Sunday, October 28, 2012

Paul and His Letter Carriers

It can be difficult to imagine the writings of Paul as individual letters, unbound and separate from the contents pages of our modern Bibles. Each of Paul's letters had their own unique reason for being written, and each had a specific intended audience. Each unique circumstance required intimate knowledge and communication with the recipient Churches. At first glance, this may appear easy enough, in our modern age of social media, email and public mail services. It was not so easy in the first century Roman world of Paul's time. Our knowledge of how the ancient world communicated would be sparse at best if not for the vast amounts of papyrus documents found in the garbage dumps of antiquity (The largest quantity of papyri were found in the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus). These papyrus documents are mainly personal letters, receipts of sale, contracts, daily correspondence, inventories, left over remnants of daily life from several hundred years before and after the time of Paul in the first century. Studying these papyri gives access to a wealth of information on how people lived their lives thousands of years ago. Particularly, they give us insight into how people corresponded and communicated during Paul's time.

The Letter Carrier
If someone wanted to write a letter in antiquity, to ensure that it made its way to the intended recipients, one had to obtain the services of a letter carrier. As can be seen in the many examples of papyrus letters, finding someone to act as courier (especially a trustworthy person) could prove difficult (Head, 283). Thus finding a reliable letter carrier often times occasioned the need to write (Epp, 45).  Peter Head quotes this papyrus letter from the early first century (the name of the letter carrier is missing); going up stream, I judged it necessary to salute to you by letter and in invite you to write to me about what ever you may want. (Head, 284; P. Oxy 3806)
In a similar fashion, it appears that Paul took advantage of Epaphroditus' recovery from poor health to write to the Philippians;
But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier; who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. (Phil 2:25-26).
Though not mentioned specifically in the verse, Epaphroditus undoubtedly carried Paul's epistle to the Philippian believers, and Paul took the opportunity of Epaphroditus' trip back to Philippi to send the letter (Llewelyn, 338).
The papyri also illustrate that the letter carrier often functioned as a purveyor of goods from the writer to the recipients of the letter (Head, 287). This is illustrated by a letter from the second or third century C. E. (Head, 288);
Unopened ancient papyrus letter with seal (BAR, 48)
Chaereas to his brother Dionysius, greeting. I have already urged you in person to have the horoscope (?) in the archives prepared and also the sale of the slaves' children, and to sell the wine that comes from both the near and the far vineyard, keeping the money in a safe place until I come. I send you some good melon seeds through Diogenes the friend of Chaereas the citizen, and two strips of cloth sealed with my seal, one of which please give to your children. Salute your sister and Cyrilla, Rhosope and Arsinous salute you. I pray for your health. (P. Oxy 117; Vol. 1, pg. 183)
Epaphroditus had acted as a "messenger" for the Philippian Church, and doubly functioned as a purveyor of their financial gifts, which were carried to Paul in his imprisonment (4:18).
Stephanus and Fortunatus and Achaicus came to Paul for service from Corinth, and probably brought provisions and money for Paul from the Church (1 Cor 16:17). Also, they are most likely the ones who brought the letter from the Corinthians asking Paul questions concerning doctrine and Christian living (7:1). Also, Paul asked Corinth for letter carriers to carry letters from him as well as money;
And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send  them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Cor 16:3)
The papyri also give examples of requests for information and for the recipient to give word or to visit. Consider this very old third century B.C. letter;
Polycrates to his father, greeting. I am glad if you are in good health, and everything else is to your mind. We ourselves are in good health. I have often written to you to come and introduce me, in order that I may be relieved of my present occupation. And now if it is possible, and none of your work hinders you, do try and come to the Arisinoe festival; for if you come, I am sure that I shall easily be introduced to the King. Know that I have received 70 drachmas from Philonides. Half of this I have kept by me for necessaries, but the rest I have paid as an installment of interest. This happens because we do not get our money in a lump sum, but in small installments. Write to us yourself that we may know you are circumstanced, and not be anxious. Take care of yourself that you may be well, and come to us in good health. Farewell. (Milligan, 7-8; P. Petr II)
Compare the above exchange with Paul's elaborate instructions, greetings and requests given to Timothy;
Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them....Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (2 Tim 4:9-22)
Digging up ancient papyrus at Oxyrhynchus (
The papyri bring a real cultural and historical perspective on the epistles of Paul. What now comprises most of the New Testament were real letters, written in particular circumstances, for specific people and places, and carried by real people. Paul felt the need to find trustworthy couriers to bring his letters faithfully to their recipients, and to carry money and gifts (such as to the Jerusalem church). Paul also benefited from Churches sending their own messengers to carry letters, money and provisions to care for him in his ministry and imprisonment.


BAR Magazine. “Biblical Archaeology Review.” Vol 35 No 3.

Epp, Eldon. “New Testament Papyrus Manuscripts and Letter Carrying in Greco-Roman Times.” The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester (ed. B. A. Pearson, in collaboration with A. T. Kraabel, G. W. E. Nickelsburg, and N. R. Petersen; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1991) 35–56.

Head, Peter M. "Named letter-carriers among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri." Journal For The Study Of The New Testament 31, no. 3 (March 1, 2009): 279-299.

Llewelyn, Stephen. "Sending Letters in the Ancient World : Paul and the Philippians." Tyndale Bulletin 46, no. 2 (November 1, 1995): 337-356.

Milligan, George. Selections from the Greek Papyri. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Colossians 4:16 and Early Canon Formation

    When reading through the  New Testament I often think about the early Christian communities who first received Paul's letters and I wonder about how their initial treatment and acceptance of them would have been. While reading through the last part of Colossians recently one verse in particular caught my attention and caused me to think on the early Church and the beginnings of the New Testament canon.
"And after you have read this letter, have it read to the church of Laodicea. In turn, read the letter from Laodicea as well. (Col. 4:16, NET)"
     There are several features of the early Church that can be understood from this verse, but I would like to focus on one aspect that is significant to me, that of copying, collecting and distributing Paul's letters. Though Paul does not specifically command the Colossian Church to copy his letter in this verse, it is implied in his command to have his letter read in another city. Rather than send the original, the community would have copied  the letter and sent it on its way to Laodicea. The same would have been true of the Laodicean letter (most likely Ephesians; a subject of another post); it would have been copied then sent along its way to Colossae. Hierapolis, Laodicea and Colossae were important cities in close proximity to each other in the Lycus valley (part of western Turkey). Tychicus, most likely the bearer of the letter (Col. 4:7), would have walked straight through Laodicea on his way to Colossae, they were only a few miles apart. Thus it would have been no trouble to circulate the letter as Paul directed them by copying and distributing.
     Perhaps here in Colossians 4:16 we can begin to see the New Testament canon already developing, at least where Paul's epistles are concerned. Most likely, the church at these locations began to gather Paul's letters onto a single scroll or bound them into a single papyrus codex for further copying and circulation, or for their own use.
     This probably happened at Paul's end as well. One of his close companions, say Luke or Timothy, could have kept copies of Paul's letters for publication as a collection. It was very common in antiquity for notable figures, scholars or statesmen to collect and publish their correspondence in a single volume, whether scroll or codex, for their followers to read.
     Pliny the Younger (ca. 61-112? CE) was a Roman statesman and an accomplished orator and writer in his day. He often made joyful comments in his letters when others compared him to Cicero, Tacitus or the like. Pliny must have enjoyed some popularity and a following in his day. A friend of his, whether pupil or peer, urged Pliny to gather his numerous letters and publish them as a collection for others to enjoy.
"To Septicius Clarus,
You have often urged me to collect and publish any letters of mine which were composed with some care. I have now made a collection, not keeping to the original order as I was writing history, but taking them as they came to hand. It remains for you not to regret having made the suggestion and for me not to regret following it; for then I shall set about recovering letters which have hitherto been put away and forgotten, and I shall not suppress any which I may write in the future. (Pliny, Letters, 1.1)"
     This is the first of Pliny's letters and must have been the driving force behind this published collection which has survived from antiquity. It is also interesting to note that book ten of Pliny's correspondence would have been gathered after his death by a friend and included in the publication.
   This same situation could have occurred with Paul's epistles. As the letters circulated among the various Christian communities they would have been gathered and copied into a single scroll or codex, which was the common practice of the time.
P46 showing 2 Corinthians (Wikimedia Commons)
    One superb example of this gathering activity has survived surprisingly well, despite the ravages of time. Papyrus P46, as it has come to be designated, is an early collection of Paul's epistles in a single codex. Though under some discussion, the approximate date is some where around 200 CE and originates in the Fayum of Egypt (Comfort, 206). The codex contains the texts of Romans, Hebrews, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians and, though missing now, would have originally contained 2 Thessalonians as well (Royse, 202). 
    The codex of P46 was made only 100 years after the time Colossians was written. In this space of time Paul's epistles were collected into a single volume and widely distributed to at least as far as Egypt. It is safe to assume that this collecting and publishing occurred very early most likely when Paul was still alive. This activity occurred not only as a result of Paul's commands like we see in Col 4:16, but because the early Christians valued and cherished his epistles.

Comfort, Philip Wesley and David P. Barrett. The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001.

Radice, Betty, trans. The Letters of the Younger Pliny. London, England: Penguin Books, 1969.

Royse, James R. Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri. Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gladiator Games and Early Christians

Gladiator games were a morbid and grotesque aspect of ancient Roman culture. Most of the gladiatorial games were sponsored by rich patrons in honor of a holiday, a victorious tribute, or in honor of a friend or loved one at their funeral. I have been leisurely reading through the letters of the younger Pliny and came across a letter which he had written to a friend who had sponsored games in a city of northern Italy.

"To Valerius Maximus
You did well to put on a show of gladiators for our people of Verona, who have long shown their affection and admiration for you and have voted you many honors. Verona was also the home town of the excellent wife you loved so dearly, whose memory you owe some public building or show, and this kind of spectacle is particularly suitable for a funeral tribute. Moreover, the request came from so many people that a refusal would have been judged churlish rather than strong-minded on your part. You have also done admirably in giving the show so readily and on such a lavish scale, for this indicates a true spirit of generosity.
I am sorry the African panthers you had bought in such quantities did not turn up on the appointed day, but you deserve the credit although the weather prevented their arriving in time; it was not your fault that you could not show them. (Pliny Letters, 6.34; Radice, 183-184)"
Amphitheater in Verona Italy (Wikimedia)
 This letter was written some time around the first decade of the second century (100-110 AD). Pliny gives us a snapshot of an event which occurred over 1,900 years ago. I can almost hear the roar of the crowds as the gladiators fight to the death. The bad weather prevented the panthers from showing up in time for the games. But I am sure they had a magnificent hunt planned in which gladiators would pursue the wild beasts around the arena. The panthers would also have been used to attack condemned prisoners, possibly even Christians. Though there was no empire wide persecution of Christians during the reign of Trajan who was emperor at the time. A beautiful mosaic (shown below right) from around the same time this letter was written depicts games which most likely would have been very similar to the ones Pliny describes in his letter to Maximus. Also, the amphitheater in Verona where these games were sponsored and most likely took place still stands to this day (pictured above left).
Mosaic of Gladiator Games, 2nd century (Wikimedia)

Take special note of the mosaic at right. Notice the prisoners who are being attacked by a panther while tied to posts. And below there is another prisoner being lead by a whip to an awaiting lion. Also, gladiators are depicted as fighting amongst themselves and a hunt is shown in which panthers, lions, bears, deer, antelope and other animals are in pursuit of each other. It is most likely that the panthers which were delayed by bad weather were going to be used in a similar fashion.
Many Christians faced the threat of being tortured to death in an arena such as is depicted by this mosaic and by the description of Pliny. Ignatius, the Bishop of the Roman city of Antioch, faced just such a threat. He stated as much to the Christian community in Rome to which he wrote a letter, right about the same time Pliny wrote his letter above. He composed this while a prisoner on his way to Rome;

"I am writing to all the Churches and am insisting to everyone that I die for God of my own free will—unless you hinder me. I implore you: do not be ”unseasonably kind” to me. Let me be food for the wild beasts, through whom I can reach God. I am God's wheat, and am being ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I might prove to be pure bread. Better yet, coax the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb and leave nothing of my body behind. (Ign. Rom. 4:1-2; Holmes, 171)"
Amphitheater at Ephesus (Wikimedia)
    Ignatius was arrested for being a Christian, and he knew what the consequences were for adhering to the faith, it was death in the arena!
    The apostle Paul revealed to the Corinthians that he himself had fought with wild beasts (1 Corinthians 15:32). He did this in the city of Ephesus and both the amphitheater and the ancient hippodrome are still standing to this day. Paul most likely would have encountered the beasts during the gladiatorial games and it most likely would have taken place either in the hippodrome, or in the theater (pictured at left).

    There is no doubt that the Gladiatorial games were brutal and violent. Many Christians spoke out against this violent inhumanity, encouraging other Christians to boycott the games so they would not inadvertently support their cruel punishments. Tertullian was a Bishop in the city of Carthage and was a prolific author. Though his comments are nearly one hundred years removed from the time of Pliny the Younger and Ignatius, his condemnation of the games paints a vivid picture of their cruelty and the Christian's abhorrence of this violence.
"We shall now see how the Scriptures condemn the amphitheatre. If we can maintain that it is right to indulge in the cruel, and the impious, and the fierce, let us go there. If we are what we are said to be, let us regale ourselves there with human blood. It is good, no doubt, to have the guilty punished. Who but the criminal himself will deny that? And yet the innocent can find no pleasure in another’s sufferings: he rather mourns that a brother has sinned so heinously as to need a punishment so dreadful. But who is my guarantee that it is always the guilty who are adjudged to the wild beasts, or to some other doom, and that the guiltless never suffer from the revenge of the judge, or the weakness of the defence, or the pressure of the rack? How much better, then, is it for me to remain ignorant of the punishment inflicted on the wicked, lest I am obliged to know also of the good coming to untimely ends—if I may speak of goodness in the case at all! At any rate, gladiators not chargeable with crime are offered in sale for the games, that they may become the victims of the public pleasure. Even in the case of those who are judicially condemned to the amphitheatre, what a monstrous thing it is, that, in undergoing their punishment, they, from some less serious delinquency, advance to the criminality of manslayers! But I mean these remarks for heathen. As to Christians, I shall not insult them by adding another word as to the aversion with which they should regard this sort of exhibition; though no one is more able than myself to set forth fully the whole subject, unless it be one who is still in the habit of going to the shows. I would rather withal be incomplete than set memory a-working. (Tertullian, Spect. IX)"
     From Tertullian's last two sentences above, one can determine that he himself had attended gladiatorial games and in discussing their cruelty he had brought to mind the violence of past events he had witnessed. Keep in mind too that Tertullian was speaking out against these games at a time when it was technically illegal to be a Christian and thus he would have suffered death in the arena himself if the authorities pressed the issue! What courage on the part of these earliest Christians!


The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Holmes, Michael W.. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Updated Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.

Radice, Betty, trans. The Letters of the Younger Pliny. London, England: Penguin Books, 1969.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Letter Of Commendation

Temple of Apollo, Corinth (Wikimedia)
I have been working on the AS350 Helicopter now for over six years. In this time I have had the opportunity to work on most of the systems and components in the most detailed of inspections and repairs. Though, if I were to seek employment at another facility working on AS350s, they would require that I have references from those who worked with me validating my professional knowledge, and recommending my services to them. Everyone does this when looking for a new job, it is an essential part of a resume. But in ancient times, knowing somebody was almost as important as actually knowing a trade or a skill. In antiquity, someone of note would write a letter of commendation, affixing his or her seal to it, so that the person to be recommended would hand it over to a potential employer or another person of note as a way of introduction and an assurance of their value. Some examples of these letters of commendation are preserved on papyrus. Here is a letter of commendation which dates from ca. 25 AD.

Theon to his most esteemed Tyrannus, heartiest greetings. Heraclides, the bearer of this letter to you, is my brother. Therefore I beg you with all my power to hold him as one recommended [συνίστημι] to you. I have also asked Hermias my brother in writing to communicate with you regarding this. You will do me the greatest favour if he [Heraclides] gains your notice. But above all I pray that you may be in health unharmed by the evil eye and faring prosperously. Goodbye. (Milligan, 37-38)

Paul references this ancient practice of letters of commendation in his second letter to the Corinthians. The Greek verb for commendation in this papyrus, and which is used by Paul in 2 Corinthians is συνίστημι. Paul used this verb a total of nine times in his second letter to the Corinthians. Showing that this was an important central theme to the letter. He also revealed his dislike of this ancient custom, showing the foolishness of Christians who practice it,
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending [συνίστημι] themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (2 Corinthians 10:12, ESV).
Paul was “commending” himself to them because other Apostles were bringing these letters of commendation to the Church, bringing false teaching and undermining his authority as an apostle. They were probably being recognized by powerful and famous Christians. Paul was attempting to make a point by telling them; “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation [συνίστημι], written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Corinthians 3:2, ESV). Paul was stressing the importance that “it is not the one who commends [συνίστημι] himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends [συνίστημι]” (2 Corinthians 10:18, ESV). The Corinthian Church should have been the ones to “commend” Paul in his ministry, to recognize his authority as an apostle and to recommend him to other Churches. Yet, 2 Corinthians is filled with Paul “commending” himself, reminding the church of his labors bringing them the truth of the gospel. He disliked this very much but knew that this was the only way to connect with them, through this ancient practice; “I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended [συνίστημι] by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing” (2 Corinthians 12:11, ESV).
This ancient practice of commendation, and Paul's interaction with it in 2 Corinthians has encouraged me to live and serve in such a way that the changed lives of people will actually be my letter of commendation to the world. I am working through seminary right now and will earn an MDiv in time. The seminary education is important, and has helped me in my Christian walk. But it is not the "commendation" which the degree gives that enables me to be approved of men to serve the Lord. What is truly important is that I am commended by the God.

Milligan, George. Selections from the Greek Papyri. Cambridge: University Press, 1912.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Bustle of an Ancient City

The city which I call home is small when compared to New York or Los Angeles, but at 1,000,000 it is one of the largest cities I have lived in during my short life. I grew up in very small towns of a few hundred and a few thousand. As an adult I love having the convenience of the city, the stores, the public services, the events and festivities close at hand. But there are days when I long to be rid of the city and its bustle of activity.
A model of Pliny's Villa at Laurentum
Much has not changed in hundreds of years, the city has always been a center of activity and events. The Roman statesman known today as The Younger Pliny (61 AD – ca. 112 AD) revealed his own desire to be rid of the city and embrace the quiet of his country villa. In a letter to a friend in Rome, Minucius Fundanus, Pliny wrote;
It is astonishing how good an account can be given, or seem to be given, of each separate day spent in Rome, yet that this is not the case with regard to a number of days taken in conjunction. If you ask anyone, "What have you been doing today?" he would reply, "I have attended at the ceremony of a youth's coming of age. I have helped to celebrate a betrothal or a wedding. One has invited me to the signing of his will, another to attend a trial on his behalf, another to a consultation." These things seem indispensable at the time when they are done, but when you come to reflect that you have been doing them day after day, they strike you as mere frivolities; and much more is this the case when one has retired into the country. For, then, the recollection steals over you, "How many days have I wasted, and in what dreary pursuits!" This is what happens to me as soon as I am in my house at Laurentum, and am reading or writing, or even merely looking after my bodily health, that stay on which the mind reposes. I hear nothing, I say nothing, which one need be ashamed of hearing or saying. No one about me gossips ill-naturedly of anyone else, and I for my part censure no one, except myself, however, when my writings are not up to mark. I am troubled by no hopes and no fears, disquieted by no rumours: I converse with myself only and with my books. What a true and genuine life, what a sweet and honest repose, one might almost say, more attractive than occupation of any kind. Oh, sea and shore, veritable secret haunt of the Muses, how many thoughts do you suggest to the imagination and dictate to the pen! In the same way do you too, my friend, at first opportunity, turn your back upon all that bustle, and idle hurry-scurry, and utterly inane drudgery, and give yourself up to study or even to repose. It is better--as friend Atillius says, with as much wisdom as wit--to have nothing to do than to do nothing. (Pliny, Letters, 1.9, translation from Lewis, 12-13)

Plan of Pliny's Laurentum Villa ( Radice, 305)
I find myself agreeing very much with this wisdom of Pliny. During the course of a busy day at work, I spend many hours perusing maintenance manuals, fixing problems on helicopters, signing my name and filling out the endless stream of paperwork which flows from aircraft maintenance.  But sitting down, reading this letter, pondering the days work, I find myself thinking similar things as Pliny did 1,900 years ago; "How many days have I wasted, and in what dreary pursuits!" Pliny wrote this while he was at his villa in Laurentum, an area between the coastal city of Ostia and Rome. In another famous letter to a friend named Gallus, Pliny described in lengthy detail his villa from which he wrote the above letter to his friend in Rome. His description is so detailed that plans and models have been made using the information he provided (see pictures). I can relate very much with Pliny in his love of pen and book, but unfortunately I cannot relate with the vast comforts of his Laurentine accommodations! One of my favorite areas of the house; "Round the corner is a room built round in an apse to let in the sun as it moves round and shines in each window in turn, and with one wall fitted with shelves like a library to hold the books which I read again and again" (this is area "H" on the map at left) (Pliny, Letters, 2.17, translation from Radice, 76). Reading these thoughts from Pliny reminds me to not waste the valuable time which has been given me on this earth. I may not have a lush country villa like Pliny, or have the luxury of doing nothing but reading and writing (which I love), but I cannot get lost in the bustle of life and let "life" pass me by. I think now upon the admonition of Paul, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil" ( Ephesians 5:15-16, ESV)!

Lewis, John Delaware, trans. The Letters of the Younger Pliny. London, England: Kegan Paul, Trench, Troubner, & Co. LTD, 1890.

Radice, Betty, trans. The Letters of the Younger Pliny. London, England: Penguin Books, 1969.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Antoninus and Isaac the Good Samaritans

Though not a picture of the papyrus letter from Isidorus, this picture is representative of the thousands of papyrus documents preserved from antiquity (Wikimedia Commons). For a picture of the actual papyrus see (
Here is an interesting papyrus document dating to June 6, 324 AD. Papyrus P.Col. 7 171
To Dioskoros Caeso, praepositus of the 5th pagus, from Isidoros son of Ptolemaios, from the village of Karanis in your pagus. The cattle of Pamounis and Harpalos damaged the planting which I have and, what is more, [their cow] grazed in the same place so thoroughly that my husbandry has become useless. I caught the cow and was leading it up to the village when they met me in the fields with a big club, threw me to the ground, rained blows upon me and took away the cow--as indeed the (marks of) the blows all over me show--and if I had not chanced to obtain help from the deacon Antoninus and the monk Isaac, who happened by, they would probably have finished me off completely. Therefore I submit this document, asking that they be brought before you to preserve my claim (to be heard) in the prefectural court both in the matter of the planting and in the matter of the assault. In the year of the consuls-to-be for the fourth time, Pauni 12.1
There are several interesting items of note here. First, the mention of Antoninus holding the church office of deacon, and the explicit mention of Isaac being a monk. The second item of interest is that, according to the last sentence, this was not to the first time Isidoros complained of this incident. He wrote at the bottom, "In the year of the consuls-to-be for the fourth time." The judicial processes must have been agonizingly slow in this time period. Most likely due to a complicated bureaucratic process. And lastly, it appears that the authorities would be familiar with the ecclesiastical terms deacon and monk, so much so that their titles could be supplied without explanation.2 This familiarity may be due to the recent ascension of Constantine the Great as Roman Emperor, and his edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians which had happened only a few years earlier. I think it also interesting that the council of Nicaea was to take place the following year (325). The research team at Macquarie University note that this is the earliest mention of a monk in the papyri.3
This is a very interesting document for me because I think (perhaps speculatively) that these Christians, probably from some local monastery, look as if they were held in high esteem by the community. Isidorus was quick to mention them by name, perhaps because the Roman official would recognize them by name? (probably not though) Most likely they would be asked to testify and their witness would be highly regarded. I find it also fascinating that these churchmen were quick to administer aid to Isidoros in a way striking similar to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. I can almost picture these two men, maybe clad in monkish robes (?), happening upon Isidoros' in the process of being beaten by the ruffians. (Now for the imagination to run wild) I am sure the parable of the Good Samaritan and the words of Jesus quickly flashed through their minds as they sprang to Isidoros' aid! Little did they know that their names, and their heroic actions, would be preserved 1,700 years later! It brings into focus the reality of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15,
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (ESV)

It is my belief that all of our deeds will be brought to account before God. Perhaps not miraculously preserved on fragile papyrus as Antoninus and Isaac's deed was, but forever in heaven until they are to be judged! Wow, this encourages me to think more seriously on my actions here on this earth, who knows how long they will be preserved for posterity, and they will ultimately be brought before God!


1.  Emphasis mine, translation text taken from (
2. "II Civil Documents Using Ecclesiastical Terms." Papyri from the Rise of Christianity in Egypt. Macquarie University, 2005 (

3. Ibid.

Monday, January 30, 2012

σωζω as "spiritual profit" in James 2:14

Many words in our modern English language are loaded with cultural baggage. There are catch phrases, cliches, swear words and one liners from movies and commercials which carry more meaning and cultural punch than would first appear on the surface. Perhaps this can be said with any language and cultural context. The Christian cultural environment is no different in its use of cliches, and catch phrases. Though innocent enough on the surface, statements like, salvation, sanctification, works, grace, faith, and judgment are packed full of meaning and loaded with significance to most any Christian conversant in the rudiments of theology. This is simply a characteristic of how language works. If we did not know and understand the basic meanings connected with phrases, words and sentences, we would not be able to communicate with each other at all. But this basic tenant of language can have its drawbacks as well. As an experiment, walk into a Church and ask a dozen people or so what the word "salvation" means to them. I am sure there wοuld be many varied responses, but most likely all the answers would have a basic meaning stitching them all together, this is referred to as a word's "semantic range." Due to this fact of language, it is very common for us as readers, to bring meaning into a context that was not intended by the writer. The same can be true even during a conversation, and is often the cause of arguments and disagreements, especially between married couples. This is why it is necessary to become a good listener and pay careful attention to the context of what is being said or written. The same is true when reading and interpreting the Bible, except the difficulties compound due to the age of the writings, and the fact that it was written in another language and culture.

Salvation [σωτηρια]

To illustrate this point, I would like to look at a Greek word used in the New Testament to refer to "salvation;" σωτηρια. When hearing this word, I think of verses like John 4:22, "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation [σωτηρια] is from the Jews" (ESV), or Romans 1:16, " For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation [σωτηρια] to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (ESV). But σωτηρια has a far broader semantic range than merely salvation from hell or salvation from some type of danger. It can also take the simple meaning of "doing well," or, "to be healthy." Luke, the author of Acts, used σωτηρια in this way when describing Paul's shipwreck. Paul spoke to his fellow passengers; "Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength [σωτηρια], for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you” (Acts 17:34, ESV). Many used σωτηρια to refer to ones health in a general fashion in Roman antiquity. The papyri, which are original documents preserved on papyri, give a picture of how language was used in antiquity, within the context of every day life. So, the papyri can shed valuable light on the language of the New Testament. Consider this personal letter, dating to the second century, concerning a Roman soldier stationed in Italy, corresponding with his father living in the Fayum in Egypt;
Apion to Epimachus his father and lord heartiest greetings. First of all I pray that you are in health and continually prosper and fare well with my sister and her daughter and my brother. I thank the lord Serapis that when I was in danger at sea he saved [σωζω] me. Straightway when I entered Misenum I received my traveling money from Caesar, three gold pieces. And I am well. I beg you therefore, my lord father, write me a few lines, first regarding your health [σωτηρια], secondly regarding that of my brother and sister, thirdly that I may kiss your hand, because you have brought me up well, and on this account I hope to be quickly promoted, if the gods will. Give many greetings to Capito, and to my brother and sister, and to Serenilla, and my friends. I send you a little portrait of myself at the hands of Euctemon. And my (military) name is Antonius Maximus, I pray for your good health. (Milligan, 90-92)
It can be clearly seen from this letter that σωτηρια was meant to convey the meaning of health. Or perhaps Apion was inquiring more generally to his fathers well being. Either way, the Christian theological term "salvation" and all of its baggage does not factor into the author's use of the word here. The same can be said concerning Paul's use of σωτηρια, to refer to his passengers well being in Acts 27:34 above.

To be Saved [σωζω]  

Closely tied to the word σωτηρια in meaning and usage is its verbal counterpart σωζω. This verb is used many times in the New Testament to refer to "being saved" from sin and hell. I think of John 3:17, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved [σωζω] through him" (ESV). Another verse which conveys the same meaning is Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace you have been saved [σωζω] through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (ESV). But just like its noun counter part, σωζω also carries the meaning of "health" or "well being." Consider the woman with an ulcer whom Jesus healed,
And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well [σωζω].” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well [σωζω]. (Matthew 9:20-22, ESV). 
Also consider this curious usage by John, when referring to Lazarus waking from sleep, "The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover [σωζω]” (John 11:12, ESV). Once again, just as in the examples given above for σωτηρια, the verb σωζω can also carry the general meaning of health, well being or, as in the case of Lazarus, even wakeful normality.

σωζω as "spiritual profit" in James 2:14

How does one know which meaning was intended by the author? The context is the driving factor, it narrows the semantic range down to the specific idea which the author wished to convey. The importance of understanding context can clearly be seen in the theologically loaded second chapter of the letter of James. Much of the reason James chapter two is so controversial is the connection between faith and works in 2:14, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save [σωζω] him?" (ESV). At first glance, the Christian tendency is to read the phrase "Can that faith save him" as giving a quality to the faith involved within salvation (Zuck, 425-427). In other words, a faith that does not have works does not save (Zuck, 427). Many theologians over the centuries have viewed this verse as very problematic, when compared to verses like Ephesians 2:8-9 which strictly separate faith and works in their involvement in salvation. Because of this tension Martin Luther referred to James as "a right strawy epistle" (MacDonald, 2215). However, this meaning only comes into view in James 2:14 because of the theological loaded word "saved" [σωζω] used in connection with faith. But is this James' intended meaning here? I do not think so. A quick comparison with the previous phrase in the same verse gives a clue as to what I think is going on here. James begins the verse "what good is it?" I think he is talking about the "usefulness" of having a faith that does nothing. A look at the whole of chapter two reveals that practical outpouring of works is what is in view here, not eternal salvation from hell. James uses this same phrase "what good is it?" in 2:16, "and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" (emphasis mine, ESV). The other meaning of "health" or "well being" for σωζω, could be James' intended use of the word in this context. If this is the case then James 2:14 would read something like this; ""What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith spiritually profit him?" I do not mean spiritual profit in the way of salvation from hell, but in the way of practical out pouring of works. This meaning fits well with the context of works and faith in James chapter two and falls within the semantic range of the verb σωζω. Of course this would remove any tension between faith and works in salvation, and the qualification of faith with works. Perhaps Martin Luther would have looked at this letter differently?

Bauer, Walter, Fredrick William Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

MacDonald, William. Believer's Bible Commentary. Edited by Art Farstad. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995.

Milligan, George. Selections from the Greek Papyri. Cambridge: University Press, 1912.

Zuck, Roy B. A Biblical Theology of the New Testament. electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1994.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: The Everychurch Guide to Growth.

This book review is one which I submitted as part of a church growth class for my masters degree. It was the first time I had ever been exposed to church growth concepts. I found it very interesting because I could see where many churches in my area had moved in this direction and had resulted in large numerical growth. However, are these principles really biblical, or simply business models adapted for the church? Personally I am not sure yet. I also wanted to post this review because of the comments that I made about church leadership towards the end of the review. I am not really sure where I was going with these comments and I am not sure where I stand now, because I no longer attend the elder lead church I discuss below. I would love to hear of experiences others may have had with church growth principles as set forth in books like these.

Towns, Elmer, C. Peter Wagner and Thom S. Rainer. The Everychurch Guide to Growth: How Any Plateaued Church Can Grow. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.

I grew up attending smaller churches of less than 100 people and numerical growth was a subject that came up often, though mostly at Church meetings where finances were being voted upon. Money issues definitely plagued the smaller churches I attended, they struggled to pay the often times very low salary of their over worked pastor. Not to mention the overhead and maintenance costs of aging church buildings and facilities. But money problems are usually only a surface symptom of a deeper issue that is inhibiting spiritual and numerical growth. This book, The Everychurch Guide to Growth, attempts to give solutions and practical advice to possible growth problems.

The first motivator for a reader to pick this book off of the shelf is the fact that all three authors have the experience and credentials to speak authoritatively on the subject of church growth. Elmer Towns is a prolific author and seminary professor, as well as a lecturer and a respected scholar on church growth. C. Peter Wagner is a writer and noted authority on the church growth movement, and is a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Thom S. Rainer is a noted author and scholar on evangelism and church growth and is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.
Though this work is short, only 188 pages of text, it covers a lot of ground in the area of church growth and practical direction. The book is divided into three sections discussing barriers to growth in small (200 people), medium (400 people) and large (1,000 people) churches. Each of these sections are taken up by a different author, Wagner deals with the small church, Rainer with the medium, and Towns with the larger churches. 

Some of the most immediately practical advice can be found in the introductory discussion at the beginning of the book. It is here that several factors, which could inhibit growth, are given under the heading of “A Sick Body Will Not Grow”1 which lists five “diseases” that could be the cause of stagnated development.
These five diseases are; “ethnikitis,” which is “an allegiance of the church to one ethnic group;”2 “ghost town disease,”3 meaning a church that does not grow because of a local depleting population; “people blindness,”4 referring to an inability to see needs within the body or in the community; “koinonitis,”5 this is an over emphasis on internal church fellowship; “sociological strangulation,”6 which refers to the building facilities not being large enough for numerical growth; “arrested spiritual development,”7 which is a lack of internal spiritual growth; and “hypopneumia,” a “subnormal level of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”8 This introduction is definitely the strong point of the book. If one were only able to read a few pages, due to time constraints, much of the benefits would be gleaned from reading only the first 20 pages.
If a reader had a few extra minutes to glean more from the book, flipping to chapter eight would be the next best thing. Here one could read about a very interesting discussion on the “cell” church in part three. Despite the discussion being in the context of breaking the “1,000” person barrier, it appears that the concept of the church being several “cells” is applicable even to those churches that would be labeled small. This is exactly what Towns does in his description of the cell;

A small single cell church probably has an average attendance of 87 worshipers (87 is a statistical average of a wide variety of churches representing different denominations, theological convictions, worship styles, and regional areas of the United States). The single cell church resembles a large, overgrown family. As a matter of fact, the single cell church is often called the family church or the typical American church.9

This idea of the church being a “cell” in the fashion of a living organism, is a very practical understanding of the church. It is here that universal application of some general techniques of growth can be readily understood and applied. Several bulleted lists and tables are given, filled with ways in which programs or activities can be undertaken to immediately move a church in the direction of growth. These are very practical and down to earth and can be summed up in Towns' own words;

Just as a human body grows by the division of cells (and remains healthy by the addition of cells), in the same way the local church body will grow by adding cells. Don't think of adding people to a church of 100 – think of adding new ministries, new classes, and new programs of outreach.10

The introduction and chapter eight together total around 40 pages of text, these appear to be the strongest and most practical areas of the book. The rest is not as promising and there are several points of critique which can be brought to light.
The repetitive nature of the content can be a detraction from those who want a more detailed discussion and overview. As was mentioned above, much of part one and two repeats the introductory comments on “diseases” of church growth. Though, some readers may find that repeating the material helps them retain the information for later use. 

Most of the directions and tips concerning the type and quality of leadership can better be learned and understood in other more in-depth books dealing specifically with the subject of biblical leadership. the information which given on the topic of leadership is itself very repetitive in nature, which appears to be the designed approach of the book. Though each section touches on the challenges of leadership in some form, the only chapter that focuses specifically on Godly leadership is chapter nine, and this in the context of breaking the 1,000 person barrier. This really should be more of an in depth study, considering that the authors consistently point to the pastor and leadership as the main problem of failing to break church growth barriers.

The final, and arguably the most detracting characteristic of the book, is the emphasis on the pastor-teacher style of leadership. This is by no means the only way a congregation can be lead. There are many successful churches which are shepherded by an unpaid, non professional group of elders. Many of these churches are very large and have exceeded the 300 and even 400 person mark. I personally attended a church such as this, which fluctuated every Sunday from 200 to 250 people and was lead by a group of elders and deacons. Each of the elders shared the position of leadership and none had the “final word” on the direction or vision of the church. Consider this statement at the beginning of chapter nine;

The one key ingredient to breaking the 1,000 barrier is the pastor-leader. The pastor must be an executive leader with skills not evident or required to break the tow previous barriers (emphasis mine).11

This statement shows the bias that is presented towards the pastor-teacher style of leadership which is prevalent in churches today. If the methods of church growth given in The Everychurch Guide to Growth only work with a pastor-teacher style of leadership, then one must question the biblical soundness of the methods given.

In conclusion, this book has many things going for it, especially if one wishes to have an introduction to the topic of growth. But the book is so repetitive that the information could easily be condensed to a booklet of 80 pages or so. Also, better books are out there that deal with the subject of biblical leadership which could be consulted. Perhaps a better approach would be to give more real life examples of these methods implemented in actual churches and discuss how they have worked. Overall, this is a good introduction to church growth and is a great book to keep in ones library for quick and easy reference on the topic of growth.

1. Elmer Towns, C. Peter Wagner and Thom S. Rainer, The Everychurch Guide to Growth (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 10.
2. Ibid., 11.
3. Ibid., 12.
4. Ibid., 13.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., 14.
7. Ibid., 15.
8. Ibid., 17.
9. Towns, 151-152.
10. Ibid., 153
11. Towns, 169.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Smoothing The Ride!

Working on an airplane is not so different from working on a car. Just like any other machine, there are a vast array of moving parts and systems which work together to perform a specified goal. In some ways, though, aircraft are much simpler than a comparable sized car. Thus an airplane can be easier for the aircraft mechanic to work on, when compared with the complex systems of the modern passenger vehicle that the car mechanic is required to deal with during maintenance. Much of this difference in complexity is due to differences in purpose. The purpose of a car is to provide transportation in a comfortable and economic way (though economy is not a factor with some types of cars). An aircraft on the other hand, needs to be, above all else, as light as possible. Thus the simple comfort and luxury in most passenger cars is found stripped out of an airplane due to weight needs. Though basic items, such as cushioned seats and insulation can be found in even the simplest of aircraft, the comfort of a flight mostly depends on how well the aircraft flies through the air. And for a helicopter, (which is the particular type of airplane I work on) this can become quite an involved task.
AS350 B2
I work on a smaller sized, French made Eurocopter AS350 B2 and B3 helicopter, which is used by rescue, police, military and many other commercial, government and civilian organizations, all over the world. For those of you who might be a little unfamiliar with helicopters, let me explain briefly, how this model of helicopter basically works. The AS350 uses a three bladed main rotor head system with a two bladed tail rotor. A small turbine engine turns a drive shaft which is connected to both the main rotor and the tail rotor through two separate transmission systems. As the engine turns it spins the main rotor head, with the three blades, which are like three small wings. As the rotor system spins faster, the blades create more lift and the helicopter can then raise off the ground. The pilot uses the control sticks in the cockpit to input small changes in the angles of the blades as they are turning (referred to as "angle of attack"). This allows the pilot to control forward, up and down and even backward and side to side movements...its almost like riding on a flying carpet! So what does the tail rotor do, you might ask? Well the the tail rotor blades are also like little wings that create lift. Except they push and pull on the tail boom of the helicopter in a lateral side to side motion. This enables pilots, through foot pedal inputs, to point the nose of the helicopter in any direction required. The tail rotor blade also keeps the helicopter from spinning in a circle when it leaves contact with the ground, it counteracts the twisting torque of the main rotor blades spinning overhead...remember Newton's third law.

A Balancing Act!

Add plate weights to balance the main rotor head
This spinning mass of metal and composites creates quite the wind storm. The rotor head resembles a giant wheel spinning on its side right on top of the helicopter and requires balancing, just like the wheels on a car. This balancing is accomplished by adding, or removing, small weighted plates to the inside bottom of each blade. But balancing is not the only adjustments that need to be made by the mechanic for the rotor head to operate efficiently. The main rotor blades also have to be "told" where to fly. Yes, I did say the pilot controls this from the cockpit, but it is a little more complicated than that. Remember that time your mini-van pulled hard to the right and seemed to have a mind of its own? The only way to fix the problem was to take it in for an alignment. Because the wheel alignment drifted due to hitting pot holes and and other types of wear, it made for an uncomfortable, and sometimes uncontrollable, ride. These small variations in wheel alignment caused the wheels to move out of the intended path which the driver inputted through the steering wheel.The same is true of the main rotor blades. Each one is like a small wing that has to be set a certain way for it to fly correctly. Even the smallest variation in blade flight path can cause a very uncomfortable (and damaging) vertical vibration. Very similar to the way in which an out of balance wheel can make for a rough ride. This vibration can be corrected by making small adjustments to the angle of the blades as they sit on the rotor head. While the helicopter is in the hanger before it makes its first flight, the initial blade angle is set at 7 degrees using a standard rigging tool. This is adjust by the pitch control links, which are metal rods that connect the swashplate to each individual blade. No a swashplate is not some kind of weird dinner plate, it is a simple system which connects the spinning rotor head with the stationary controls that are inside the helicopter, which allow the pilot to control the aircraft. Once this initial blade angle set up is done, then its flying time!

Pitch Control Links and side view of the swashplate
So Whats The Angle?

Now that the helicopter is flying, this is where things get a little touchy! Even though the blades have an angle set on the ground, before even leaving the hanger, the blades can take on a mind of their own when the helicopter starts flying forward. Each of these blades are hand made out of composite materials, fiberglass, resin, metal, and graphite. Because each blade is hand made and completely original, they each fly in their own unique ways. This individuality reveals itself pretty quickly after reaching cruising speed (around 100-120 knots), this is when it starts to get bumpy. The only way to get these unruly blades to fly right is to adjust their individual tabs on the trailing edge of each blade. These tabs are like tiny ailerons which control the particular angle ("angle of attack") that each blade flies. Using a special tool the mechanic can make small bends to these tabs. If the tab is bent up, the blade flies higher, if the tab is bent down the blade flies lower. The closer the blades fly to each other, the smoother the ride. The best way to explain this phenomenon is to imagine having a three legged race with someone who has a shorter leg. This would cause for a bumpy race each time the shorter leg is stepped on and used to propel the racers forward. The same is true of a blade that is not flying in the same circular path as the other blades. Thus, the closer the blades fly to each other, the smoother the ride. Simple right! Not so fast. There is one more problem the mechanic has to deal with, turbulence. Remember when you last went fishing on the lake, and those pesky motor boats kept speeding by and made such a large wake that you left in disgust? As the boat raced through the water, it created waves that reached out behind the boat as it traveled forward in the water. Well the same is true for each of these blades. As the blade passes through the air (remember it is a fluid) it creates its own wake in the air that disturbs the smooth ride of the blade right behind it in the rotor path. So you have to be careful not let the blades fly too close or the ride will get bumpy again. This final act of adjustment can be quite the feat and is a combination of art and science. After you master this, you got it! The helicopter is flying smooth and efficient!
Blade tab adjustment tool
The small aileron like blade tabs. But only bend the two inboard ones, the other four are set at the factory.
Bend the tab up, the blade flies higher. Bend the tab down, the blade flies lower.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Plato: Philosopher, Christian and a Gnostic!(?)

An ancient bust of Plato
located in the Vatican
If there is any figure in history that immediately invokes the images of libraries, scribes hunched over parchment, or bearded scholars intensely debating over points of logic, it is Plato. For many years my knowledge of this genius of philosophy was limited to what marble busts with features glaring blankly into space could reveal about him, which was only that he had a cool beard and looked smart. During high school readings on history his name would surface even amongst the lightest of descriptions of ancient Greek culture and its impact on history. My first real encounter with Plato and his ideas was after I had found a copy of his Apologia and Crito in Greek in a local used bookstore. Though I did not know enough Greek at the time to read this book in the original language, the introduction was very informative, setting forth the Socratic method of διαλεκτική, or dialectic. I was able to work through an english translation of Crito, a classic example of this style of dialogue between Socrates and his friend Crito. I could not help but be fascinated by the simplicity and rigor of this method of inquiry. Wanting to read more, Plato's Republic was next on the reading list (I don't really have a reading list). While jotting down notes in the margins, the dialogue quickly pulled me into the world of ancient Greece. Discussions about God were particularly enjoyable for me. One in particular, between Socrates and Adeimantus I found to be intriguing. They are discussing the ideal utopian State, in which Socrates argues that poets should only be allowed to write tales of virtue about God for the children to follow in example. Here is a small slice of this dialogue, Socrates is narrating; 
Very true, he said, but what are these forms of theology which you mean? Something of this kind, I replied: God is always to be represented as he truly is, whatever be the sort of poetry, epic, lyric, or tragic, in which the representation is given.
And is he not truly good? and must he not be represented as such? [Socrates is referring to God here]
And no good thing is hurtful?
No, indeed.
And that which is not hurtful hurts not?
Certainly not.
And that which hurts not does no evil?
And can that which does no evil be a cause of evil?
And the good is advantageous?
And therefore the cause of well being?
It follows therefore that the good is not the cause of all things, but of the good only?
Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men. For few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the causes are to be sought elsewhere and not in him. (Plato, Republic, Book II)
I know this was a lengthy quote, but it is an interesting one to show how Socrates uses the questions and responses in order to build up to a conclusion. His conclusions about God are interesting here, especially when compared with Christian theology. Compare Socrates' last paragraph above with James 1:17 "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow" (NASB), some striking similarities there. But wait there's more! A little further on in the Republic, Plato attributes to Socrates this conclusion about God, "Then it is impossible that God should ever be willing to change being, as is supposed, the fairest and best that is conceivable, every God remains absolutely and forever in his own form" (Book II). So here, in a roundabout way Plato (through the voice of Socrates) is saying that God is only good and that he doesn't change. Wow, definitely some common ground with Christian theology. But apparently I am not the only one to think so. The early second century Church apologist, Justin Martyr (died ca. 165 AD), thought the same thing. Before his conversion to Christianity, Justin was a wandering philosopher sage, until he met a Christian who witnessed to him and taught him the way of salvation. Justin, having extensive schooling in philosophy, understood and saw the many striking similarities between some of Plato and Socrates' understanding about God, and the immortality of the soul, (as well as other things) with Christian theology. It was with these similarities in mind that Justin responded to the Roman societies' dislike, and critic of Christianity. He argued in a round about way that Plato and Socrates had received this truth from Christ, the "logos," who is the giver of all truth, and thus in way, they were...Christians(!). A little strange for our 21st century ears, but it made sense to Justin, and it inevitably made sense to many of the ancient Church Fathers who were influenced heavily by various Platonist ideas....can someone say Origen!
But there were others in the ancient world who took a dislike to philosophy and Christianity touching shoulders so closely. It was just such a reaction that Tertullian (a Church figure from Carthage in north Africa, ca. 160-225 AD) expressed when he penned the now famous quote; "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? What does the Academy have to do with the Church?" (Prescriptions Against Heresies, 1.7). In this quote, Tertullian is showing how influential Plato really was in his day. Plato was from the Greek city of Athens, and the Academy was founded by Plato in Athens to teach his brand of philosophy.
The Nag Hammadi Gnostic Writings
Christian theologians were not the only religious thinkers to take a liking to Plato. A group, or religious sect that gained many converts during the Roman period and even a little after was Gnosticism. What it was (or is) exactly is hard to describe, and many scholars debate this fact. But essentially it was a melding of Platonic thinking and Christianity, and in some places, with Judaism. The Gnostics usually followed the notion that a person was "saved" by leaving the material world through some secret knowledge; γνῶσις means knowledge in Greek and is were the term Gnostic is derived. One aspect of Gnosticism was that there were many different lesser demigods which were responsible for creating all the evil in the world, which was essentially all material things. If you think back to the quote from the Republic above, you can see where this idea of demigods could spring board off of Plato's ideas about God. Strangely enough, in the mid 1940s a large hoard of buried Gnostic writings were found preserved in an ancient jar dating from the 3rd or 4th century AD. Amongst this collection of writings was a fragmented portion of Plato's Republic! The fact that Plato's Republic was included amongst other important Gnostic writings reveals just how influential Plato was on Gnostic thinking.
What can we learn from this example of Plato? Whether we like it or not, we are deeply indebted to past thinkers, much of what we know is based on, or built on the discoveries and knowledge of the past. This can be a blessing, and a curse. It can be a blessing, because we only have a short time in this world, and we cannot know everything, we have to work together. It can be a curse because it can set a precedent of thinking, a cultural paradigm in which we find ourselves and do not even realize we are being influenced by the past. Tertullian saw this danger, and the wide range of Gnostic melding of philosophy and Christianity shows how far this can go.
I have this example of Plato in the back of my mind each time I sit down and read my Bible, "How much of what I think about God is influenced in a negative way by some outside source, mindset or paradigm?" I want to make sure that my theology is taken from the word of God, and thus accurate. Philosophy can be a tool to better understand God, but I should be very careful not to force the Bible into a philosophical system.

I meant to reference my sources, I will add that here;

Gonzales, Justo L.. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day. 2 Vols. Peabody: Prince Press, 2006, 1:53-56.

Plato. The Apology and Crito. Edited by Isaac Flagg. American Book Company, 1907.

____. Plato, Six Great Dialogues: Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Symposium, and the Republic. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2007.

Robinson, James M., ed. The Nag Hammadi Library in English. Revised edition. New York: HarperCollins Paperback, 1990.