Friday, June 15, 2007
Ephesos (also known as Ephesus for the Latin form of the name), was without question one of the crucial cities in Paul's world. It is no accident that Paul, with his urban ministry strategy spent over two years in this city, using it as a place to indiginize the Christian faith into Graeco-Roman culture. The pictures you see above were taken by my friend and colleague Mark Fairchild. We were both at Ephesos in May to give lectures, but as you can see, lightning and rain intervened.
What you are looking at is the famous Celsus library which did not exist in Ephesos during Paul's day, as it was built in the second century A.D. Libraries added to the prestige and intellectual capicity of an ancient city. They were not lending libraries, but rather research libraries full of scrolls, and eventually of codexes, and since only 10% or so of the population was literate, they were basically the provenance of well to do people, who were generally and usually the more well educated persons in the ancient world. We are however told that Paul lectured in the Hall of Tyrannus in Ephesos, which indeed shows that he viewed Christianity as an intellectually serious enterprise. No one who has long pondered his letters could doubt he thought this way about the Christian faith.
And this brings me to an important point of this particular post. What does it tell us about early Christians and early Christianity that it had so many documents, and was spread by writers and writings, among other things? For one thing it tells us that Christianity was not a movement led by illiterates. This does not mean the leaders were all lettered or learned persons (Peter and John for example are said not to be such in the early chapters of Acts), but all of the major leaders of the early church were literate-- could read and write. This includes Jesus, Peter, James, Jude, Paul, the Beloved Disciple, Apollos, Silas, Luke, Matthew, Mark, and many more. As E.A. Judge long ago demonstrated Christianity was not led by bucolic charismatics. It was led in the main by the more educationally and socially elite members of its ranks. This is hardly a surprise when we realize that the church met in the homes of their more socially elite members (former synagogue leaders, city treasurers like Erastus, successful business persons like Lydia. The idea that early Christianity was a movement chiefly composed of or even led by peasants, slaves, and in general the ignorant or illiterate is absolutely a myth. This is not to say that it was led by a bunch of scholars either, but for sure it was led by some of the more socially elite and/or well educated persons in antiquity.
This brings me to an important point. There is, and has long been, an anti-intellectual element in low church Protestantism, especially in its more fundamentalist and charismatic branches. This is not always the case of course. Yet even today there is often a suspicion that too much study, intellectual effort, too much schooling can ruin one's faith, as if head and heart, reason and faith were necessarily at odds with one another. Not only is this not necessarily the case, a close study of the leaders of the beginning of the Christian movement gives the lie to such an assumption. It is an irony that Paul, one of the great minds of any age, could have been used to spearhead an anti-intellectual approach to the Christian faith. Paul would not have been pleased with this misuse-- indeed if you read Rom. 12.1-2 closely you will discover that submission to God necessarily leads to the renewal of the mind, a crucial part of any conversion or Christian life. In the 21rst century it is time for Christians to get beyond the faith vs. reason, head vs. heart, dichotomies. We need all our human resources mental and otherwise to save a lost world. Indeed we need all that we are and can be just to adequately worship God-- we must love God with our whole hearts, souls, minds, and strength.
Whenever I see the library in Ephesos I am reminded of the intellectual responsibility of Christians to discourse with our culture at a level that can reach even the brightest of the potential converts. It's time to stop dumbing down the Gospel. It's time to boil up the people, tease their minds into active thought. For the mind is a gift from God, and is not only a terrible thing to waste, its an unethical and unChristian thing to waste.