Lex Rex

verbum sat sapienti

Lex Rex

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Early Church

BGM & Zain,

I cut, pasted, rearranged, and added some commentary to the below admittedly plagiarized apology of Sola Scriptura. Please read this in the spirit it is intended, coming from a highly animated Greek-Austrian, but one that loves his bretheren dearly no less. The early church fathers were indeed sola Scriptura, which is where the Reformers aimed to point the church.

The integrity of Paul's teaching is evidenced in his desire to be held historically accountable. He was careful to mention when he had preserved and passed on oral tradition, and when he had not received some previously held teaching (1 Cor. 7:10, 12; 15:3; 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; Tit. 3:8; 2 Tim. 2:11). Also, there are two Pauline texts of Christian hymns or poetry which indicate previous familiarity that were most likely dated not later than the 50s (Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20). It seems, then, that this short time would virtually rule out any gradual evolution of Christology for the early Church.

Being an oral, pre-literate culture, there were well-established standards in the recording of authentic history during biblical times. Though the author's right to summarize rather than cite every word was recognized, there was an intense concern for accuracy in what counted as history, both in the Greco-Roman tradition and the Jewish tradition. An accurate memory is necessary in preserving ipsissima verba or ipsissima vox.

When the Church Fathers made reference to an "oral apostolic tradition" separate from scripture, they always viewed such tradition as duplicating what the apostles later revealed in scripture as a parallel witness. In other words, all doctrines that originated from apostolic oral traditions were finally recorded in the text of scripture. The substance of Oral tradition doctrines is identical with scripture.

1. Virtually all the apostolic fathers viewed a progressive sequence of revelation passing through three stages: 1. Oral teachings of Christ to his apostles. 2. Oral teachings of the apostles based upon Christ’s oral tradition and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for new information Christ never discussed. 3. All of Christ’s and the Apostles’ teachings were recorded in scripture. The early post-apostolic church viewed scripture as the final process of complete revelation.

2. The Church Fathers viewed the scriptures as all sufficient and complete.

3. The Church Fathers believed what Paul said in Eph 3:3-5, that the scripture could be understood by merely reading it. They indicated that the scriptures themselves were clear, so clear, they even criticized the heretics for getting it wrong. If those outside the church and common pew dwellers are unable to understand the Bible themselves as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches teach, then why did the church expect the heretics to understand the Bible with their own human skills? (Tertullian, The Flesh of Christ, ch 20), (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, 56), (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 1, 35), (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 7, 16)

4. When Basil and the Arians both claimed their tradition was correct, Basil said, "let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth." (Basil, Letter 189, 3) This proves that scripture was viewed by the Church Fathers as the supreme court of determining truth, when traditions contradict each other.

Notice that although the church Fathers (in my opinion) sometimes taught things that were not in the Bible, they still upheld the principle of Sola Scriptura because they truly (but sometimes mistakenly) thought that the doctrines had scriptural support. Had they said the doctrines of transubstantiation, the Mass, apostolic succession of bishops, the papacy, elevation of Mary, were not taught in the Bible, but oral tradition alone, only then would their argument be consistent and more debatable. But since all the Fathers believed their doctrines came from scripture, this actually proves they used Sola Scriptura, and not oral traditions in a vacuum. If BGM ultimately cites scripture to support these doctrines, then is he not advocating Sola Scriptura or at least a version of the same? BGM & Zain, perhaps your problem with Sola Scriptura is that few churches properly understand and teach the doctrine.

1. Catholics & Orthodox claim an infallible organization.
2. Pentecostals and Charismatics claim infallible pastors? (inspiration)
3. Evangelicals, Baptists and Calvinists claim infallible individuals. (Illumination of the Holy Spirit)

Could it be that all three are wrong? I think the true meaning of Sola Scriptura is: Fallible Christians claim an infallible book.

BGM: since the sacraments were mentioned in your latest post, while scripture admittedly may teach baptism for the remission of sins, none of the other doctrines mentioned above can be clearly traced back to the apostles, but may be man made doctrines that had their origin no earlier than 150 - 400 AD. For example, consider the following orthodox beliefs and sacraments:

In Mt 26:29 after Jesus had said, "this is my blood" and prayed, he still referred to the contents as, "fruit of the vine". If transubstantiation of the juice into blood had occurred, as both Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches say it was at this time, then Jesus would never have referred to it as "fruit of the vine' but rather "blood". When Jesus said "take eat & drink" he literally gave them bread and juice/wine, did He not? Jesus instituted Lord’s Supper before his blood was shed and body broken. He spoke of His blood being shed, which was still yet future tense. Does this not demonstrate it was a symbol? Before 200 AD, did not the early church view the bread and juice/wine as symbols? Conversely, the earliest historical hint of transubstantiation was in the 4th century, was it not? Indeed, did not this doctrine grow out of the Gnostic controversies of the mid second century and gradually developed to full flower in the 4th century? Is it therefore possible that in this regard, the Reformers were indeed reforming the church back to its early roots? In the early Church, before 200AD, both Gnostics and the church took the same symbolic view of the bread and juice. Some Gnostics refused to eat the Lord's Supper altogether. Transubstantiation was not an issue that was discussed. By the fourth century, the church drifted away from the original symbolic view of the Apostles and began to teach transubstantiation. Only in the fourth century, were Gnostics isolated in their symbolic view. But amazingly, they were the ones who maintained the Apostolic traditional view. It was the church that had changed her theology towards transubstantiation. The language of the Gnostics was the same literalistic language used by the church: "….[T]hey say the bread for which they give thanks is the body of their Lord and the cup his blood". (Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.xviii.4, 5): Check out the following quotes/interpretations and tell me if they are wrong:

Justin Martyr (150 AD): "Now it is evident, that in this prophecy [Isa 33:13-19] to the bread which our Christ gave us to eat, in remembrance of His being made flesh for the sake of His believers, for whom also He suffered; and to the cup which He gave us to drink, in remembrance of His own blood, with giving of thanks." (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ch 70).

Irenaeus (180 AD): Irenaeus refutes the Gnostics on the basis that the Lord would not use "evil material things" like bread and juice in the Lord's Supper. Had Irenaeus argued that the bread and juice Transubstantiated into something different from what they appear, the Gnostics would have agreed, saying this change was essential because Jesus did not have physical flesh either.

Tertullian (200 AD): "Taking bread and distributing it to his disciples he made it his own body by saying, "This is my body," that is a "figure of my body." On the other hand, there would not have been a figure unless there was a true body." (Tertullian, Against Marcion IV. 40). Does not Tertullian posit that the bread was representative of the true body?

Cyprian (200 AD): Augustine stated, “Observe" he (Cyprian) says, in presenting the cup, to maintain the custom handed down to us from the Lord, and to do nothing that our Lord has not first done for us: so that the cup which is offered in remembrance of Him should be mixed with wine. For, as Christ says, 'I am the true vine,' it follows that the blood of Christ is wine, not water; and the cup cannot appear to contain His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened, if the wine be absent; for by the wine is the blood of Christ typified, that blood which is foreshadowed and proclaimed in all the types and declarations of Scripture." (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, book 4, ch 21, quoting Cyprian)

Hippolytus (200 AD): "And she hath furnished her table: "that denotes the promised knowledge of the Holy Trinity; it also refers to His honoured and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper. (Hippolytus, Fragment from Commentary on Proverbs 9:1) (Notice no change in elements)


Not as old of a doctrine as you think, here is the history:

Bible: 33-100AD: All elders equal. Bible only for doctrine (elder/bishop one office)

150 AD One elder exalted above the others (elder/bishop still one office) Bible still rules

200 AD One Bishop per church overseeing the eldership (elder/bishop two offices) Still based on Bible only

250 AD One diocesan Bishop overseeing other Bishops of other churches. Still based on Bible only

300 AD One Metropolitan Bishop overseeing other diocesan Bishops (Creeds replace Bible)

381 AD One Patriarch overseeing Metropolitans (Man replaces Creeds)

BGM: Is this an accurate history of the evolution of the Papacy? If so, why did it change over a period of 400 years, does not the 33-100 AD resemble most Protestant/reform structure? If so, are the Reformers then more accurate or did the true doctrine just pop up in 381 AD? If you say the latter, why do you complain about Reformer doctrine merely appearing on the scene at a later date (which I still dispute)? Perhaps your view of the Papacy as Orthodox would agree with the above and therefore support your view of such and justify the schism from Catholicism.

Mary Remained a Virgin?:

Because the Bible appears to contradict Catholic doctrine, some Catholic interpreters will insist these are cousins, kinsmen, or from a supposed earlier marriage of Joseph. But the Bible seems to say otherwise. The Catechism gives this (in my opinion) incorrect explanation:

"The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, 'brothers of Jesus,' are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ..." Pg. 126 #500).

But see Matthew 13:55-56 & Mark 6:3: 55 "Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 "And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" 57 And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his home town, and in his own household." Mark 6:3 "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" And they took offense at Him. 4 And Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own relatives and in his own household."

Also note that James and Jesus cannot simply be “cousins” because Colossians 4:10 uses a separate Greek word (it escapes me right now for cousins). John 1:41 uses the same term of Peter and his brother. It becomes less clear in the OT in that there was no word for cousin, and the the term "brother" was commonly used to describe various relations.

Consider the father's use of scripture to support the following doctrines:

1. Doctrines the Fathers thought were in the Bible

-baptism for the remission of sins
-the Mass (there may be support for the liturgy in the early writings)
-apostolic succession
-the papacy (orthodox admittedly do not revere)
-Mary Virginity after Christ (may have some support, needs further reading)

2. Doctrines the Fathers said were not in the Bible, but from oral tradition.

-Renouncing the devil before baptism
-Thrice baptism by immersion (Orthodox = yes)
-drinking milk and honey after baptism
-no bath for 1 week after baptism
-kneeling in prayer forbidden in worship (Catholics now permit)
-sign of cross on forehead only (Some orthodox still follow)

BGM: Did not the Fathers use sola Scriptura to defend all the doctrines under 1 which are still practiced today? Conversely, the doctrines under 2, which they say came from oral tradition and not from the Bible, is it not true that you no longer practice? Perhaps it is different in the Antioch Orthodox, but if my assertions are correct, then there really is no “oral tradition” as understood in modern times as all has been reduced to scripture, and that apart from the Bible have been abandoned all together. That I believe that reliance on scripture for column 1 is a misinterpretation, is irrelevant. The point is that the fathers relied on scripture alone to defend these doctrines, and therefore for the Reformers to look to scripture alone to refute the same cannot be a flawed approach, it can only be the correct approach. Check out these quotes from the fathers:

“We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, 1, 1)

Irenaeus states that the gospel was first orally revealed, then the gospel was recorded in scriptures and calls the scriptures the "ground and pillar" of faith. This should give every Orthodox some pause in asserting tradition apart from scripture because it is a clear interpretation of 1 Tim 3:15 where the same expression is used of the church. Obviously then, Irenaeus viewed that the church came second in authority under the scriptures. It is also clear that you can make no change from what the apostles teach as it was the unchangeable standard of doctrine.

"[T]he sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth" (Athanasius, Against the Heathen, part 1, 1, 3) BGM: Tell me if I am misquoting… Athanasius states that in defending doctrine, the scriptures are all-sufficient? In the Arian theological wars, Athanasius uses scripture not tradition as a first line of attack. How is this different from the Reformers?

"But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves." (Clement of Alexandria, book 7, ch 16, Scripture the Criterion by Which Truth and Heresy are Distinguished) So Clement will not accept any doctrine contrary to Scriptures. Sounds sola Scripturian to me.

"There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. For just as a man, if he wishes to be skilled in the wisdom of this world, will find himself unable to get at it in any other way than by mastering the dogmas of philosophers, so all of us who wish to practice piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scripture declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn; and as the Father wills our belief to be, let us believe; and as He wills the Son to be glorified, let us glorify Him; and as He wills the Holy Spirit to be bestowed, let us receive Him. Not according to our own will, nor according to our own mind, nor yet as using violently those things which are given by God, but even as He has chosen to teach them by the Holy Scriptures, so let us discern them." (Hippolytus, Against Noetus, ch 9)

Although Hippolytus was fully aware that the gospel as we agree was first preached 100% orally through the apostles and prophets even before the first book of the New Testament was written, in 200 AD, he recognized that scripture was the only source of authority. This also proves that although Hippolytus may also have recognized the witness of church tradition, he saw that tradition was ultimately derived from scripture, since none of the inspired apostles were alive to consult with.

I finish with some questions:

Can you provide a single example of a doctrine that originates from an oral Apostolic Tradition that the Bible is silent about? Is there any proof that this doctrinal tradition is apostolic in origin?

Can you provide a single example of where inspired apostolic "oral revelation" (tradition) differed from "written" (scripture)?

I think Zain asked this, but if you are not permitted to engage in private interpretation of the Bible, how do you know which "apostolic tradition" is correct between the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox and the Watchtower churches, for all three teach the organization alone can interpret scripture correctly, to the exclusion of individual?

Why did God fail to provide an inspired and infallible list of Old Testament books to Israel? Why would God suddenly provide such a list only after Israel was destroyed in 70 AD?

If the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches both believes that the scripture: "the church is the pillar and foundation of truth" means the church is protected from error then: a. Why do they teach doctrine so different that they are not even in communion with each other? b. How do you account for the vast number of documented theological errors made by the pope and the church in general? (I tyhink you may have broached this previously)

Of course, the same can be asked of Protestants…. But if sola Scriptura cannot be the correct method of determining truth because of the religious division among churches that claim to use sola Scriptura, then does this not also disqualify the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches method of using tradition, since they are divided against themselves?

When you see the word tradition, why do Orthodox usually assume it to be oral tradition rather than scripture tradition, when the Bible calls scripture tradition in 2 Thess 2:15, and Athanasius call scripture tradition: "the Apostolic tradition teaches in the words of blessed Peter, 'Forasmuch then as Christ suffered for us in the Flesh" Athanasius then quotes: 1 Peter 4:1; Titus 2:13; Heb 2:1 (Athanasius, To Adelphius, Letter 60, 6)?

The Church Fathers believed what Paul said in Eph 3:3-5, that the scripture could be understood by merely reading it. They indicated that the scriptures themselves were clear, so clear, they even criticized the heretics for getting it wrong. If those outside the church and common pew dwellers are unable to understand the Bible themselves as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches teach, then why did the apostolic fathers expect the heretics to understand the Bible with their own human skills? (Tertullian, The Flesh of Christ, ch 20), (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, 56), (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 1, 35), (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 7, 16)

Your brother in His Grace,

Lex Rex