Genesis 18 and Early Church Writings [Mathetes to Diognetus] 1-3

Genesis 18 - This chapter shows us Abraham sitting at the entrance to his tent near a small tree called a Terebinth at Mamre.  It is just getting to the hot part of the day, when three strangers appear.  Abraham runs over to them and begs them to accept hospitality from him. 

 

He enlists Sarah’s help and arranges for meat and cheese to be offered.  While they are eating, they ask where his wife is and one of them says “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son”  (18:10). Sarah, inside the tent, laughs to herself for she is well beyond child-bearing age and knows it.  But the speaker, now identified as “the Lord” repeats to Abraham what she has only said to herself. Sarah tries to deny that she laughed, but of course we all know that Sarah is having trouble really believing that this promise will ever be brought to pass—that is why she resorted to the scheme with Hagar. 

 

The three men then set out from there, and Abraham goes with them a ways toward Sodom.  The voice changes back and forth from that of the men (or one of the men) to that of YHWH himself (18:9 and 18:13) and later again at verses 18:16 and 18:17.  It is clear that they are to be seen as His voice. He does tell him he plans to destroy Sodom.

 

This is an interesting passage both for its content and the point of view it pretends to speak from.  Here the writer presents to us the inner workings of the Lord’s mind concerning not only Abraham, but the whole plan of the future he has initiated through Abraham.  The conferring of the redemption promises on Abraham brings him into relationship with God in which God seems to acknowledge that he [Abraham] has a right or need to know how God will deal with men, to understand God’s justice and even to mediate mankind’s needs to God.  That this spurs Abraham to intercede for Sodom flows naturally from God’s including him in the divine reflection, which ultimately effects the action God takes. 

 

There is an inter-action between the divine intention and man’s response to that intention, which ultimately shapes what happens, what God puts into effect.  Also interesting is the point that God is going to punish Sodom because he is responding to an outcry against their wickedness.  In all this, the inter-involvement and interplay between God and man, not simply God’s omniscience and omnipotence, seem to be that which shapes events. 

 

Abraham pleads with God not to destroy the innocent with the guilty.  Noah didn’t do this (presuming that there were other innocents destroyed in the flood), but Abraham, like Moses and Jesus after him will take the part of man at least to a point and intercede for us.  In a sense this makes Abraham God’s first “prophet.”

 

The Lord finally does agree to spare Sodom if ten righteous men can be found there, and perhaps would have gone further, but Abraham does not presume to push Him beyond ten.

 

Epistle of Mathetes [Disciple] to Diognetus

From Christian Classics Ethereal Library - http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.html

Introduction: First published in 1592 as an epistle ascribed to Justin Martyr, it is now acknowledged that we do not know who the author was; Mathetes means simply "disciple" [anonymous].  The editor at the site includes it because it is thoroughly Pauline [and I would say Johannine] and primitive. The recipient of the letter is also uncertain. There is a Diogetus who was a tutor to a future emperor and stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, but there is no solid foundation for assuming this the same man. It was written when Christianity was still a “new thing” in the world.

 

I would think that these early Christian documents would be especially interesting to Quakers, inasmuch as they have long proclaimed that their Christian witness is one of “primitive Christianity revived” (Wm Penn, 1696).

 

Chapter 1 – He writes to one he sees as “exceedingly desirous to learn the mode of worshipping God prevalent among the Christians . . . what God they trust in, and what form of religion they observe.” They “despise death” and do not esteem “those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks . . . “; and they do not hold to what he calls “the superstition of the Jews” either.

 

Chapter 2 – Free yourself from “all prejudices possessing your mind”; “you are to be the hearer of a new [system of] doctrine.” He must free his mind of the thought that the idols people worship as gods can actually be such gods. They are merely stone, brass, wood, silver, iron and earthenware – all “corruptible matter.” They were all formed by the arts of man. They are deaf, blind and without life.

 

Chapter 3 – He writes that “the Christians do not observe the same forms of divine worship as do the Jews” either. They offer sacrifice “to God as if He needed them. . . “, but this is cannot be true. “For He that made heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and gives to us all the things of which we stand in need, certainly requires none of those things which He Himself bestows” on us.

 

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