When Athanasius spoke on the topic of tradition we thought he had settled everything once and for all, but no! There were still some holdouts lurking around the Reunion who were plainly at odds with the majority view. It was clear that something had to be done! The Reunion organizers were in a real pickle until someone suggested taking a close look at the Jewish Sanhedrin. Yes, the Sanhedrin definitely bungled the situation with Jesus. Other than that, they had run things in Israel unopposed for a very long time. If Jesus hadn’t come along they would likely still be in charge! Maybe it was time to take a close look at how they did it!
The Reunion Organizers considered having Origen speak on maintaining order since he was so bright and well known. Eusebius though, was the final choice even though many thought he was just Constantine’s flunky. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and it sure didn’t hurt Eusebius’ career! In a strange twist of fate Eusebius and Athanasius had been fierce adversaries throughout their lifetimes. They gladly excommunicated each other whenever circumstances allowed! The possibility of fireworks between them made the atmosphere of the reunion just crackle with electricity! Hearing from Eusebius so soon after Athanasius had spoken promised to be truly exciting.
The Church Fathers Didn’t Always Get Along
Moderator: We have the rare pleasure tonight of hearing from one of the church’s most important and well-known historians! Eusebius of Caesarea is our speaker and I’m sure you will be most interested in what he has to say. Even though it is well known that Eusebius and Athanasius were enemies, Eusebius has promised not to say anything derogatory about Athanasius. He has also agreed not to excommunicate Athanasius tonight so let’s all relax and give a warm welcome to Eusebius of Caesarea!
Audience: Respectful applause.
Eusebius: Thank you! Thank you! It is such a pleasure to be here! I want to assure you that I will not say anything nasty about Athanasius even though it sure wouldn’t hurt to tell the truth about him. If I thought his ego could take it, I’d give you an earful! Instead of talking about him let’s talk about how wonderful it is to have the authority to enforce truth and stamp out error! History reveals that was the privilege and responsibility of the Jewish Sanhedrin and of the new and improved Christian Sanhedrin too! Yes, I know there are some who would disagree that there even IS a Christian Sanhedrin but let’s talk about it.
Church Councils Are Like the Sanhedrin!
Let me remind you that the word Sanhedrin simply means assembly or council and in Israel it had a lot of clout! It had 70 members who met at the Temple pretty much every day except the Sabbath and what they said was LAW! The members of the Sanhedrin were the undisputed rulers of religious life and of the Temple in Jerusalem. Most people knew was not a good idea to get on the wrong side of the Sanhedrin! Things in Israel generally ran smoothly under their rule and no one dared resist their authority, at least not until Jesus stepped on the scene! He made a habit of challenging their authority and sometimes He even opposed them on their own turf and they hated Him for it!
You may be wondering, what exactly did the Sanhedrin do? Well, its job was to make sure everyone followed the letter of the law and observed Jewish traditions in the way the Sanhedrin deemed essential. It was a powerful force for maintaining tradition as long as there was Temple worship in Jerusalem. Its power was limited only by Rome and it couldn’t execute anyone without permission from the Roman authorities, but that was just a minor inconvenience. Later, when the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were scattered, the Sanhedrin fell on hard times too and was finally disbanded altogether in 425 AD.
The Sanhedrin Used the Death Penalty
The chief priests who made up the Sanhedrin wanted to accuse Jesus of wrongdoing and were always trying to trap Him with trick questions. When a woman was caught in adultery they said “The Law says we should stone her to death! What do you say?” Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” The Sanhedrin allowed concession stands to operate in the Temple but Jesus drove the vendors out with a whip! Then He turned over the tables of the money changers! They thought Jesus was determined to make them look bad! He openly challenged their opinions and rulings and they wanted to silence Him so much that they came up with a plan to kill Him. When Jesus finally acknowledged that he was the Messiah they accused Him of blasphemy and sentenced Him to death at the hands of the Roman authorities.
The New and Improved Sanhedrin
The new and improved Christian version of the Sanhedrin is called a Church Council its members are called Church Fathers. Interestingly enough the Christian Sanhedrin came into power at roughly the same time the Jewish Sanhedrin was going out of existence! The Jewish Sanhedrin is no more but the power of the Christian Sanhedrin is as great as ever! Yes, the Christian Sanhedrin only rules in absentia but that’s pretty impressive when you think about it! Interestingly, each group resorted to murder at the hands of civil authorities when their authority was challenged.
Some things never seem to change! The issue that finally got Jesus killed by the Jewish Sanhedrin was His claim to be the promised Messiah. (If He had claimed to be the second person in a triune God they would have just thought He was crazy.) This was the very same issue that got so many non-trinitarians killed by the Christian Sanhedrin. These oddballs simply believed that Jesus was their Messiah and Savior! For some reason they did not buy the idea that He was a second “person” in God. Jesus’ simple claim to be the Messiah and Son of God (not God Himself mind you) resulted in His own death. Many of His followers died for exactly the same reason!
Keepers of Tradition Should be Feared!
What is the lesson to be learned in all this? We proclaim that keepers and enforcers of tradition are to be feared and respected in every age! Those who dare to challenge religious authorities and traditions often end up dead! It would be nice if things were otherwise and killing those who disagree with us is not our first choice! Our fondest hope is that those who dispute our theology would come to their senses. Sadly, many of them refuse to acknowledge our authority and we are sometimes left with no choice but to kill them.
Some people may need to perish in order to preserve our cherished traditions. The Jewish Sanhedrin proclaimed this very thing when they sentenced Jesus to death (John 11:50). This is a really effective way to protect religious traditions! Some believers say Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God but recklessly deny that He is of the same essence as the Father. These simpletons are entitled to the severity of God but not His Goodness! This may sound a little rough but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
The Christian Sanhedrin Still Rules!
Many governments in modern times refuse to execute our enemies for us but there is always hope this will change! In the mean time we encourage believers to label everyone who disagrees with us as heretics. Treat them with the contempt they deserve! This is about the best we can do for now. The true wisdom of our Christian Sanhedrin is shown by how long it has survived and ruled in absentia! We are still in charge and we aren’t even physically on the scene anymore!
Moderator: My goodness everyone, this has certainly been an interesting evening! We are so glad Eusebius could join us and share his unique historical insights and perspective! Who knows what might come next? Only time will tell!
Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes