been printed just six years before in 1516.

Increasingly, as Tyndale saw Reformation truths more clearly in the Greek New Testament, he made himself suspect in the Catholic house of John Walsh. John Foxe tells us that one day an exasperated Catholic scholar at dinner with Tyndale said, “We were better be without God’s law than the pope’s.”

In response, Tyndale spoke his famous words, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. . . . If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

One-Note Crescendo

 Four years later, Tyndale finished the English translation of the Greek New Testament in Worms, Germany, and began to smuggle it into England in bales of cloth. By October 1526, Bishop Tunstall had banned the book in London, but the print run had been at least three thousand. And the books were getting to the people. Over the next eight years, five pirated editions were printed as well.

In 1534, Tyndale published a revised New Testament, having learned Hebrew in the meantime, probably in Germany, which helped him better understand the connections between the Old and New Testaments. Biographer David Daniell calls this 1534 New Testament “the glory of his life’s work” (William Tyndale, 316). If Tyndale was “always singing one note,” this was the crescendo of the song of his life — the finished and refined New Testament in English.

For the first time ever in history, the Greek New Testament was translated into English. Before his martyrdom in 1536, Tyndale would go on to translate into clear, common English not only the New Testament but also the Pentateuch, Joshua to 2 Chronicles, and Jonah. All this material became the basis of the Great Bible issued by Miles Coverdale in England in 1539 and the basis for the Geneva Bible published in 1557 — “the Bible of the nation,” which sold over a million copies between 1560 and 1640.

Bible Translation, Gospel Truth

 What drove Tyndale to sing one note all his life? It was the rock-solid conviction that all humans were in bondage to sin, blind, dead, damned, and helpless, and that God had acted in Christ to provide salvation by grace through faith. This is what lay hidden in the Latin Scriptures and the church system of penance and merit. This is why the Bible had to be translated, and ultimately this is why Tyndale was martyred. He wrote,

Faith the mother of all good works justifieth us, before we can bring forth any good work: as the husband marryeth his wife before he can have any lawful children by her. (William Tyndale, 156–57)

Man is lost, spiritually dead, condemned. God is sovereign, Christ is sufficient, faith is all. Bible translation and Bible truth were inseparable for Tyndale, and in the end it was the truth — especially the truth of justification by faith alone — that ignited Britain with Reformed fire and then brought the death sentence to this Bible translator.

In October 1536, at only 42 years of age, Tyndale’s one-note voice was silenced as he was tied to the stake, strangled by the executioner, and then consumed in the fire. But because of his vernacular English translation, the song itself swelled into a mighty British chorus of chambermaids, cobblers, and, yes, even plowboys.

Thomas Becon c. 1512–1567

The Monday Morning Protestant

Though almost entirely overlooked in church history, Thomas Becon was a prolific pamphleteer, popular bestseller, and godly cleric in sixteenth-century England during the Reformation. Living through the turbulent reigns of four Tudor monarchs, Becon served under the supervision of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and composed around fifty tracts with numerous subsequent editions that continued to be printed seventy years after his death.

His writings on godliness are relevant and helpful for all Christians, particularly for those who tend to partition their lives into categories of “sacred” and “secular.” Becon, recognizing no such divisions, exhorted Christians in his day to pursue godliness in the rhythms of their daily routines.

Pastor in Hiding

 Becon, born in Thetford, Norfolk, around 1512, was educated at St. John’s College in Cambridge, where he was deeply moved by and possibly converted under the Lutheran-influenced teachings of one of his professors, Hugh Latimer. Upon his graduation with a degree in theology, Becon took two clerical posts in southern England, but following the ratification of the Six Articles of 1539, Henry VIII targeted evangelicals for non-compliance and “heresy.” Consequently, Becon was arrested in 1541 for his “evil and false doctrine.”

After his release, Becon kept a low profile in the forests of Kent, harbored by several evangelical men who were connected to the royal court. During this time, Becon produced numerous tracts under the pseudonym “Theodore Basil” in order to avoid detection from the local authorities. Under even heavier scrutiny and surveillance from the local magistrates at the order of Henry VIII, Becon fled to the Midlands of England, where he hid for four years in the mountains without publishing any works.

Exile and Homecoming

 When the nine-year-old Edward VI, a friend and defender of the English Reformation, ascended the throne in 1547, Becon emerged from exile and returned to London, where he was appointed a chaplain in the royal court. Around the same time, he became rector of the prestigious parish in London, St. Stephen Walbrook.

With Mary I’s accession to the throne in 1553, however, many evangelicals, including Becon, were arrested. He was eventually released, but taking no risks, he immediately escaped to Strasbourg, where he joined a community of other exiled English evangelicals. From there he relocated to Frankfurt, where he assisted in developing a new liturgy for the English congregation composed of exiles. When Becon returned from the Continent after Elizabeth I came to power, he went through a series of clerical appointments, mostly in London, until his death in 1567.

Everyday Godliness

 One of Becon’s primary foci in his pamphlets was how Christians were to attain godliness and how to integrate that godliness within their daily lives. First, the word of God, contended Becon, was sufficient for all Christians and was the catalyst to godliness. Becon envisioned an English commonwealth where “people maye learn even from theyr cradles . . . to knowe God, to understand his worde, to honour hym aryght, and to walke in his holy pathwayes” (New pollecye of warre).

Second, Becon instructed Christians to view their lives as a continual stage of worship where godliness was on display, even in the mundane on Monday morning. For Becon, worship was not limited to Sunday gatherings. Nor was it confined to certain spiritual disciplines, such as Bible reading or prayer. Worship, rather, was an incessant activity that was to weave its way through the liturgy of daily life: the eating of meals, laboring at one’s place of employment, spending leisure time, and retiring to bed.

No “Secular” Work

 Becon published two prayer manuals containing model prayers for specific activities of one’s daily schedule. One of those manuals submitted model prayers for those in specific occupations, including magistrates, clergy, merchants, lawyers, mariners, soldiers, mothers, and children. Becon maintained that one occupation was not more essential than another. He argued that the work of the shoemaker and tailor was just as crucial in the kingdom of God as that of the lawyer and magistrate, because God was the one who called them to their vocations.

While many Christians subtly dismiss certain occupations as insignificant and view non-ministry work as “secular,” Becon’s assessment of all work as an activity of God and for God is a motivating corrective. We should embrace our calling and see the ultimate purpose of our work and vocation: godliness through employment blesses a society so that all “may [ac]knowledge thee, the gever of al[l] good things, and glorify thy holy name” (Flour of godly praiers).

Peter Martyr Vermigli 1499–1562

The Phoenix of Florence

From childhood, Peter Martyr Vermigli desired to teach God’s word. At age fifteen, he entered the Augustinian order in the Italian town of Fiesole, near his native Florence. After eight years of theological training, Vermigli underwent priestly ordination and received a doctorate in theology.

The years following Vermigli’s ordination opened new vocational horizons. He was elected to the office of public preacher, an illustrious position in his day. As his name grew famous in the largest Italian cities, Vermigli was promoted to the position of abbot in his order’s monastery in Spoleto, before being moved southward to the great basilica San Pietro ad Aram in Naples. It was here that his life changed forever.

Righteousness Restored

 During Vermigli’s sojourn at San Pietro (1537–1540), according to his colleague and biographer, Josiah Simler, “the greater light of God’s truth” began to shine upon him. This truth, in Vermigli’s words, was that “Christ’s righteousness imputed to us by God totally restores what was lacking in this weak and mutilated righteousness of ours” (The Peter Martyr Reader, 147). It was a gospel awakening that transformed his life and ministry.

With a new vision of Christ and the gospel, Vermigli moved north in May 1541 to become prior of the prestigious monastery of San Frediano in the Republic of Lucca. While there, he initiated a series of educational and ecclesiastical reforms that have been likened to Calvin’s work in Geneva.

But after a mere fifteen months of such gospel renewal, Pope Paul III ensured its demise by reinstituting the Roman Inquisition. Recognizing discretion as the better part of valor, Vermigli renounced his vows and made the difficult decision to flee his homeland.

From Strasbourg to Oxford

 It was Martin Bucer who arranged for Vermigli’s academic appointment to the College of Saint Thomas in Strasbourg. The Italian exile was expected to teach sacred letters, which he proceeded to do from the Old Testament.

While in Strasbourg, Vermigli also married a former nun from Metz named Catherine Dammartin, “a lover of true religion” especially admired for her charity. After eight years of marriage, she died in February 1553, but Peter Martyr would marry again — another Katie — in May 1559.

Following five fruitful years of teaching in Strasbourg, Vermigli received an invitation in 1547 from Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer to fortify the newly independent Church of England with Reformed theology as Regius Chair of Divinity at Oxford. Among Vermigli’s many accomplishments in this period, he lectured on Romans, produced various theological treatises, championed Protestantism at the famous Eucharistic Disputation of 1549, and assisted Cranmer in shaping a new Anglican liturgy.

Zurich Scholar

 With the accession of the Catholic Queen Mary in 1553, Vermigli was forced to flee England. Returning to Strasbourg, he was immediately restored to his position at the Senior School, where, in addition to teaching and writing theological works, he gathered with Marian exiles in his home to study and pray. Eventually, he took a teaching post at the Academy of Zurich.

Despite numerous opportunities to lecture throughout Europe, including multiple invitations from Calvin to teach in Geneva and pastor the Genevan Italian congregation, Vermigli remained in Zurich. The only exception was his journey to the Colloquy of Poissy with Theodore Beza in 1561, where he debated Catholic leaders before the French Crown and witnessed to Queen Catherine de’ Medici in their native Italian.

Teacher of the Book

 Vermigli died in Zurich on November 12, 1562, in the presence of his wife and friends. This Florentine humanist and Reformed scholar, who was equal in stature to Calvin and Bullinger, would be remembered for his commitment to Scripture and passion for gospel renewal. In the words of Theodore Beza, he was a “phoenix born from the ashes of Savonarola.” Even the painting of Vermigli hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London testifies to his biblical conviction. In it, Vermigli’s penetrating eyes look to the distance beyond the gilded frame as he points to a singular book in his hand: the Bible.

If we were to place an enduring statement on Vermigli’s lips, it would perhaps be this exhortation: “Let us immerse ourselves constantly in the sacred Scriptures, let us work at reading them, and by the gift of Christ’s Spirit the things that are necessary for salvation will be for us clear, direct, and completely open” (Life, Letters, and Sermons, 281).