True Christian Manliness: On the Acts of St Andrew

Here in St Andrews, oddly enough, we mark St Andrews Day in various ways—this year I shall be at a graduation ceremony and, in best Hobbit style, at two formal luncheons. To mark it on a blog, I turn the to apocryphal Acts of Andrew, or rather to what we have left of them. Attributed by Pope Innocent I to a pair of ‘philosophers’ named Xenocharides and Leonidas, and a century and some earlier by Pilaster of Brescia to ‘disciples who followed the apostle’, we have a set of fragments in various languages, together with an apparently-garbled Latin summary by Georgius Florentius Gregorius, which together were reconstructed in the 1980s into two slightly different versions of the text by Jean-Marc Prieur (whose edition is published in CCSA 5 & 6) and Dennis MacDonald (who published in the SBL Texts and Translations series, vol. 33). The lost original can be dated to around, perhaps before, AD200. There is little doubt that the authors intended to construct a Christian version of Homer’s Odyssey, a text which was being used by Greek writers in the early Christian centuries as an allegory of the soul’s journey. The connection with St Andrew, MacDonald hypothesises, is not in any way historical but because ‘Andrew’ represents masculinity, and the text is a Christian attempt to reconstruct visions of masculinity. MacDonald says ‘the AA replaces the ethically questionable traits of Homeric heroes with Christian virtues. Instead of Odysseus’s wealth, sex, and violence, the heroes here represent poverty, chastity, and military disobedience.’ (p. 55) In the miracles reported in the Acts, warriors are repeatedly disarmed. Sometimes (e.g. Gregory’s summary, 9) this is against their will; other times, Andrew prevails upon his followers not to fight, but often there is a conversion to pacifism. Examples of the last two occur in the story in Gregory 18, and the longer version of it in the fragment preserved in the Coptic ms Utrecht 1: Soldiers are sent after Andrew, and a crowd comes armed to protect him, but he dissuades them from fighting. Then it turns out one of the soldiers is demonised; when he is delivered he throws off his military uniform and declares that from now on he seeks to be clothed in the uniform of God. The fragment ends with his confession, ‘there is no sword in his [Andrew’s] hand, nor any instrument of war, but these great acts of power issue from his hand.’ Masculinity is re-ordered by this text away from violence and militarism, towards pacifism and intentional peace-making. Mercy is another striking feature of the text. Repeatedly Andrew is depicted as raising from the dead those who have been struck down by God in judgement against their evil deeds so that they might repent. This happens with Varianus’s son in Gregory 18, and with the Myrmidons in the Acts of Andrew and Matthias in the City of the Flesh Eaters (which MacDonald has as the first book of the Acts of Andrew, but Prieur has as a separate text). In Gregory 23 Callisto, a proconsul’s wife, is struck down dead for falsely accusing a convert, Trophime, of adultery (a crime she herself is guilty of); Andrew raises her from the dead, even after her husband suggests she deserved death and should be left, and then invites her to repent. In the Acts of Andrew, to be a proper man is to be merciful. The story of Trophime gets us to questions of sexual ethics. It seems that the original Acts saw even marriage as impure, and commended chastity instead (Gregory conceals this in his summary); one of the recurrent motifs of this, however, is the protection of women threatened with rape or sexual violence. Trophime is enslaved into prostitution as a result of Callisto’s accusation; she is miraculously protected from all who would abuse her, in one case by the appearance of an angel who strikes the man down dead (and she then raises him from the dead; mercy triumphs over judgement once more!). Andrew is martyred by Aegeates, the proconsul of Patras, because he encouraged the proconsul’s wife Maximilla to stand firm in her desire not to have sex with her husband. Aegeates presents his wife with an ultimatum: if she will be sexually active, Andrew will be freed; if not, he will be tortured and killed. Undoubtedly in the narrative her desire to be celibate stems from an unhealthy ethic; behind that, however, it is striking that Andrew is martyred defending a very modern, and feminist, concept: ‘no means no’ (even in marriage). We might finally note humility; the servant who denounces Andrew and those who have been...

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An Evangelical approach to sexual ethics

I am just back from the annual meeting of the American Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in San Antonio, TX. It is only the second time in my life I have been to the ETS conference, but they offered a slot for us to launch a book, Two Views on Homosexuality, that I’ve contributed to, and I decided quickly that I owed it to the publishers (who have been very generous) and to my fellow contributors (who in the process of arguing our points have become friends) to be there. I don’t suppose that it is a state secret that we were offering the launch around the conferences. If we’d got at slot at AAR/SBL, Wes Hill and I, who argued the conservative side of the question, would have been under fire, and would have looked to Megan DeFranza and Bill Loader, who argued the affirming side, to support us; at ETS it was rather definitely the other way around; Wes & I were—I think ‘denounced’ is the right word, but I will live with ‘challenged’—on the basis that even accepting the possibility that someone may find an affirming doctrine in Scripture was already a fundamental betrayal. I struggle with this because I am, by deep conviction, evangelical. I believe passionately in the core evangelical impulse, that I—not just can, but must—make common cause with all those who preach the necessity of the new birth, regardless of other disagreements. I live in a village where, in 1679, James Sharp, Archbishop of St Andrews and Professor of Theology in my own College, was murdered by those who thought that accepting episcopacy was repugnant to the gospel, and where in retaliation the Anglican establishment murdered six convinced Presbyterians, inhabitants of my village, who had no involvement in the crime, because the established church thought presbyterianism equally repugnant. When, sixty years later Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Anglicans would invite each other into their pulpits because of a shared commitment to the gospel something quite miraculous had happened. What Americans call the Great Awakening and Brits call the Evangelical Revival was a move of the Spirit of God, not just in renewing the gospel of salvation by faith alone, but in breaking down the ecclesial barriers that separated believers in the gospel. I was slow to understand what went on in our session at ETS; the Rottweilers were out in some force, and challenging Megan and Bill on their understanding; OK, I did that sharply enough in the book. But there was repeatedly an extra step stated or implied in the questions, from ‘this is wrong’ to ‘you are not a Christian’. I admit I did not understand where this was coming from. Then someone came up to me at the end, and asked why I had been defending my friends. I began to say some stuff about love and loyalty but he cut across me, ‘They are leading people onto the highway to hell!’ Oh. I’m generally bad in live debate—my mind moves slowly enough that I need time to find an adequate response to challenges. But this one wasn’t hard—I am, as I say, by deep conviction, evangelical. ‘No, I know Megan and Bill, I know that they call people to believe in Jesus. They are leading people on the highway to heaven (even if I presently think that they are fairly seriously wrong on at least one aspect of the nature of that highway).’ The memory troubles me. I do not know who he was—his badge was turned around—but his conviction was clear: teaching false sexual morality was damaging the salvation of the hearers. Maybe I’m sensitive, because of the village I live in, because the blood flowed where I walk, but it matters to me desperately that salvation depends on our embracing of the forgiveness offered in Jesus and on nothing else. Nothing else. ‘Sola fide’ is not an interesting theological slogan for me. It is—literally—gospel truth. Add this or that condition, and you begin to justify the murder of members of my college or inhabitants of my village. More importantly than that, even, you begin to query the salvation of those who have put their faith in Jesus. Sola fide. I have to stand on that. Because the Blood flowed where I walk, and where we all walk. One perfect sacrifice, complete, once for all, offered for all the world, offering renewal to all who will put their faith in Him. And if that means me, in all my failures and confusions, then it also means my friends who affirm same-sex marriage, in all their failures and confusions. If my faithful and affirming friends have...

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