Category Archives: History

Secret Underground Christian City Discovered

Persecuted by the Romans, early Christians in what is now Turkey went underground—literally. Archaeologists have found evidence of a massive subterranean city they believe was designed for just that purpose. The city is thought to have housed roughly 70,000 people in the second and third centuries C.E., Live Science’s Tom Metcalfe reports.

Researchers believe the city, estimated to cover an area of over 4 million square feet, was used as a refuge by persecuted Jews and early Christians.

Situated beneath the city of Midyat, the complex was found in 2020 during routine restoration work on the city’s historic houses, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Joseph De Avila. After discovering a hidden entrance to a cave, workers took a passage that led them to the massive complex.

The complex has been named Matiate, which means “city of caves” in ancient Assyrian.

The city is “the only one [of its kind] in the world,” Gani Tarkan, director of the Mardin Museum and head of the excavations, tells Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency (AA).

Researchers believe the complex was inhabited through the sixth century C.E. and was later used as a catacomb and wine-manufacturing facility when residents moved back above ground, according to the Wall Street Journal. They have found 49 chambers so far—less than 5 percent of the estimated underground city. In the areas that have been studied, researchers have found silos, coins, and lamps, as well as human and animal bones.

The underground complex also includes a number of places researchers think were used as places of worship, including one with a Star of David carved near the ceiling.

“Christianity was not an official religion in the second century [and] families and groups who accepted Christianity generally took shelter in underground cities to escape the persecution of Rome,” Tarkan told LiveScience.

Since many early Christians were also Jews, both religions were subject to persecution. Rome’s pagan rituals were part of the “normal fabric” of life in Roman cities, writes Biblical historian Wayne A. Meeks—and those who refused to participate in them “had no legal standing.”

After the Romans, the early Christians were persecuted by the Persians. And medieval soldiers who came through the area in wartimes recorded entire cities devoid of people.

Though experts believe this underground city to be the largest in Turkey, it’s far from a unique discovery for the country. More than 40 other such cities have been discovered in Turkey, the most famous of which is Derinkuyu—a massive subterranean complex believed to have been built between the eighth and ninth centuries B.C.E. Able to hold around 20,000 people, Derinkuyu was used as a hiding place by Byzantine Christians and Jews between the 8th and 12th centuries C.E.

More recently, an underground complex discovered under a Turkish house by looters in 2017 was found to be an Iron Age creation, reports Smithsonian’s Elizabeth Djinis.

Other sites important to early Christianity have become tourist destinations across the region once dominated by the Roman Empire. Burials in the Roman catacombs helped spur the development of Christian funerary art; in Matera, Italy, tourists can visit caves that served as some of the earliest Christian churches and even book a stay in those that have been turned into hotel rooms.

While it seems unlikely the newly discovered city will be converted to hotel status, there are hopes the complex will become a tourist destination once excavations and research are complete, much like the city above it. AA writes that Midyat is “almost an open-air museum” because of its preservation of its rich history.

The area has received worldwide recognition for its cultural heritage and its many churches and monasteries, which date from the sixth to eighth centuries B.C.E., are candidates for Unesco’s World Heritage List. Throughout the centuries, early members of what is now the Syriac Orthodox Church practiced Christianity despite the rise and fall of numerous empires.

First settled around 4000 years ago by the Hurrians during the Bronze Age, the city has been ruled by, in order, the Assyrians, the Arameans, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans. Its 17th, 18th, and 19th-century architecture draws around 3 million tourists per year.

Church defends Christian’s singing on plane

A church has defended a Singaporean man’s singing of a worship song on a plane, noting that Singapore is not only a secular state but also a multi-cultural, multi-religious society.

In a post on its Facebook page on Tuesday (19 April), the 3:16 Church noted that Jonathan Neo’s action has drawn criticisms from many in Singapore for “imposing” his religious beliefs on others.

“The beauty of this nation is not in the exclusion of religious practices and views but a neutral platform for the free exercise of all cultural diversities which are beautiful and valuable to a thriving culture,” according to the post, written by a Pastor Norman.

The incident has led to many netizens criticising Neo, who was strumming his guitar on a plane while he sang a worship song to unsuspecting passengers during mid-flight. Neo was supposedly on board an easyJet flight when the incident happened.

Neo claimed on social media that the flight pilot had introduced him and his fellow worshippers to the passengers, and that they sang in six languages.

Singapore-based 3:16 Church claimed that in an “increasingly anti-Christian climate”, many will “amplify” their criticisms of such an incident. “In these last days, the scoffing is not something that Christians should be surprised by,” the church said.

Neo was given permission to sing, according to the church. Neo previously claimed that the pilot had introduced him and his fellow worshippers during the flight.

“Also, those on the plane had agency to voice out their disapproval should they not want to tolerate his singing. I’m certain Jon would have responded appropriately and humbly. I’m grateful to hear that many passengers reciprocated the love with claps, tears and smiles,” the church wrote.

Many netizens have criticised the church for its post.

Among them, a Germaine Ong said, “I am a believer. I am grieved – grieved that a preacher who professes to know Christ is taking this narrow and myopic view of the matter.” A Ryley Khandro said, “Please stop pushing your Christian agenda on the silent majority.”

However, other netizens also supported the church’s position and Neo’s action. One netizen, Adeline Pang Siow Ling, said, “I hope I would have his courage. Good job, Jonathan and thank you once again!” Praising the post, a Timothy Anand Weerasekera said, “So well written! So much for us to reflect on!”

Matthew Exposed Oldest Conspiracy Theory

In the middle of scenes of Jesus’ resurrection, the Gospel of Matthew recounts the birth of one of the oldest conspiracy theories.

On Easter morning, while the women are on their way to announce the resurrection of Jesus to the disciples, Matthew 28:11–15 highlights another movement: Some tomb guards report the weekend’s events to the chief priests. These men, in turn, then consult with the elders and decide together to conceal what has happened. At no point do they investigate what happened to Jesus’ body. They know from the start that what they might discover will not please them.

Instead, they invent what would today be called a conspiracy theory, with the “alternative facts” that support it: The disciples came to steal Jesus’ corpse. Never mind that those who had fled in fear after the arrest of their master would have needed to come at night to face a guard of several armed men. Never mind that they would have needed to loosen the seals on the tomb, roll away a massive stone, and remove the body of Jesus—all without waking anyone who could raise the alarm.

This version of the facts is absurd. Not only in and of itself, but because the disciples would later risk their lives to proclaim that Jesus had risen. If they had known it was a lie, where would they have found the courage to face the authorities threatening them? Why preach a knowingly falsified gospel? The audacity of the apostles, their courage, their zeal, their perseverance, and the whole expansion of Christianity is inexplicable without the Resurrection.

But all this, the elders do not yet know. So they try their luck and make a deal with the soldiers. The proposed lie is not without danger for them—the guards obviously weren’t supposed to fall asleep—but there is money involved, and the Jewish leaders assure them of their protection.

Thus, this version of the story, the text says, has spread among the Jews to this present day—the first century of our current era. But it is also our reality today, where theories to eschew the truth of the resurrection of Jesus continue to be propagated.

But it is probably not because of their credibility that these explanations persist. In fact, the explanation of the guards is so implausible that the apostle Matthew takes the liberty of mentioning it in his gospel, knowing full well that anyone who wanted could go and check this account.

When you want to drown out a truth, your lies or half-truths don’t have to be believable or well-founded. It is enough that your version suits what your listeners want to hear or avoids confronting them with a reality that disturbs them.

An ominous light

One might be surprised at the response of the Jewish leaders. The one announced to be the Messiah had just come back to life. An extraordinary miracle! A staggering truth! But instead of euphoria, they react with anger.

What the Shroud of Turin Showed Us

n the past, in Christian art and pious legends, thorny plants have symbolized suffering. The most familiar example, is, of course, Christ’s Passion, when he wore a crown of thorns on the Cross.

Thorns carry several meanings — they can also represent moral courage, endurance, victory, protection, salvation, and conquering adversity.

Thorns and their meaning

The Cardoon or Artichoke Thistle (Cynara cardunculus) stems are recorded in Greek and Roman cuisine. They remained a popular food throughout the region until the 19th century. In art, the plant alludes to man’s need to labor for his food after the expulsion from Eden, and as such to labor through his inclination to sin to achieve the food of salvation — Jesus.

An easily recognized thistle is the Scottish thistle (Onopordum acanthium), which is symbolic of protection. It is said that armies invading Scotland were thwarted by this plant’s defensive nature. The Order of the Thistle was founded in 1540 by King James V, who created it for himself and 12 of his knights, “in allusion to the Blessed Savior and his Twelve Apostles.”

In a pious legend of King Charlemagne, it is said that his army was dying of the plague when an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to shoot an arrow into the air and whatever plant the arrow landed upon, he was to feed his soldiers with. Charlemagne did as the angel instructed; his arrow landed in a patch of milk thistle (Silybum marianum), thereafter renamed Holy Thistle. He had all his men eat the plant, and all were saved and continued the holy fight for Christianity. 

Historically the Benedictine monks grew the Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus) as a cure-all; it was believed to be especially effective in curing smallpox. It is a yellow-flowered thistle that has been used medicinally — for internal and external ailments — for over 2,000 years.

Thorns and flowers on the Shroud of Turin

We have read in the Bible that the torture endured by Our Lord during his Passion began with cruelty at the hands of Pilate’s soldiers. It was those brutes that gave Our Lord his first crown — that of thorns — which became, along with the cross, a symbol of victory over evil. Here is where we come to know the most notorious of all thistles, the Carduus and the Gundelia tournefortii, the thistles found on the Shroud of Turin.

Experts in the natural sciences began examining the shroud toward the end of the 19th century. Botanical experts on the research team found the imprints of plants and grains of pollen that can serve as seasonal and geographic indicators.

Four plants on the shroud are significant because, as researchers Danin and Baruch report, “the assemblage … occurs in only one rather small spot on earth, this being the Judean mountains and the Judean Desert of Israel, in the vicinity of Jerusalem.”

These experts succeeded in identifying 36 species of plants on the shroud. They discovered that almost all of the flower images remaining on the cloth, and the highest concentration of pollens, were where the head of the corpus would have been lying. (Editor’s note: See the author’s The Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, 149-151, for more on this subject.)

The botanists found several factors of particular interest to those studying, even doubting, the authenticity of the shroud. These are some of their findings:

  • All the plants are ones that grow in Israel. Of these, 20 are known to grow in Jerusalem itself and eight others grow in the vicinity in the Judean desert or the Dead Sea area. 
  • Although some of these plants are also found in Europe, 14 of the plants grow only in the Middle East.
  • Twenty-seven of the plants bloom in the springtime at the same time as the Jewish Passover. 
  • Zygophyllum dumosum has both pollen as well as an image on the shroud and grows only in Israel, Jordan and the Sinai region. 
  • Gundelia tournefortii (most frequent of the pollens found by the scientist on the shroud, and indicative of season) was the plant material found where the Crown of Thorns was imprinted around the head on the cloth.

During Lent we look to where our weaknesses are, the “thorn in our side” that calls us to dependence on Our Lord — whose first crown was worn while enduring suffering for the sake of us.

How Jesus’ followers Practiced Christianity

The apostles were 12 of the disciples of Jesus who went on to spread his message and found the early Christian church. After the crucifixion of Jesus in the 1st century, they split up and began to proselytize both the message of Jesus and the concept that he was the son of God. In so doing they expanded the following of this offshoot of Judaism and set out the early tenets of what Christianity would become. 

The apostles typically refers to those who were among the original followers of Jesus, although the term apostle, which means “one sent on a mission,” according to Merriam-Webster, is sometimes applied to later figures such as St. Paul who also had a big impact as a missionary. Their efforts helped to forge the religious movement that has shaped history and is today followed by around 2.6 billion people today. 

The Gospels of the New Testament and the Acts of the Apostles describe a core of twelve followers of Jesus that were closest to him. These are the men most commonly called apostles, though the term is occasionally applied to others in the Bible.  

The Gospels give differing lists of the twelve apostles. All four agree that Simon, Peter, Andrew, James son of Zebedee, John, Philip, Thomas, and Judas Iscariot were among the disciples. The Gospel of John differs from the other three gospels however by either not mentioning several of the apostles or using different names. Most Christian sects have reconciled the differences between the lists by saying different names were used for the same person. 

In the Gospel of Matthew it says that after a night of prayer “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” These were activities that would require the physical presence of the apostles. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus sends the apostles out in pairs, telling them to “take nothing for the journey except a mere walking stick — no bread, no [traveler’s] bag, no money in their belts — but to wear sandals; and [He told them] not to wear two tunics.” The apostles were to lead a peripatetic existence both while with Jesus and after his death.

They were set on their various paths by Jesus himself, according to W. Brian Shelton, professor of theology and author of “Quest for the Historical Apostles: Tracing Their Lives and Legacies” (Baker Academic, 2019) who spoke to Live Science. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus commands the apostles to “make disciples of all nations.” “The journeys of the apostles after the Book of Acts are significant because they represent the impetus of the apostles and a global expansion of the church,” said Shelton

Though the death of the charismatic leader usually leads to the decline of a religious movement the apostles believed they had been given proof that he really was the son of God. “These disciples of Jesus had walked with the Messiah, witnessed his miracles and resurrection, gained inspiration from his teaching, and found transformation in their own lives,” said Shelton. 

They were given further proof when, during Pentecost, tongues of fire are said to have descended on them and they were given the power to speak all the languages. This would have proven useful in their later travels, though we are told some at the time were unimpressed with their new linguistic ability. According to Acts 2 NIV, they scoffed at the disciples and said “They have had too much wine.”

While it should be approached with some skepticism historically, the Book of Acts is a fascinating document that reveals much about the lives of the early Christians. We are told that they met together for prayer, broke bread together, and lived together. Those who followed the apostles are said to have sold their property and laid their money at the feet of their leaders so that all things could be shared among them. However, the early Christians and the apostles would not be able to stay in Jerusalem forever.

Jesus had been put to death for causing trouble for both the Jewish and Roman authorities.  A group of people hoping to further his message was unlikely to be looked on favorably. We are told of several apostles being arrested for their activities spreading the message of Jesus. The harassment of the early Christians did not stop at arrest.

The first of the apostles to die, other than Judas, was Stephen. Dragged before the Sanhedrin, the supreme council and tribunal of the Jewish people, he was sentenced to death and stoned. One of those watching this execution was Saul, a man who would later become St. Paul after his conversion on the road to Damascus. The Book of Acts describes how a great persecution then erupted.

The Book of Acts describes how king Herod had Peter arrested and put in jail. “Herod lived as a faithful Jew, so he would naturally have been concerned to stop the growth of any heretical sect,” wrote Sean McDowell, author of “The Fate of the Apostles” (Routledge, 2018). Only the timely intervention of an angel freed him. Peter, according to the Book of Acts, “departed and went to another place,” avoiding the martyrdom that was looking like a common end for the apostles. 

While the followers of Jesus who left Jerusalem spread his message, the apostles who remained there had to decide exactly what that word was. Some felt that converts to Christianity first had to become Jewish. Paul seems to have not required this. The first controversy of the church that was settled by a council involved several of the apostles meeting in Jerusalem to decide if converted followers of Jesus had to be circumcised. 

This matter was important because the apostles had begun to win converts in non-Jewish areas. The settling of the matter also reveals much about the structure of the early Church. The apostles voice their opinions in turn and a letter is sent to the Christians in Antioch who had first raised the matter. Letters and council decisions would long play a role in administering the church.

“The first council of apostles in Jerusalem have authoritarian pronouncements concerning the admittance of the Gentile converts into the Christian movement. Yet this did not seem to have the ecclesiastical authority then that we attach to it now,” wrote William Steuart McBirnie, author of “The Search for the Twelve Apostles” (Tyndale Momentum, 2008). 

Last to speak in this first council was James the Just, also known as the brother of Jesus. According to the historian Eusebius James was the first bishop to be appointed over the church in Jerusalem. That he is said to have remained in this position for thirty years shows how important the apostles’ direct connection to Jesus was to their authority.

The Book of Acts was probably written after 90 A.D. and by the same author as the Gospel of Luke. The relatively early date of authorship makes it a valuable source as it is entirely possible that the author knew some of the apostles, or knew people who had known them. Other texts are more problematic as they were sometimes written centuries later. 

“The historical accounts of the apostles after the New Testament are primarily contained in a genre of literature known as the Apostolic Acts. These works are marked by fantastical stories, speeches and theological teaching contrary to the New Testament, and a worldview known as gnosticism,” said Shelton. There are other sources that can be used in piecing together their lives. “Their historical accounts are also contained in sermons, commentary writings, and histories by church fathers, often without historical substantiation and sometimes with minor elements of contradiction to other sources,” added Shelton.

Some of the later Apostolic Acts contain extraordinary tales that may not be literally true but would have helped to spread the faith of Christianity by entertaining and educating at the same time. Shelton told Live Science about one tale “that often gives an audience a good laugh is the episode of Paul encountering a lion in the wilderness of Palestine in The Acts of Paul. The lion talks, inquires about the faith, becomes a disciple, and seems to have even been baptized by Paul. When the apostle is later thrown to the lions at Ephesus, a reunion takes place that day rather than a martyrdom.” 

Peter, always listed first among the apostles, seems to have been the first to found a church outside of Jerusalem. Tradition has it that he was the first Patriarch of the church in Antioch, today located in southern Turkey. He may also have created a Christian community at Corinth. 

Yet it is Rome that is most associated with St. Peter. The Pope claims direct apostolic succession from Peter as the Bishop of Rome. The writings of Paul do not mention Peter in Rome even when discussing the church there, nor does the Book of Acts. Tradition however has long placed him there and many sites in the city are claimed to be linked to him.

The Apostle John was recorded as remaining mostly in Judaea and aiding in the conversion of people to Christianity. Later traditions give him adventures of his own. Tertullian, writing in the late 2nd century, says that John was persecuted and plunged into boiling oil. Luckily the Apostle emerged unscathed and was then exiled to the isle of Patmos off the Turkish coast. Tradition has John living a long life – perhaps until as late as 98 A.D.

While it was inside the Roman Empire that the Christian message found its first converts tales have long been told of the apostles traveling much further afield. One text in Acts describes how Matthew traveled to Ethiopia to spread the word of Jesus. Matthew eventually converted the royal family of Ethiopia. Though the sources for this mission are much later there is indeed an ancient Christian community that exists in Ethiopia, which can be traced back to at least the reign of Aksumite emperor Ezana in the 4th century, according to the Met Museum.

Other apocryphal gospels however place Matthew as performing his ministry elsewhere. “The Acts of Matthew accounts how two magicians conjured a dragon to charge the apostle, which he rebukes and turns against the magicians,” said Shelton. Other, less fabulous, sources do however say that Matthew met his death in Parthia. 

The Apostle Thomas is supposed to have journeyed furthest in his preaching. The Acts of Thomas, written in the 3rd century tells of how he was told by Jesus to go to India. When Thomas, not for the first time, expresses doubts “Jesus forces his hand by selling him to the merchant Abban,” who was heading to India. In India the Apostle undergoes various adventures before serving a local king called Gondophares.

“The Thomas journey has strong historical support. Throughout church history, new missionaries to India often landed to discover an established church there which linked itself to the ministry of Thomas in the first century. That pride extends even to today, where Indian Christians carry the name, ‘Thomas Christians’. A strong oral tradition, legends, hymns, poetry, and histories still circulated today perpetuate the tradition that Thomas came to India. Both the cities of Mylapore and Andrapolis have sites that lay claim to his martyrdom there” Shelton told us.

There is also a tradition that the Apostle Bartholomew visited India but most scholars reject this view. There is however a strong link between Bartholomew and Armenia. There he is said to have converted the local king to Christianity. It was also there that he met a particularly gruesome death – a fate that awaited many of the apostles. 

Images of Bartholomew can be found in churches across the world, though at first people can find them hard to interpret. Bartholomew is often shown carrying something that looks like a melting wax figurine. Closer examination reveals that he is actually holding his own flayed skin. Tradition has it that he was skinned alive and beheaded for his conversion of king Polymius.

Bartholomew’s fate was not so unusual if tradition is to be believed. Of the twelve apostles, including Matthias who replaced Judas, eleven are said to have died for their faith. 

St. Peter was supposedly crucified upside down in Rome after declaring he was unfit to die in the same way as Jesus. Simon the Zealot is said by some texts to have been sawed in half in Persia. A 3rd century text says Andrew was scourged and crucified, surviving on the cross for three days. Hardly any of the records of the deaths of the apostles would pass historical scrutiny judging by modern standards of scholarship but the stories associated with the ends of their lives were massively influential for centuries in Christianity.

It is perhaps fitting for people who preached about life after death that many of the apostles enjoyed colorful afterlives. The bodies of the apostles became important relics and sites of pilgrimage. 

In one legend Regulus, bishop of Patras in Greece, was visited by an angel in 345 A.D. and told to move the bones of St. Andrew as far as he could from their resting place. He packed them up and traveled with them all the way to Scotland, to the city now known as St. Andrews. 

The bones of St. James that became the basis of the great pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela were discovered by a holy hermit called Pelagius in 814 A.D. Strange lights in the sky led him to the tomb of the Apostle. Quite how the Apostle came to be buried in Spain was not recorded. 

It is likely that we will never know whether the relics that are claimed to be those of apostles are authentic. But in many ways it does not matter as the story of how they came to be revered and the centuries of devotion that have been paid to them is of interest in itself. 

St. Mary of Egypt: A saint to invoke against sexual promiscuity

The sexual revolution of the 1960s dramatically altered the moral landscape of the Western world. But of course, sexual promiscuity was not invented in the 1960s; it has always been with us, although it may have been more rampant in some places and some periods of history than others.

St. Mary of Egypt was born into a family of Egyptian Christians. At age 12, she ran away from home and went to live in Alexandria, the most cosmopolitan, most sophisticated and in many ways one of the most corrupt cities in the Mediterranean world. She supported herself as a singer and dancer. At some point, we don’t know when, she lost her innocence.

Mary’s sexual appetite took over her personality. She cruised the streets of Alexandria, looking for partners. Her favorite diversion was to corrupt innocent young men. But many years later, as she told St. Zosimus — the monk who wrote down her autobiography — she never accepted money from the men she slept with, she never became a prostitute.

Once, while walking along the wharves at the harbor, she saw a group of men boarding a ship. She asked one of the sailors who the men were, and where were they going. He said they were all pilgrims, heading to Jerusalem to celebrate there the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. On impulse, Mary decided to go, too. By the time the ship reached the Holy Land, Mary had seduced every pilgrim and every member of the crew.

In Jerusalem she continued her usual routine of looking for new partners. On the holy day, a throng of pilgrims made their way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Mary, out of curiosity, joined them. But when she reached the threshold of the church, some invisible force held her back. She could not enter. All at once the wickedness of her life overwhelmed her, and she began to cry.

Near the door was a carving of the Blessed Virgin. Turning to the sacred image, Mary prayed for the first time in years, “Help me,” she begged Our Lady, “for I have no other help.” With that, the power that had kept her from entering the church withdrew and Mary went in. She found a priest and made a full confession.

After the Mass and veneration of the Holy Cross, Mary left Jerusalem, crossed the Jordan River and headed out into the desert. There she became a hermit, living a life of prayer and penance for nearly 50 years.

Toward the end of her life she encountered the monk Zosimus, to whom she told her story. Then she begged him to return to her on Holy Thursday with the Blessed Sacrament — it had been decades since she had been able to receive holy Communion. Zosimus returned, as he had promised, but he found that Mary had died. He buried her, then went back to his monastery and began to make known the story of Mary of Egypt.

The Deal With Christianity and Stonehenge

So Stonehenge was built for the communal fun of it. Maybe. Some archaeologists now wonder whether the main point of the monumental erection was the mass participation involved in getting it up. There were years of feasting and frolicking at the site’s construction, as well as lots of head scratching and mansplaining about whether wax-treated rope could produce maximum torque with minimal tension, or something. It was a cross between Glastonbury and Homebase.

Or maybe this theory says more about us than about our oldest public art work. We have a vague awareness that this is what we lack as a culture: a sense of communal religious purpose. We sense that the fullest creativity and social joy comes from doing something together that feels necessary and important, rather than just seeking personal bourgeois thrills. We get glimpses of this at Christmas and Halloween when we happily waste hours on decorations and costumes, and occasional public events to do with royalty or sport or public protest might produce the same obscure joy. Communal celebration and creativity is what makes human beings most deeply happy, but our culture doesn’t know how to maximise it, because it jars with capitalist-individualist normality.

As I explained in my recent Lent talk on the radio, this is what has deepened my interest in religion, this attraction to public ritual. Our Christian culture can only find renewal here, in the attempt to recapture the thrill of pre-modern public festivity. Religious culture as it presently exists is just too little and dull, too private and wordy. Time for a stone-age inspired revolution.

Deuteronomy 27:2-8 ESV / 3 helpful votes

And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, …

Numbers 17:1-13 ESV / 2 helpful votes

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” …

Numbers 13:1-33 ESV / 2 helpful votes

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel. And these were their names: From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; …

Joshua 4:9 ESV / 1 helpful vote

And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.

How St. Perpetua Used Her Last Moments to Give Glory to God

Of the many wonderful lessons and habits imparted to me and my eight brothers and sisters by my parents, perhaps one of the ones I am most grateful for is their insistence on dressing well for Mass.

I loved to dress up, so I rarely protested (except for the sole time I made the mistake of trying to convince my mother that spaghetti straps were appropriate for church), but I do remember one of my brothers questioning my parents’ insistence on slacks over jeans.

“It’s a sign of respect. We get dressed nicely because we’re going to see Jesus, and we dress up for important things.” My mom responded. Her straightforward answer satisfied my brother, and I never heard another complaint, from him or any other sibling.

This simple lesson sprang to mind when I first read the Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity. I had known little about the two martyrs, except for hearing their names recited during the Eucharistic prayers every Mass. I presumed they’d been killed in an arena like so many of their brethren, but could guess at nothing more than that.

On reading their Passion, I learned that indeed, these holy women had been condemned to die, along with their female companions, by being gored by a rabid heifer.

The cow ran at Perpetua first, and threw her into the air. Rolling to the side to preserve her modesty, she realized her hair had come down, a sign of mourning. The account reads:

Next, looking for a pin, [Perpetua] likewise pinned up her disheveled hair; for it was not meet that a martyr should suffer with hair disheveled, lest she should seem to grieve in her glory.

This young mother, facing death, refused to allow her killers to believe she wept for her suffering. Her life, so brutally cut short, would serve as a witness of the joy with which she went to meet her Creator. She was going to see Jesus, and so she re-pinned her hair.

I do not intend to draw any comparisons between the heroic actions of a young woman facing death in the arena for her faith, and getting up 10 minutes earlier on a Sunday to iron a skirt for Mass. However, Perpetua’s actions speak to a deeper truth, one that is often missing from our world today. We are creations of body and soul. Our eternal souls matter of course, but so too do our bodies. How we dress and present ourselves to the world matters deeply, not for any superficial reason, but because after his Ascension, our bodies are the only ones Christ has in this world to carry out his work to glorify his Father.

My parents’ instructions to dress appropriately for Mass had nothing to do with virtue signaling our piety to the world. They were teaching us to serve God, and to not hide the primacy we placed on our faith. They knew that if we were to do this in the large decisions of our lives, like discerning our vocation, then we would need to learn to do so in the small moments too, like slipping a cardigan over our sleeveless dresses before entering a church.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, it does not seem likely that I will be called to die a martyr’s death in the arena, so I do not know if I would face it with St. Perpetua’s courage, though I’d pray for the grace to do so. But thankfully honoring God does not always require the shedding of our blood.

St. Perpetua used her last moments on earth to give glory to God. In the last act she could take with her physical body, she honored Christ. May we make the same choice in our own lives, whether they be our final actions or one of many we have yet to take.

What a lesson for us all!

Are There Bible Translations Christians Should Avoid?

Reading the King James Version of the Bible rather than the English Standard Version does not bring one closer to the inspired writings of Moses, Paul, etc. One must read with discernment: some Bible translations have changed, removed, or added text, which was not inspired by God.

As for modern versions versus the KJV, the main difference is accessibility to the average reader. This is the reason newer translations are released every few years: so that non-theologians can learn about Jesus.

But are there Bible translations, which do not convey the truth about Jesus Christ? Should Christians avoid certain versions?

How Many Versions Are There?

The Bible has been translated into almost every language around the world. The American Bible Society reports that there have been hundreds of versions written in English since the Tyndale Bible of 1526.

Modern readers, however, will typically choose from a handful of options including:

1. The King James Version

2. The English Standard Version

3. The New International Version

4. The New Living Translation

5. The Message

6. The Christian Standard Bible

These are just a few of the most popular translations in English. Although the KJV dates to the Jacobean era, many Bible readers are attached to this translation simply because it sounds as though it should be more authentic. This is a much older form of English after all.

Only The King James Version

Luke Wayne refers to the “King James Onlyists” (KJOs) when he writes about typical objections to modern translations of the Bible. These KJOs believe that Christ’s deity is not as strongly portrayed in modern English as in the centuries-old KJV.

On the contrary, “modern Bible translations are […] accurate translations of the manuscript tradition on which they rely” and many more recent translators have been able to use documents, which were only recently discovered; documents not available to translators during the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Wayne asserts that many translations such as the ESV and the CSB came about as a result of working directly with the primary sources: those ancient texts from which the writers of the KJV derived their Bible.

They are not translations of the King James Version or of other, later texts in English. These are still the inspired scriptures, made more accessible to modern readers.

Age is not an indicator of reliability. While both Protestant and Catholic Bibles contain 27 New Testament Books, Catholic Bibles (dating from the 16th century) contain 46 Books of the Old Testament: “Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch. Catholic Bibles also include sections in the Books of Esther and Daniel which are not found in Protestant Bibles […] called the deuterocanonical books. The Catholic Church believes these books to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.” Christian Bibles contain 39 books.

When one either adds to or subtracts from the Word of God, the resulting translation no longer represents the truth of God.

Other Bibles to beware of include the Book of Mormon and the New World Translation (NWT), the latter of which was designed for use by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Matt Slick lays out some subtle but important differences between a Christian translation and the NWT, which demonstrates how small changes lead to fundamental distortions. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One.

he CBE and Gender Equality in the Bible

Controversy has emerged around the use of gender-inclusive language in Scripture. Is Jesus “The Human One” or “The Son of God”? One can only reach an intelligent opinion by going right back to the ancient Hebrew and Greek with a proper understanding of how those ancient scripts are translated.

Experts at CBE International decry the use of exclusively male nouns and pronouns in places where the original text is not specific.

When a group of male and female theologians translated ancient texts, they arrived at what they say is a gender-inclusive Bible, which still tells the truth.

Not everyone agrees with this point of view; but Alvera Mickelson suggested “the New Revised Standard Version, the International Children’s Bible (the Odyssey Bible) the New Living Translation, or other modern speech translations using gender-accurate language” would be a good choice if one is shopping for a Bible.

While these translations remove the male bias wherever the reference is not specific (“human” rather than “man”), they do not change the Word of God. With the NLT for instance, one “need not worry that her Bible had been changed.”

Christians must decide for themselves what they believe and use discernment based on the evidence of primary resources.

The tenets of God’s teaching must not change as a result of a new translation. Christ is God, but he came to earth as a man (this is still made clear in the NLT); he was crucified, died, and rose again.

He is One with the Holy Spirit, and He is returning one day to defeat Satan. Christ lives in believers by His Spirit, and believers are saved by his grace, not by works. A good translation will not obscure these truths or the fact that he was, in fact, a man.

The Message: a Caveat

Michael Brown does offer a caveat where the Message is concerned. Eugene Peterson’s work is a paraphrase meant to put God’s inspired Word into a more colloquial style of English, which is easy to relate to and understand.

“The Message is not a translation and should not be used as your primary Bible. However, as a very free paraphrase, it is sometimes powerful and brilliant while at other times it is seriously off-target.”

He cites passages relating to sexual immorality in particular. The Message sometimes waters down the truth about homosexuality or sex before marriage and how God views these activities.

How to Choose a Bible

One way for a person to decide, which Bible is the right one is by determining, which version is being used at one’s own church. This makes it easier to follow along during the sermon.

For those who are more concerned with finding the translation, which is easiest to understand, the ESV, CSB, and NIV use relatively modern language, although there are sections of Scripture, which will always be puzzling at first glance.

A Study Bible with explanatory notes is helpful in any translation.

Supplementary resources and alternative translations are helpful when one wants to conduct a deeper study or unpack difficult passages.

Any Bible containing a concordance, maps, and commentary will typically be thick and cumbersome, but invaluable for exploring ancient words and historical context.

Why Does This Matter?

The most important factor in choosing a Bible is that one selects and reads his or her Bible regularly. Once chosen, that Bible is no good sitting in a bookshelf unused.

Scripture is the best yardstick against which to test itself, so if a passage is difficult, reading from a reliable alternative translation is often helpful if it does not subtract from, add to, or distort the inspired Word of God.

The Saint Behind Valentine’s Day

Monday many will celebrate an early Christian saint without even realizing it. It’s the feast day of the martyr, Saint Valentine.

Valentine’s Day will be overflooding in expressions of emotional love. It will be a day of heartfelt sharing, hugs and kisses, chocolates and candlelight dinners.

Since Valentine’s Day has become its own event, it might surprise some people to learn that Valentine was a real person. In a culture that tells us “love is love” and that “love is never wrong,” the literal person used to celebrate such notions is a Catholic saint. He was a historical person who shed his blood for Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

As such, perhaps we can ask if Valentine himself could help us to understand love? He’s honored by our culture for a reason. With the secular version of Valentine’s Day taking the frontstage, however, is the perspective of Valentine, the person of faith, permitted in the discussion on love?

In observing life and watching the fluidity of the human heart, we can identify two simple movements: the euphoria of desire, the thrills of affection, and a pursuit of pleasure on one hand, and the perseverance of care, the warmth of accompaniment, and the self-denial of love for the good of another on the other.

In most relationships that endure, there is a dynamism between these two movements of the heart, with sacrificial love becoming the foundation of the relationship, since euphoria, thrills, and pleasure are never stable and inherently contain a certain capriciousness about them. Admittedly, such a capriciousness makes them enjoyable, but also marks them as unstable and possibly dangerous at times to a loving and sustained relationship.

As we learn from Valentine’s witness, love is refined and deepened by self-abnegation. Love takes us up the task and journey of seeking seek the good of the beloved, even to our own discomfort and suffering. The one who loves says, “I love you” is also willing to say, “I seek your good before my own.”

The task of love is not easy. It requires the tempering and ordering of the calls within us for euphoria, thrills, and pleasure for its own sake. In love, we permit a mirror to be held in front of us. We see our own weaknesses. We recognize our own selfishness and the various disorders within our souls that distract or hinder true love. In trying to love another, we can be shocked by the narcissism within us. As we seek to love another, we realize that love actually purifies us. By loving, we become who we truly are. In love, we become ourselves.

Love can only fulfill its higher calling if we allow it to refine us. A love that is being purified can give this witness: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

With this summons in our own hearts, we can turn and look to Valentine and to the God he worshiped. He gave us a beautiful testimony that has survived even the secular purge of Western culture. It is a testimony of love that contains lessons on loving. It is the story of a person who knew love so well, and accepted divine love so openly, that he loved others beyond himself. He accepted death to show this love.

Following the way of the Lord Jesus, the one person who loved the most in human history, Valentine laid down his life for others. Through his holy life and death, he shows us the grace and the adventure of love: euphoria leading to endurance, emotional thrills to self-possession, and the pursuit of pleasure giving way to sacrifice.

Saint Valentine knew that it was love which sustains and carries us through life. Love is what reveals us to ourselves, allows to give ourselves as a self-donation to another, and what binds us to one another. As we honor the holy Valentine, martyr and witness to love, we are also invited to learn from him and imitate him in his selfless love.