Category Archives: Bible Study

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 8

In the vicinity of Iznik

In an earlier article we posted photos of Lake Ascania (Iznik Gölü) at the place where the first Ecumenical Council met. Nearby there is a beautiful view of a small lighthouse with the mountains of Bithynia in the distance.

Lighthouse in Lake Ascania at Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lighthouse in Lake Ascania at Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

About 3 miles north of Iznik where the Roman road to Nicomedia once ran, in an orchard of olive and fruit trees, there is a stone obelisk from the early second century A.D. The Iznik promotional brochure says,

Its inscription in Greek reveals that the obelisk was built by C. Cassius Philiscus in the 1st century. It rises over a rectangular prismatic pedestal, and includes five triangular prismatic stones one over the other.

The inscription on the first of the triangular prismatic stones is in poor condition. The second stone indicates that something was once attached to the obelisk. Some suggest that it was a life-size human figure. Wilson says the obelisk is 39 feet tall.

The stone obelisk on the road from Nicea to Nicomedia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The stone obelisk on the road from Nicea to Nicomedia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A sign at the site describes the monument in Turkish and English. I think you may agree with me that the last English sentence doesn’t make much sense.

The sign identifying the obelisk from the Roman period. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign identifying the obelisk from the Roman period. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Before closing this series I think a few words on the historical background of Iznik/Nicea are appropriate. We have frequently recommended Biblical Turkey by Mark Wilson as an excellent source for those who travel to Turkey. The following points are summarized from the second edition (pp. 371-2).

  • Antigonus founded the Hellenistic city of Antigonia here in 316 B.C.
  • Lysimachus captured the city in 301 B.C. and re-founded it, naming it after his first wife Nicea.
  • During the Roman period the city vied with Nicomedia for the distinction of being the principal city of Bithynia.
  • Augustus authorized a sanctuary of Roma and the deified Julius Caesar to be built at Nicea.

The bust of Lysimachus was photographed in the Ephesus Museum at Selçuk, Turkey, in 2008.

Bust of Lysimachus in the Selçuk,Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bust of Lysimachus displayed in Ephesus Museum, Selcuk, Turkey.

Wilson is emphatic that Nicea would have been on the route of the messenger carrying the epistle of 1 Peter.

This is the final article in the series on Iznik/Nicea. Hopefully there will be some who will find it useful in the months to come. I think all of the photos are large enough for use in PowerPoint class presentations.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 7

The modern city of Iznik

The museum of Iznik is noted for its collection of Blue Tiles for which the city is famous. In 2014 I found many of the museums in Turkey, or certain exhibits, closed for remodeling. Even with a polite request we were not allowed to visit the various monuments displayed in the yard of the museum.

The museum of Iznik was closed for remodeling in 2014. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The museum of Iznik was closed for remodeling in 2014. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Missing the tile work for which the city is famous was not a great loss. Tile work from Iznik may be seen in the ceiling of the Blue Mosque, in the Topkapi Palace, and other buildings in Istanbul.

In the ceiling of the Blue Mosque is a good example of the tile of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The ceiling of the Blue Mosque is a good example of the Iznik tile. Photo by F. Jenkins.

One expects to see mosques in any Turkish city. I am including this photo of the Yeşil (Green) Mosque. The promotional tourism information includes this information about the mosque.

Recognised as the symbol of İznik, the Yeşil Mosque takes its name from the turquoise coloured İznik tiles and bricks of its minaret which are a fine reflection
of Seljuk minaret style in Ottoman art. Built by the architect Hacı Musa between 1378 and 1392 upon the request of Halil Hayrettin Pasha, this mosque is
undoubtedly the most magnificent of the single domed mosques of the Ottoman Period. Its unique minaret is on the right corner of the mosque. While its niche displays rich stone work, its body is covered with blue and green coloured tiles in zigzag mosaic style.

The Green Mosque in Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Green Mosque in Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Biblical Connection

The events we have described in this series on Iznik/Nicea are post apostolic, but the general area does have two connections to the New Testament.

  • On the outbound portion of Paul’s third journey he attempted to go into Bithynia, but was not permitted to do so.

And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. (Acts 16:7 ESV)

  • We have already pointed out that the epistles of Peter were written to saints in various Roman provinces including Bithynia.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)

I plan to show you one more famous landmark on the outskirts of Iznik as the eighth in this series.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 6

Nicea, now identified with Iznik, Turkey, was in the Roman province of Bythinia in Asia. A Roman lawyer named Pliny served as governor of Bithynia and Pontus (A.D. 111-113) and exchanged a series of letters with the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117).

The theater at Nicea was constructed while Pliny was governor of Bithynia. According to the tourism publication on Iznik the theater,

… was converted into a mass graveyard in the 13th century. The graveyard was later replaced by the ceramic kilns. Only some part of the cavea (audience section) of the ancient theatre have survived to the present day. It appears that its stones were used as construction materials especially in the restoration of the city walls.

The theater is estimated to have seated 15,000 persons.

Ruins of the theater dating to the time of Trajan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of the theater dating to the reign of the Emperor Trajan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

From the letters exchanged between Pliny and the Emperor Trajan we know that Christians were persecuted during his reign. (For more information see our post here.)

Emperor Trajan (A.D. 97-117). Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Emperor Trajan (A.D. 97-117). Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are ruins of a few churches (meaning “meeting places”) in Iznik. No doubt many ruins are under the buildings of the modern city, but the area pictured below marks the site of the Dormitian of the Mother of God (Theotokos = God-bearer). At the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 “Theotokos was approved as a right title for the Virgin Mary” (Peter Toon, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 344). Sources such as Philip Schaff provide much more detailed information for those interested.

Sign at site of Dormitian of the Theotokos, built by Hyakinthos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign at site of Dormitian of the Theotokos, built by Hyakinthos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If you have traveled much in the Middle East you have likely seen several sites associated with the dormitian of Mary, the place where she went to sleep before being assumed into heaven, according to Catholic and Orthodox theology. Our guide for the day to Nicea/Iznik waits for us to make our photo before entering the few remaining ruins of the church.

Guide waiting to take us into ruins of the Dormitian church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Guide waiting to take us into ruins of the Dormitian church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This church was built by Bishop Hyakinthos in the 7th or 8th century. Only with flash and some work in Photoshop was I able to show this much of the structure. The Blue Guide Turkey “The Lascarid emperor, Theodore 1 (1204-22) was buried here.”

Dark remains of the Dormitian church of the Theotokos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dark remains of the Dormitian church of the Theotokos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In Part 7 we will move to a few of the modern buildings of Iznik.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 5

The Walls and Gates of Iznik/Nicea

Our first photo shows the Istanbul Gate from inside the city wall. The gates of the city are named much the same way many streets or highways are named in USA cities, to designate the next significant city in that direction.

The Istanbul Gate in the north wall of Iznik/Nicea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A portion of the wall of Iznik/Nicea and the Istanbul Gate in the north wall. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A nice promotional brochure on Iznik, published by the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2011 has these comments about the walls and gates.

The pentagon shaped city walls that surround İznik are 4970 metres [about 3.1 miles] in length. Although these city walls were constructed in the Hellenistic era, they have lost all the characteristics peculiar to this era. Only the wall parts constructed in the Roman and Byzantine periods have survived to the present. In the 8th century, the city walls were made higher and the bastions were built by using the construction materials brought from the theatre.
Historic Gates   The historic gates in İznik were actually constructed as triumphal arches in the reigns of the Emperor Vespasianus (69–79) and Emperor Titus (79–81), and were restored to a large scale in the time of Emperor Hadrian [117-138]. The city walls were built by connecting these arches to each other. Reflecting the architectural technique and style of the Roman Period, the İstanbul, Lefke and Yenişehir gates still stand splendid today, although the remaining gate, the Göl Gate is in ruins. (p. 17)

From the outside we see a portion of the Istanbul gate as one enters Iznik.

The Istanbul Gate in the north wall of Iznik/Nicea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Istanbul Gate in the north wall of Iznik/Nicea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Yenişehir Gate, marking the south entry to Iznik, is still in need of considerable repair. Several of the old towers are visible at various places around the city wall.

The Yenişehir Gate on the south side of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Yenişehir Gate on the south side of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Lefke Gate on the east side of the walled city of Iznik is probably the most interesting one. First we see ruins of an ancient aqueduct.

The Lefke Gate Aqueduct on the east side of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Lefke Gate Aqueduct on the east side of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Then we see the outer Lefke Gate. There are numerous examples of recycled materials in this gate.

The Lefke Outer Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Lefke Outer Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The first of the inner gates have Greek inscriptions showing that it was dedicated to the Roman Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 123.

Roman period inscriptions are visible in the Lefke Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman period inscriptions are visible in the Lefke Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There seems to have been no restoration of the Lake (Göl) Gate, but some portions of the towers and walls can be seen.

Ruins of the Lake Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of the Lake (Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We will stop here and continue in the next post to show you a few other important structures in Iznik/Nicea.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 3

The First Ecumenical Council

If the New Testament is the complete and final revelation of God’s will to man, as it claims (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then no council of men, of whatever rank, has the right to change the apostolic order.

But as the churches grew and became popular, they began to imitate the government in leadership and they became more important to the leaders of the Roman Empire. When a controversy concerning the nature of Christ threatened to divide the Christians, the Emperor Constantine the Great (A.D. 307-337) called a council to meet at Nicea (or Nicaea, modern Iznik in Turkey) to discuss the issues.

Arian (c. A.D. 250-336), a presbyter of the church in Alexandria, Egypt, taught that Jesus was a created being inferior to God the Father. We speak of those who followed his teaching as Arians. It was this teaching that prompted the convening of the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. Most works on church history covering this period will have a section devoted to Arian and the Council of Nicea.

Certain Latin terms entered the language of Christendom at that time.

  1. Homoousios – meaning that Jesus was of the same essence as God. This was the position taken by those gathered at the Council of Nicea.
  2. Homoiousios – meaning that Jesus was of like essence as God.
  3. Heteroousios – meaning that Jesus was of a different essence or substance than God. This view which relegated Jesus to a secondary god beneath the Father was the view of Arian and his followers.

There had been other councils, but this was the first that was to represent all of Christendom. In this sense the gathering failed. Of the 200 to nearly 400 church leaders (the numbers vary depending on the source) gathered at Nicea only a handful of them were from the West (the Latin or Roman church). The vast majority were from the East (the Greek church).

Constantine…

supplied postal wagons to transport bishops to Nicaea, as well as food and lodging during their trips. While they were in the city he took care of their needs and provided a large building for their sessions. (Cambridge History of Christianity, II:73.)

The imperial palace, located on the shore of Lake Ascania (Iznik), now lies nearly ten feet below water due to earthquakes (“Underwater basilica in Iznik to shed light on Roman era.” Hurriyet Daily News, July 25, 2016). Our guide took us to the location outside the Lake Gate where a few ruins could be seen. Ben Witherington says,

Unfortunately for this city, earthquakes struck in A.D. 358, 362, and 368, ruining many of the monumental buildings and structures (http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2008/06/historic-nicea-iznik.html).

A fisherman stands on some of the ruins of the ancient imperial palace. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A fisherman stands on some of the ruins of the ancient imperial palace. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Notice a few stones above the current water level and the dark shadow of some ruins below the surface in the next photo.

A few ruins of the palace where the first council met can be seen underneath the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A few ruins of the palace where the first council met can be seen underneath the water. At least one portion of stone emerges from the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In our last photo you will see some of the red tile (or brick) typical of the late Roman/early Byzantine period, as well as part of a marble column.

Late Roman and early Byzantine material. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Late Roman and early Byzantine material. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In case you have read or heard that the Council of Nicea is responsible for the content of the canon of the New Testament I suggest you read Justin L. Petersen’s 2011 article (Petersen, Justin L. “Making (up) History: Fact, Fiction, and the First Council of Nicaea.” Ed. Wayne A. Detzler. Christian Apologetics Journal 9.1 (2011): 67-77).

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 2

Read Part I here.

The Testimony of History Regarding
Church Government

Churches and religious doctrines were not always what they are today. In fact, in New Testament times (during the first century A.D.) there were no major branches of Christendom, no denominations. There was no church organization larger than a single local church overseen by a plurality of bishops (overseers), elders, or shepherds. These terms were used interchangeably. Today, however, one encounters hundreds of denominational groups, and universal organizations. What has happened since the first century to bring about this change? It did not happen suddenly, but was a gradual process over the centuries.

The Apostles of Christ warned in their sermons and letters of departures or apostasy from apostolic teaching and practice. See Acts 20:29-30, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and 1 Timothy 4:1 as examples. Notice Paul’s warning to the elders of the church at Ephesus barely a quarter of a century after the establishment of the church in Jerusalem in A.D. 30.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;  and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  (Acts 20:29-30 ESV)

Emperor Constantine the Great (A.D. 507-337). Statue in Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Emperor Constantine the Great (A.D. 307-337). Statue in Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Historian Philip Schaff wrote about the changes in church government which were evident by the second century:

“We cannot therefore assume any strict uniformity. But the whole church spirit of the age tended towards centralization; it everywhere felt a demand for compact, solid unity; and this inward bent, amidst the surrounding dangers of persecution and heresy, carried the church irresistibly towards the episcopate…. Such a unity was offered in the bishop, who held a monarchical, or more properly a patriarchal relation to the congregation…. And in proportion as every church pressed towards a single centre, this central personage must acquire a peculiar importance and subordinate the other presbyters to itself…” (History of the Christian Church, II:142-143).

“Among the city bishops the metropolitans rose above the rest, that is, the bishops of the capital cities of the provinces” (Schaff, II:153).

Immediately after the discussion of the monarchal episcopate, Schaff discussed “Germs of the Papacy.” In A.D. 588, John the Faster, patriarch of Constantinople [later known as Istanbul], assumed the title of “universal bishop.” The emperor, in A.D. 606, took the title from John and conferred it upon Boniface III, bishop of Rome. This was the first pope, almost 600 years after the establishment of the New Testament church.

F. F. Bruce says,

“There was in apostolic times no distinction between elders (presbyters) and bishops such as we find from the second century onwards: the leaders of the Ephesian church are indiscriminately described as elders, bishops (i.e. superintendents) and shepherds (or pastors)” (Bruce, The Book of Acts, 415).

By the fourth century enough changes had taken place that the Roman emperor Constantine called together the bishops of the churches, mostly from the eastern part of his empire, to discuss various issues that were dividing the churches.

The Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum in the background. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum in the background. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This is where Iznik (ancient Nicaea or Nicea) enters the picture. In A.D. 325 the first of seven Ecumenical councils was held here. After five more councils in Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, the seventh of these councils was held again in Nicea.

In the next post we will begin our visit of Nicea.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about Nicea, the site of the first and seventh ecumenical councils.

My travels in Turkey – A brief survey

A couple of years ago I wrote a little piece here about why a Bible student should want to visit Turkey. In a category entitled Post New Testament church history I said,

The Ecumenical Councils met in the place we now call Turkey in the following cities: Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon.

My first trip to Turkey was in 1968 when I visited the area of the seven churches of the book of Revelation and the city of Istanbul. It was not until 1984 that I went back to the area with Melvin Curry and Phil Roberts, a couple of teaching colleagues, for a more detailed study. We also visited several of the Greek islands mentioned in the Bible. Then in 1985 I put together a tour I called, from that time forward, Steps of Paul and John. This tour included biblical sites in Greece and Turkey. At the end of that tour Raymond Harris, a fellow preacher, and I visited all of the sites associated with Paul’s first journey with the exception of Cyprus – a place I had already visited.

Melvin Curry, Ferrell Jenkins, Phil Roberts in Heraklion, Crete.

In Heraklion, Crete, we stayed with a former student and her family during the 1984 trip. My recollection is that she made this photo as we left for the airport to go to Athens. Left to right: Melvin Curry, Ferrell Jenkins, Phil Roberts.

In 1987 I conducted my first Ancient Crossroads tour to include the Hittite territory of Anatolia, Cappadocia, and the sites associated with Paul’s first journey. In 1995 the Steps of Paul and John tour included a cruise of the Greek islands. This cruise, touching at places like Patmos, Rhodes, and Crete, would be repeated several times over the years.

I had been able to visit most New Testament sites in Turkey, but certain Old Testament sites had eluded me because they were far away in eastern Turkey near the borders of Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Soviet Union (now Armenia). In 1995 I was joined by Curtis Pope with whom I taught, and his brother Kyle, for a visit in eastern Turkey. We picked up a car in Adana, visited sites associated with Abraham and the Patriarchs, and went through the region of Urartu as far as the traditional Mount Ararat.

That is an excursion I would repeat in more detail in 2007 with Leon Mauldin, David Padfield, and Gene Taylor. Leon and I went back to the region of Paddan-Aram in 2014. In 2007, we had visited the Black Sea region of Turkey to explore the cities that might have been visited by the messenger who delivered the Epistles of Peter. See this Index of Articles dealing with this subject. This included the Roman provinces of Pontus and Bithynia.

Eastern Turkey tour by Padfield, Mauldin, Jenkins, and Taylor (left to right). Carchemish in the background.

Eastern Turkey tour by Padfield, Mauldin, Jenkins, and Taylor (left to right). Carchemish is in the background center. We joked that we were out, standing in our field.

Now it was time to visit the site of two of the Ecumenical Councils in Bithynia. Leon and I arranged to do this in 2014. From Istanbul it is possible to rent a car and travel to Iznik (Nicaea, Nicea) across one of the bridges connecting Europe with Asia. That would take a lot of time. We decided to hire a guide/driver to pick us up at our hotel in Istanbul in Europe, take a ferry across the Sea of Mamara to the Asian side into ancient Bithynia, and visit Iznik in one day. This excursion would cost us almost $900.

The return ferry from Nicea to Istanbul. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The return ferry from Nicea to Istanbul. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is where I hope to pick up in the next article and begin to tell you about the visit to Iznik. There will probably be about seven articles in the series, with lots of photos. I trust you will find them interesting and profitable.