Nicene Creed

Jesus and the 'spirits in prison' -- Is this toughest passage in the New Testament?

Jesus and the 'spirits in prison' -- Is this toughest passage in the New Testament?

JOEL’S QUESTION:

[Explanation:] The pastor of a New Jersey Protestant congregation sent in several “questions that have come up here.” One of them is how to understand the passage in the New Testament letter of 1st Peter about Jesus Christ preaching to “the spirits in prison.”

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The Bible’s major teachings are clear enough. But Joel and his parishioners shouldn’t be embarrassed if they’re confused about this particular New Testament head-scratcher. Even Martin Luther (who so energized Bible study 500 years ago by sparking the Protestant Reformation) said it’s “certainly a more obscure passage than any other in the New Testament. I still do now know for sure what the apostle means.” Robert Mounce, president of Whitworth University, agreed that this section is “widely recognized as perhaps the most difficult to understand in the New Testament.”

Here’s the text at issue: “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah . .  .” (1 Peter 3:18-20a, RSV translation).

The following analysis relies especially on commentaries by Mounce, an American, the German exegete Leonhard Goppelt, and England’s J.N.D. Kelly. Scholars candidly admit that each explanation has problems. Among them:

(1) Between his death by crucifixion and bodily resurrection, Christ visited the realm of the dead and preached to Noah’s wicked contemporaries. That was the view of early church “Fathers,” notably Clement of Alexandria.

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Byzantine details: How are the Orthodox Christian churches organized, and why?

Byzantine details: How are the Orthodox Christian churches organized, and why?

DAVID ASKS:

Most of us in the U.S. are aware of Orthodox Christians but don’t really understand their organization. Can you expand on their split around the world?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Our previous Q and A about Islam’s founding Sunni-Shi’a split mentioned divisions within Orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy, which means “correct teaching,” sees itself as preserving Christianity’s earliest and most authentic form. This faith is in the spotlight what with (1) history’s first meeting between a Catholic pope and a patriarch of Russia’s massive Orthodox church, and (2) the June 16-27 “Holy and Great Council” of all bishops in Crete, potentially (if it is held) Eastern Orthodoxy’s most consequential event in more than 12 centuries.

Writing online Feb. 10, sociologist Peter Berger (a Lutheran) said through recent centuries this faith has existed mostly in three contexts: as a state religion, as a “persecuted or barely tolerated” church under Islamic or Communist rule or in the diaspora outside its heartland (e.g. in the United States) where separate and competing churches under foreign hierarchies generate “ethnic cacophony.”

The ancient churches of Eastern Orthodoxy -- Orthodoxy dates its birth at Pentecost -- are organized into three branches that stem from the 5th Century debate on how to define the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ.

Caution: This gets technical.

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Oh my Triune God! Washington Post edits heretical hyphen into Rubio's mouth (updated)

Oh my Triune God! Washington Post edits heretical hyphen into Rubio's mouth (updated)

There is much that can be said about the latest Washington Post look at the state of Sen. Marco Rubio's political soul, and we will get to that in a moment. But first, there is a dose of heresy at the top of this story -- "Marco Rubio talks to Iowa about God" -- that needs to be straightened out.

I totally understand that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity -- the belief in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit -- is complicated and people have been arguing about it for two millennia. I can understand that this doctrine might cause problems for copy-desk professionals who do not have degrees in church history. However, for the world's 2.2 billion or so Christians, this is pretty important stuff.

So what heretical statement did Rubio make, at least as he was quoted by the Post? Here is how the story opens:

BURLINGTON, Iowa -- Marco Rubio’s first questioner was blunt: “On your decision-making, will you follow God’s word?”
For the next few minutes, Rubio sounded more like a Sunday school teacher than a presidential candidate holding an early January town hall. He talked about John the Baptist, he referred to Jesus as “God-made man,” and he explained his yearning to share “eternity with my creator.”
Then, he answered the question: “Yes, I try every day in everything I do.”

What we have here is a head-on collision between the Nicene Creed and the Associated Press Stylebook, almost certainly with the help of an editor at the Post. The problem is that hyphen in the phrase in which Rubio is said to have "referred to Jesus as 'God-made man.' "

Now, did Rubio actually say to the crowd "Jesus is 'God hyphen man' " or did someone at the Post simply hear that hyphen and then edit the heretical content into the quote?

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Reciting the Shahadah: How would actual Tennessee parents describe their concerns?

Reciting the Shahadah: How would actual Tennessee parents describe their concerns?

If you follow the national news, you probably know that the state of Tennessee is involved in yet another battle over the role of Islam in the public square. There are some people here in my state who truly want to see Islam go away and who seem to think that the First Amendment's protection of religious liberty applies to some religious believers, but not others.

However, when one of these battles begins it is important for news consumers to ask a few basic questions about the coverage. Let's assume that we are talking about another battle about Islam and conservative forms of Christianity.

(1) Does the coverage assume that all of the people in each camp believe exactly the same things? Is there only one approach to Islam presented? Does the coverage assume that all evangelicals take the same approach to Islam?

(2) When reading about critics of Islam, are we reading their actual criticisms or only views that are being attributed to them by others? On the other side, are Muslims involved in the conflict allowed to describe their own beliefs in their own language?

In other words, are the journalists covering a debate or are they quoting the participants in the debate that fit a certain template of what the debate is about?

The current debate in Tennessee focuses on questions about what students in public schools should be taught about Islam and when they should be taught this material. Here is a typical description of what the fight is about, drawn from a new piece in The Tennessean. The lede focuses on a bill proposed by Republican Rep. Sheila Butt that would forbid the teaching of religious doctrine in Tennessee schools until the 10th grade.

Some parents complained after students were reportedly asked to write down "Allah is the only god" and memorize the five pillars of Islam. The complaints prompted statements from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Butt and other conservative lawmakers blasting districts for possible indoctrination.

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Doctrine vs. politics: Think pieces to ponder during this week of Pope Francis

Doctrine vs. politics: Think pieces to ponder during this week of Pope Francis

Every now and then, normally on weekends, your GetReligionistas point readers toward what we call "think pieces" -- editorial features (as opposed to hard news) about topics that are directly linked to religion news and/or the mainstream press coverage of religion news.

As you would imagine, there has been a ton of this kind of writing this week with the pope visiting the media-rich Acela zone between Washington, D.C., and New York City. 

Pope Francis set the agenda for this in that off-the-cuff Shepherd One chat with reporters in which he tried to explain, well, as the headline from Time stated -- "Pope Francis: I Am Not a Liberal." The top of that essay added:

As Pope Francis flew to the United States for the first time, the pontiff assured journalists on the flight that he is not a liberal. Asked to comment on the many media outlets who are asking if the Pope is liberal, the Pope seemed bemused and decisive.
“Some people might say some things sounded slightly more left-ish, but that would be a mistake of interpretation,” he said before landing in the U.S. ... “If you want me to pray the creed, I’m willing to do it.”
He underscored the point: “It is I who follows the church … my doctrine on all this … on economic imperialism, is that of the social doctrine of the church.”

Did you see what happened there? Hint: It's pretty much whatever happens when a pope delivers a major address in a setting that journalists consider newsworthy, only this time the process was in reverse.

The journalists, thinking politics (the ultimate reality in the real world), asked the pope why "media outlets" think he is a liberal and the pope, starting with a remark about praying the creed, responded in terms of doctrine.

The key phrase is "my doctrine on all of this."

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Why does the ancient Christian creed say Jesus 'descended into hell'?

Why does the ancient Christian creed say Jesus 'descended into hell'?

LISA ASKS:

What do Christians say happened during [Jesus'] “descent into hell,” and do most denominations believe this happened?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This week, as every week, uncountable millions of Christians attending church will profess that Jesus Christ “was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead…”  So states the venerable Apostles’ Creed, which includes a cryptic “descent” phrase about the period between Good Friday and Eastern. Some modern rituals say Jesus “descended to the dead” instead of “hell.”

Unlike the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed moves directly from Jesus’ crucifixion and burial to his resurrection with no mention of a descent. Lisa’s full question pointed out this key difference between the two ancient creeds that have long dominated Christian worship services and catechisms.

The Apostles’ Creed is part of Catholicism’s baptism ritual and widely recited by Protestants. Though Eastern Orthodoxy uses only the Nicene Creed in worship it has affirmed Jesus’ descent since ancient times.

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One-sided look at controversial Baptist flock in Charlotte

It has been quite some time since I have used an old GetReligion term (Cheers!), so I think it might help for me to pause and explain the “tmatt trio” to new readers.

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