The Preparation of the Gospel: A Contribution from Eusebius to Christian Theology Part 2

Book Eight: The Polity of the Jews According to Moses

Eusebius moves to the establishment of the Hebrew nation my Moses. At first, he digresses to discuss the providence of God in the translation of the Hebrew oracles into Greek (p. 358).  After this digression, he argues that laws of Israel were written on two different levels: the literal and the philosophical/allegorical (p. 409). The literal form of the law was for the Jewish masses and relegated to a certain time and place and thus not for all people (p. 358). But the philosophical aspects of the law were to be followed, as they were championed by the Jewish philosophers such as Philo (p. 409). And these philosophers, according to Eusebius, were in complete harmony with the ancient Hebrews (p. 415). Therefore, since these men (both ancient and modern) established pious judgments concerning God, Christians included the Hebrew’s holy writings as part of their own Scripture (p. 432, 34).

Book Nine: How the Greeks Knew and Respected the Hebrews

Eusebius then discusses how the Greeks knew about the Hebrew’s religion and history. His argument is that the Greeks respected the Hebrews in their mode of life and therefore, it is reasonable for Christians to adopt the same into their religion (p. 434). He reasons for his argument by showing that the Greeks mentioned the Hebrews by name, their philosophy, and their history (p. 434).

Book Ten: The Plagiarism of the Greeks and the Antiquity of the Hebrews

In his argument to show the supremacy of the Hebrew oracles, Eusebius contends that the Greeks did not invent their philosophy but adapted it from the barbarians.[1] He proves this argument by showing how the philosophers traveled widely for their education, especially in the Near East, and how they brought back that education to Greece. Further, he notes how the Greeks themselves accused each other of plagiarism. And since the Hebrews were much older than the Greeks, it was likely that the Greeks plagiarized the Hebrews as well (p. 489-90).

Books Eleven and Twelve: The Agreement of the Hebrew Oracles with Plato

To further his argument for the supremacy of the Hebrew oracles, Eusebius maintains that Hebrews and the Greeks agreed in much of their Philosophy (p. 544). Taking Plato as his prime example, he compares both philosophies under Plato’s branches of philosophy: physics, ethics, and logic (p. 545). After two books of analysis, he concludes that “each of them point by point . . . agrees with the Hebrew writings” (p. 691).

Book Thirteen: The Reason for Valuing the Hebrews over Plato

With so much in agreement between the Hebrews and the Greeks, Eusebius gave reasons for preferring the Hebrews over the Greeks. He reasons that the Hebrew oracles are error free, as seen through the accuracy of their prophecies. But Plato was full of errors and contradictions (p. 745). Eusebius examines and finds lacking Plato’s views on supernatural beings, the composition of the soul, the heavenly luminaries, and views on national laws. Thus, he concluded that the Hebrew oracles are better than Plato’s philosophies (p. 771).

Books Fourteen and Fifteen: The Discord of the Greek Philosophers

In his last two books, Eusebius argued that Hebrew oracles were better than the Greeks because the Hebrews displayed remarkable unity in their philosophy, whereas the Greeks did not. Further, he argues that Christians not only share theological opinions of the Hebrews, but also the mode of life as the Hebrews. Thus, they continue in harmony with the previous doctrines.(p. 773-7).  Therefore, he concludes,

Since, however, we have now exhibited the dissension and fighting of these sages among themselves, and since the wholly superfluous, and unintelligible, and to us utterly unnecessary study and learning of all the other subjects in which the tribes of philosophers still take pride, have been refuted not by our demonstrations but by their own; nay more, since we have also plainly set forth the reason why we have rejected their doctrines and preferred the Hebrew oracles let us at this point conclude our treatise on The Preparation for the Gospel (p. 919).

The Use of Praeparatio Evangelica in Modern Theology

In Praeparatio Evangelica, Eusebius displayed his tremendous erudition in and mastery of Christian, Hebrew, and Greek philosophy. His work was a significant masterpiece of its era, sufficient to silence the voices of his opponents. But in the modern church, few Christians will ever find the need to refute Greek philosophers such as Porphyry or Plato. And so, Eusebius’s main argument seems of little use for most scholars, except perhaps to a church historian. However, the antiquity of his argument does not mean that Praeparatio is useless. On contrary, Eusebius presents many ideas that are relevant to modern Biblical scholarship, such as the purpose of the book of Genesis and the relationship between Divine sovereignty and free will. But above all, Eusebius provides historical material that is helpful for understanding how ancient religions came about.

Eusebius argues that the lot the world in was appointed to worship other deities, starting with the stars. As he states,

In the beginning the worship of the visible luminaries had been assigned to all the nations and that to the Hebrew race alone had been entrusted the full initiation into the knowledge of God the Maker and Artificer of the universe, and of true piety towards Him.[2]

This idea was recovered and further developed by Michael Heiser, who published a book in 2015 called The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.[3] Among other things, Heiser works through the Bible interpreting passages where the phrase sons of God appears as references to a class of angels to whom God has given the care of the world (e.g., Ps. 82). One of Heiser’s leading points is that when God divided the nations at Babel, he disinherited them and “the rest of the nations were placed under the authority of members of Yahweh’s divine council. The other nations were assigned to lesser elohim as a judgment from the Most High, Yahweh.”[4]

While his viewpoint may seem novel, it actually resembles Eusebius’s viewpoint on the early origins of polytheism of the nations. And, while they differ in terminology, they present much of the same idea: that the nations were divided up among the angelic host, but God had chosen Israel to be his inheritance.

Eusebius then develops this idea in terms of a supernatural hierarchy: First, there is the highest God, second, the race of gods, third, the race of demons, and fourth the ancient heroes. The second race of gods, Eusebius (and Heiser) says, is equivalent to the angels found in scripture.[5] But while the nations claimed to honor the most-high God and the good angels, they actually worshiped the demons. Further, they glorify the ancient heroes as gods and worship them in all their wickedness and vileness.[6] These nations, then, were not really trying to find God or even the goodness of the angels, but rather they were worshiping creatures. Thus, Eusebius makes this conclusion, quoting Clement:

‘These are the atheists’ mysteries. And atheists I rightly call them, since they have not known Him who is truly God, but worship a child torn in pieces by Titans, and a poor wailing woman; and things for very shame unmentionable they shamelessly worship, and so are involved in a twofold atheism: the first, in that they are ignorant of God, not acknowledging Him who is God indeed; and the other and second delusion this, that they regard those which are not as though they were, and call them gods who have no true being, or rather no being at all, but have only received the name.

Thus, it seems that atheism is the basis for ancient religion.

Moreover, the pagan’s view of origins stems from their atheism. Eusebius quotes Sanchuniathon, the Phoenician priest living near the time of Moses, who viewed the earth has having arisen out of two primeval winds, which were gods. He continues with the origin of animals.

 

And when the air burst into light, both the sea and the land became heated, and thence arose winds and clouds, and very great downpours and floods of the waters of heaven. So after they were separated, and removed from their proper place because of the sun’s heat, and all met together again in the air dashing together one against another, thunderings and lightnings were produced, and at the rattle of the thunder the intelligent animals already described woke up, and were scared at the sound, and began to move both on land and sea, male and female.[7]

 

Because these people worshiped the wind and not God, Eusebius observes that “such was their cosmogony, introducing downright atheism.”[8]

Some pagan philosophers went so far as to deny that God or the gods did anything altogether. In another place, Eusebius quotes Dionysius, with whom he agrees, about the philosophies of the Epicurus and Democritus:

For some who gave the name “atoms” to certain imperishable and most minute bodies infinite in number, and assumed a void space of boundless extent, say that these atoms being borne on at random in the void, and accidentally colliding with each other through an irregular drift, become entangled, because they are of many shapes and catch hold of each other, and thus produce the world and, all things in it, or rather worlds infinite in number.[9]

And so, Eusebius notes how people denigrated themselves from worshipping the true God, to false gods, and then to outright atheism, from which they developed their views of cosmology.

As for the usefulness of these observations from Eusebius in the modern theology, there are several key conclusions. First, ancient paganism was not an attempt to understand God, but an attempt to get away from God. It was atheism in this sense: they worshiped created beings, which cannot be God. This idea is the reason that God view idolatry as abominable: it is a complete rejection of him.

Second, the comparison of the Bible to other ANE works should be taken from perspective of the Bible’s uniqueness from—not similarity to—other religions. The Bible did not come out of an ANE worldview, although it does share similarities, but it is a unique worldview that sought the truth given by the most-high God alone. These other works where written by men who were spiritually blind. And so, even though they may have had some knowledge of the truth, they distorted it (purposefully or accidentally) and therefore they are in a category whole other than the Scriptures.

Third, however, conclusion two does not mean that these ANE sources are useless. For example, since the gods of ancient thought were glorified heroes, their stories then should be comparable to the stories of the world preceding and immediately following the flood. The study, then, of Genesis 1-11, could be aided by a better understanding of these stories and perhaps aid in dating the earth. ANE sources can be used, but only in subjection to scripture.

Fourth, the hierarchy of beings proposed by Eusebius helps us understand the uniqueness of Melchizedek: he served the most-high God, that is, the God who created all things. There is ample evidence from the nations that they knew of the most-high God. In fact, in Ugarit, a city which existed during the time of Melchizedek, they had a god called El-‘Elyon. But they did not serve Him, but rather served Ba’al and the other deities. Melchizedek was unique because he was one of the few who rejected the other lesser-gods for the true worship of the great uncreated God.

Fifth, evolutionary systems originate out of paganism. These systems are nothing new, even though the proponents of them have changed over time. Therefore, when the Christian interacts with these systems, he should keep in mind that just as the devil blinded the minds of brilliant pagan philosophers, so too he blinds the minds of modern philosophers and scientists. And their work, though highly accurate, will be interpreted in a manner against the revelation which God has given.

Summary

While Eusebius’s main argument may not be relevant for today, Praeparatio Evangelica can provide helpful primary source material for Biblical research, particularly regarding angelology. A thorough analysis of Praeparatio Evangelica should yield a deeper understanding in angelology, especially regarding the Old Testament. This information, then, can be compared with a Scriptural understanding of the supernatural and then distilled into a systematic category.

His work though laborious at times is well worth the read for students and scholars alike who desire to understand the thought world of polytheism. And although a controversial figure in the Arian controversy, his work displays a love for Gospel and a desire for all Christians to grow in their knowledge and friendship with God.

[1].          Barbarians are any non-Greeks. In this argument, Barbarians has particular reference the philosophers of the Ancient Near East.

[2].          Gifford, Ευσεβιου Του Παμφιλου: Ευαγγελικης Προπαρασκευης Λογοι ΙΕ, 1:34.

[3].          Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015). For the non-technical version see: Michael Heiser, Supernatural: What the Bible Teachers about the Unseen World—and Why It Matters (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).

[4].          Ibid., 162. He supports this by quoting Deuteronomy 32:8, “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided up humankind, he set the boundaries of the peoples, according to the number of the heavenly assembly. For the LORD’s allotment is his people, Jacob is his special possession” (NET).

[5].          Page 155. “The gentle and good powers, as being in their nature created, and following far behind the uncreated God who is their Maker, but nevertheless separated also from the mischievous race of daemons—-these the Scriptures deem it right to name neither gods nor daemons, but as being intermediate between God and daemons they are accustomed to call them by a well-applied and intermediate name, angels of God, and ‘ministering spirits,’ and divine powers, and archangels, and any other names corresponding to their offices.”

[6].          Page 35. “But [Porphyry], as he goes forward, treats as divine not the God who is over all, nor yet the gods in the heaven, but mortal men and women, not even refined in character, such as it would be right to approve for their virtue, or emulate for their love of wisdom, but involved in the dishonour of every kind of vileness and wickedness.”

[7].          Page 38.

[8].          Ibid.

[9].          Page 833.

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