103 The Kingdom Is Too Hedonic (Kingdom of God 12)

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Last time we saw that some influential Christians rejected the biblical teaching on the kingdom because the idea of living on earth forever seemed crude to them.  This time, we look at how the ancients thought about bodies and bodily pleasures.  As it turns out, from (at least) Plato onward, many philosophers tended to embrace a very negative view of pleasure, arguing that the truly enlightened person should exercise abstinence and discipline as much as possible.  This idea flourished among the Stoics and Neo-Platonists and infiltrated Christianity from the second century onward.  Consequently, the biblical descriptions of feasting in the kingdom with the patriarchs in resurrected bodies seemed to demand reinterpretation.  Additionally kingdom deniers labelled kingdom advocates hedonists, as if their uncontrollable desire for pleasure motivated their belief in the kingdom.

This is lecture 12 of the Kingdom of God class, originally taught at the Atlanta Bible College.  To take this class for credit, please contact ABC so you can do the work necessary for a grade.


Notes:

ἡ ἡδονή (e edone): pleasure, enjoyment, delight

  • hedonism, hedonist, hedonic
  • hedonism: belief that pleasure is life’s goal

Our Plan

  1. show you that some Christians rejected the kingdom belief because it was too hedonic
  2. explain why they had such an ascetic bias (ascetic means anti-pleasure)
    1. Greco-Roman background
    2. how this infiltrated Christian thinking
  3. biblical view on bodily pleasures
  4. how this affects us today

 

Quotes showing rejection of the kingdom on the charge of hedonism

Gaius (early second century)

“But Cerinthus also, by means of revelations which he pretends were written by a great apostle, brings before us marvelous things which he falsely claims were shown him by angels; and he says that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ will be set up on earth, and that the flesh dwelling in Jerusalem will again be subject to desires and pleasures. And being an enemy of the Scriptures of God, he asserts, with the purpose of deceiving men, that there is to be a period of a thousand years5 for marriage festivals.” (H.E. 3.28.2)

Origen (early third century)

Certain persons, then, refusing the labour of thinking, and adopting a superficial view of the letter of the law, and yielding rather in some measure to the indulgence of their own desires and lusts, being disciples of the letter alone, are of opinion that the fulfilment of the promises of the future are to be looked for in bodily pleasure and luxury; and therefore they especially desire to have again, after the resurrection, such bodily structures as may never be without the power of eating, and drinking, and performing all the functions of flesh and blood (De Princip. 2.11.2)

“And even as those who because of the fact that they do not interpret the prophecies allegorically suppose (that) after the resurrection we will eat and drink bodily food and drink, since also the words of the prophetic writings embrace such as these, so also what has been written concerning marriages of both men and women, keeping to the literal and supposing (that) we will take part in intercourse then, on account of which it is not even possible to have time for prayer when being in (a state of) defilement and uncleanness partaking in sexual pleasures.” (Commentary on Matthew 17.35)

Dionysius (mid third century)

“For the doctrine which he [Cerinthus] taught was this: that the kingdom of Christ will be an earthly one. And as he was himself devoted to the pleasures of the body and altogether sensual in his nature, he dreamed that that kingdom would consist in those things which he desired, namely, in the delights of the belly and of sexual passion; that is to say, in eating and drinking and marrying, and in festivals and sacrifices and the slaying of victims, under the guise of which he thought he could indulge his appetites with a better grace.” (H.E. 7.25.3)

Jerome (late fourth century)

“I do not envy them, if they love the earth so much, that they desire earthly things in the kingdom of Christ, and if after an abundance of foods and the gluttony of their gullet and belly, they seek that which is below the belly.” (Commentary to Isaiah Prologue to Book 18)

Augustine (early fifth century)

The evangelist John has spoken of these two resurrections in the book which is called the Apocalypse, but in such a way that some Christians do not understand the first of the two, and so construe the passage into ridiculous fancies. …Those who, on the strength of this passage, have suspected that the first resurrection is future and bodily, have been moved, among other things, specially by the number of a thousand years, as if it were a fit thing that the saints should thus enjoy a kind of Sabbath-rest during that period, a holy leisure…And this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God; for I myself, too, once held this opinion. But, as they assert that those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets, furnished with an amount of meat and drink such as not only to shock the feeling of the temperate, but even to surpass the measure of credulity itself, such assertions can be believed only by the carnal. They who do believe them are called by the spiritual Chiliasts, which we may literally reproduce by the name Millenarians. (City of God 20.7.1)

two activities they repeatedly criticized: eating, sex

 

A brief history of asceticism

Plato: greatly influenced how educated people thought about bodily pleasures

  • as w/ the universe, so w/ the body, Plato played a massively influential role
  • once again, we turn to the Phaedo where Socrates argues for the survival and supremacy of the soul over against the inferior body

Phaedo:

And will he think much of the other ways of indulging the body-for example, the acquisition of costly raiment, or sandals, or other adornments of the body? Instead of caring about them, does he not rather despise anything more than nature needs? What do you say?

I should say the true philosopher would despise them.

Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul and not with the body? He would like, as far as he can, to be quit of the body and turn to the soul.
That is true

In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from the body.

That is true.

Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of opinion that a life which has no bodily pleasures and no part in them is not worth having; but that he who thinks nothing of bodily pleasures is almost as though he were dead.

That is quite true.

What again shall we say of the actual acquirement of knowledge?-is the body, if invited to share in the inquiry, a hinderer or a helper? I mean to say, have sight and hearing any truth in them? Are they not, as the poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses? and yet, if even they are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said of the other senses?-for you will allow that they are the best of them?

Certainly, he replied.
Then when does the soul attain truth?-for in attempting to consider anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived.

Yes, that is true.

Then must not existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?

Yes.

And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her-neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure-when she has as little as possible to do with the body, and has no bodily sense or feeling, but is aspiring after being?

That is true. (Phaedo 64-67) ~

Philo (first century)

  • Philo, as we have seen, is SO important b/c he serves as the middleman between Greek philosophy and Christian theology b/c he melded Hellenism with the Septuagint

“…innumerable circumstances are continually escaping from and eluding the human mind, inasmuch as it is entangled among and embarrassed by so great a multitude of the external senses, as is very well calculated to seduce and deceive it by false opinions, since in fact it is, as I may say, buried in the mortal body, which may very properly be called its tomb…” (On Specific Laws 4.188)

“And these expounders of the law, having first of all laid down temperance as a sort of foundation for the soul to rest upon, proceed to build up other virtues on this foundation, and no one of them may take any meat or drink before the setting of the sun, since they judge that the work of philosophizing is one which is worthy of the light, but that the care for the necessities of the body is suitable only to darkness, on which account they appropriate the day to the one occupation, and a brief portion of the night to the other; and some men, in whom there is implanted a more fervent desire of knowledge, can endure to cherish a recollection of their food for three days without even tasting it, and some men are so delighted, and enjoy themselves so exceedingly when regaled by wisdom which supplies them with her doctrines in all possible wealth and abundance, that they can even hold out twice as great a length of time, and will scarcely at the end of six days taste even necessary food, being accustomed, as they say that grasshoppers are, to feed on air; their song, as I imagine, making their scarcity tolerable to them.” (On the Contemplative Life 34-35)

“And in those days wine is not introduced, but only the clearest water; cold water for the generality, and hot water for those old men who are accustomed to a luxurious life.  And the table, too, bears nothing which has blood, but there is placed upon it bread for food and salt for seasoning, to which also hyssop is sometimes added as an extra sauce for the sake of those who are delicate in their eating…” (On the Contemplative Life 73)

Psuedo-Crates (first century)

“Practice [ἀσκέω] needing little, for this is nearest to God” (Cynic Epistles 11)

Psuedo-Diogenes (first century)

“But you, continue in your training [ἄσκησις], just as you began it, and be eager to oppose in equal measure pleasure and toil” (Cynic Epistles 11)

Musonius Rufus (first century)

“adapt to cold, heat, thirst, hunger, plain food, a hard bed, abstinence from pleasure, and endurance of strenuous labor” (On Training [προς ἄκησιν] Discourse 4)

Celsus (second century)

For God does not rule the world in order to satisfy inordinate desires, or to allow disorder and confusion, but to govern a nature that is upright and just. For the soul, indeed, He might be able to provide an everlasting life; while dead bodies, on the contrary, are, as Heraclitus observes, more worthless than dung.  God, however, neither can nor will declare, contrary to all reason, that the flesh, which is full of those things which it is not even honourable to mention, is to exist for ever.(Against Celsus 5.14) ~

Plotinus (third century)

“…reasoning and the act of the intellect, for instance, are not vested in the body; their task is not accomplished by means of the body which in fact is detrimental to any thinking on which it is allowed to intrude.” (Enneads 4.2.19) ~

Porphyry (early fourth century)

“if it were possible, we should abstain from all food,” but since it is not we should content ourselves, “granting to nature what is necessary, and this of a light quality.” Through strict moderation, eating “more slender food” one will be able to “reject whatever exceeds this, as only contributing to pleasure”  (On Abstinence from Animal Food 1.38) ~

 

Christian Asceticism

Proto-Gospel of James (2nd cent.)

  • Mary is a temple virgin
  • stress on her purity
  • she weaves the veil of the temple
  • Joseph is an old man assigned to care for Mary by lot
  • he never has relations with her
  • she’s a virgin before and AFTER giving birth

And the midwife went forth out of the cave, and Salome met her. And she said to her: Salome, Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to thee: a virgin has brought forth — a thing which her nature admits not of. Then said Salome: As the Lord my God liveth, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth. And the midwife went in, and said to Mary: Show thyself; for no small controversy has arisen about thee. And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said: Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire. (Protoevangelium of James 19-20).

  • she repents and prays and is told to touch the baby and then gets healed

Acts of Thecla

Paul’s preaching at the house of Onesiphorus and says:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are they who keep their flesh undefiled, for they shall be the temple of God.
Blessed are the temperate, for God will reveal himself to them.
Blessed are they that abandon their secular enjoyments, for they shall be accepted of God.
Blessed are they who have wives, as though they had them not, for they shall be made angels of God.
… Blessed are the bodies and souls of virgins, for they are acceptable to God and shall not lose the reward of their virginity, for the word of their Father shall prove effectual to their salvation in the day of his Son, and they shall enjoy rest forevermore. (Acts of Paul and Thecla 1)

  • Thecla listened in from the window in her neighboring house for three days

Then Thamyris ran into the street to observe who they were who went in to Paul and came out from him; and he saw two men engaged in a very warm dispute, and said to them; Sirs, what business have you here? And who is that man within, belonging to you, who deludes the minds of men, both young men and virgins, persuading them that they ought not to marry but continue as they are?

I promise to give you a considerable sum if you will give me a just account of him, for I am the chief person of this city.

Demas and Hermogenes replied, We cannot so exactly tell who he is, but we know that he deprives young men of their intended wives, and virgins of their intended husbands, by teaching, There can be no future resurrection, unless you continue in chastity and do not defile your flesh. (Acts of Paul and Thecla 2)

  • Paul gets imprisoned, but Thecla bribes the guards and sits at his feet, listening to his teaching all night
  • they try to kill Thecla repeatedly, but God saves her
  • it’s like a romance except no marriage or sex

Acts of John (2nd cent)

And whereas there was great love and joy unsurpassed among the brethren, a certain one, a messenger of Satan, became enamoured of Drusiana, though he saw and knew that she was the wife of Andronicus. To whom many said: It is not possible for thee to obtain that woman, seeing that for a long time she has even separated herself from her husband for godliness’ sake. Art thou only ignorant that Andronicus, not being aforetime that which now he is, a God-fearing man, shut her up in a tomb, saying: Either I must have thee as the wife whom I had before, or thou shalt die. And she chose rather to die than to do that foulness. If, then, she would not consent, for godliness’ sake, to cohabit with her lord and husband, but even persuaded him to be of the same mind as herself, will she consent to thee desiring to be her seducer? depart from this madness which hath no rest in thee: give up this deed which thou canst not bring to accomplishment. (Acts of John 63)

  • When Drusiana found out that she so inflamed Callimachus’ desires, she fell ill and died
  • Callimachus paid off a servant to access the tomb and attempted to rape her corpse
  • a huge snake bit the servant and an angel commanded Callimachus, “die that you may live”
  • on the 3rd day, John entered with Andronicus (Drusiana’s husband) and raised them from the dead and Callimachus repented
  • these documents show us that early Christians thought holy people shouldn’t enjoy bodily pleasures, especially sex

Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd cent)

He admires “those who have adopted an austere life, and who are fond of water, the medicine of temperance, and flee as far as possible from wine, shunning it as they would the danger of fire” (Ed. 2.2). Although he approves sexual intercourse within marriage, he is careful to say, “Pleasure sought for its own sake, even within the marriage bonds, is a sin and contrary both to law and to reason” (Ed. 2.10).   In his more esoteric work, Stromateis, Clement says a Christian “tastes not the good things that are in the world, entertaining a noble contempt for all things here” (Stromateis 7.12).   He despises all money and dominion and “hates the inordinate affections of the flesh, which possess the powerful spell of pleasure.”  One should hold a “noble contempt” for “all that belongs to the creation and nutriment of the flesh” (ibid.) .  In short, his view is summarized nicely in the statement, “It is absolutely impossible at the same time to be a man of understanding and not to be ashamed to gratify the body” (Stromateis 3.43).

Asceticism’s Deep Infiltration

  • Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, Anthony, Athanasius, Jerome

Origen’s solution (Princ. 2.11.7)

When, then, the saints shall have reached the celestial abodes, they will clearly see the nature of the stars one by one, and will understand whether they are endued with life, or their condition, whatever it is.  And they will comprehend also the other reasons for the works of God, which He Himself will reveal to them. …And in all things this food is to be understood as the contemplation and understanding of God, which is of a measure appropriate and suitable to this nature, which was made and created; and this measure it is proper should be observed by every one of those who are beginning to see God, i.e., to understand Him through purity of heart.

Augustine

“the flesh will rise again, a celestial and angelic body” Sermons 264.6

owing to their ascetic sensibilities, Christians like Origen and Augustine reimagined resurrection as a “heavenly” or “angelic” body devoid of pleasure

 

The biblical view of bodily pleasures

Garden of Eden

  • eden = pleasure
  • commands:
    • not: remain celibate, eat only bland food, and submit
    • but: be fruitful, eat freely, and have dominion
  • design:
    • 10,000 taste buds
    • thousands of erotogenic nerve endings on human genitals
    • original plan: two naked humans, eating whatever they want, ruling the world

Law

  • feast of unleavened bread, feast of weeks, feast of trumpets, feat of tabernacles
  • only one day for fasting: day of atonement
  • sabbath was about taking a day off to rest, relax, and enjoy labor

Wisdom Literature

  • Proverbs 5:18-19
    18 Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. May her breasts satisfy you at all times; may you be intoxicated always by her love.
  • Ecclesiastes 9:7-9
    7 Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. 8 Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.
  • Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
    12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.
  • not even going to look at Song of Solomon

Jesus at Cana

  • at a wedding that runs out of wine
  • rather than scolding them for drinking so much
  • he turns 120 gallons of water into wine

limits

  • alcohol and food are good w/ moderation
  • sex is good w/in marriage
  • take pleasure in work, but take a day off each week

Paul dealing with Colossae and Corinth

  • Col 2:18-23
    18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.
  • 1 Cor. 7:1-5
    1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” 2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

 

Our situation today

  • opposite problem today
  • everyone is so obsessed w/ pleasure
  • we’re all supposed to accept whatever gives you pleasure
  • you do you
  • tolerance, etc.
  • still we need to stay true to the boundaries God provided in scripture

 


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One thought on “103 The Kingdom Is Too Hedonic (Kingdom of God 12)

  • Hi Sean,
    This was an excellent lecture — thank you for researching and sharing these quotes. I found the quote from the Acts of Paul and Thecla particularly fascinating, since some scholars evidently date the original publication of this work to about AD68-98 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Paul_and_Thecla#cite_note-5). I wonder if such apocryphal stories about Paul circulating in his own time might provide some background for his explicit condemnation of asceticism and those who “forbid marriage” (1 Tim. 4:3). In any case, thanks again for sharing this instructive and inspiring series on the Kingdom of God.

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