St. Irenaeus Ministries
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St. Irenaeus Ministries - a center of orthodox Catholic mission and renewal in Rochester, NY

Paul instructs Christians to encourage those in our communities who may be struggling in faith, calling on similar statements in Colossians 3 and Romans 12.

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Paul tells is that we must be prepared for the end times, and not be in the dark like the rest of mankind. Isaiah 59 may have been in Paul's mind when he wrote this section. Paul uses a metaphor of armor here that is similar to the one in Ephesians but with different metaphors.

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Paul instructs Christians not to shun manual labor but to engage others in their lives in Christian love so that we are command the respect of others. We must be blameless and holy on the last day, since it will be on that state that we will be judged. There will not be a period in which some are left behind or a Rapture, and we must celebrate the death of any righteous man as he returns to God.

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Paul calls Christians to catechize and root the new disciples in faith and in practice, but he focuses on three issues in chapter 4 under the subject of holiness: sexual issues, love of the brotherhood, and those Christians who have died. For Christians, it is vitally important that they do not give those who would oppose them an excuse that a sexual scandal might afford, and Paul uses language to describe this that may be shocking to modern readers.

God wishes us to become sanctified, which is a process that continues through our lives. Heb 12:14 commands us to be holy, else we will not see God. Sexuality is a mutual gift for giving and receiving by married couples, and this necessarily means that Christians cannot be unchaste, and so Paul calls Christians to control themselves sexually, and God will avenge the wrongs that have been done against others sexually.

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Paul is driven to Athens and preaches there, but is not able to return to Thessalonica to continue preaching there, and sends a letter back to them explaining his great desire to return there with Timothy. Paul also says that we must be vigorous in our faith, even to the point of suffering.

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Paul did not preach for prestige or glory, unlike other false teachers. He has worked intensely and personally with the people to make people's lives worthy of God. In Philippians 1:6 and Philippians 2:13, Paul speaks of how God works through us to bring His work to completion. Paul is deeply grieved by his inability to get back to Thessalonica.

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When Saul first encountered the Christian faith, he would have been offended that a man who claimed to be the Messiah was hung on a tree, and such men are described as being cursed.

Paul visits Cyprus as part of his first missionary journey, and they have a disagreement as to whether the Gentile converts must become Jews first by circumcision, which Paul is opposed to. Paul returns to Antioch, and his second missionary journey follows, which will take him to Thessalonica. Paul will be visiting the temple there, and so not to cause any unnecessary confrontation, he makes sure that his traveling companion is circumcised.

Paul exorcises a demon from a slave girl in Philippi who is following them. This causes an uproar from the men who are making money from this slave girl's visions. Due to mistreatment, Paul is let go to leave and he continues on to Thessalonica, a trading hub. Paul makes converts there but he is again chased out of town. Paul continues to Berea and Athens, pushed far by the Holy Spirit.

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On Paul's journey, he is imprisoned, but through an earthquake, he persuades the jailer to convert to Christianity. Paul is released and goes to Thessalonica, where he preaches on the subject of the messiah for three weeks. The Jewish establishment sent troublemakers to cause a riot, and Paul is forced out of the city. The Jews in Beroea receive him well.

A large number of the converts coming into the church are Gentiles and Paul praises them for turning from from idols and to God.

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Paul's epistles to the Thessalonians show a vivid snapshot of the church in mission. Paul was sent from the church in Antioch as a mission to the Gentiles to Cyprus.

The Antiochan church was being torn apart by the question of whether Gentiles must be circumcised. The Council of Jerusalem would decide that Gentiles must abstain from idolatry, abstain from sexual immorality and abstain from meat with blood. Paul returns from Jerusalem with this information to Antioch. There he splits with Barnabus and continues his missionary journeys returning to Greece and Crete.

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Paul tells Philemon that he could be bold enough to command him to do what is required, he chooses to appeal out of love. Paul appeals to Philemon to take Onesimus back as he is useful to Philemon and to Paul, with whom he has formed a special bond.

Paul also says that he will be arriving to visit Philemon shortly. His unstated intention in doing this may be to pressure Philemon to do what he is calling him to do before his visit.

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The Epistle to Philemon is not strictly speaking a pastoral epistle, as it does not concern the pastoral care of a church. It is, however, a very personal letter written to Philemon, who was a leader in Colossae of some means and influence. Philemon had a slave by the name of Onesimus, who ran away to a major city, most likely Ephesus, where he became a Christian and met Paul.

Paul knows that Onesimus must return to Philemon, and so writes a letter to Philemon in order to plead for Onesimus' favorable return. We know that a later bishop in the area was named Onesimus, so Paul's letter appears to have been successful, and perhaps Onesimus included this letter in the canon of scripture to show a more personal aspect of Paul. Paul appeals to Philemon by reminding him of his reputation for love, and thus sets the stage for his plea to Philemon.

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Those who would pastor must remind the faithful to obey legitimate authority and engage in God's work. Pastors must also not engage in controversies. A pastor must not drive those who hold erroneous beliefs from the faith, but must encourage all to come to the true faith from wherever they are.

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All Apostolic Ministry is supposed to spark the faith, inform the faith with a knowledge of the truth and encourage godly living. Paul has no difficulty with encouraging godly living in this letter, and Paul encourages Titus and all of us to do this. We must make a break with the worldly things and live soberly.

Paul also makes one of the strongest statements that Jesus is God in Titus 2:13.

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Priests must be able to see and identify heresy, root it but yet not draw attention to it, so as to enable heresy. These priests must be dedicated to their work. Likewise, mothers must be serious about the faith and teach it to their children so that they do not fall into the trap of this sort of heresy.

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Titus was close to Paul, chosen as an example of how faithful Gentiles could be to Christ. Paul begins the epistle to Titus by proclaiming himself to be a slave to Christ, showing radical devotion to Christ. Paul knows that as a pastor, he must spark a faith response to God. The Church must impart knowledge of the Truth and the sure hope that those who respond will attain eternal life.

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Paul closes the letter with personal notes about many of his fellow Christians, like Timothy and Mark, whom Paul requests visit him, Demas, who is in love with the present world, many missionaries who are going off to carry on the message of Christ, as well as Claudia, one of the women involved in the early Church and Linus, who is probably the same Linus who will one day succeed Peter as Pope.

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Christ is returning to judge the living and the dead, and Paul orders Timothy to educate Christians in the faith, but this is not an obligation of Timothy alone. We must all take on the task of holding the people to the faith rather than the other paths of erroneous beliefs.

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Some Christians may be easily misled into error, but we must be prepared to defend the faith and avoid being drawn into the sin of others who will proclaim these. Paul notes that the Bible is useful for correction, just as tradition is. We must seek not signs or prophecies but rather the true faith; and we have seen this lust for signs exploited as far back as Pharaoh's priests.

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Paul tells us a few characteristics of the last days. While the early Church was expecting an immediate coming of the last days, the prophecy in Daniel leaves the exact time indeterminate. Antichrists will rise to mislead people but for mercy, the time of the final judgment is being delayed.

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When we become Christians, we are incorporated into Christ. Some teachers preach a perverted Christianity which is not a part of life in Christ, and we are told to avoid such things and those who traffic in them. These errors may be allowed to persist so that we may be challenged to hold to God's will in purity. We must also correct these people in gentleness and not in anger.

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Paul tells us to be strengthened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, but to expect to suffer as Christians. Paul also instructs Timothy to pass on the message that he has taught to trustworthy men. Paul uses several analogies for the Christian life, the farmer who must work hard, the soldier who must detach himself from civilian life, and the athlete who must obey certain rules and discipline.

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Paul is in prison and has been abandoned by some of his prior compatriots. We must never be ashamed to testify to our faith in God. This testimony comes from the Holy Spirit, but we must act on this spirit. We do have the ability to reject God's will, but if we choose to testify to the Lord, His truth will come through us.

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Paul's Second Letter to Timothy comes later in his life, as he is nearing his death. The content is markedly different, though the language suggests it may have been written by the same scribe.

Paul connects the Christian's life to that of God. We are to not be timid but to be prepared to act on our Christian duties, even if we should need to rekindle our faith from time to time.

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Those who came to Christ in slavery were asked to continue in the same way. It was not possible for the Church to afford the complete release of slaves at that time. Christians are asked to tame their passions and use them for the Lord. Even a rich man may be generous with money and use that money to do God's work.

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The widows who dedicate themselves to the Church should be ones were were dedicated to one man in marriage. Similarly, while the overseers (a position in the church that would later become the position of bishop) of the Church may have work besides preaching, they should receive double honor for their fidelity to work in the Church despite other obligations.

For believers who go astray into sin, if they persist, on the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15) they should be rebuked in the presence of all. We do not want to participate in others' sins.

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In the society surrounding the early Christian community, there was no support network for widows. Paul instructs that if an older woman's husband dies, and this woman devotes herself to the work of the Church and vows never to marry again, the community should support that woman if the woman's family is not present. Younger women should not be pressed prematurely into this sort of vow.

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Paul returns to the subject of a particular heresy that is threatening the church at that time, but he instructs Timothy not to engage the arguments about it and does not specify the heresy here. We know that they were talking in part about food laws and imposing further restrictions on the Church. These restrictions are not necessarily wrong and may in fact be helpful, but these doctrines are not to be placed on the people. Mark 7 tells us that all foods are morally clean. Nothing is to be rejected if it received with thanksgiving, as this sort of spiritual appetite can never be satisfied.

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Authority in the Church comes from men, and while it does not preclude the wise counsel of women, this particular kind of authority can come only from men. A priest should not be a drunkard or quarrelsome or greedy and desirous of money. He should not be a recent convert and must be held in esteem.

In a marriage, the wife should be submissive to her husband. Similarly, all Christians should be subject to one another to care for their brethren. This does not necessarily mean that the strongest personality in a family is the father's. It is through the bearing of children that women are saved, though it is not necessary for women to bear children to be saved.

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Paul reminds the men that Christ's death was a ransom for the multitudes, and that there is no limitation on who may be saved by a secret knowledge or ancestry. This does not mean that we may worship God however we please. Those who attend the Mass must do so in a respectful manner. We must not be ostentatious or skimpy in our attire or quarrelsome in demeanor there, of all places.

Women are instructed to learn and teach the faith to their children. They are not to have authority over men, though they are commended to prophesy in the assembly.

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Paul instructs us to pray for the salvation of all men, including leaders and kings. There had been an error that said that not all could be saved, and perhaps this was the error that Paul was writing the letter to combat. We are to desire the salvation of all and pray for all. We should ask our brethren to do the same for us and likewise the saints to intercede on our behalf.

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Even though Paul was familiar with the beliefs of Christians, he says that he had an ignorance of Christianity. The people that are causing trouble in Ephesus are not in a similar situation. They are or were in some sense believers, but have gone astray, and Paul says that they must be separated from the Church by excommunication, hopefully to see the error of their ways and rejoin the Church.

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The letters to Timothy begin shortly after the end of Acts, with Paul's release from Rome in 62 AD. Paul writes a personal letter to Timothy, but it is evident from the language that it is an open letter.

In Ephesus, where Timothy was, there were people, at least two known to Paul, who were teaching a sort of legalistic Gnosticism. These people suggested reading the Bible through some sort of lens. Paul condemns this sort of interpretation of the Bible. These people focused more on the law, which was for the correction of those who are in error, rather than on love.

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Timothy was a convert to Christianity, a product of a mixed marriage between a Jewish mother and a pagan Greek father, and a Christian of some note in Lystra by the time of Paul's second visit to that city. Timothy would have heard Paul's preaching that afflictions would be necessarry to enter the kingdom of God. In addition to the basic rules that Gentile Christians must follow, the prohibition on eating meat with blood, the prohibition on sexual immorality, and the prohibition on food sacrificed to idols, Timothy was circumcised to avoid a distracting confrontation with the Judaizers in the Church. Timothy was quite influential as Paul's envoy in Macedonia.

Titus was an early convert from a pagan background who went up to Jerusalem with Paul (possibly from Antioch). This background comes largely from the second chapter of Galatians.

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This study of the Pastoral Epistles of Paul comprises the two epistles to Timothy, the epistle to Titus and also the epistle to Philemon, which is not considered part of the pastoral epistles. Paul had a marked ability to find and train men to as parts of a missionary network, and while these letters show the sort of care and relationship Paul had with his men, they were also meant to be read. Many of the details of Paul's life after the events in the book of Acts can be found here.

Some have questioned whether these letters are genuinely of Paul. There are some marked differences between these and Paul's other letters, particularly in vocabulary. The Church has always affirmed that these letters are of Paul, and the differences can be attributed in part due to the fact that these are personal letters, not letters intended for the community at large, and differing uses of a scribe, or amanuensis. The early church fathers, going back as far as the sub-apostolic age, one generation removed from Paul's, who knew the Greek of the time, believe them to be authentic.

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We must know God's word if we are His people, but we must also have it in our hearts. This word is for all of us, not just the clergy. We must drill it into our children's hearts so that we can act on it rather than knowing the word but not acting on it. We must act with justice toward all in the Christian community, as we cannot lift out hands to God if there is injustice in the community.

Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah all show for us how heroic our leaders should be. Like them, we must continually labor to renew and reform the Church to God's will. There are those who are those who do not work to reform the Church, or even work against them, but we must not be fearful, as God will take care of His Church. We must work on and have patience. God is being patient for us, which He can afford to do, as God controls history.

These books, like all of the Bible, should be read not simplistically. There is an adult reality with realistic lessons for all of us and applications to our lives today. To the faithful, Ezra and Nehemiah show us many duties that we have to the Church today.

We must have faith.

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There are many lessons to take from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The story is told in such a way as to mirror the Exodus and the settlement of Israel. This is a restoration of the people of God, and if the people are to serve as an example of God's great deeds, the people must be seen as a blessing and as a witness, and the people cannot be that unless they are a people apart. This necessarily means that this will not be an easy life, but rather will result in persecution.

If the people are to have right relationship with God, they must also exercise right worship. This worship requires being freed from bondage by God's salvation, accepting God's law in your heart, and having a way to be in God's presence. The priesthood is essential to this. Sacrifice and atonement for sin is an essential part of worship, as well. Erecting an altar was the first thing that Moses instructed the people to do when they entered the land. The people were also instructed in the law, which was important for all the people who were capable of understanding to know.

The Emmanuel principle is important, that is, it is important to make a place for God with us, as the temple and specifically the tabernacle. It is all the more immanent with Jesus Christ, God incarnate.

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Israel gave a portion to the temple, but the high priest Eliashib gave space in the temple for the donations to Tobiah, who was forbidden to be in the assembly of God because he was an Ammonite.  Nehemiah threw Tobiah's things out of the temple and likewise shut down the merchants who sold goods to the Jews on the Sabbath.

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After the city is protected by the walls and the people and the city are blessed, Jerusalem must be repopulated to maintain a civilization to support the temple. Some volunteer to live there, but many are chosen by lottery.

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After the people had heard the law, they confessed their sins and worshipped God. Ezra traces the history of God's people, from His mighty deliverance from Egypt through the presumptuous sins of the people to the establishment of the land of Israel.  The people came into the land but turned away again and were sent into exile. God brought them back, and the people are now rededicating themselves to the God who has never wavered from the covenant that the people so often have abandoned.

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After the completion of the wall, in the month of Tishrei, the people gather before the Water Gate to dedicate themselves as the people of God. It is around this time that the Festival of Booths occurred in the time of Moses, but the feast had fallen into disuse, as well as the day of atonement.

The people call for Ezra to bring the book of  the law and read the law and pledge themselves to the Lord. Ezra raises the book, and praises the Lord and all the people fall and bless God. The Levites went into the crowd to help the people understand the word of God. When the people understood this law, they wept.

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The famine in Israel was deep enough that farmers are going into debt and some are requiring extreme amounts of collateral to cover their debts. Nehemiah is so concerned that he demands that all debt collections stop and the payments are reversed.

As the building of the wall comes to a close, Sanballat, through his agents, tries to convince Nehemiah to discuss Nehemiah and Judah's role in the area, but Nehemiah saw that it was a trick to derail his work. Nehemiah goes to meet with Shemaiah, who was homebound, Shemaiah suggests that they go to the temple to discuss, but Nehemiah knows that they want to make it seem as though he is seeking sanctuary, and refuses.

The wall is finished, and a census is taken. Again, some who claim to be priests but whose lineage is unknown are excluded from the priestly functions until a priest can consult the Urim and Thummim.

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Nehemiah came in to a dispirited land and brought about a seemingly unanimous decision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Even Jews as far away as Gibeon and Mizpah came to assist in the rebuilding, though some were more dedicated than others. Even what little some may do is made more difficult by a famine in the land.

Sanballat, a Samaritan, prepares to launch an attack on the Jews who are rebuilding the temple, but the plan is discovered. The rebuilding is interrupted, and Nehemiah sets up a patrol to protect the rebuilding process.

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Nehemiah comes to Jerusalem and evaluates the work to be done but does not immediately tell anyone of his plans. When confronted about the rebuilding of the temple, Nehemiah tells his critics that God will restore the Jews to Jerusalem. It is when Nehemiah begins this rebuilding that Daniel's messianic prophecy of seventy weeks of years begins.

Nehemiah is known for his intercession, an important facet of leadership.

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Nehemiah came to prominence as a leader of the Jews 13 years after Ezra's time. Powerful men had taken issue with Ezra rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, which had contributed to a decline of Ezra's influence. Nehemiah, cup bearer to Artaxerxes, pleads to the king to rebuild Jerusalem, since Judah's neighbors were exploiting the unprotected nature of the city. Artaxerxes agrees, perhaps believing that having a friendly leader in Judah would protect him from his enemies.

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Ezra has a meeting with some of the leaders of the group returning to Israel where they discuss the plans for the return and take a tally of some of the gifts they are bringing with them. It is with this group that Ezra would later meet and discuss the fact that many of the people had returned married to people who were practicing a pagan worship. Ezra declared that these marriages with people who were actively worshiping foreign gods could not stand.

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Ezra was a priestly scribe of some import in the Jewish community in exile who was moved to bring his people back to the law. He comes to Israel in the seventh year in the reign of Artaxerxes I, 60 years after the completion of the temple. The Persian empire makes special provisions for the Jewish faith and for Ezra in particular.

As God's people, the Jews are called to be consecrated and separated, not adulterated by people of other religions. As such, no foreign wives may be taken by the Jews, unless they change and are converted to Judaism.

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Zec 4:6-10 tells Zerubbabel that he will restore the temple, but by God's power, not by his own. The people of the lands around Israel attempted to frustrate or co-opt this building of the temple for the with their own worship. This harassment would go on in some form for around 70 years.

Playing on the fears of the Persians, they were able to halt construction on occasion, but God shepherded the rebuilding of His temple and it was eventually completed.

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Paramount importance was placed on creating an altar to God, as Moses had commanded of the original altar. This is appropriate, since sacrifice is the Old Testament way that sinful men can approach a holy God. These sacrifices are ways that men would pray that God would remember the covenant.

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The book of Ezra continues with the story of the people separated (or set aside) for God, starting with a census. Some were not able to prove their lineage, and were given a separate designation. Professed priests who fell into this category were excluded as unclean until the Urim and Thummim could be consulted. These people came back to a dry, desolate land with high ideals and many gifts for the restoration of the land, but they would be called to a greater purity than many were prepared to undertake.

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The books of Ezra and Nehemiah mark the greatest reform of God's people in the Old Testament. God gave the law to Moses, a temple and kingdom to the Israelites, and prophets to proclaim that the people would be carried into captivity if they were not faithful. The people remained lukewarm, and were carried off to Babylon.

In the Babylonian captivity, we see the Israelites become the Jewish people, and they restore the land starting in 538 with the great decree of the Persian king Cyrus that the Jews were to return to Israel. God stirred Cyrus up to ask the Jews to rebuild the temple, which is something very unusual for the Persian Empire until that point.

Sheshbazzar, a Jewish prince, begins this return from exile, but after this, we do not see his name show up in the Bible. Zerubbabel continues the return.

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Central to the incarnation is the fact that it is a great act of humbling God's self. The God of the universe exists outside of time and space, and knows the incarnation, the passion, and even the fall of Adam before creation. It is humbling in  the extreme to know that we were created even knowing the fall would come.

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Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, united in something called a hypostatic union. Some have called into doubt just how much He knew about His divinity at different points in His life on Earth, but it is clear that Jesus knew from earliest times that He is God. He knew that He should be about His father's business in the temple, He proclaimed Himself as the Son of God, not as an adopted sonship, but as a natural son.

His opponents used the very same statements to condemn Him, stating that He had called Himself God, and when they gave Him an opportunity to clarify what He meant, Jesus did not deny that He is God. Heresies arose about this doctrine from both sides, with some like the Arians denying Christ's divinity, and the Docetists attacking His humanity. The Church has made statements several times refuting these errors.

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