The Gospel Coalition

Holy Week is the week before Easter, a period which includes the religious holidays of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Here's what you should know about the days that commemorate the Passion of Christ:

1. Holy Week observances likely began in Jerusalem in the earliest days of the church, though the term first appears in the writings of fourth century bishops, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, and Epiphanius, bishop of Constantia. Holy week does not include Easter Sunday.

2. The first recording of a Holy Week observance was made by Egeria, a Gallic woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 381-384. In an account of her travels she wrote for a group of women back in Spain, Egeria describes the Palm Sunday she observed in Jerusalem:
. . . all the children who are [gathered at the top of the Mount of Olives], including those who are not yet able to walk because they are too young and therefore are carried on their parents' shoulders, all of them bear branches, some carrying palms, others, olive branches. And the bishop is led in the same manner as the Lord once was led.

3. Because of the difficulty in some parts of the world of procuring palms for Palm Sunday, leaves from yew, willow, olive, or other native trees are frequently used. The Sunday was often designated by the names of these trees, as Yew Sunday, or by the general term Branch Sunday.

4. An archaic and infrequently used name for the Wednesday before Easter is "Spy Wednesday", named for Judas' becoming a spy for the Sanhedrin.

5. Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday. The term "Maundy" is derived from the Latin word mandatum (commandment). The term refers to the commandment given by Jesus at the Last Supper: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." (John 13:34)

6. The historical origins of the "Good" in Good Friday remain unclear, though some entomologists believe the term "good" is an archaic form of "holy."

7. In Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, Holy Saturday commemorates the "harrowing of hell," the time between his Crucifixion and his Resurrection when Christ is believed to have descended into hell. Some Protestants, however, don't believe that Scripture warrants believing the claim, found in the Apostle's creed, that "[Christ] descended into hell." As John Piper says, "there is no textual basis for believing that Christ descended into hell."

8. In Medieval Europe, Christians would abstain from eating eggs and meat during Lent. Eggs laid during that time were often boiled to preserve them and were given as Easter gifts to children and servants. Some traditions claim the Easter egg is symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus, with the shell of the egg representing the sealed Tomb and cracking the shell representing the Resurrection. Christians in the Middle East and in Greece painted eggs bright red to symbolize the blood of Christ.

9. The Christian scholar Bede (673-735 AD, aka, the Venerable Bede) claimed in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre, a pagan goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Later scholars, however, claim that the term derives from the Anglo-Saxon word "oster", meaning "to rise" or for their term for the Spring equinox, "Eostre."


Comments:

Passion Points | Three Passions

March 30, 2013 at 12:36 PM

[...] 9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week – Joe Carter (via Gospel Coalition) Holy Week is the week before Easter, a period which includes the religious holidays of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Here’s what you should know about the days that commemorate the Passion of Christ… [...]

John Loveland

March 30, 2013 at 11:24 AM

Come on, let's be intellectually honest. The New Testament authors all use the Septuagint, which is not based on the Masoretic text, and contained the Deutero-Canon. In fact, the Council of Jamnia rejected the Septuagint which had guided their fathers throughout the second temple period. One reason of which was the preference for Hebrew and in order to be distinguished from the Church of the Apostles. Incidentally, this is the same reason you reject it.

I'm not saying Christ and Paul explicitly define the canon of Holy Scripture. I'm merely saying that if the LXX is good enough for them, I too will accept it. If it's good enough for the Nicene Fathers, it's good enough for me.

Even if you made the argument that the entire church in the West was corrupted, (the reformation stopped at the EOC border) the Protestants accepted the Nicene canon, but decided to rip out the deutero-canon.

What arrogance gives one the idea to start ripping books out of scripture based on what they feel in their heart? Does this come from God? Is this the Progressive Dispensation of God, to reveal the wrong canon at Nicea, in order to lead the church astray?

John Carpenter

March 29, 2013 at 10:43 AM

That's called "synergism", often tied up with semi-Peliagianism or full-blown Pelagianism. It's false doctrine.

In the scripture you cite, we're only able to work if given the grace to do so.

Clayton

March 29, 2013 at 10:21 AM

John,

In what sense do you believe the apostles "gave" us the NT? There still had to be a process of determining which writings of the apostles to include in Scripture since the Scriptures themselves don't contain a list. We know there was at least one writing by an apostles that was not included in the canon of Scripture - Paul's epistle to the Church in Laodicea (Col. 4:16)? Do you believe the apostles made a list of writings to include in the NT canon? If so there doesn't appear to be any evidence whatsoever that the early Church was aware of such a list since there were disagreements for centuries about which writings were properly Scripture. I'm honestly curious what your position is, because I don't believe I've ever heard anyone say that the Church was not involved in determining the canon of Scripture and I don't really understand how someone who claims to be a church historian could hold to that position.

Clayton

March 29, 2013 at 09:59 AM

"Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but now much more in my absense, work out your own salvatin with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure". Of course grace is a gift from God, but this does not mean that our will and our actions should not work in cooperation with grace. Our cooperation does affect the level to which we experience God's grace.

John Carpenter

March 29, 2013 at 09:05 AM

One of the complaints about the Catholic church during the Reformation was the prominence of holy days.

There is no evidence that the early church gathered annually on Easter. I've cited Paul on the subject. Christmas is so minor in the consciousnesses of the Apostles that two of the Gospel writers don't mention the birth of Jesus at all and there is not a hint of it in the letters.

Further, you appear to suffer from some doctrinal confusion (probably brought on by sacramentalism). You write, " grace is especially active . . ." Grace, by definition, is a gift of God and so not brought on by anything we do, or it would not be grace.

John Carpenter

March 29, 2013 at 09:00 AM

Hi,

In 1 Corinthians 11-14, the Apostle Paul deals with various questions about conduct during the assembly of the church. It's certainly a "primary source" and it appears to describe a very informal type of gathering with no real structured "liturgy". For example, "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (12:7.) In chapter 14, he describes an assembly in which various people stand and say or sing as they feel best.

There isn't a "dearth of evidence." There is just no evidence for what some people want to find.

The Didache gives succinct but detailed instructions for baptism that are impractical if infants were involved (such as instructions for fasting). The reason there is no explicit prohibition against baptizing infants is the same reason there was no prohibition against using power-point: no one was yet thinking of doing that.

The secrecy you mention has to do with doctrines, not practice. The pagans misunderstood Christian worship because it involved no images and thus they sometimes thought Christians were atheists. I don't believe there was any intentional secrecy around Christian doctrines or practice. Origen was a heretic and himself very confused.

John Carpenter

March 29, 2013 at 08:47 AM

Jesus and Paul never approved of the "deutero-canon". That's simply a false claim. The Lord Jesus gives us the Bible, not any council.

John Carpenter

March 29, 2013 at 08:46 AM

It was determined which writings were authoritative by the Lord Jesus Himself. He approved of all the Old Testament (but not the apocrypha) and appointed the apostles who gave us the NT. The church did not give us the Bible. The Lord did.

[...] “9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week” – Joe Carter [...]

[...] (All credits go to TheGospelCoalition.org) [...]

[...] Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition provides an historical perspective in 9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week. [...]

[...] Eggs – I didn’t know the background on this tradition till a friend sent me this Gospel Coalition article:  “In Medieval Europe, Christians would abstain from eating eggs and meat during Lent. Eggs [...]

On Remembrance | TransformingWords

March 28, 2013 at 12:02 AM

[...] week is Holy Week. Today is Maundy Thursday, from the Latin for “mandatum” (commandment), for when Christ gave us a new command: “A new [...]

Jay Harvey

March 28, 2013 at 11:34 AM

Headed to a Maundy Thursday service myself, but there is no historical evidence that Holy Week days are present in the "earliest days" of the Jerusalem church. There is no reason to think we would lack such evidence if it existed.

[...] Creator on His Knees: Preparing for Maundy Thursday” by Tony Reinke; and (2) “9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week” by Joe [...]

Sensible

March 28, 2013 at 04:07 PM

"The Pope also eats pancakes for breakfast."

Exactly. Enough said. :)

Sensible

March 28, 2013 at 04:01 PM

From what I can tell with this Calvin-quote, it seems that his desire to observe Christmas may have been more a matter of keeping peace with the community ("politics" as usual I suppose) than of any personal regard for Christian liberty.

MichaelA

March 27, 2013 at 01:40 AM

Thanks Joe. An interesting article, with some humour.

Does anyone know to what extent Holy Week is observed by Anglicans in the Global South, e.g. in Nigeria, or the Southern Cone?

Simon

March 26, 2013 at 12:47 AM

Yes, this! Exactly right. The Scriptures are part of the Apostolic Tradition.

John Loveland

March 26, 2013 at 11:47 AM

But is there anyone who actually believes there is a birth, life, death, and ressurection of Christ every year?

Clayton

March 26, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Tradition precedes the Scriptures. How do you think it was determined which writings were authoritative? Tradition! And you can't really separate the process of determining the canon of Scripture from the overall Tradition of Church of the first several centuries - the Church Tradition that included bishops, icons, liturgies, sacramental theology.

Brandon Morgan

March 26, 2013 at 10:20 AM

Missing from this entire discussion is any mention of the tender consciences of worshippers who are faced with the decision to either get with the program, worship somewhere else, or stay home.

John Loveland

March 26, 2013 at 10:02 AM

I can't think of any Christian group who thinks Holy Week is the essence of godliness. Do you think we make too much out of Easter, or Christmas? If so, how? I could hardly imagine someone saying, "Those Americans and their private devotion / regular church attendance. They just put far too much emphasis on religious holidays"

Rather, I would take a less minimalist approach to the subject. If our fathers gathered together on a certain day ever year to celebrate the Incarnation or the Lord's Pascha, why shouldn't we? And if we believe there is a royal priesthood of the believer, and we believe the grace of God is active and the world, and we believe the Lord is quick to here our prayer, we should also believe that grace is especially active when Christians all the world round gather together to celebrate a holy feast. Whether this grace comes from the day or from the church's prayerful expectation is irrelevant.

John Carpenter

March 26, 2013 at 08:10 AM

Yeah, you're right. There are no such scriptures for those holidays. But nor are there any prohibiting them, although there is a warning in Colossians about "holy days": "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath." (2:16). That warning cuts both ways, I guess, against those who think keeping them is the essence of godliness and those who judge others for keeping them. They are indifferent things. So we can keep them or not but even if we keep them, we can't make so much out of them.

John Carpenter

March 26, 2013 at 08:00 AM

I think we have to deal with the fact that most people consider "Catholic" to be a proper noun, signifying a particular church. We can point out that it began properly as a modifier, meaning "universal", but now to use it generally like that is just confusing.

John Carpenter

March 26, 2013 at 07:58 AM

Scriptures are the Word of God, given by the Lord Jesus through His prophets and apostles. In Matthew 15:6, the Lord Jesus clearly distinguishes scripture from tradition. To follow tradition when it contradicts the Word of God (scripture) is to make "void the Word of God"

John Carpenter

March 26, 2013 at 07:54 AM

I'm not doubting you or your sincerity but a rule of church history studies is simply not to accept any claim without a primary source reference. Below what you've shown is that Calvin merely used relevant passages from the NT about the "passion week", not that he had special services, etc.

John Carpenter

March 26, 2013 at 07:51 AM

Hi John,

The early church did not avoid writing down "anything about liturgical practice". It just appears, from 1 Cor. 11-14, that they had a very informal, unstructured "liturgy". In the early 2nd century, they wrote "The Didache" which is all about early church practice. In it we see, for example, that they were only baptizing believers, not infants and by immersion. We also see the beginning of formalization, (for example, in thinking that avoiding hypocrisy in fasting was a matter of doing it on different days of the week than the Pharisees).

As for church year holidays, they don't seem to appear substantially before the fourth century and therefore are not apostolic or from the ancient church. From the resurrection to Nicea (325) is almost three hundred years. That's a long time. Longer than the history of the USA. There's a lot of time for drift, decline, innovations, syncretism, etc., and given the tendency of people to think anything done before they were born is "ancient", people in the fourth century assuming "ancient" traditions is pretty meaningless for ascertaining if they really are derived from the apostles.

In short, there is no evidence that the apostolic church had a church calendar or Christmas or Easter, etc., holidays.

John Carpenter

March 26, 2013 at 07:37 AM

I meant the first century, apostolic church or the church of the "apostolic fathers". The late fourth century is when many of the errors started to become prominent (although not icons yet).

Personally, since I don't see scripture prohibiting such things, I think they are a matter of liberty. But we have to be careful what we communicate about the gospel by implying a cyclical birth-life-death-resurrection of Christ every year.

John Carpenter

March 26, 2013 at 07:33 AM

Ok, thanks for that. But then it appears that he wasn't preaching more (I believe 8 sermons was his regularly weekly schedule) but that during the week before Easter he used relevant passages.

John Loveland

March 26, 2013 at 01:30 PM

Context will tell you that Christ speaks here of the law and the prophets. Paul will speak of the same to Timothy. Both of them will reference the septuagent, replete with the Deutero-Canon. And yet protestants reject both and follow suit with Jews at Jamnia, who wanted to be distinguished from the Christians.

Paul will allude to the Apocalypse of Enoch and the Martyrdom of Isaiah. Shall these also be included, excluded. Nowhere in the new testament does it mention new testament writings as authorative.

Nicea codifies the scripture, and keeps the same deutero-canan which was good enough for Jesus and Paul.

And yet you throw the same canon out, opt for the Masoretic text, and assume the authority of Nicea only for the new testament. And this over a thousand years after the fact. (Now that really is a long time) How can you then say that this is delivered by God, and not by tradition?

John Loveland

March 26, 2013 at 01:20 PM

It seems you have violated your own rule from above. The letters of Paul are a dialogue between him an the Church or Corinth. While they most certainly are an authentic source or apostolic faith and theology, they are not a primary source reference stating that the first christian's liturgies were very informal and unstructured. I think you would agree that there is not enough contextual information in the scripture to put together a first century church service, nor is it the purpose of scripture to explain exactly how Christians are to gather together and worship. This is left to the apostles and the church, and what we have in the scripture merely bears witness to the existence of the early church, no the exact practices of it.

Regarding the dearth of evidence one way or the other and the secrecy of early Christians:

Origin, who must counter Celsus' claim in 170 AD that Christianity is a secret religion. He responds that most people know the basic tenets, but that the deeper doctrines are kept secret that the pagans might not ridicule tham. Surely Celsus got the idea that Christian's were a mystery cult from somewhere.

Pliny, who must extract information on Christianity by torture in order to know what it is and what happens at a church gathering.

The Epistle to Diognetus states the Diognetus shall not hope to learn the mode of Christian worship from any mortal.

Tertullian defends against charges of immorality at church gatherings by saying that no Christian would have revealed what goes on there, so this attack could only have come from a stranger.

Hyppolitus mentions that other doctrines should be communicated by the bishop directly to the newly baptized, away from the ear of the unfaithful.

The Didache doesn't say anywhere that infants weren't baptized, but you are correct that it states (along with Justin Martyr) several instructions for baptism and receiving the Eucharist.

I know you are a historian, surely you know that absence of proof is not proof of absence. You state that what was happening in the 4th century is meaningless for ascertaining if they are of apostolic origin. I would disagree with you on two points, one logical, on spiritual.

Given the documented secrecy of ancient Christian writers, and the apparently conflicting nature of exactly how things are done in many ancient text, we can not hope to logically ever deduce what exactly came from which apostle and which church. But to say that what is well developed in the 4th century offers us no context clues is rather absurd.

The fathers of Nicea, faced with this task, set about codifying Christian practice based on what was done before and witnessed to by the faithful in every place.

On a less rationalistic note, we should have some faith in the witness of the church through persecution and tribulation, who emerged in the early 4th century from the darkness, whose faith overtook the world. If we will conclude that a doctrine is a clear error, so be it, and it can be laid aside. But this doesn't justify the laying aside of the rich traditions which were handed down to the post-Nicene faithful as a whole.

Mark Z

March 25, 2013 at 12:51 PM

9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week [revised]

1. It's a Catholic observance.

2. It's also Eastern Orthodox.

3. It's not officially observed by Protestant Christians.

4. Protestant Christians are not Catholic, or Orthodox.

5. The Pope observes Holy Week.

6. The Pope is Catholic.

7. Martin Luther won.

8. The liturgy and sacraments of Holy Week are steeped in Catholic practices and are neither based in Scripture nor necessary.

9. Baptists are not Catholic.

Joe Carter

March 25, 2013 at 11:24 AM

Oops. Thanks, that's now fixed. (Though I think the bug guys would agree too.)

Matthew Wolf

March 25, 2013 at 11:12 AM

I believe you mean "etymologists", not "entomologists".

Joe Carter

March 25, 2013 at 11:07 AM

Well, that depends on what we consider "Roman Catholic." If we consider everything that occurred in the church prior to the Reformation to be a Roman Catholic tradition, then the same would be true for Holy Week. But the observance of these holidays was a tradition that was carried on even after the Reformation, so neither the RCC or EO churches can claim exclusive right to them.

Of course while I believe the observance of these days is consonant with Scripture, they are certainly not required. Nothing in the Bible says that we should set aside Easter Sunday for special observance either, but I personally think it would be peculiar if the church did not wish to do so.

Kenton

March 25, 2013 at 10:12 AM

Interesting. Two questions:

1) Is there really any evidence that Holy Week observances began in Jerusalem in the earliest days of the church? All the New Testament points to is the distinctively Christian celebration of Passover as the Lord's Supper. I imagine it would have been kinda hard to have a whole procession imitating the events leading up to Christ's death, in a hostile environment, not to mention that Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem was in the context of a large group of pilgrims entering Jerusalem during the time of Passover. And in light of the fact that pilgrimage to Jerusalem would have only been a Jewish thing in those earliest days.

2) Given that hell proper is Hades is Sheol is the grave, is it all that unbiblical that "Christ descended into hell"? Of course, once hell becomes Gehenna, or the place of eternal torment, then of course it cannot be said that Christ descended into hell. But isn't it also true that a lot of the Catholic/Orthodox views of hell are also medieval inventions?

John Loveland

March 25, 2013 at 09:55 PM

You would be correct in that assumption. Scripture doesn't explicitly mention Easter, or Holy Week. It does however mention Pentecost and Passover several times. Perhaps we should celebrate these days in favor of other days not mentioned in Scripture, like Monday (a day which any working stiff will tell you proceeds from the fall. What do you do on Christmas? The scripture fails to mention wedding anniversaries as well, but for sure you will observe this as something special, not counting it as common simply becasue you love your wife every other day...

Lucas Enge

March 25, 2013 at 09:52 AM

Thanks for the post! Very interesting data. Even more interesting that the Bible is silent on the celebration of these "christian" holidays. Maybe it is more accurate to call them "Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox" holidays?

the Old Adam

March 25, 2013 at 09:07 AM

Good info.!

It never hurts to know a bit of church history.

Thanks.

Here's a great Maundy Thursday sermon (best Maundy Thursday sermon I have ever heard):

http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/the-last-day-of-jesus-life.mp3

Pass it along, if you like it. Please give credit to Pastor Mark Anderson of Corona del Mar, CA.

Thanks.

Lucas Enge

March 25, 2013 at 08:02 PM

While I appreciate all of the fascinating historical data surrounding the early church and any liturgy relevant to "holy week" or "Easter", I'm still concerned that Scripture does not describe these holidays.

If Scripture is our sole rule for how we worship God why don't we see "holy week" or "Easter" anywhere? Or can someone please direct me to the appropriate passages?

For instance, in Acts 20:1ff Luke mentions that Paul is traveling during the days of Unleavened Bread. But nowhere does Luke mention "holy week" or "Easter" which is strange considering how detailed and historical an account Luke recorded for us. The absence of any mention is strange.

So again, while I can appreciate the historical information, I would love for someone to shed some light on any Scriptural support for "holy week" and "Easter".

Thanks! ;)

John Loveland

March 25, 2013 at 07:34 PM

And yet St. Vincent states so poignantly that what is catholic is what has been believed everywhere by all. If Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin all agreed with the rest of the Christian world that the Mother of God was a virgin all of her life, wouldn't that constitue a catholic belief. And wouldn't one be non-catholic by existing outside of the belief. If so, what would you consider catholic?

[...] The following is a repost from here: [...]

John Loveland

March 25, 2013 at 07:00 PM

The tradition of early Christians to avoid writing down anything about liturgical practice is admittedly frustrating for posterity. I would offer the following observations:
Early Christians came out of the Jewish religion, and were more or less tolerated by the Jews as a sect, (though sometimes persecuted) until sometime after the dispersion. Paul regularly went to the synagogues to preach, and many of the early converts were quite familiar with Jewish life and practice. There are several works comparing early Orthodox Christian practices to Jewish practices, and the similarities are often quite striking. The church in the east has handed down and observed since the dawn of Christianity the liturgical nature of prayer and Christian life. In a liturgical day you will find all of the main hallmarks of the synagogue service. The day begins at sunset, prayers and the reading of psalms are offered at different hours or watches of the day. At the Vespers service, there are similarities to the Shabbat service and the synagogue in a general sense. Prayer is towards the East, there is a table with a seven branched candlestand, etc.
A careful review of early Christian writing will yield an ever better defined order on how and when things are to be done, with a special observance to ritual so that what is done is done with intent and meaning. In the 3rd and 4 centuries, Christian holidays are set down with much more meaning, as the church is relatively more free to act and becoming more organized. But, in each case, careful observation will reveal that these are codification or documentation upon what came before.

Easter rubrics begin to appear in the second and third century, along with detailed rubrics about baptism. Although Holy Week services aren't mentioned in explicit detail of that time, there are many good clues. For instance, Tertullian explicitly states that baptism should take place on Pascha or Pentecost, if possible. Around the same time Hippolytus mentions that after a three year catechumenate, those prepared for illumination would be set apart for a time, then on would bathe on Holy Thursday, fast Holy Friday and Saturday, and then be baptized and communed on Pascha. By the time of Chrysostom (I believe there are one or two other references in between), he mentions the throngs on Holy Saturday coming to receive baptism.

By Nicea, the 40 day Lenten fast is clearly mentioned. A few decades later, we have the reference from Egeria. The article doesn’t do The Pilgrimage of Egeria justice. She doesn’t just mention one or two Christian traditions, but expresses a very developed Christian liturgical tradition. What she is speaking of didn’t just come about in a matter of years, but is clearly already a very old tradition, though I would not venture to guess how old. She mentions here homeland’s own Paschal vigils and traditions, which are also well developed by that time.

In conclusion, we can only infer certain things about the liturgical order of the church before the 4th century, but what was hinted at before and the rich depth of what was written down in the fourth century, we can establish that there was a defined Christian tradition established as far back as at least sometime in the 3rd century, and a proto-tradition well before that, quite possibly being a carryover from the synagogue services and influenced as well by the Essenes.

Saul

March 25, 2013 at 06:51 PM

Why do entomologists care? No insects here ;)

Kenton

March 25, 2013 at 05:14 PM

That clarifies things. I figured that earliest days meant literally the earliest days (as in, within two decades of Jesus' death). Point #1 seems to suggest that the earliest days don't include the fourth century ( "though the term first appears"). I'd suspect that celebrating Holy Week as such would be taken up by Gentile Christians, who were not simply investing the Jewish feasts with new Christ-centered meaning and who were somewhat removed from the normal activity of Jerusalem surrounding Passover (such as entering the city procession-style, eating the Passover, etc.)

Joe Carter

March 25, 2013 at 03:39 PM

Observance of special days (Christmas, Easter, etc) was carried over by the Lutherans and the Anglicans but not by the Reformed.

Calvin observed Christmas ("Since my recall, I have pursued the moderate course of keeping Christ’s birth-day as you are wont to do.”) as did many Reformed in his day. In fact, Calvin had no problem with the celebration of feast-days (such as Easter).

Clayton

March 25, 2013 at 03:35 PM

The Bible is also silent on the canon of Scripture. Maybe that is a Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox tradition too.

Joe Carter

March 25, 2013 at 03:28 PM

As a church historian, I'm interested in whether there is actually any proof of observing "Holy Week" in the earliest days of the church (as #1 says) or is it really only a later development (as #1 seems to reluctantly admit)?

What do you consider the "earliest days of the church?" Egeria wrote about the observances in 381, 56 years after the Council of Nicaea agreement on when in the ecclesiastical calendar Easter should be celebrated. That's pretty early. Many of the church practices we have now certainly don't date back that far in antiquity.

Joe Carter

March 25, 2013 at 03:21 PM

I'd be interested in a source for that information about Calvin.

The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin (edited by Donald K. McKim), p. 111. - "For a time he preached on the Psalms on Sunday afternoon, and during festivals like Holy Week he would substitute appropriate New Testament texts for the weekday Old Testament sermons." (Link here: http://bit.ly/ZQNhix)

John Carpenter

March 25, 2013 at 02:39 PM

The church celebrates the resurrection every Sunday. We're not called to meet every day nor is it practical to do so. To say we "especially" celebrate the resurrection on one particular day of the week means we are not doing it as we should on the other 51.

I'd be interested in a source for that information about Calvin. It maybe true but about 10 minutes of internet search has produced no corroborating evidence for me.

John Carpenter

March 25, 2013 at 02:24 PM

Observance of special days (Christmas, Easter, etc) was carried over by the Lutherans and the Anglicans but not by the Reformed. The Puritans only observed three special days in the year: Sabbath (every "Lord's Day"/Sunday), fast days (for times of special repentance) and Thanksgiving days (passed down to us as our Thanksgiving Day). The later two were called spontaneously as it seemed Providence led. Christmas, Easter, etc., were considered too tied into Catholic theology (with Christ being born and suffering and dying all over again) to be retained.

sl

March 25, 2013 at 02:21 PM

Martin Luther won? wow that is arrogant... Most Protestants don't know much about what Martin Luther actually believed (con-substantiation, Holy Week, Liturgical Calendar, perpetual virginity of Mary etc). I grew up Presbyterian and was shocked to read Martin Luther's writings because so many of the things he talked about was/is VERY Catholic.

John Carpenter

March 25, 2013 at 02:17 PM

As a church historian, I'm interested in whether there is actually any proof of observing "Holy Week" in the earliest days of the church (as #1 says) or is it really only a later development (as #1 seems to reluctantly admit)?

Anyone with any real evidence of "holy week" from the early church please provide it below. Thanks!

Joe Carter

March 25, 2013 at 02:08 PM

If we (as protestants) celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, what do we do on the other 51 Sundays of the year?

Good question. I think we should celebrate the Resurrection every day (and not just wait till Sundays). But I think Holy Week (or, as some prefer, Passion Week) is a good time to pay extra attention to the passion narrative. That was what John Calvin did. He preached a series of 8 sermons during Holy Week. (But that was when folks when to church a lot more than they do today.)

Lucas Enge

March 25, 2013 at 01:55 PM

OK, I'm trying to sort some things out here...

If we (as protestants) celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, what do we do on the other 51 Sundays of the year?

Why don't we see the Apostles or anyone else in Scripture teaching plainly or by example that the Church should celebrate the resurrection of Christ once a year? It seems that the pattern in Scripture was to celebrate the resurrection every First day of the week.

I'm not suggesting that people who celebrate the resurrection on Easter are in sin, but I'm not sure why we would want to limit that to one Sunday a year.

Brandon Morgan

March 25, 2013 at 01:43 PM

In other news, the cathovengelical church declares Super-Bowl-Sunday a religious holiday to be celebrated on the first Sunday of February in perpetuity.

Joe Carter

March 25, 2013 at 01:40 PM

The Wikipedia page on "Eostre" has some links and good summary of the debate of whether Bede invented the word or found it in Germanic influences (supposedly only Germans and English-speaking people use a term that resembles "Easter" so that seems plausible).

Charles Vallancey's "A Grammar of the Iberno-Celtic, Or Irish Language" (1782) (http://bit.ly/13r0d3D) also claims it was named after a pagan goddess, but he could just be following Bede.

Edward Newenham Hoare's "English Roots and the Derivation of Words from the Ancient Anglo-Saxon" (1863) says it was named for the equinox month (what we call April) and says it's of Teutonic origin.

I suspect all the variations have some truth to them. If there was a pagan goddess known as Eostre, she probably gave her name to equinox month, the term for "rise", and other spring terms just as we derive a lot of terms from "Flora", the Roman goddess of spring (e.g., floral, florist, flower).

Mark Z

March 25, 2013 at 01:26 PM

touche.

Joshua Gielow

March 25, 2013 at 01:12 PM

Thanks for the post Joe, I always look for your posts on these points in history.

Could you elaborate or give a list of late scholars on point 9? That's really interesting and I'd like to look up their works.

Thanks!

Joshua Gielow

March 25, 2013 at 01:10 PM

sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem- Apostles Creed.

Baptist are not Catholic? That's a terrifying thought, or a bad sweeping statement.
As Christians, being Catholic is essential to our faith and creed. You can be Catholic and not Roman.

Joe Carter

March 25, 2013 at 01:04 PM

1. It's not only a Catholic observance.

2. It's not only an Eastern Orthodox observance.

3. It is officially observed by many Protestant Christians.

4. Protestant Christians are indeed not Catholic, or Orthodox.

5. The Pope also eats pancakes for breakfast.

6. The Pope is indeed Catholic.

7. Martin Luther not only observed holy week he preached sermons about it (http://www.orlutheran.com/html/mlserms.html).

8. Not all the liturgy and sacraments of Holy Week are steeped in Catholic practices and some (the Lord's Supper) are indeed based in Scripture and necessary.

9. Many Baptists observe Holy Week. (Google "Baptist Holy Week")

MIchaelA

April 9, 2013 at 09:49 AM

Hi John,

"I would be interested in information on your assertion that the LXX didn't contain the Deutero-Canon."

You seem to be assuming that there is some evidence (or any evidence) that it did. That is not the case. For at least five centuries after the Septuagint translation was made, we have only fragments of books, i.e. no "bibles". and therefore no evidence of inclusion of the apocrypha in the septuagint. No ancient source tells us that the translators of the septuagint thought that the apocrypha were canonical.

Our earliest complete septuagint bible is Codex Vaticanus which was made in the 4th century AD, so 5 or 6 centuries after the septuagint was translated. For that reason, its relevance to what the translators of the septuagint counted as scripture is virtually nil.

Furthermore, Codex Vaticanus does not contain what you call the "deutero canon". Rather, it contains some books of the deutero canon, as well as other books that Catholics, Protestants and Jews agree are not canonical, such as 1 Esdras. The same applies to other codexes which were created in the century or so after it - Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus etc. As I pointed out in my first post, the fact that a book was bound together with canonical books does not per se imply that the first book was also regarded as canonical. Think about the introductions to books often found in modern bibles, or the Targumim or Rashi in Hebrew bibles - everyone knows these are not canonical.

"The DSS include parts of the deutero canon"

Sure. Why wouldn't they? The Dead Sea Scrolls are just that: scrolls. About 50% of them are not scripture, by anyone's reckoning.

"and all four of the ancient codices include deutero-canoncial books"

Yes, as well as pseudepigraphal books (those not accounted scripture by anyone). I am sorry to labour the point, but the inclusion of any book in a codex or scroll with canonical books simply does not imply any canonical status about the first book.

"Regarding Jamnia, you got me. I am surprised that I have never come across the idea that Jamnia was a fabrication."

I can't comment about what you have read. But the idea that there was a council at Yavneh (Jamnia), or that the rabbinical school there made any pronouncements about the Hebrew Canon was put to bed in the 1980s, if not earlier. It only persists because commonly held assumptions seem to get a life of their own in this field. But the message seems to be slowly getting out - I just did a google search and about every second site refers to the council as being "hypothetical" or "conjecture". Personally I think even those words are putting it too high, but I am not going to lose sleep over it!

"I seem to recall that the Paschal date and the Biblical Canon were defined at Nicea."

I can't comment off-hand about the paschal date, but I can guarantee that the biblical canon was not defined at Nicaea. The Council didn't even consider the issue. No General Council ever did.

John Loveland

April 6, 2013 at 05:10 PM

Michael, I appreciate the lively discussion :)

I am no expert on textual fragments, and history has left us sorely lacking in documentation on the early canon of Scripture. I would be interested in information on your assertion that the LXX didn't contain the Deutero-Canon. From what I can tell, there are a very small number of LXX fragmentary texts before the 5th or 6th century. The DSS include parts of the deutero canon, and all four of the ancient codices include deutero-canoncial books. Am I incorrect in this assertion?

Regarding Jamnia, you got me. I am surprised that I have never come across the idea that Jamnia was a fabrication. When I first learned about this "council" I was a Protestant taking an OT history course from a well respected professor who was extremely critical of German theologians.

At any rate, the development and acceptance of canon from the authorship of the LXX until the 4th century leaves not enough evidence to satisfy either of our viewpoints.

The reason for the widely accepted belief that the Nicene fathers explicitly defined the canon escapes me at the moment. I'll do some digging.... Unless you know why and can put it out there. I seem to recall that the Paschal date and the Biblical Canon were defined at Nicea.

MIchaelA

April 5, 2013 at 08:40 PM

Clayton wrote:

"In what sense do you believe the apostles "gave" us the NT?"

From the very first moments of the Church's existence it was under the authority of the Apostles. Their words, whether spoken or written, were always of supreme authority in the Church. They left their written words as equally authoritative, and they did not leave anyone else with apostolic authority after them (which they could not do in any case, because apostles could only be chosen directly by God). By the time the last Apostle left this earth, the New Testament canon was complete.

"There still had to be a process of determining which writings of the apostles to include in Scripture since the Scriptures themselves don't contain a list."

You are almost correct - but the Church never dared to arrogate to itself the power to choose *between* writings of the apostles. If a book was written by or under the direct authority of an apostle, it was scripture, simple as that. The only choosing that the Church did was to recognise those books which were actually of apostolic authorship, and those which were forgeries or wrongly attributed.

"We know there was at least one writing by an apostles that was not included in the canon of Scripture - Paul's epistle to the Church in Laodicea (Col. 4:16)?"

Yes and it hasn't come down to us, just as we also don't have the first verses of Hebrews. I am sure there were also other writings of the apostles which we haven't received. So be it, that is what the Lord has decreed and if we needed those other writings He would have ensured that we got them.

"If so there doesn't appear to be any evidence whatsoever that the early Church was aware of such a list since there were disagreements for centuries about which writings were properly Scripture."

On the contrary, there is ample evidence that the sub-apostolic church knew which writings were of apostolic authorship. The "disagreements" to which you refer were due to a wholesale assault on the canon of scripture by heretics in the 2nd and 3rd centuries - put simplistically, the Marcionites sought to impugn scripture, i.e. take away those bits they didn't like, and the Gnostics sought to add books to scripture by creating new books that they falsely claimed to be of apostolic authority. Their teachings caught sway in large sections of the Church. The Fathers of the Church had to wage a hard fight over two or three centuries to get spurious books rejected and books of true apostolic origin re-accepted. This often required careful research and enquiry to uncover Marcionite and Gnostic deceptions (and in some cases, misunderstandings). But what these Church Fathers were doing was re-discovering what had always been - they were not making a new decision about which books should be scripture.

Nor did the Church purport to do so: no General Council ever declared which books were scripture, for the simple reason that they had no authority to do so. Scripture stands above councils, not the other way around.

"I'm honestly curious what your position is, because I don't believe I've ever heard anyone say that the Church was not involved in determining the canon of Scripture ..."

Of course the Church was involved in "determining" the Canon, but only in the sense of determining which books were of apostolic authorship, and witnessing to that fact. The church did not make a qualitative decision about whether or not particular books should be accepted - that had already been made for them when the apostles authorised the writing down of their teaching.

"and I don't really understand how someone who claims to be a church historian could hold to that position."

As a general comment, I would say that anyone who claims to be a church historian should ensure that they are familiar with ALL the relevant facts and sources.

MIchaelA

April 5, 2013 at 08:15 PM

I agree entirely, John Loveland, all of us - including you - should be intellectually honest. You wrote:

"the Septuagint, which is not based on the Masoretic text, and contained the Deutero-Canon"

No it didn't. There have been cases of deuteron-canon books being bound together with scriptural books but that does not imply that the former had canonical status - the Jews bound canonical scripture together with non-canonical writings such as histories, paraphrases (e.g. targumim) and commentaries - they still do so today, but they don't thereby lose sight of which are Scripture and which are not. The fact that Septuagint books were sometimes found together with Apocryphal books says nothing about the canonical status of the latter.

"In fact, the Council of Jamnia rejected the Septuagint which had guided their fathers throughout the second temple period."

There is no clear evidence that the "Council of Jamnia" ever occurred. It is a speculative creation of 19th century liberal scholarship. There is certainly no compelling evidence that it rejected the Apocrypha as scriptural, nor is there any compelling evidence that the Apocrypha were ever regarded as canonical scripture in the first place. That, quite simply, is the reason why we today do not regard them as so.

"I'm not saying Christ and Paul explicitly define the canon of Holy Scripture."

Neither Christ nor Paul ever accept the Apocrypha as scripture.

"If it's good enough for the Nicene Fathers, it's good enough for me."

The Nicene fathers did not accept the Apocrypha as a scripture.

"Even if you made the argument that the entire church in the West was corrupted, (the reformation stopped at the EOC border) the Protestants accepted the Nicene canon, but decided to rip out the deutero-canon."

On the contrary, the western reformers and the Nicene Fathers were and are in accord, hence why neither accepted the Apocrypha as scripture. They accord them high respect of course, as they do with many ancient books, but they have never been canonical scripture.

"What arrogance gives one the idea to start ripping books out of scripture based on what they feel in their heart?"

Precisely. And equally, what arrogance gives one the idea to start adding books to scripture based on what they feel in their heart?

"Does this come from God? Is this the Progressive Dispensation of God, to reveal the wrong canon at Nicea, in order to lead the church astray?"

The fathers at Nicaea are fully in accord with faithful Christians throughout the ages, including reformed evangelical Christians today.

John Loveland

April 12, 2013 at 12:50 AM

And where in the scripture does it say the apostles didn't appoint successors? I cannot recall any passage saying such a thing. Rather, I recall the bishops listing the laying on hands as the passing of apostolic succession, and this quite early in the church. So, if the fathers of the second and third centuries recount how the ministry of the apostles was passed down, and the scripture is silent on the matter, what is the basis of your argument?

Regarding the seal of apostleship being the eyewitness to Christ's resurrection, think about what you are claiming for a minute. Even the scripture doesn't support this argument, for the method of selection of Matthias and that of Saul is night and day. One followed Christ from the beginning and was an eyewitness chosen by lot after the council of the apostles. The other was not an eyewitness to the resurrection in the same sense of the apostles. Rather, he was granted to see the resurrection and was granted purity of heart. Then the gospel was revealed to him and for three years he prayed and learned the gospel. Then he was ordained by the laying on of hands.

So I ask you the question, who has beheld the resurrection? Was it only Matthias, or was it also Paul?

John Loveland

April 12, 2013 at 12:35 AM

And so which fathers give you the canon you sanction?

MIchaelA

April 12, 2013 at 09:47 AM

Jerome and Athanasius.

Most of the Church Fathers are consistent with this (i.e. they cite the same books as authoritative when required) but don't set out a complete list. Many of the early ones like Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr or Irenaeus just assume that their readers know which books are scriptural.

Tertullian does not purport to cover the entire New Testament, but in fact lists most of the books in New Testament in process of setting out his arguments that the New Testament Canon was known from apostolic times.

MIchaelA

April 12, 2013 at 09:02 AM

Hi John, you wrote:

1. "And where in the scripture does it say the apostles didn't appoint successors? I cannot recall any passage saying such a thing."

I have already told you the passages - apostles could only be appointed by God directly, and when the Eleven were gathered together, they did not dare to carry out an appointment themselves (Acts 1). I think the onus is now on you to show where in scripture either Christ or his apostles taught that their ministry could be passed on.

2. "Rather, I recall the bishops listing the laying on hands as the passing of apostolic succession, and this quite early in the church. So, if the fathers of the second and third centuries recount how the ministry of the apostles was passed down, and the scripture is silent on the matter, what is the basis of your argument?"

Because (a) the Church Fathers in fact do not recount this; and (b) scripture is not silent on the matter. Rather than you and I skirting around the patristic issue, why don't you give the references to the passages in the Fathers you are thinking of, and we can have a look at them?

3. "for the method of selection of Matthias and that of Saul is night and day".

I beg to differ. I will explain what I mean in the following two sections:

4. "One followed Christ from the beginning and was an eyewitness chosen by lot after the council of the apostles."

Peter states plainly that Matthias is being chosen "to become a witness with us of his resurrection". Secondly, Peter makes clear that the choosing by lot was not just like rolling dice:

"Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles." [Acts 1:24-26]

So we are left in no doubt that this was a direct choice by God, the same as for Paul, even though in one case the mechanism is a group of apostles casting lots, and in the other it is a blinding light on the Damascus road.

5. "The other [Paul] was not an eyewitness to the resurrection in the same sense of the apostles."

Paul's whole point in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is that he is an eyewitness to the resurrection in the sense that matters, and in that respect he is the same as the other apostles. He points out that the Lord appeared to various people (all of whom were witnesses, but not all of whom were chosen by God as apostles) and then says:

"And last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect." [1 Cor 15:8-10]

6. "Rather, Paul was granted to see the resurrection and was granted purity of heart. Then the gospel was revealed to him and for three years he prayed and learned the gospel. Then he was ordained by the laying on of hands."

Paul was never "ordained by the laying on of hands". He makes clear in Galatians 1 and Acts 9:

(a) Within 3 days of his conversion on the Damascus road, an ordinary disciple called Ananias laid hands on him in order to restore his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then Paul began preaching the gospel in the synagogues (this is during the three years that you refer to).

(b) After three years he went to Jerusalem to see Peter and James the Lord's brother, but there is no record of any laying on of hands. Indeed, Paul in Galatians 1:15-19 is at pains to point out that he did not require any ordination from those who were apostles before he was.

(c) He then went to Antioch where he became a church leader. While he was there, he and Barnabas were called to missionary work, and the other leaders laid hands on them to commission them to that work (see Acts 13:1-3)

6. "So I ask you the question, who has beheld the resurrection? Was it only Matthias, or was it also Paul?"

Both of them. That is Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. He is one of the eye-witnesses to the risen Christ (verse 8) the same as Matthias (covered in verse 5).

MichaelA

April 11, 2013 at 11:56 PM

Hi Clayton,

"Where do you believe the spoken words of the apostles have been preserved?"

In scripture.

"And why do you believe no one had apostolic authority after the apostles? After all if the apostles had "supreme authority" as you posit, couldn't they have appointed successors?"

Only if they were permitted to do so – obviously their "supreme authority" remained subject to God's authority. The apostles made clear that they had no authority to appoint others to carry their special authority. See e.g. Acts 1:23-26, where even the 11 together did not have authority to appoint another apostle. They left the final choice directly to God.

Similarly, Paul in Galatians 1:1 makes clear that apostles are appointed by God, not by man: "Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)".

Paul reinforces this at the start of most of his epistles: "apostle by the will of God" or "by the commandment of God" – see the first verses of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy.

Finally, it would be impossible for apostleship to be handed on anyway – one of the qualifications for that Supreme office was that a candidate had to be an eye-witness to Christ's resurrection: Acts 1:21-22, 1 Cor 9:1, 1 Cor 15:3-9.

"Apparently they did...as you even acknowledged, not all apostolic writings were included by the Church in the canon of Scripture."

Errr no, I acknowledged no such thing. Obviously if a book or part of a book was lost then the church could not include it. But every book that was preserved and known to be of apostolic origin was included in scripture. That is because the Church had no authority to exclude any book of apostolic origin from scripture. The Church's only power is to witness to the truth.

MichaelA

April 11, 2013 at 11:21 PM

"Again, the issue is a distressing lack of ancient material clarifying the canon in a precise sense, which leaves us in the awkward position of having to trust the Christian's of antiquity, or trust ourselves."

John, I suggest trusting the Christians of antiquity - that's what I do. Many have failed to do that, lost sight of their course, and ended up e.g. following the innovations of the Council of Trent.

"I simply believe in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, we should avoid abandoning the position of our fathers in the faith. Obviously, you would take a different approach."

On the contrary, that is precisely my position: We should avoid abandoning the position of our fathers in the faith, which is why I do not accept the Apocrypha as scripture. Why innovate in a way that our fathers did not sanction?

John Loveland

April 11, 2013 at 06:46 PM

Michael, thanks for your reply. It is always nice to talk to someone who knows their history quite well. Paschal dating was addressed at Nicea, but only in part.

Regarding the LXX, I never said that there was a complete codex or canon containing only the books recognized by the EOC or RCC. Rather, as you pointed out, pieces of these books have been found as part of all of the extant ancient codices, along with other books which aren't considered canon at all by anyone.

Again, the issue is a distressing lack of ancient material clarifying the canon in a precise sense, which leaves us in the awkward position of having to trust the Christian's of antiquity, or trust ourselves. What yardstick should we use then? I simply believe in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, we should avoid abandoning the position of our fathers in the faith. Obviously, you would take a different approach.

Clayton

April 11, 2013 at 02:33 PM

Synergism is not a false doctrine. Our efforts are a cooperation with Divine Grace. Doesn't mean they precede Grace or that they can accomplish anything apart from Grace.

Clayton

April 11, 2013 at 02:25 PM

My response was intended for MichaelA. I assumed it was John who was responding to my post.

Clayton

April 11, 2013 at 02:21 PM

John,

You say, "Their words, whether spoken or written, were always of supreme authority in the Church". Where do you believe the spoken words of the apostles have been preserved?

And why do you believe no one had apostolic authority after the apostles? After all if the apostles had "supreme authority" as you posit, couldn't they have appointed successors?

"The church did not make a qualitative decision about whether or not particular books should be accepted - that had already been made for them when the apostles authorised the writing down of their teaching." Apparently they did...as you even acknowledged, not all apostolic writings were included by the Church in the canon of Scripture.