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TESTAMENT OF ISAAC (1st - 4th century) Questions.

Discussion in 'The Voice In The Desert - Oriental Orthodox' started by rakovsky, Feb 16, 2019.

  1. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    I agree that it's most fitting for the forum when a document or a question about it relates to the Coptic Church, as Dzheremi mentioned. I appreciate his and others conversations with me about these early writings here. One of the main questions that I have had when researching this document was about scholars' discussions on the commemoration of Isaac in the Coptic Church, so I'd like to ask about it below.

    The main versions of The Testament of Isaac are in the Sahidic and Bohairic dialects of Coptic, although there are also Ethiopic and Arabic versions. M.Delcor suggests that it is early because of its affinity to the Dead Sea Scrolls and to the Testament of Abraham, whereas P.Nagel thinks that it dates to 400 AD. The Testaments of Abraham and Isaac are two early writings that narrate these three ancient Patriarchs' conversations with angels before their repose.
    The Testament of Isaac is online here: https://ia902701.us.archive.org/16/items/TheTestamentOfIsaac/TheTestamentOfIsaac.pdf

    (Question 1) Does the Coptic Church's commemoration of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have special features or is it distinct from their commemoration in other Churches?

    W. F. Stinespring writes in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (vol. 1, p. 904):
    When I read this sentence, I took the writer as saying that the Coptic Church and its Tradition have a special commemoration for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that their Testaments emphasize stories of their repose that are part of this commemoration. But maybe I read this incorrectly and he only meant that the Testaments emphasize the repose of the two Patriarchs, who are commemorated in the Coptic Church.

    John Fadden connects T.Isaac to different aspects of Coptic Christian Tradition in his doctoral dissertation, "'Our Father Isaac': Reading the Sahidic Testamentof Isaac in an Egyptian Monastic Context". He writes:
    Fadden has this to say about the connection between Isaac's Testament and his commemoration in the Church:
    I believe that the "sacrifices of the Christians" refers to the Eucharistic sacrifices, since it talks about Christ and the Eucharist right before discussing those sacirifices:
    On the other hand, it later gives instructions on Old Testament sacrifices, so when it says that people who identify with Isaac (apparently referring to the Christians as the spiritual sons of Abraham and Isaac) should make sacrifices for him, it sounds like they are talking about the Old Testament type of animal sacrifices, although I suppose it could refer to donations or other non-bloody offerings. Here in Chapter 6, Isaac says:
    And then in Chapter 10,
    Fadden continues:
    (Question 2) How do you understand Abraham's "offering" or "sacrifice" of Isaac in the Testament of Isaac and in Coptic or other Orthodox Church references to it? These references are confusing for me.

    Chapter 13 of the Testament of Isaac says:
    I have trouble understanding what "Isaac's sacrifice" was. I could take this passage to mean that Abraham "offered" Isaac in the sense that he presented, submitted, and tendered Isaac to God as a sacrifice, and that the smell of Isaac went up to God. Interesting issue though in that wind/breeze in Hebrew and Greek also means spirit (pneuma), and that in Russian perfume and spirit are overlapping words (dukh = spirit & wind; dukhi = spirits, winds, perfume). In the liturgy, we ask that our prayer rises like incense. So the rising of isaac's smell could resemble the concept of Isaac's spirit rising to God.

    The entry for the commemoration of Isaac on 28 Masra in the Coptic Synaxarium (Coptic Orthodox Calendar) says:
    What do you think about this?
    I can see that Abraham intended to fulfill God's orders to sacrifice Isaac. But God intervened so that this intention was not successful. I don't know if one can rationally speak of unaccomplished actions being accomplished by intention but not in reality. Are there examples of this concept in common speech or literature that I am missing? I don't mean to pick on the Coptic Church here - maybe it talks this way in the Bible or in other Orthodox writings?
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  2. Coptic Cross

    Coptic Cross New Member

    United States
    I was searching google and came across this topic, i skimmed through your topic fast and i don't mind helping!!

    What do you think about this?
    I can see that Abraham intended to fulfill God's orders to sacrifice Isaac. But God intervened so that this intention was not successful. I don't know if one can rationally speak of unaccomplished actions being accomplished by intention but not in reality. Are there examples of this concept in common speech or literature that I am missing? I don't mean to pick on the Coptic Church here - maybe it talks this way in the Bible or in other Orthodox writings?

    You are not picking on Coptic, you want to understand :)

    The story behind Abraham sacrificing his son, the intend of it was the future prophecy of the coming of Jesus Christ, that the son of God would be sacrificed for human and their sin. That is why God intervened and Isaac was not sacrificed.

    Watch the movie of Jesus Christ

    Whenever you're lost or need answers, look up the commentary


    Last edited: Feb 16, 2019
  3. dzheremi

    dzheremi Coptic Orthodox non-Egyptian

    Oriental Orthodox
    As again, we do not have this document in circulation in our Church, some of these questions aren't really answerable. You are once again proceeding as though because you found this book which says that the document can be read in such and such a context, therefore it is. Maybe it was at one point, but if you go back far enough the same would be true about virtually everything that was not openly gnostic, which is why there are also often Greek, Slavonic, and other versions of many works which nevertheless have no status in those churches, either.

    It is the same in ours. And even the language is almost the same, as Arabic نفس can mean 'soul' or 'wind'.

    Or the simplest explanation is probably sufficient: he intended to sacrifice him in accordance with how he understood God's will, so although the sacrifice did not happen because God stopped it, we could still say his intention to follow God's will was completed through his willingness to do so.

    It is sort of like the judgment of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:16-28, when king Solomon judges between the two women by proposing that the baby they are fighting over be cut in half. That is giving an order, of sorts, which under normal circumstances it would be understandable to expect to be carried out as it came from the king, but of course the point was not "hey, let's cut a baby in half because we can" or whatever, but to get at the underlying feelings of the woman who was truly the baby's mother, so that the king could properly decide in the case. A surface reading would say "King Solomon's will was not accomplished, because he ordered that the baby be cut in half, and yet that didn't happen", but his true will was not to kill the baby at all, but to find out what was in the hearts of the women. God of course is much higher than any earthly king, so it is not a perfect analogy, but hopefully you can see the parallel.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019
  4. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    I appreciate both of your replies, Coptic Cross and Dzheremi. That's a good point, Coptic Cross, about how the potential sacrifice of Isaac was a foreshadowing of Christ's death. That's an interesting issue, Dzheremi, where Solomon ordered the baby to be killed, but his intention was not for it to be killed, and that one could analogize this to God's orders and intention regarding Isaac. I will think about this some more. It's also neat and helpful that you know Arabic.

    What I especially find appealing in Orthodoxy is how it is organically and ecclesiastically connected through the centuries back down to the early Church of the first few centuries AD, as well as its writings, beliefs, traditions, and saints. So for example in another thread on abortion you referenced the Didache (1st century) and I quoted St. Clement of Alexandria where he cited the Apocalypse of Peter in his own argument against abortion. I don't mean that the Apocalypse of Peter or other nonBiblical writings are binding on the Coptic Church, but rather that they are an authority for understanding helpful ways of looking at the early writings, and for understanding the early Church.

    Let me add here a few notes about the Testament of Jacob (it's maybe a sequel to the Testament of Isaac) and its relevance, in case someone finds it interesting. EP Sanders writes in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments that the Testaments of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob "were for some centuries immensely popular in Christianity , as may be seen from their wide distribution".

    H. Sparks writes about the Testament of Jacob that no copy of it exists in Greek or Sahidic, only in Bohairic. He suggests that this means that the Testaments of Abraham and Isaac were written first, and then Testament of Jacob was written third. but he adds that this could be just a coincidence and that there was a lost Greek and Sahidic original for the Testament of Jacob. The way that the document references the "commemoration" for the Patriarchs and ties it to the 28th of the Coptic month of Mesore makes it look like an originally Coptic Church text. The opening says:
    Then an angel tells Jacob in Chapter 3, "Blessed is the man who commemorates you on your honoured festival."
    It sounds to me like it presents itself as written by a Coptic priest or monastic named Athanasius, since he calls himself the readers' "father" in Chapter 11:
    And then Chapter 13 says:
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019