Oral Tradition in the New Testament

That there is not only solid evidence of oral tradition in the New Testament, but that Christians were commanded to hold to the oral tradition (along with the written tradition) is also based on solid evidence, and I will draw the immediate implications of these facts.

First, let’s examine the evidence (all emphases below added).

We note the preaching of the Gospel has always been by oral peaching, even if literary forms of the Gospel are canonized in our Scriptures. So we are not surprised to hear St. Paul say to the Thessalonians:

Because of this we also give thanks to God unceasingly, so that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you received not the word of men, but just as it truly is, the word of God, which also is at work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

Indeed, the Apostolic transmission of this Gospel was essential to God’s redemptive plan for the cosmos. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts his readers:

[H]ow shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which in the beginning was spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him (Hebrews 2:3)

St. John echoes this:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have gazed upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life–and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and we declare to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us–that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, in order that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that our joy may be fulfilled. And this is the message which we have heard from Him and we announce to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:1-5)

From the beginning of the world, God’s redemption is communicated orally. Not only that, however, it is also transmitted from generation to generation orally. St. Paul writes:

The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you. (Philippians 4:9)

Note that St. Paul does not spell out in detail to the Church in Philippi all the things that they had “learned and received and heard and saw” in him here in his epistle to them. He presumes a certain content to their understanding, a content embodied by his way of life among them, that he need only note in summary here in his epistle. That is to say, there was an oral tradition in addition to his letter which he calls them to practice.

St. Paul goes on to say to St. Timothy:

Hold to the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:13)

St. Paul doesn’t say here, “Put into practice the Scriptures you have studied from your youth,” but enjoins upon them the things they hear and saw him say and do. Which is not to say that St. Paul would not want St. Timothy to put the Old Testament into practice; but it is to say that it was the oral tradition St. Timothy was to put into practice.

Note also that this exhortation, and the following one, are from the very same text that will later claim that all Scripture (the primary reference here is to the Old Testament) is “God-out-breathed,” and is profitable for the leaders of the Church in their ministry to Church members of teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness (3:16-17). Indeed, it is ironic that those who misinterpret these verses to teach the all-sufficiency of Scripture (over and against oral tradition), fail to reckon with the fact that St. Paul does not enjoin St. Timothy to “ask for the ancient paths of the Lord” (Jeremiah 6:16), but instead exhorts him to “hold to the pattern of sound words” which he had heard from St. Paul. He continues to exhort St. Timothy:

And the things which you have heard from me through many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be competent to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)

Again: St. Timothy was not enjoined to write about it, nor to disseminate the Old Testament or St. Paul’s letter, but to disseminate what he had heard. I don’t deny the essentiality of the Scriptures, nor that Christians ought to hold to them and disseminate them. But I am pointing out that St. Paul commanded St. Timothy to do something quite specific: hold to the oral tradition and to pass it on.

Indeed, that this keeping of the oral tradition is important to the Christian way of life is further supported by the letter to the Hebrews. The author of Hebrews notes that the surpassing nature of the final revelation in Christ demands that we give earnest attention to that which we’ve heard:

On account of this we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)

Here, the emphasis on the oral tradition is clear: The author of Hebrews is writing that which will later be canonized as Scripture (and, I would argue, is Scripture from its initial composition) and could refer to the Old Testament Scriptures. But he does not encourage his readers to give more earnest heed to the Scriptures, but to the oral tradition that they had received. And that failure to do so would be for them to drift away.

The key to this oral tradition was its antiquity; i. e., it predates all the New Testament writings and goes back to “the beginning.”

Brothers, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. . . . Therefore let that which you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. (1 John 2:7, 24)


This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it. (2 John 6)

Once again, adherence to the oral tradition is essential for the life of faith—doing so will enable us to abide in the Son and in the Father.

Not only does the final revelation of God in Christ begin with the oral declaration of St. John the Forerunner, it ends with the oral declaration of St. John the Revelator in the Apocalypse, as Jesus exhorts his Church in Sardis:

Remember therefore how you have received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you like a thief, and by no means shall you know what hour I will come upon you. (Revelation 3:3)

The Church in Sardis was called back to the oral tradition. Once again, whether or not we hold to the oral tradition has eternal consequences. For not only is the oral word to be heard, it is to be lived:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you, of whom considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)

Indeed, we do this so that we may increase our diligence and avoid dullness:

But we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, lest you become dull, but become imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12)

In fact, imitation is a frequent exhortation from St. Paul to his readers:

Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. . . . Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. . . . Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children. . . . Be fellow imitators of me, brothers, and look out for those walking this way, just as you have us for a pattern. . . . And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, in that you received the word in much tribulation, with joy of the Holy Spirit . . . . For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus, because you suffered the same things from your fellow countrymen, just as also they did by the Jews . . . (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Ephesians 5:1; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14)

And what is it that the readers are to imitate? The oral tradition as lived by the Apostles and those leaders who themselves are passing on the oral tradition.

The implications are clear: Christians ought not merely hold to Scripture alone, but are also to hold to that which has been believed “always, everywhere, and by all” (St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, 2). It is essential to our life in Christ to do so, and if we are not doing so, we must repent and return again to that which the Church heard and received from the beginning.

The challenge, however, is not necessarily that there was an oral tradition–it seems even sola scriptura adherents would agree to that–but rather that there was an oral tradition in addition to the written tradition, and, further, what the content is of that oral tradition.

Here, due to the presuppositions surrounding sola scriptura, I am forced to articulate my case–if I am to have any chance as to plausibility and persuasiveness–within presuppositional constraints I do not accept. If I argue for oral traditional content that is also clearly expressed in the Scripture, my interlocutors will reply, “Ah, but this is just what we are claiming: all oral tradition is confined within the written tradition (i.e., the Scriptures).” If I argue for oral traditional content that is not clearly expressed in Scripture, then my interlocutors will reply, “Ah, but since this is not in Scripture, it is merely the tradition of men.” So, I’m sort of damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.

However, despite this seemingly impossible scenario, I will, in fact, demonstrate that there is an oral tradition that is different from but in concert with the written tradition. To do so I will have to confine myself to the earliest witnesses, the ones closest in time to the Apostles. For the closer historically I can be to the Apostles, the more plausible will be my case that the oral tradition for which I am providing citations is connected to the Apostles. Furthermore, I will also have to demonstrate that the oral traditional content I am claiming as apostolic is believed “always, everywhere and by all.” Since the earliest witnesses we have are few, demonstrating that at least two of these witnesses agree will have to at least plausibly suggest–if it cannot be conclusively proven due to the nature of the evidenciary limitations–that such beliefs were, indeed, held always, everywhere, and by all.

That being said, then, the following are some aspects of oral tradition which are not expressly stated or are obscure in the New Testament:

1. The extent of the canon of Scripture (Muratorian canon, citations by the Apostolic Fathers, St. Athansios’ festal letter).
2. Triune baptism accompanied with fasting, both by the baptisand and by the sponsors (Didache 7, St Justin’s First Apology 61).
3. Only one (Sunday) Eucharist celebrated by one president of the presbytery or bishop (1 Clement 41; St Ignatios to the Philadelphians 4).
4. Orderly succession of leadership from the apostles (1 Clement 44; St Irenaeus Against Heresies III.3).
5. A specific order of worship with specific prayers recited (Didache 9-10; St Justin’s First Apology 65-67).
6. Eucharistic elements are sacramentally the body and blood of Jesus (St Ignatios to the Ephesians 20; St Ignatios to the Smyrnaens 7; St Justin’s First Apology 66; St Irenaeus’ Against Heresies V.2,2-3).
7. Closed communion (no unbaptized communicants) (Didache 9; St Justin’s First Apology 66).
8. The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) is the Christian Old Testament (as opposed to the Hebrew, or as it is later known, the Masoretic, text) (St Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho 71-73; St Justin’s Address to the Greeks 13; St Irenaeus’ Against Heresies III.21).

Clearly this is not an exhaustive list, and some items (Triune baptism; Sacramental Eucharist) are expressly stated in the New Testament but about them there is present dispute. But it is, nonetheless, a list of substantive items.

And it shows, I think, even to adherents of sola scriptura, that the tradition of the Church is both more than merely the content of the Scriptures and is apostolic in origin.


I have made reference above to St. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies as a source for several of the items of the apostolic oral tradition. Some might wonder how it is that I can claim that St. Irenaeus, who wrote his work c. A.D. 185, can lay a claim to faithful transmission of the oral apostolic tradition. Let me cite one passage from Against Heresies to make this claim clear:

4. But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,-a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,-that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me? “”I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. (Against Heresies, Bk III.3,4, emphases added)

In other words, we have this chain of transferral of the apostolic tradition: the Apostle John to St. Polycarp to St. Irenaeus. If 2 Timothy 2:2 above can be delineated thus: St. Paul to St. Timothy to faithful men to others–then we may note that the transmission from the Apostle John to St. Irenaeus is three connections where 2 Timothy 2:2 notes four, thus being well within the literal apostolic exhortation (and of course within its intended meaning).


The First Edition of the New Testament

In my previous blogging about sola scriptura, one of my fellow parishioners emailed me about David Trobisch’s The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford: 2000). I was intrigued. He offered it to me as a gift. And I am extremely grateful. I present here something of a summary and review of Trobisch’s argument.

First, a resume of the conventional “conservative” understanding of the formation of the canonical New Testament. Each individual book that would later form the canon was inspired from the moment of its writing. The canonization process was primarily a matter of the Church’s recognition of that divine origin and authority. Over the period of about two and a half centuries from the consensus date of the composition of the last of the New Testament books, the early Church sifted through various early documents purporting to be divinely authoritative, eventually settling on the 27 we now recognize. There was no ecumenical council who declared these books to be canon, but a grassroots recognition as exemplified in the “Muratorian canon,” in the works used by early Christians such as Origen in their own writings, and St. Athanasios’ festal letter (though this was later recognized by local councils in Rome, Hippo and Carthage), so that by A.D. 400, the canon of the New Testament was recognized universally.

Trobisch, however, wants to call this “consensus view” into question.

The thesis of this study is that the New Testament, in the form that achieved canonical status, is not the result of a lengthy and complicated collecting process that lasted for several centuries. The history of the New Testament is the history of an edition, a book that has been published and edited by a specific group of editors, at a specific place, and at a specific time. (6)

I have restrained myself from advancing a theory about where and when and who published the Canonical Edition. However, I hope this study will serve as an important step toward finding valid answers to these questions. In addition, I do not intend to challenge the current consensus that none of the writings included in the New Testament originated significantly later than 150 C. E. (7)

Indeed, this canonical edition was in place early and used widely.

At the end of the second century and in the beginning of the third, Irenaeus was reading this edition in Lyons; Tertullian read it in Carthage and Asia Minor; Clement had it in Alexandria, and Origen in Palestine. This particular edition, in other words, was read worldwide. (106)

A view such as this, that breaks with the received scholarship is going to have to argue cogently and clearly for such a position. Trobisch does just that. His argument falls into three parts: the manuscript evidence, internal evidence of a final redaction and internal evidence of the editor(s) addressing the readers. I will focus primarily on the manuscript evidence.

Manuscript evidence

Trobisch focuses on five key pieces of evidence in the manuscripts that, he argues, provides incontrovertible evidence of a final redaction of an editor (or group of editors) intent on publication of the volume. Those five pieces of evidence are: the widespread use of nomina sacra; the almost exclusive use of the codex; the arrangement of the writings into clearly demarcated groups, and the number of those writings; the titles of the works; and the title of the canonical edition.

nomina sacra

The nomina sacra are abbreviations of sacred words such as theos (God), huios (Son), christos (Christ), iesous (Jesus), and so forth. The manuscripts vary in how they abbreviate the original word, and have a horizontal line drawn across the word. That these are not intended to be abbreviations is evident from the fact that there is no standard shortening to which they adhere and that in many cases would take more time and effort (especially in drawing the horizontal line over the word) than would standard abbreviations. Neither are the nomina sacra an imitation of the Jewish Tetragrammaton (the four consonantal characters for the name of God, usually rendered in English YHWH, and always unpronounced, with the word Adonai, Lord, usually substituted in oral readings), since the Tetragrammaton was frequently written in Hebrew characters. Further the nomina sacra was not a consistent convention for the Tetragrammaton even in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament).

Furthermore, the nomina sacra exist in our earliest manuscripts and consistently throughout all our earliest New Testament writings. It is extremely unlikely that the nomina sacra was an agreed convention by all the New Testament writers since they wrote at such disparate times and places and under extremely variant circumstances.

Clearly then the nomina sacra are an intentional publishing convention.

use of the codex

Christians were alone among their contemporaries for devoting their important literature to the codex form. Trobisch charts a provisional graphic demonstrating the growth of the use of the codex from the first century onward. Among the users of the codex, Christians by far outnumbered their contemporaries. Indeed, our earliest copies of the New Testament are codices.

That the use of the codex was an intentional publishing convention is seen from its universality among the manuscript copies we have, dating back to our earliest copies, and that this was a unique characteristic of the “first edition of the New Testament” that set it apart from similar works of its day.

arrangement and number of writings

The oldest complete copies of the New Testament all show the complete list of 27 New Testament canonical books (or it can be determined, if they are incomplete, that they are almost certainly to have done so). The fourth century codex Siniaticus lists all twenty seven, in the groups of Gospels, Praxapostolos (Acts with the Catholic epistles), the Letters of Paul and the Apocalypse. Fourth century Vaticanus is incomplete but from various factors is considered to have had the New Testament 27. The fifth century codices Alexandrinus and Ephraemi Rescriptus had all twenty-seven books. All four of these early manuscripts are independent text traditions (different families of copies) and all of them contain the Septuagint—thus making them complete Christian Bibles. And although the arrangement of the books differ among the codices, both in the arrangement of the four groups (Gospels, Praxapostolos, Letters of Paul and Apocalypse) and works withing those groups, they all have the same four groupings and all groupings have the same works within them.

Given this consistent grouping of the New Testament books, this is almost surely an intentional publishing decision.

titles of individual works

That the titles of the individual New Testament books (e. g., “Gospel according to John”) were not original is almost universally accepted. But our earliest manuscripts contain these titles. These titles are awkward both in the grammatical constructions (“according to [author’s name]”–kata plus accusative) and are not entirely accurate representations of the genre they entitle (gospel, praxapostolos), once again points to an intentional publishing decision.

title of the canonical edition

Finally, tucked away in 2 Corinthians 3 is the distinction made between the “old testament” and “new testament.” The joining of the Septuagint and the canonical New Testament in our early manuscripts, and the denomination of them as “old” and “new,” similarly represents an intentional publishing decision to give the entirety of the New Testament books a name and reflects a clear theological position on the relationship of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

Internal evidence

implied authorship

Trobisch notes that the titles of individual works indicate who the authors are. The entire New Testament canon is put together in such a way so as to identify the authors. For example, the order of the catholic epistles matches the order of the list of the “pillars” of Galatians 2:9. The identity of Matthew is provided by the references to “Levi” in the other gospels, but by “Matthew” in the Gospel according to Matthew. Mark is identified in the Acts and in Paul’s letters; which serves to connect Peter with Paul and all of Paul’s letters. Trobisch goes into great details making all these connections. But his point is simple, the entirety of the canonical New Testament serves to authenticate the authorial titles of individual works with dozens of intricately connected references within the New Testament works itself.

That this preponderance of connections was an intentional publishing decision seems a very strong plausibility.

canonical New Testament arrangement mirrors Septuagint

The title of the canonical edition, noted in 2 Corinthians 3, is joined with the Greek Old Testament, and the arrangement of the New Testament canon is a mirror of the arrangement of the Old Testament canon. The Torah is the foundation of the Septuagint as the Gospels are for the New Testament. Just as the historical books of Joshua through Esther connect the Torah with the wisdom literature, so too does the Acts connect the Gospels with the Epistles; where the wisdom literature and the epistles together put into practice what is fundamentally revealed in the Torah and the Gospels. The prophetic literature of the Old Testament points to the coming of the Lord in his incarnation just as the Apocalypse points to the coming of the Lord in his glory.

That this was an intentional publishing decision, especially since the arrangement of the Septuagint differs markedly from the Hebrew Masoretic text, seems clear.

editorial note to the reader

The Gospel according to John ends (21:25) with a very clear address to the reader. There are other similar such notes scattered throughout the New Testament. There is Luke’s acknowledgment of other Gospels in Luke 1:1-4. There is Peter’s acknowledgment of Paul’s writings as canonical Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul himself acknowledges other of his own writings that are not present in our canon (the epistle to the Laodiceans, Colossians 4:16). All of these, and others Trobisch discusses, are an intentional publishing redaction intent to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that what they hold in their hands is the canonical edition of the New Testament.

My extremely brief summary of Trobisch’s argument does not do the book justice. His work is only a bit over a hundred pages long, but his evidence and argumentation are dense and tightly written.

I’m not competent to judge Trobisch’s argument on its merits. I know just enough of some of the subjects he addresses (textual criticism, New Testament manuscripts, etc.) to both follow his argument and find it extremely persuasive.

I definitely recommend this book for your reading.

The Good, the Beautiful and the True

Do we always search out the truth and then conform our reasoning to it later? Or do we find a position attractive, have an intuition as to its truth, and then follow the path of arguments so we arrive at that which we desired to begin with? I’d be a fool to insist on the first and deny the last. It is a combination of both. I think we do have an intuition that a particular conclusion is true, and find it beautiful and desirable. But I also think we legitimately can follow out the reasoning, examine the arguments, and submit the case to logical analysis. And if we still come out on the other end knowing it is true, our initial desire for it does not falsify the truth of it. If something is true, it is true no matter what road I took to get to it. If my pathway to it fails reason’s strictures, I may not be able to demonstrate that it is true, and that would be a great loss. But it would still be true nonetheless.

Furthermore, truth by its nature is beautiful and desirable. Of course we will be attracted to it and our reason will want to struggle and scrape its way toward it. Reason will crawl on hands and knees, following this dead end trail, doubling back, slicing its hands on this jagged contradiction, will hang with sharply in-drawn breath over that abyss of non-sequitor, doggedly continuing on, even through darkness and paradox, until it at last comes to that which it has desired, that for which it has longed, that which gives it meaning and life. And once reason arrives at truth, once the desire for the good and the beautiful has been fulfilled, it will not cease being true, nor falsify reason’s path.

How to Find the New Testament Church Today

I was asked today, about the authority of the Church in relation to the authority of the Scriptures.

I replied, “I am saying that the authority of the Scriptures derives from the authority of the Church via her union by grace with God in Christ. It is not a greater or lesser authority, but the same authority.”

One respondent asked, “[W]hat is the ‘church’ that has this equal authority. Me? Dad? the elders? the Pope? Based on what?”

I replied, “That Church which was founded by Christ on his Apostles through the Holy Spirit, and which continues in direct descent to this day. These things are traceable through objective historical evidence.”

The same respondent replied, “How is it recognized (specifically)? Where will I find that equal authoritative church this sunday (or saturday?)? When I get there, how do I determine that the equal authority to the bible is 1) speaking from the pulpit? 2) on the church board of elders? 3) all the people sitting in the pews? 4) someone in Rome provides the rules? Are we all equally authoritative then? (since we are the Church?)”

And here is my fuller answer to him:

If you’re truly serious, let me suggest the following:

1. Start with the New Testament communities (such as Thessaloniki, Antioch, Ephesus and so forth). As best as you can determine who the New Testament describes as leaders there, apostles and/or their representatives.
2. Next, look at the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament (e. g., 1 Clement, St. Ignatios’ epistles, and so forth) and note two things: a) who were the leaders, and b) what did they teach?
3. Next, look at church historians (Eusebius, Sozomen, etc.) and continue asking these two questions about the various New Testament communities.
4. Work your way forward to today.

You could, of course, work your way backwards, but this would demand trying to figure out where to start. The advantage of my suggestion is that there is no bias, no presuppositions–you simply determine through historical research where is the living continuity in leadership and doctrine from the New Testament to today.

You will, of course, very soon run into the Church councils, and this will aid your research greatly for it will list those leaders and focus on the doctrines the entire Church has taught from the New Testament. You, of course, will be able to verify this fact from your own reading.

Now you may very well respond that this is a lot of work, would take too much time and so on. All of this is true.

But if you want to look into this yourself and not depend on someone else’s biases and prejudices, this is the way to go.

Having completed this exercise, you will very easily and clearly be able to determine which group today is the Church and worthy of your trust.

The Essence of Scripture

The three global monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all have their Scriptures: the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old and New Testaments, and the Koran. The Koran famously refers to Jews and Christians as the “People of the Book.”(cf. Suras 9:29; 29:46), and, indeed, all three faiths are known for their devotion to their Scriptures.

What is clear, however, is that both Judaism and Islam have a different relationship with their respective Scriptures than do Christians with theirs. Both Islam and Judaism focus explicitly on that actual text of their respective Scriptures such that the Masoretic text is well known for its scrupulosity in passing down the exact text of the Hebrew Bible, and Islam does not even acknowledge any versions of the Koran as being the Koran but are considered commentaries (by translation) on the Arabic text.

Christian Scriptures, on the other hand, though handled with reverence and fidelity, and though focused attention was given to the faithful transmission of the actual text, were nonetheless not handled with the same sort of scrupulosity. The Christian Scriptures are rich with varying text-type traditions, and the Christian Old Testament varies in the translation methods of the various Hebrew and Aramaic (in most cases) originals from quite loose paraphrase to wooden word-for-word translation. The Septuagint also contains noticeable differences from the Hebrew Bible’s Masoretic text not just in the canon (including texts excluded by Jews after the advent of Christianity) but even in including portions of canonical books not included in the Masoretic text, and excluding verses included in the Masoretic text.

Furthermore, from the very beginning of Christianity, the translation of the original texts were considered as authoritative as the originals themselves. Thus the Latin Vulgate took hold in western Christianity, and various translations became the Bible for their respective language groups, such as Slavonic for Russia. Christian children memorized the Scriptures in their native languages, whereas Jewish boys had to learn to read and chant Hebrew for their bar mitzvah, and Muslims memorize the Arabic original.

That is to say, Christians have always viewed the essence of Scripture to be the meaning and not the words. Indeed, the Christian hermeneutical key for the Old Testament has never been what the original audience of Jews would have understood, however helpful this may be, but rather the interpretive key to the Old Testament has always been for Christians Christ himself.

As St. Paul writes in his epistle to the Corinthians:

Ye are our epistle, which hath been inscribed in hour hearts, known and read by all men, since it is manifest that ye are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, which hath not been inscribed with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not in stony tablets, but in fleshy tablets of the heart.

And we have such trust through Christ toward God: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to reckon anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God, Who also made us fit ministers of a new covenant [diathekes], not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive. . . .

But their [i. e., the Israelite’s] minds were hardened: For until this day, the same veil remaineth upon the reading of the old testament [diathekes], it not being revealed that in Christ the veil is being abolished. But until today, when Moses is being read, a veil lieth in their heart. But whenever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:2-7, 14-16)

Indeed, that the point of the Scriptures is their meaning, which is to say, is Christ, is also made evident in the epistle to the Hebrews:

God, Who of old, in many parts and in many ways spoke to the fathers through the prophets, did in these last of days speak to us through the Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things, by Whom also He made the ages . . . . (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Christ is the final revelation of God, in him is all of what God wants to say to us. We worship a living Word, not a written text. Indeed, many Christians today, actually misinterpret another passage from Hebrews; namely the one about the living and effective Word. Here is a different translation from what most Christians have read:

For the Logos of God is living and effective, and sharper than every two-edged sword, even going through as far as the dividing of both soul and spirit and of both joints and marrows. And there is no created thing not manifest before His face; but all things are fixed and laid bare to His eyes with Whom is our account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

If one looks in the context of Hebrews four, the writer has not discussed written Scripture. In verse 10, the author speaks of the one who has entered his rest from his works, just as God did from his own. This is a clear reference to Jesus. Verse 11 exhorts us to enter into that rest which Jesus has obtained. And verse 12 talks about the “Word” (or Logos) of God. Clearly then verse 12 is talking about Jesus and not a written Scripture.

This is borne out by the way logos is used in Hebrews. There are twelve occurrences, which carry these respective meanings: a spoken word (2:2; 4:2; 5:11*; 7:28*; 13:7); an account rendered (4:13; 13:22); perhaps the Hebrews epistle itself (5:11*); God’s oracles/revelation (5:13; 7:28*); and Christ himself (4:12; 6:1 [as subject of teaching]). Only in two instances (5:11 and 7:28) could logos be interpreted as referring to written Scriptures, but both of these interpretations depend upon the subsequent result and not the original event. That is to say, in Hebrews 5:11, the author is indicating that he has much more to teach them. This could be construed as the subject matter which follows, especially in chapter 7. But then this presumes that the Hebrews epistle is Scripture, something that the author himself never clearly intends about his own letter. And in Hebrews 7:28, the “word” is the word of the oath God spoke relative to the Messiah being a priest forever. This spoken word from God is written in the Psalm, which is received as Scripture, but it was originally that which God had spoken, or revealed, to his prophet. In other words, logos in Hebrews is never clearly used to refer to Scripture, and the context of Hebrews 4 is not referring to Scripture, so verse 12 refers to the Christ, not to a written body of Scripture.

So the essence of Scripture is Christ, and that essence is communicated to us through the meaning of the Scriptures and not the mere letters of the text. That this was the view of the early Church is also clear. We read in St. Justin:

For these words [of the Old Testament] have neither been prepared by me, nor embellished by the art of man; but David sung them, Isaiah preached them, Zechariah proclaimed them, and Moses wrote them. Are you acquainted with them, Trypho? They are contained in your Scriptures, or rather not yours, but ours. For we believe them; but you, though you read them, do not catch the spirit that is in them. (St. Justin the Philosopher, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 29)

In fact, St. Hilary of Poitiers wrote, “Scripturae enim non in legendo sunt, sed in intelligendo., or “For Scripture is not in the reading, but in the understanding.” ad Constantium Aug. [to the Emperor Constantius], Bk II, Ch. 9). St. Jerome echoes this.

We ought to remain in that Church which was rounded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.(The Dialogue Against the Luciferians, ch. 28)

So, for Christians, what is important about the Scriptures is what they mean, how they reveal Christ and not the letters of the text.

Now don’t mistake me. I do not mean to indicate that the practices of textual criticism or reliance on the Greek Old Testament and New Testament is inessential. On the contrary, if what is important is the meaning, then that meaning will be conveyed by words and to the best of our ability we should reconstruct the actual words of the originals from the copies we have available to us. But we need not fret over whether we have the exact wording of the original text. For the meaning of the texts is not going to be preserved in the mere letters of the text, but in the Christ who is revealed in them.

And it is this hermeneutical principle that will reveal to us the need for our Old Testament to conform to the Old Testament of the Church, which is not the Hebrew Bible as it is currently known. For the meaning of the Old Testament is preserved in that text that the Church received and which was her Bible. And that text was the Greek Old Testament. Once again, however, we need to fret over whether we have the exact same texts of the Septuagint that the apostles had—there is room for variations of Septuagint text-types. In any case, if we want to establish an authoritative “first edition” of the Christian Bible, we would do well to practice our textual criticism primarily via liturgical reconstruction of the biblical texts and not only the biblical codices.

To return to the primary point of this post, however, if the essence of the Scriptures is Christ, and is, therefore, their meaning, then it is going to be radically important that Christians “get right” the meaning of the text. This is not to imply that there is only one singular meaning of each text, for there are legitimately layers of meaning in the texts of Scripture. But to adequately access those layers, that meaning, it will be necessary to follow the proper hermeneutic.

But what is that proper hermeneutic? How do Christians get at the true meaning of the Scriptures? They do so through the mind of Christ. And where do we find this mind of Christ? According to 1 Corinthians 2:16, Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 John 2:20-24; 3:23-4:6, that mind of Christ is found in the Church, the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Therefore our interpretations of the Scriptures, if we would get the essence of the Scripture, must conform to what the Church has always said about them.

As St. Vincent of Lerins put it in the fifth century:

A General Rule for distinguishing the Truth of the Catholic Faith from the Falsehood of Heretical Pravity.

I Have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason,-because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. (St. Vincent of Lerins, The Commonitory, Ch. II)

Temples of the Spirit

The sacramental understanding of the historic Church is predicated on, as is all Christian dogma and experience, the Incarnation. Matter matters because the God of matter became matter for our sake. This understanding extends to the human body. Christianity rejects the dualism of Plato, the Gnostics, the Manicheans, and Descartes that would in any way destroy the unity of the human body and human soul/spirit. (I here make no argument as to whether and in what way the human soul and human spirit are two separate things as 1 Thessalonians 5:23 seems to explicitly indicate.) The human body cannot be reduced to mere matter because a human person is the unity of body and soul/spirit. In fact, the Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit in both body and soul/spirit. The reality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the body of the believer is evidenced by the numerous instances of the incorruption of the bodies of saints. And it is on this reality that is based the historic Christian prohibition against cremation.

The biblical case looks something like this. First, note that the body is referred to as the temple of the Spirit.

Know ye not that ye are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If anyone corrupt the temple of God, God shall bring this same one to corruption, for the temple of God is holy, which ye are. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom ye have from God, and ye are not your own? For ye were bought with a price; glorify then God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

That this is not merely a figurative manner of speaking about the relationship between the Christian body and the Holy Spirit is evidenced by 1 Corinthians 6 in which the prohibition against having sex with a prostitute is predicated precisely on the fact that the Holy Spirit really and metaphysically indwells the body of the believer.

Worship occurs in temples, and indeed, we are to worship God with our bodies, in a living sacrifice.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, well-pleasing to God, your rational worship. (Romans 12:1)

Furthermore, the life of Jesus is made manifest in our bodies.

. . .always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we, the living, are always being delivered to death on account of Jesus, that also the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:10-11)

And when we are sanctified it is as a whole person, soul/spirit and body.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is the One Who calleth you, Who shall also bring it about. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

In fact, the Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies and will redeem them.

But if the Spirit of the One Who raised Jesus from the dead dwell in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead shall also make alive your mortal bodies on account of the indwelling of His Spirit in you. . . . And not only so, but we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly awaiting adoption, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:11, 23)

In fact, the Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing our redemption.

. . . in Whom [i. e., Christ] ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the Gospel of your salvation—in Whom having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy spirit of promise, Who is an earnest of our inheritance until redemption of the preserved possession to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

One does not normally give back a promise or deposit, but retains it so as to claim that which has been promised or the fullness against which the deposit has been made.

Thus, not only is there no indication that the Holy Spirit leaves the body on death, and that the body ceases to become the temple of the Spirit when it becomes “temporarily” separated from the soul between death and the resurrection, in fact all the Scriptural evidence strongly indicates that the Holy Spirit remains indwelling in the body (as well as the soul/spirit) of the believer and in the resurrection will reunite soul/spirit and body.

Now, some will object to this construction of the biblical evidence.

1. The primary contention will be that there is no explicit Scripture that says unequivocally that the Holy Spirit continues to indwell the body of the believer after death.

But this objection only serves to reinforce the argument being made, for the Bible doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit ever leaves the body, either. One cannot apply this objection to the argument without also falsifying the contention that the Holy Spirit does leave the body on death—for the Scripture does not say that either.

We know that the Bible says the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We know that the Bible says the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of our redemption. One does not normally give up a deposit prior to the acquisition of the guaranteed result. That’s the point of the deposit. And we know that our bodies will be redeemed by the Spirit.

So, though the explicit words to the effect, “The Holy Spirit stays in the body after death,” are not in Scripture, clearly the Scripture–on a prima facie reading–leads one to make that connection. And since the explicit words to the effect, “The Holy Spirit leaves the body after death,” are also not in Scripture, one cannot appeal to this principle of Scriptural silence to prove that point. For in doing so, one also cuts against one’s own case. Thus both positions must rest on connecting explicit Scriptures to one another to make the respective cases.

2. Another objection is a reductio ad absurdum: If the bodies of Christians consumed by lions or dying out in open fields are transformed into animal and plant food and into excrement and waste, then one is asserting the Holy Spirit resides in animal dung or in a rose or weed.

But this is a category mistake. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just reside in mere matter, he indwells a human body. (This statement should be taken in the context of this present discussion and not in the context of the Sacramaments as a whole.) The humanness of our bodies is predicated upon the fact that they do not come without souls/spirits. This is why we are born as embodied souls, and why our souls and bodies will be reunited in the resurrection after death. Which is to say that simply because the material elements of the human body pass through the gullet of a lion, are converted to food, and pass out as excrement is in no way an indication that the Holy Spirit must reside in lion dung.

The reasons why are as follows:

1) First of all this is tantamount to the dualist heresy which opposes the Christian doctrine of the unity of the person as a soul/spirit and body; i. e., it views the body as merely the material elements of this universe and not as that which it actually is, the home of the human soul/spirit made in the image of God and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. But if the body is the home of the human soul/spirit made in the image of God and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, then clearly there is more than just material reality at work.

As I noted above, the human body is that with which we worship God, that through which the Holy Spirit ministers his life, that which will be redeemed (and not just our soul/spirit), and that through which the life of Jesus is revealed to the world. So if the human body is just merely material elements, then God uses those material elements to make real his Gospel. And if God has claim on our bodies, then there is every reason to suppose that he will not leave our bodies on our death, but will, in ways we cannot fully understand, continue leaving his seal/deposit in them for our future (to us now) redemption.

2) Secondly, for the objection to work, one must first assume that the Holy Spirit never indwells the body (which one must also first prove for it to be a part of one’s argument), or that the Holy Spirit leaves the body at death (which is also something that one might assume, but would also have to first prove for it to be part of one’s argument). But this has been answered in the response to the first objection above.

3) Furthermore, this objection rests on another unproven assumption: the vileness or disgustingness of the conversion of the material elements of the human body into other things (animal flesh, grass or flowers, rose or a weed), and with it the Holy Spirit indwelling those things. But if the reality of the human body transcends its mere materiality, then so to does it transcend this unproven assertion that the Holy Spirit by elemental conversion must reside in animal dung which was once a pre-digested human.

3. A third objection is that the indwelling in our bodies is merely a figure of speech.

I’ve already answered this in relation to 1 Corinthians 6 above, but there is a further response. Here, once again, the principle cuts both ways. If one reduces the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to merely a figure of speech, then not even our souls/spirits have the Holy Spirit, and we are left without any real union with God, which Jesus prayed for in John 17. The Christian faith then simply becomes reduced to a life of good moral living, somehow energized in us through a Spirit that has no contact with us.

4. Another objection contends that if the human person is, indeed, a unity of soul/spirit and body, then the body, upon death and the separation from it of soul/spirit, ceases to be a human body.

This objection ultimately fails because it presumes the loss of the humanness of the body through the lack of being indwelt by the human spirit/soul. But let’s continue with that line of reasoning. Did Jesus’ body cease to be his body once he died? Would it have been appropriate to cremate, dissolve in acid, or grind up into chunks the body that housed the Godhead fully? Why not? On this objection’s reasoning, once Jesus died, his body ceased to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and therefore was no longer human (or, for that matter, divine), therefore we could presumably have done anything to it we wanted. It had no intrinsic value or Holy Spirit indwelling it. Right?

The problem, though, is that our salvation is accomplished in the body of Christ. Through the death of his body our sins were atoned for. Through the Resurrection of his body we have life in his name and bear his image. This does not at all deny the divinity of Christ, nor that he raised himself from the dead. Rather it is to affirm that inclusive of the spiritual aspect of our salvation is the bodily aspect. This bodily aspect of our salvation is predicated precisely on the Incarnation and the work of God done in Christ’s physical and transfigured body. Therefore we could not do just anything we wanted with Christ’s body.

Christ’s body remained his body even in death, nor was that body ever sundered from the Holy Spirit, for it that were ever to have been so, God would have ceased dwelling in a human body, and the Incarnation would have been undone. (And, in fact, this is tantamount to adoptionist heretical Christologies.)

So, if the Holy Spirit continued to dwell in Christ’s body even during his time in the tomb, then it must be the case that the Holy Spirit continues to dwell in the bodies of dead Christians, since Christ is the firstfruits of the Resurrection.

So, the body, if it is a human body, is not simply reducible to its material elements, for it is not merely a material shell housing the soul/spirit and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is an irreducible spiritual-physical/soulish-physical reality which transcends though is connected to mere material reality. Death is an abnormal state of affairs for the soul and body, requiring their “temporary” separation. And if the Holy Spirit indwells the whole person, then he indwells not just the soul/spirit but also the body. So in death when the soul/spirit is separated from the body, the Holy Spirit continues to indwell both and will reunite both in the resurrection.

Eric Jay, “From Presbyter-Bishops to Bishops and Presbyters”: A Review and Response

In our discussion on the now-silent thread Let Us Build Our Faith On Christ, Bobby Valentine inserted Eric Jay’s article, �From Presbyter-Bishops to Bishops and Presbyters� into the discussion (right about here, scroll down about half-way). A resume of my points of contention at that point in the thread would be helpful.

I had argued that

1. The first century Church looked the way St. Ignatios and St. Clement describe. It’s not a matter of interpretation of any NT passages. It is simply the case based on sheer historical record.

2. If the first century Church looked the way St. Ignatios and St. Clement describe it, then the RM interpretation of what the first century Church looked like is just flat wrong.

3. Given 1 and 2, it’s not the case that the NT and St. Ignatios and St. Clement contradict, but that the RM interpretation of the NT conflicts with St. Ignatios and St. Clement.

4. If the RM interpretation of the NT conflicts with the established facts of history, then the RM interpretation cannot be true, and if the RM interpretation of the NT is false, then it is a good idea to try to understand the NT in light of first century history.

To which Bobby responded:

The church structure reflected in Ignatius does not seem to be known in other second century writers. Eric G. Jay (Emeritus Professor of Theology @ McGill University in Toronto) has published a masterpiece of historical research on Christian ministry in the second century.

[. . . snipped. . .]

Jay is from an episcopal background, as I recall. He surveys in considerable depth the Didache, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Hermas, Justin, Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Hippolytus . . . it is a model of fairness and objectivity. Throughout Jay is in conversation with Gregory Dix and his classic work on early christian ministry and concludes that in a number of places Dix is simply wrong.

In spite of the fact that Jay’s conclusions are contrary to his own church structure he offers these fine words at the conclusion of his study,

“[i]This survey shows, I maintain, that for about a century and a half the church’s ministry was basically prebyteral. There would, perhaps, be speedier progress in ecumenical conversations between episcopal and presbyterian churches if, on the one hand, this were frankly recognized, and if, on the other hand, the cogency of the needs which prom[p]ted the eventual emergence of the monepiscopate were acknowledged”[/i] (p. 162).

Bobby gave several more replies to my points, most of them oriented around Jay’s article. Others in the thread also made criticisms. I responded with a rather broad series of connections between New Testament and Ignatian ecclesiology, which also received further comments/criticism. I resummarized my argument for the thread in this way:

In any case, the point of my post was not necessarily to provide a locked and tight case from the New Testament that an Ignatian model of Church polity is clearly stated in the New Testament.

Rather, the point of my post was twofold: to underline verses almost no one ever talks about in RM interpretations of NT Church polity and to show that when one looks at all the evidence from the New Testament–instead of just merely combing verses for the terms bishop or elder–and all the evidence from the first century Christians (though of course I presented only two sources), then it becomes clear that there is continuity between the New Testament and St. Ignatios and that minimally what St. Ignatios describes as first century Church polity has at least an incipient foundation in the NT.

This is my problem with most scholarship I’ve read on these matters. They look for the obvious–always a good thing, of course–but they also miss the forest for the trees. There’s a whole lot more there than the simple presence or absence of the terms bishop and elder and the explicit description of Church structure.

I wanted to describe the background at some length so as to get a feel for what had been stated and argued, and how Jay’s article fit into that context. With this context in mind, I wish now to review and respond to Jay’s article.

Bobby’s citation of Jay above does not quite capture the full argument that Jay is making. But this is not to imply any distortion on Bobby’s part, for Jay’s concluding statement belies the carefully crafted conclusion to his survey that he had already constructed and which I here quote in full:

My contention has been that in the second century a development of the structure of the Christian ministry which had originated in the first century was brought to its conclusion. The single order of presbyters who were also called bishops becomes two distinct orders: monarchical bishop with ordaining power and presbyters. The stages were:

1. The election by the local college of presbyters of a chairman or president. This must have occurred in many churches during the latter part of the first century. It was a natural step, arising from the need for a responsible leader for any group which existed for a serious purpose. There were analogies in the archisunagogos who directed the worship in the synagogues of Jewish communities and in the presiding officers of the gerousiai, senates, and multitudinous clubs and societies of the Graeco-Roman world. The functions alloted to the president of the Christian presbytery varied according to the need of the community. In Syria and Asia Minor conditions (schismatic tendencies and incipient heresy) led to the recognition of the president as the focus of the church’s unity and the overseer of baptisms and eucharistic worship. As such he became known as �the bishop� (ho episkopos) prior to the writing of Ignatius’ letters (c. 110-115).

In Rome at the end of the first century the president had not acquired the title of �bishop.� Apart from the responsibility of implementing pastoral and disciplinary decisions of the presbytery he appears to have had the important duty of communicating and maintaining good relations with other churches.

2. Gnosticism reached the height of its influence and popularity in the west. c. 150-180. The Gnostic claim to possess a corpus of truth derived secretly from the apostles through a succession of teachers was met by the assertion that the true doctrine of the apostles has been preserved in the church by a series of authoritative teachers in an unbroken line from from the apostles (Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Tertullian). These are the presidents of the presbyterates who have, in turn, received the apostolic �canon of truth� or �rule of faith� from their immediate predecessors in office. They are now styled �bishops.�

3. The final stage is indicated in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus and must have been reached in Rome late in the second century. The bishop is now the sole ordainer, and he himself is consecrated, after election, by another bishop or other bishops. To allot to the church officer who was already acknowledged to be the guardian of the church’s integrity of doctrine and worship the chief role in the continuance of that tradition by the consecration of those who were to succeed to this guardianship in the churches was but a small step and a seemingly logical one. It was eventually to lead to a different conception of apostolic succession from that taught by Irenaeus: namely, the tracing of a bishop’s succession through his consecrators rather than through the predecessors in his see (kathedra). The bishop, as Hippolytus presents him, is the summa sacerdos, whose order is superior to that of all other ministers of the church by virtue of his consecration.(161-162; emphases added)

Immediately following this conclusion is the final paragraph originally cited by Bobby in the thread above.

With due allowance for lack of clarity regarding what is meant by the term monepiscopate, and quibbling over whether presbyteral or episcopal more correctly designates pre-late second century polity, I cannot but see that Jay supports the basic line of the argument I gave: which is, when one looks at the function of (what Jay designates as) the president of the presbyters, even as early as the late first century, the president was performing episcopal functions. Namely:

* the focus of the church’s unity (Ignatios)
* the overseer of baptisms and eucharistic worship (Ignatios)
* the responsibility of implementing pastoral and disciplinary decisions of the presbytery (Clement)
* the important duty of communicating and maintaining good relations with other churches (Clement)

Indeed, Jay says quite clearly about the Ignatian churches:

It is likely that, a presbytery having been chosen, the advantages of having a single spokesman and arbiter in liturgical and disciplinary matters were soon realized. But monepiscopacy cannot have been achieved much before the year 90. (141; emphasis added)

This, however, seems to contradict his conclusion. He follows this immediately with:

The ministerial structure described in the Ignatian epistles is usually termed �monepiscopacy.� But it does not seem to have been the monepiscopacy of bishops whose authority is claimed by reason of succession from the apostles. (141)

And here is where the confusion focuses: what do we mean by monepiscopus? For though he has taken some care to reject any notion that a bishop functioned in Rome in the late first century, later, when he discusses Justin Martyr’s writings, he notes:

There can be no doubt that in Rome, as elsewhere, the need for what Streeter calls a �president of the presbytery� became apparent at a very early stage. . . .

. . . the practical advantages of choosing a president must have been clear to the presbyters of Rome. . . . The president would be expected to have a special care for the welfare, protection, and expansion of the Christian community; and as his responsibilities increased, so he would begin to be thought of as having a special status.

The president of the presbytery was probably the principal celebrant of the eucharist. But it is not likely that other presbyters were precluded from this sacramental function. From the beginning presbyters had celebrated the eucharist. (148, 149; emphasis added)

In fact, it was at �non-episcopal� Rome (pun intended) that the names of the presidents of the presbytery had been kept in local memory (and which Hegesippus compiled) (cf. 149)–very much in continuity with the later understanding of apostolic succession in the episcopate.

Jay later remarks:

The need for a president of the college of presbyters had been recognized before Irenaeus’ day, certainly at Antioch and in Asia minor, and doubtless in Rome. Ignatius saw him as the center of the church’s unity and guardian of the purity of its worship. In Rome, probably as early as Clement, he was seen as the local church’s representative in relations with other churches. (153-154; emphasis added)

Jay wants to contend that presbyteral, and not episopcal is the proper term to mark pre-late second century Church polity. He does this by making the assumption that the terms presbyter and bishop are synonymous. But here is where such a focus on terms falters, and this has been my point from the beginning.

Even Jay is forced to admit that historically speaking many of the fundamental functions of that later ministry that he terms monepiscopus already existed before the end of the first century. Indeed, according to Jay’s survey, the only later developments to the previously named functions are all simply developments of those functions: ordination and co-consecration (discipline and worship) and apostolic succession (doctrine and ecclesial representation).

In fact, in functional terms, one is on just as solid ground to refer to the �president of the presbytery� as a bishop as one is to call him the president, for the practice of such oversight is continuous with the first century/New Testament Church, which frequently uses the term bishop in the context of such oversight (Acts 20; 1 Timothy 3, 5; Titus 1).

So while on technically precise definitional grounds, I gladly concede that the monepiscopus was not exactly what the first century office was called, functionally speaking, the leadership of the Church by a bishop/president of the presbyters in the first century/New Testament Church is, even on Jay’s account, unquestionable. Thus, my claims that the first century/New Testament Church polity was episcopal continue to be supported by the evidence.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 and the “Man of God”

Why the phrase “man of God” in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 does not refer to every Christian generally but to Church leaders specifically.

Earlier, I examined 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to show why Scripture cannot be said to claim for itself all-sufficiency. Here are the verses once more:

Every Scripture is God-inspired and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness, in order that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Thanks to a comment from Perry Robinson to me, I was compelled to look at this phrase in 2 Timothy 3:17, “man of God.” The phrase occurs more than sixty times in the Scriptures, more than forty of them in 1-2 Kings, where they refer most often to Elijah, Elisha, and the unnamed prophet out of Judah of chapter 13. In all “man of God” refers to the prophets–all instances of the phrase are to named prophets or unnamed but specific prophets–nearly fifty times, Moses (eight times), David (three times), the angel that appeared to Samson’s parents (twice), to the son of Igdaliah (Godolias in the LXX), a Levitical priest (once), to St. Timothy (once at 1 Timothy 6:11), and to the unspecified “man of God” in our text under consideration, though contextually its most proximate target would be St. Timothy.

From this follows 4 observations and a corollary:

1. “Man of God” is never used in Scripture to refer to the people of God generally, but to specific persons.
2. “Man of God” always refers to a prophet, priest, King or Church leader, never to the general people of God. Since this is so for every other occurrence, then even 2 Timothy 3:17, though it does not name a specific person, contextually can only refer to a Church leader.
3. We know from passages such as Acts 15:35; 18:11; 20:20, 28-31; Romans 12:7; Colossians 1:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24; 4:2; Titus 1:10-14 and Hebrews 13:7 that teaching and correction was an essential part of Church leadership (though Colossians 3:16 could be construed more broadly to apply to Church members generally, and 1 Corinthians 14:26 to those with the charism of teaching, which only the more emphasizes teaching and correction as essential to Church leadership).
4. Given 1-3, then, St. Paul is telling St. Timothy that Scripture is useful for Church leaders “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.” Whatever else we may say about Scripture and Christians generally, this specific verse is not for application to Christians generally, but to Christian leaders specifically.
5. As a corollary to 4–especially in light of such verses as Acts 15:1; 20:28-31; Colossians 2:22; Titus 1:10-14–when Christians who are not Church leaders make use of Scripture, they should ensure that their teaching conforms to the teaching of the Church leadership.

As I have indicated in my arguments elsewhere, Church leaders are responsible for the faithful transmission of the tradition of the Apostles, which ultimately means that all Scriptural interpretation, especially that of the laity, must conform to what the Church has always taught and believed from the beginning.

So, given my previous argument regarding 2 Timothy 3:16-17, that it does not claim the all-sufficiency of Scripture, and given this argument that the verses only apply to Church leaders specifically, it is now indisputable that Protestants cannot appeal to these verses for Scriptural all-sufficiency, for not only do the verses not make this claim (as I’ve previously proven), neither are they useful for any Christian generally, but for Church leaders particularly, and so even if their all-sufficiency were provisionally granted, it would not apply to all Christians indiscriminately, and therefore would violate the purported claim to be all-sufficient.

Islam a Christian Heresy?

We are used to thinking of Islam as a religion separate from, though related to, Judaism and Christianity. Indeed, even many Christians appeal to a common heritage between these three faiths, all being so-called “Sons of Abraham.” But it would appear that Islam is not simply a separate faith that grew up out of its own soil. Rather, it would appear that it is a form of Christian heresy; and, indeed, this was how it was viewed by the Christians who knew Islam in its earliest days.

Let’s first look at Church historian Sozomen. Writing in the early part of the fifth century, about two hundred years prior to the rise of Islam, Sozomen notes:

This is the tribe which took its origin and had its name from Ishmael, the son of Abraham; and the ancients called them Ishmaelites after their progenitor. As their mother Hagar was a slave, they afterwards, to conceal the opprobrium of their origin, assumed the name of Saracens, as if they were descended from Sara, the wife of Abraham. Such being their origin, they practice circumcision like the Jews, refrain from the use of pork, and observe many other Jewish rites and customs. If, indeed, they deviate in any respect from the observances of that nation, it must be ascribed to the lapse of time, and to their intercourse with the neighboring nations. Moses, who lived many centuries after Abraham, only legislated for those whom he led out of Egypt. The inhabitants of the neighboring countries, being strongly addicted to superstition, probably soon corrupted the laws imposed upon them by their forefather Ishmael. The ancient Hebrews had their community life under this law only, using therefore unwritten customs, before the Mosaic legislation. These people certainly served the same gods as the neighboring nations, honoring and naming them similarly, so that by this likeness with their forefathers in religion, there is evidenced their departure from the laws of their forefathers. As is usual, in the lapse of time, their ancient customs fell into oblivion, and other practices gradually got the precedence among them. Some of their tribe afterwards happening to come in contact with the Jews, gathered from them the facts of their true origin, returned to their kinsmen, and inclined to the Hebrew customs and laws. From that time on, until now, many of them regulate their lives according to the Jewish precepts. Some of the Saracens were converted to Christianity not long before the present reign. They shared in the faith of Christ by intercourse with the priests and monks who dwelt near them, and practiced philosophy in the neighboring deserts, and who were distinguished by the excellence of their life, and by their miraculous works. It is said that a whole tribe, and Zocomus, their chief, were converted to Christianity and baptized about this period, under the following circumstances: Zocomus was childless, and went to a certain monk of great celebrity to complain to him of this calamity; for among the Saracens, and I believe other barbarian nations, it was accounted of great importance to have children. The monk desired Zocomus to be of good cheer, engaged in prayer on his behalf, and sent him away with the promise that if he would believe in Christ, he would have a son. When this promise was confirmed by God, and when a son was born to him, Zocomus was initiated, and all his subjects with him. From that period this tribe was peculiarly fortunate, and became strong in point of number, and formidable to the Persians as well as to the other Saracens. Such are the details that I have been enabled to collect concerning the conversion of the Saracens and their first bishop. (Ecclesiastical History 6.38)

Note what Sozomen details: a dependence upon the Jewish faith, and then a coversion of some of the Saracens to Christianity. This happened more than two centuries prior to the rise of Islam.

Now take a look at St. John of Damascus, who lived, in the eighth century, in a city and region dominated by Islam. In his work, The Fount of Knowledge, and the section on heresies, he writes:

There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist. They are descended from Ishmael, who was born to Abraham of Agar, and for this reason they are called both Agarenes and Ishmaelites. They are also called Saracens, which is derived from [in Greek] Sarras kenoi, or destitute of Sara, because of what Agar said to the angel: “Sara has sent me away destitute.” These used to be idolaters and worshipped the morning star and Aphrodite, whom in their own language they called Khabar, which means great. And so down to the time of Heraclius they were very great idolaters. From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy. Then, having insinuated himself into the good graces of the people by a show of seeming piety, he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his and he gave it to them as an object of veneration. (St. John of Damascus, The Fount of Knowledge, “On Heresies,” 101)

Sozomen has already noted the dependence of certain of the Saracens on the law of Moses and a strong exposure to Christianity. St. John confirms this in his account, and even notes that Mohammed met an Arian (some say Nestorian) monk. Perhaps Islam is, after all, Christian heresy.

This Christian heresy, of course, has slaughtered untold numbers of Christians throughout its history, and is a source for the current fanatical terrorism being committed in our world.


From the Qur’an:

It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that he should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, “Be”, and it is. (Surah 19:35)


They do blaspheme who say: “God is Christ the son of Mary.” But Christ said: “O Children of Israel! worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” Whoever joins other gods with Allah,–Allah will forbid him the Garden and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help.

They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except one God (Allah). If they do not desist from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. (Surah 5:72-73)


O People of the Book! commit no excesses in your religion; nor say of Allah anything but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Do not say “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One God: glory be to Him (far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (Sura 4:171)

Islam rejects the divinity of Jesus, just like Arianism.
Islam rejects the Holy Trinity, just like Sabellianism/modalism.
Islam rejects that Mary is the birthgiver of God, just like Nestorianism.

Yep. It’s all rotten with heresy.

See also this account at Fr. Joseph’s Orthodixie.