Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sola Scriptura in Athanasius: "On the Incarnation of the Word"

The sequel to "Contra Gentes," Athanasius' "On the Incarnation of the Word" picks up where the prior work left off (link to detailed discussion of Sola Scriptura in Contra Gentes). He already has proven the divinity of the Word, but now he's going to discuss how the Word became flesh. There are 57 sections to this work.

By the second section (link), Athanasius is already quoting Scripture. He continues doing the same in third section (link) where he also quotes from the Shepherd of Hermas (as "the most edifying book of the Shepherd"). He likewise continues to quote from scripture in the next two sections (4th - 5th) including a quote from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom in each section.

Athanasius continues his argument and explanation, relying on Biblical principles and doctrines, while not necessarily always quoting from Scripture.

In some places, Athanasius places particular emphasis on quoting Scripture, such as when proving his point from Scripture in section 10 (link). For example, he states: "And of this one may be assured at the hands of the Saviour’s own inspired writers, if one happen upon their writings ... ."

In section 12 (link), Athanasius explains the purpose of Scripture:
But since men’s carelessness, by little and little, descends to lower things, God made provision, once more, even for this weakness of theirs, by sending a law, and prophets, men such as they knew, so that even if they were not ready to look up to heaven and know their Creator, they might have their instruction from those near at hand ... For neither was the law for the Jews alone, nor were the Prophets sent for them only, but, though sent to the Jews and persecuted by the Jews, they were for all the world a holy school of the knowledge of God and the conduct of the soul.

In section 13 (link) Athanasius makes a telling comparison to human kings:
5. Once again, a merely human king does not let the lands he has colonized pass to others to serve them, nor go over to other men; but he warns them by letters, and often sends to them by friends, or, if need be, he comes in person, to put them to rebuke in the last resort by his presence, only that they may not serve others and his own work be spent for naught.
His point, of course, is that Christ's coming is that last resort.

Athanasius does not necessarily always cite or quote from Scripture, though he does occasionally do so at length (for example, at section 18). Moreover, while Athanasius frequently appeals to what is "fitting" to persuade his reader, when it comes to actually proving the point, he goes to Scripture. For example, the following is from section 33 (link):
For Jews in their incredulity may be refuted from the Scriptures, which even themselves read; for this text and that, and, in a word, the whole inspired Scripture, cries aloud concerning these things, as even its express words abundantly shew. For prophets proclaimed beforehand concerning the wonder of the Virgin and the birth from her, saying: “Lo, the Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, God with us.” [Isaiah 7:14 - also quoted in Matthew 1:23]
But Moses, the truly great, and whom they believe to speak truth, with reference to the Saviour’s becoming man, having estimated what was said as important, and assured of its truth, set it down in these words: “There shall rise a star out of Jacob, and a man out of Israel, and he shall break in pieces the captains of Moab.” [Numbers 24:17] And again: “How lovely are thy habitations O Jacob, thy tabernacles O Israel, as shadowing gardens, and as parks by the rivers, and as tabernacles which the Lord hath fixed, as cedars by the waters. A man shall come forth out of his seed, and shall be Lord over many peoples.” [LXX Numbers 24:5-7] And again, Esaias: “Before the Child know how to call father or mother, he shall take the power of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria before the king of Assyria.” [Isaiah 8:4]
That a man, then, shall appear is foretold in those words. But that He that is to come is Lord of all, they predict once more as follows: “Behold the Lord sitteth upon a light cloud, and shall come into Egypt, and the graven images of Egypt shall be shaken.” [Isaiah 19:1] For from thence also it is that the Father calls Him back, saying: “I called My Son out of Egypt.” [Hosea 11:1]
Notice that for Athanasius these doctrines are expressly and clearly taught in Scripture: "even its express words abundantly shew."

The next section (section 34) continues in the same vein:
Nor is even His death passed over in silence: on the contrary, it is referred to in the divine Scriptures, even exceeding clearly. For to the end that none should err for want of instruction in the actual events, they feared not to mention even the cause of His death,—that He suffers it not for His own sake, but for the immortality and salvation of all, and the counsels of the Jews against Him and the indignities offered Him at their hands.
They say then: “A man in stripes, and knowing how to bear weakness, for his face is turned away: he was dishonoured and held in no account. He beareth our sins, and is in pain on our account; and we reckoned him to be in labour, and in stripes, and in ill-usage; but he was wounded for our sins, and made weak for our wickedness. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we were healed.” [Isaiah 53:3-5 - there seem to be some slight variants from both the Masoretic and LXX texts here] O marvel at the loving-kindness of the Word, that for our sakes He is dishonoured, that we may be brought to honour. “For all we,” it says, “like sheep were gone astray; man had erred in his way; and the Lord delivered him for our sins; and he openeth not his mouth, because he hath been evilly entreated. As a sheep was he brought to the slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before his shearer, so openeth he not his mouth: in his abasement his judgment was taken away.” [Isaiah 53:6-8]
Then lest any should from His suffering conceive Him to be a common man, Holy Writ anticipates the surmises of man, and declares the power (which worked) for Him, and the difference of His nature compared with ourselves, saying: “But who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth. From the wickedness of the people was he brought to death. And I will give the wicked instead of his burial, and the rich instead of his death; for he did no wickedness, neither was guile found in his mouth. And the Lord will cleanse him from his stripes.” [Isaiah 53:8-10 - the text here seems close to the LXX]
Once again note that for Athanasius "it is referred to in the divine Scriptures, even exceeding clearly ...."

The following section (section 35) continues with more Scriptural proof:
But, perhaps, having heard the prophecy of His death, you ask to learn also what is set forth concerning the Cross. For not even this is passed over: it is displayed by the holy men with great plainness.
For first Moses predicts it, and that with a loud voice, when he says: “Ye shall see your Life hanging before your eyes, and shall not believe.” [Deuteronomy 28:66]
And next, the prophets after him witness of this, saying: “But I as an innocent lamb brought to be slain, knew it not; they counselled an evil counsel against me, saying, Hither and let us cast a tree upon his bread, and efface him from the land of the living.” [Jeremiah 11:19 - slightly different from both the LXX and Masoretic texts here]
And again: “They pierced my hands and my feet, they numbered all my bones, they parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.” [Psalm 22:16-18]
Now a death raised aloft and that takes place on a tree, could be none other than the Cross: and again, in no other death are the hands and feet pierced, save on the Cross only.
But since by the sojourn of the Saviour among men all nations also on every side began to know God; they did not leave this point, either, without a reference: but mention is made of this matter as well in the Holy Scriptures. For “there shall be,” he saith, “the root of Jesse, and he that riseth to rule the nations, on him shall the nations hope.” [Isaiah 11:10] This then is a little in proof of what has happened.
But all Scripture teems with refutations of the disbelief of the Jews. For which of the righteous men and holy prophets, and patriarchs, recorded in the divine Scriptures, ever had his corporal birth of a virgin only? Or what woman has sufficed without man for the conception of human kind? Was not Abel born of Adam, Enoch of Jared, Noe of Lamech, and Abraham of Tharra, Isaac of Abraham, Jacob of Isaac? Was not Judas born of Jacob, and Moses and Aaron of Ameram? Was not Samuel born of Elkana, was not David of Jesse, was not Solomon of David, was not Ezechias of Achaz, was not Josias of Amos, was not Esaias of Amos, was not Jeremy of Chelchias, was not Ezechiel of Buzi? Had not each a father as author of his existence? Who then is he that is born of a virgin only? For the prophet made exceeding much of this sign.
Or whose birth did a star in the skies forerun, to announce to the world him that was born? For when Moses was born, he was hid by his parents: David was not heard of, even by those of his neighbourhood, inasmuch as even the great Samuel knew him not, but asked, had Jesse yet another son? Abraham again became known to his neighbours as a great man only subsequently to his birth. But of Christ’s birth the witness was not man, but a star in that heaven whence He was descending.
Once again, note the affirmation that Scripture clearly teaches these important central truths:
  • "it is displayed by the holy men with great plainness"
  • "This then is a little in proof of what has happened"
  • "all Scripture teems with refutations of the disbelief of the Jews"

One of the most powerful indirect confirmations of the Sola Scriptura approach of Athanasius comes in section 37 (link), where Athanasius argues in this way: "Who then is he of whom the Divine Scriptures say this? Or who is so great that even the prophets predict of him such great things? None else, now, is found in the Scriptures but the common Saviour of all, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ." Similarly, in section 38 (link) "Since then nothing is said in the Scriptures, it is evident that these things had never taken place before." Notice that Athanasius has a presupposition that the answer to the question is to be found in Scripture and if Scripture is silent, it didn't happen. If Athanasius thought that Scripture were an incomplete record, this would not work - for simply exhausting Scripture would not be enough.

Similarly, in a number of sections Athanasius appeals to Scripture as proof:

  • "For if they do not think these proofs sufficient, let them be persuaded at any rate by other reasons, drawn from the oracles they themselves possess." (Section 38)
  • "Or if not even this is sufficient for them, let them at least be silenced by another proof, seeing how clear its demonstrative force is. For the Scripture says ..." (Section 38)
  • "But perhaps, being unable, even they, to fight continually against plain facts, they will, without denying what is written, maintain that they are looking for these things, and that the Word of God is not yet come. For this it is on which they are for ever harping, not blushing to brazen it out in the face of plain facts." (Section 39)
  • "... then it must be plain, even to those who are exceedingly obstinate, that the Christ is come, and that He has illumined absolutely all with His light, and given them the true and divine teaching concerning His Father. So one can fairly refute the Jews by these and by other arguments from the Divine Scriptures." (section 40)
My non-cessationist friends will be wise to note Athanasius' confirmation of the cessation of prophecy: "To make prophecy, and king, and vision to cease? This too has already come to pass." (section 40)

In arguing against the Greeks, Athanasius uses an excellent argument that demonstrates his view of Scripture (section 47 and section 50):
But as to Gentile wisdom, and the sounding pretensions of the philosophers, I think none can need our argument, since the wonder is before the eyes of all, that while the wise among the Greeks had written so much, and were unable to persuade even a few from their own neighbourhood, concerning immortality and a virtuous life, Christ alone, by ordinary language, and by men not clever with the tongue, has throughout all the world persuaded whole churches full of men to despise death, and to mind the things of immortality; to overlook what is temporal and to turn their eyes to what is eternal; to think nothing of earthly glory and to strive only for the heavenly.
...
But the Word of God, most strange fact, teaching in meaner language, has cast into the shade the choice sophists; and while He has, by drawing all to Himself, brought their schools to nought, He has filled His own churches; and the marvellous thing is, that by going down as man to death, He has brought to nought the sounding utterances of the wise concerning idols.
Interestingly, this is the first time churches are mentioned - but they are not mentioned as an authority, but rather as an evidence (section 24 included a brief mention of "those who would divide the Church").

As he wraps up his book (section 56), Athanasius makes sure to point his reader back to Scripture:
Let this, then, Christ-loving man, be our offering to you, just for a rudimentary sketch and outline, in a short compass, of the faith of Christ and of His Divine appearing to usward. But you, taking occasion by this, if you light upon the text of the Scriptures, by genuinely applying your mind to them, will learn from them more completely and clearly the exact detail of what we have said. For they were spoken and written by God, through men who spoke of God.
Notice how Athanasius views Scripture as being an even better teacher than he is, and that simply by "genuinely applying your mind" you can learn the truths "more completely and clearly" with "the exact detail." He gives the reason why: namely that they were "spoken and written by God."

The most tradition-friendly line of the book then follows: "But we impart of what we have learned from inspired teachers who have been conversant with them, who have also become martyrs for the deity of Christ, to your zeal for learning, in turn." But note that Athanasius does not hint or suggest that there is an epistemological need for these teachers. While Athanasius does use their martyrdom as a testimony to the truth of their position, to some extent, he never quotes from any of them throughout the work: only quoting from the Scripture or deuterocanonical works, such as Wisdom or the Shepherd.

In the final section (section 57), Athanasius continues his promotion of searching the Scriptures:
But for the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honourable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God.
So, Athanasius' exhortation is not to accept the authority of those intermediate teachers, but rather to imitate their example of a godly life. Thus, even in pointing to those who went before us, Athanasius' point is that "For without a pure mind and a modelling of the life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints." His point is not that we need additional instructors alongside Scripture, but that we need to remove sin from our life in order to understand Scripture correctly.


-TurretinFan

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sola Scriptura in Athanasius: Contra Gentes

Athanasius' first major work "Contra Gentes" begins with the line: "The knowledge of our religion and of the truth of things is independently manifest rather than in need of human teachers, for almost day by day it asserts itself by facts, and manifests itself brighter than the sun by the doctrine of Christ." (source) Notice how Athanasius describes the truth of the Christian religion as being self-evident and explicitly not "in need of human teachers."

Athanasius immediately continues: "Still, as you nevertheless desire to hear about it, Macarius, come let us as we may be able set forth a few points of the faith of Christ: able though you are to find it out from the divine oracles, but yet generously desiring to hear from others as well." The divine oracles he refers to here are Scripture. Athanasius states that these things can be found out from Scripture, but that Macarius would like to hear it from others as well.

Athanasius then explicitly states:
For although the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth,—while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which a man will gain some knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures, and be able to learn what he wishes to know,—still, as we have not at present in our hands the compositions of our teachers, we must communicate in writing to you what we learned from them,—the faith, namely, of Christ the Saviour; lest any should hold cheap the doctrine taught among us, or think faith in Christ unreasonable.
Here Athanasius explicitly acknowledges the sufficiency of Scripture. He also confesses the usefulness of human teachers, and he himself is one such teacher, doing what our "blessed teachers" before him did: not infallibly defining the Scriptures, but simply explaining them.

After the introduction (section 1), Athanasius begins (section 2) with a discussion of Creation and general theology. He makes explicit reference to "Holy Scriptures," and there are lots of doctrines obviously derived from Scripture taught in the section. He even quotes from Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

In the next section (section 3), Athanasius speaks of the fall. He again clearly derives his teaching from Scripture and makes his reliance on Scripture explicit: "... according to what the holy Scriptures tell us ...."

In the following section (section 4), Athansius speaks of the effects of the fall, particularly on the mind. He again derives his teaching from Scripture. Speaking to the intended purpose of the things man has, Athanasius describes "ears to listen to the divine oracles and the laws of God ..." ("divine oracles" and "laws" are synonyms for Scripture). Athanasius quotes from 1 Corinthians 10:23 “All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient.”

In the next section (section 5), Athanasius speaks of the effects of the fall in terms of sins that flow from it. He once again derives his teaching from Scripture, with fairly obvious reliance on Romans 3:15 ("Their feet are swift to shed blood"), Proverbs 1:16 ("For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood."), or Isaiah 59:7 ("Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths."). Athanasius quotes from Philippians 3:14 “I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of Christ Jesus.”

Next (section 6), Athanasius makes reference to various erroneous views. He again relies on Scripture both to form his doctrinal correctives, but also to describe those in error (For example, he alludes to 1 Timothy 1:19). He is explicit in relying on Scripture to refute the errors: "But these men one can easily refute, not only from the divine Scriptures, but also from the human understanding itself ...." He then quotes from the gospels, quoting Jesus, quoting the Old Testament (bracketed references are my insertion): "To begin with, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ says in His own gospels confirming the words of Moses: “The Lord God is one; [Mark 12:29 / Deuteronomy 6:4]” and “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth [Matthew 11:25 / Luke 10:11 / Deuteronomy 10:14 / Genesis 24:3 / Exodus 31:17].”

Athanasius continues (section 7) by refuting a dualist notion that there is a good god and an evil god. Here we finally have a reference to the church, but it is simply "the truth of the Church’s theology must be manifest ...." Athanasius continues to argue from reason and Scripture. For example, referring to Scripture in yet another way, and quoting it, Athanasius writes: "as the Spirit says somewhere in writing, “God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions.” [Ecclesiastes 7:29]"

The next section (section 8) has Athanasius explaining how the error of the use of representational images in worship arose. In this discussion he has clear dependence on Romans 1:20-24. Moreover, he explicitly quotes from Scripture: " But to this the divine Scripture testifies when it says, “When the wicked cometh unto the depth of evils, he despiseth.” [Proverbs (LXX) 18:3]" (You may recall we saw this same Scripture quoted in the Deposition of Arius)

After this (section 9) Athanasius deals with the descent into various things that are not divine as though they were deity, including creatures, non-existent things, passions, and parts. Here, Athanasius explicitly quotes from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom of Solomon as though it were Scripture, "According as the wisdom of God testifies beforehand when it says, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication.”[Wisdom 14:12]" (Cf. Athanasius' explicit identification of Wisdom of Solomon as non-canonical in his 39th festal letter, although as that was written later than this, it may reflect a change of views on his part)

The next section (section 10) gets more specific in calling out specific deities that are simply dead humans, both male and female (Athanasius is especially down on the idea of worshiping women: "For even women, whom it is not safe to admit to deliberation about public affairs, they worship and serve with the honour due to God ... "). While Scripture is not specifically mentioned, the dependence on Wisdom 14 seems pretty apparent.

The following section (section 11) provides a rebuttal. Athanasius again quotes Wisdom of Solomon 14, calling it "Scripture", this time quoting it at length:
But of these and such like inventions of idolatrous madness, Scripture taught us beforehand long ago, when it said, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them, the corruption of life. For neither were they from the beginning, neither shall they be for ever. For the vainglory of men they entered into the world, and therefore shall they come shortly to an end. For a father afflicted with untimely mourning when he hath made an image of his child soon taken away, now honoured him as a god which was then a dead man, and delivered to those that were under him ceremonies and sacrifices. Thus in process of time an ungodly custom grown strong was kept as a law. And graven images were worshipped by the commands of kings. Whom men could not honour in presence because they dwelt afar off, they took the counterfeit of his visage from afar, and made an express image of the king whom they honoured, to the end that by this their forwardness they might flatter him that was absent as if he were present. Also the singular diligence of the artificer did help to set forward the ignorant to more superstition: for he, peradventure, willing to please one in authority, forced all his skill to make the resemblance of the best fashion: and so the multitude, allured by the grace of the work, took him now for a god, which a little before was but honoured as a man: and this was an occasion to deceive the world, for men serving either calamity or tyranny, did ascribe unto stones and stocks the incommunicable Name.” [Wisdom 14:12-21]

Next (section 12) Athanasius demonstrates both the frailty and the immorality of the deities, building on comments from previous sections.

Athanasius then (section 13) turns to the folly of idolatry. While he does not explicitly refer to Scripture, his argument closely follows that of Isaiah 44, for example Isiah 44:15-17 describing a person who cuts up wood, uses some for burning and the other for making a god.

His next section (section 14) is especially rich in Scripture. He begins:
But better testimony about all this is furnished by Holy Scripture, which tells us beforehand when it says, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. Eyes have they and will not see; a mouth have they and will not speak; ears have they and will not hear; noses have they and will not smell; hands have they and will not handle; feet have they and will not walk; they will not speak through their throat. Like unto them be they that make them.” [Psalm 115:4-8]
He then continues:
Nor have they escaped prophetic censure; for there also is their refutation, where the Spirit says, “they shall be ashamed that have formed a god, and carved all of them that which is vain: and all by whom they were made are dried up: and let the deaf ones among men all assemble and stand up together, and let them be confounded and put to shame together; for the carpenter sharpened iron, and worked it with an adze, and fashioned it with an auger, and set it up with the arm of his strength: and he shall hunger and be faint, and drink no water. For the carpenter chose out wood, and set it by a rule, and fashioned it with glue, and made it as the form of a man and as the beauty of man, and set it up in his house, wood which he had cut from the grove and which the Lord planted, and the rain gave it growth that it might be for men to burn, and that he might take thereof and warm himself, and kindle, and bake bread upon it, but the residue they made into gods, and worshipped them, the half whereof they had burned in the fire. And upon the half thereof he roasted flesh and ate and was filled, and was warmed and said: ‘It is pleasant to me, because I am warmed and have seen the fire.’ But the residue thereof he worshipped, saying, ‘Deliver me for thou art my god.’ They knew not nor understood, because their eyes were dimmed that they could not see, nor perceive with their heart; nor did he consider in his heart nor know in his understanding that he had burned half thereof in the fire, and baked bread upon the coals thereof, and roasted flesh and eaten it, and made the residue thereof an abomination, and they worship it. Know that their heart is dust and they are deceived, and none can deliver his soul. Behold and will ye not say, ‘There is a lie in my right hand?’” [Isaiah 44:9-20]
He wraps this up with conclusions including "How then can they fail to be judged godless by all, who even by the divine Scripture are accused of impiety?"

The next section (section 15) criticizes idols as being obviously inanimate objects. While he doesn't explicitly quote Scripture here, his argument is reminiscent of Psalm 115:7 "They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat."

We could summarize the following section (section 16) as "inconsistency is the sign of a failed mythology" (to riff off Dr. White's famous maxim). Athanasius points out that the poets' description of the gods is inconsistent and consequently untrustworthy.

Athanasius then argues (section 17) that the poetic deification of these gods was designed to offset their human failings, as opposed to inventing the failings to bring the gods down. He suggests that this was arranged by God, because they were misappropriating "what Scripture calls the incommunicable name and honour of God" (apparently referring again to Wisdom 14).

Athanasius next (section 18) disputes the assertion that the gods invented the arts. On the contrary, Athanasius cleverly points out that in fact the artists who made the images invented the gods.

In the following section (section 19), Athanasius points out the inconsistencies of the use of images to represent God. He quotes from Romans 1:21-26:
For there are with them images of beasts and creeping things and birds, as the interpreter of the divine and true religion says, “They became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things, wherefore God gave them up unto vile passions.”
As an aside, I do find it interesting that Athanasius records the pagans using the same arguments as later idolatrous Christians would use:
While those who profess to give still deeper and more philosophical reasons than these say, that the reason of idols being prepared and fashioned is for the invocation and manifestation of divine angels and powers, that appearing by these means they may teach men concerning the knowledge of God; and that they serve as letters for men, by referring to which they may learn to apprehend God, from the manifestation of the divine angels effected by their means.

Next (section 20), Athanasius argues that images are not good teachers about God, because they are dead - mere dead reflections of living creatures and consequently less than them. Moreover, even if the images are beautiful, that beauty comes from living artists, not from the object of art.

The following section (section 21), contains a very similar argument dealing with the use of the images in connection with praying to (i.e. invoking) the diety represented, whether via angels or not. Once again, Athanasius finds this absurd.

Next (section 22), Athanasius argues that images are an inadequate representation of God both because they do not correspond to the form of God and because they are corruptible.

Then (section 23) Athanasius argues that the diversity of opinions amongst the pagans regarding gods is further evidence of the weakness of their view. What is considered deity by one group is food or an abomination by other groups, for example. Athanasius wraps up this discussion with what appears to be riff on (or paraphrase of) Romans 1:21-26, which had quoted a few sections earlier.

Athanasius next (section 24) once again points out that each group destroys the gods of the other group, either by sacrifice or eating. Picking on the Egyptians (fitting for his location), Athanasius points out that the water of the Nile is used to wash off dirt and is disposed of carelessly.

Next (section 25) Athanasius turns to the folly and abomination of human sacrifice. Athanasius points out the absurdity of offering equal to equal or arguably offering the higher to the lower, since a living human is sacrificed to a dead idol. He notes that this problem was not unique to one group of pagans, but widely problematic.

Athanasius then turns (section 26) to the sexual immorality that came from the worship of the gods. He quotes from Romans 1:26-27:
But all live along with the basest, and vie with the worst among themselves, and as Paul said, the holy minister of Christ: “For their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness.”

Next (section 27), Athanasius addresses the arguments of those who claim to worship the universe or parts of it, rather than animals. Athanasius claims that this position is rebutted by the testimony of the universe to her creator. Athanasius quotes Psalm 19:1:
as the divine law also says: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.”

Athanasius then (section 28) argues against the idea that the universe as a whole is God. This cannot be, because the universe is made up of parts.

In the final section of part 1 (section 29), Athanasius summarizes much of the preceding discussion by pointing out, in essence, that the whole system of paganism is inconsistent and unreliable. The forces of nature are opposed to one another, none of them being all powerful. He indicates that in the next part he will discuss the "Leader and Artificer of the Universe, the Word of the Father."

Part II

The first section of part 2 (section 30), Athanasius argues that everyone can perceive God, because man has a rational soul. In support of his argument, Athanasius quotes from both the Old and New Testaments:
in the first instance, as Moses also taught, when he said: “The word” of faith “is within thy heart.” [Deuteronomy 30:14] Which very thing the Saviour declared and confirmed, when He said: “The kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:21]

The next section (section 31) contains Athanasius' argument that man has a rational soul. He focuses on the fact that senses alone are not enough to make decisions not to grasp a sword blade or drink poison, and similarly more than senses are need to appreciate music.

After that (section 32), Athanasius argues against those who deny reason. He argues that the only way to explain the turning away of the senses from doing that which they are designed to do, such as turning away from seeing, etc. is reason governing the body. Athanasius also argues that sense experience leads away from eternality and immortality, but argues that our conception of those things demonstrates that there must be the presence of something immortal to produce a concept of immortality since our bodies could not have spontaneously come up with such a thing. Similarly, the existence of moral restraints are not explained by natural forces, but instead by a rational soul.

In the following section (section 33), Athanasius makes a reference to church teaching, but it is merely: "But that the soul is made immortal is a further point in the Church’s teaching which you must know ...." He then argues for this position, however, by reasoning from the difference between body and the soul ("But we shall more directly arrive at a knowledge of this from what we know of the body, and from the difference between the body and the soul."), namely that the body has mortal objects and the soul has immortal objects. He does not appeal to any allegedly authoritative church tradition or church council.

Athansius then (section 34) concludes by going back to his Romans 1 themes and pointing out that men who deny they have a soul become like irrational animals, and that those who admit they have a soul are self-contradictory in worshiping a soul-less deity. In support of his position, Athanasius appeals to Scripture:
For the soul is made after the image and likeness of God, as divine Scripture also shews, when it says in the person of God: “Let us make man after our Image and likeness.” [Genesis 1:26]

Part III

Part 3 begins (section 35) with an argument by Athanasius that the invisible God can be seen through his visible works. In support of this argument, he appeals directly to the authority of Scripture:
And I say this not on my own authority, but on the strength of what I learned from men who have spoken of God, among them Paul, who thus writes to the Romans: “for the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made;” [Romans 1:20] while to the Lycaonians he speaks out and says: “We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good tidings, to turn from these vain things unto a Living God, Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is, Who in the generations gone by suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. And yet He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness.” [Acts 14:15-17]

Then (section 36) Athanasius produces a number of examples from nature that he believes demonstrate that nature has a creator who makes everything work together.

In the following section (section 37) Athanasius amplifies this argument by noting that the dualities of nature can only be explained by an overruling power holding them such that it's not (for example) all hot or all cold, all light or all darkness. None of these dualities has won out, because they serve a higher purpose.

Then (section 38) Athanasius argues that the harmony of nature implies rule, and that this can only be rule by one.

Similarly, in the following section (section 39), Athanasius argues that multiple gods creating the universe would imply weakness and/or would result in disharmony.

Then (section 40), Athanasius answers the question: "Who is the one God who created the universe?" He asserts that it is God the Word. While he does not directly quote from the Scripture, numerous bits are clearly derived from the Scripture, such as the following:
  • "Father of Christ" (Cf. Romans 15:6)
  • "by His own Wisdom and His own Word, our Lord and Saviour Christ," (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Timothy 1:1)
  • "Word which is God" (Cf. John 1:1)
  • "He being the Power of God and Wisdom of God " (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24)
  • "has suspended the earth, and made it fast, though resting upon nothing" (cf. Job 26:7)
  • "the sea is kept within bounds," (Cf. Jeremiah 5:22; Psalm 104:9)


Next, (section 41), Athanasius again discusses the Word. His discussion is rich with Biblical terminology, and he even concludes the section with an explicit quotation of Scripture:

For it partakes of the Word Who derives true existence from the Father, and is helped by Him so as to exist, lest that should come to it which would have come but for the maintenance of it by the Word,—namely, dissolution,—“for He is the Image of the invisible God, the first-born of all Creation, for through Him and in Him all things consist, things visible and things invisible, and He is the Head of the Church,” [Colossians 1:15-18] as the ministers of truth teach in their holy writings.

Then (section 42) Athanasius describes what the Word does. Once again, he closely follows Biblical teaching and even directly quotes from John's gospel:
And, not to spend time in the enumeration of particulars, where the truth is obvious, there is nothing that is and takes place but has been made and stands by Him and through Him, as also the Divine says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made.” [John 1:1]

In the next section (section 43), Athanasius likens the universe to a choir, the human body with its senses, and a city, with the Word analogously being the conductor, the soul, and the king.

After that (section 44), Athanasius expands on his point about the Word being the ordering principle. Athanasius quotes from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom:
But Himself being over all, both Governor and King and organising power, He does all for the glory and knowledge of His own Father, so that almost by the very works that He brings to pass He teaches us and says, “By the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably the maker of them is seen.” [Wisdom 13:5]

Then (section 45) Athansius argues that just as the Universe shows us the Word, the Word shows us the Father. He quotes copiously from Scripture:
And this one may see from our own experience; for if when a word proceeds from men we infer that the mind is its source, and, by thinking about the word, see with our reason the mind which it reveals, by far greater evidence and incomparably more, seeing the power of the Word, we receive a knowledge also of His good Father, as the Saviour Himself says, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” [John 14:9] But this all inspired Scripture also teaches more plainly and with more authority, so that we in our turn write boldly to you as we do, and you, if you refer to them, will be able to verify what we say. 3. For an argument when confirmed by higher authority is irresistibly proved. From the first then the divine Word firmly taught the Jewish people about the abolition of idols when it said: “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or in the earth beneath.” [Exodus 20:4 / Deuteronomy 5:8] But the cause of their abolition another writer declares, saying: “The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the works of men’s hands: a mouth have they and will not speak, eyes have they and will not see, ears have they and will not hear, noses have they and will not smell, hands have they and will not handle, feet have they and will not walk.” [Psalm 135:15-17 / Psalm 115:4-7] Nor has it passed over in silence the doctrine of creation; but, knowing well its beauty, lest any attending solely to this beauty should worship things as if they were gods, instead of God’s works, it teaches men firmly beforehand when it says: “And do not when thou lookest up with thine eyes and seest the sun and moon and all the host of heaven, go astray and worship them, which the Lord thy God hath given to all nations under heaven.” [Deuteronomy 4:19] But He gave them, not to be their gods, but that by their agency the Gentiles should know, as we have said, God the Maker of them all. 4. For the people of the Jews of old had abundant teaching, in that they had the knowledge of God not only from the works of Creation, but also from the divine Scriptures. And in general to draw men away from the error and irrational imagination of idols, He saith: “Thou shalt have none other gods but Me.” [Exodus 20:3 / Deuteronomy 5:7] Not as if there were other gods does He forbid them to have them, but lest any, turning from the true God, should begin to make himself gods of what were not, such as those who in the poets and writers are called gods, though they are none. And the language itself shews that they are no Gods, when it says, “Thou shalt have none other gods,” which refers only to the future. But what is referred to the future does not exist at the time of speaking.
Notice in this section not only the fact that Athansius so abundantly relies on Scripture, but that he says "inspired Scripture also teaches more plainly and with more authority" (than nature and reason) and "an argument when confirmed by higher authority is irresistibly proved."

The next section (section 46) continues Athanasius' demonstration from Scripture (here, I quote the entire section, because it is so rich with Scripture quotations):
Has then the divine teaching, which abolished the godlessness of the heathen or the idols, passed over in silence, and left the race of mankind to go entirely unprovided with the knowledge of God? Not so: rather it anticipates their understanding when it says: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God;” [Deuteronomy 6:4] and again, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy strength;” [Deuteronomy 6:5 / Mark 12:30 / Luke 10:27] and again, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve, and shalt cleave to Him.” [Deuteronomy 10:20 / cf. Matthew 4:10 / Luke 4:8] 2. But that the providence and ordering power of the Word also, over all and toward all, is attested by all inspired Scripture, this passage suffices to confirm our argument, where men who speak of God say: “Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth and it abideth. The day continueth according to Thine ordinance.” [Psalm 119:90-91 / LXX Psalm 118:90-91] And again: “Sing to our God upon the harp, that covereth the heaven with clouds, that prepareth rain for the earth, that bringeth forth grass upon the mountains, and green herb for the service of man, and giveth food to the cattle.” [Psalm 147:7-8] 3. But by whom does He give it, save by Him through Whom all things were made? For the providence over all things belongs naturally to Him by Whom they were made; and who is this save the Word of God, concerning Whom in another psalm he says: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth.” [Psalm 33:6] For He tells us that all things were made in Him and through Him. 4. Wherefore He also persuades us and says, “He spake and they were made, He commanded and they were created;” [LXX Psalm 148:5] as the illustrious Moses also at the beginning of his account of Creation confirms what we say by his narrative, saying: and God said, “let us make man in our image and after our likeness:” [Genesis 1:26] for also when He was carrying out the creation of the heaven and earth and all things, the Father said to Him, “Let the heaven be made,” and “let the waters be gathered together and let the dry land appear,” and “let the earth bring forth herb” and “every green thing:” [Genesis 1] so that one must convict Jews also of not genuinely attending to the Scriptures. 5. For one might ask them to whom was God speaking, to use the imperative mood? If He were commanding and addressing the things He was creating, the utterance would be redundant, for they were not yet in being, but were about to be made; but no one speaks to what does not exist, nor addresses to what is not yet made a command to be made. For if God were giving a command to the things that were to be, He must have said, “Be made, heaven, and be made, earth, and come forth, green herb, and be created, O man.” But in fact He did not do so; but He gives the command thus: “Let us make man,” and “let the green herb come forth.” By which God is proved to be speaking about them to some one at hand: it follows then that some one was with Him to Whom He spoke when He made all things. 6. Who then could it be, save His Word? For to whom could God be said to speak, except His Word? Or who was with Him when He made all created Existence, except His Wisdom, which says: “When He was making the heaven and the earth I was present with Him?” [Proverbs 8:27 - "and earth" may be a variant] But in the mention of heaven and earth, all created things in heaven and earth are included as well. 7. But being present with Him as His Wisdom and His Word, looking at the Father He fashioned the Universe, and organised it and gave it order; and, as He is the power of the Father, He gave all things strength to be, as the Saviour says: “What things soever I see the Father doing, I also do in like manner.” [John 5:19] And His holy disciples teach that all things were made “through Him and unto Him;” [Romans 11:36] 8. and, being the good Offspring of Him that is good, and true Son, He is the Father’s Power and Wisdom and Word, not being so by participation, nor as if these qualifies were imparted to Him from without, as they are to those who partake of Him and are made wise by Him, and receive power and reason in Him; but He is the very Wisdom, very Word, and very own Power of the Father, very Light, very Truth, very Righteousness, very Virtue, and in truth His express Image, and Brightness, and Resemblance. And to sum all up, He is the wholly perfect Fruit of the Father, and is alone the Son, and unchanging Image of the Father.
Notice that Athanasius believes that the divinity of the Word as distinct from the Father is already sufficiently clear from the Old Testament: "one must convict Jews also of not genuinely attending to the Scriptures."

Finally (section 47), Athanasius concludes the work. He continues to quote from Scripture:
But in and through Him He reveals Himself also, as the Saviour says: “I in the Father and the Father in Me:” [John 14:10] so that it follows that the Word is in Him that begat Him, and that He that is begotten lives eternally with the Father. But this being so, and nothing being outside Him, but both heaven and earth and all that in them is being dependent on Him, yet men in their folly have set aside the knowledge and service of Him, and honoured things that are not instead of things that are: and instead of the real and true God deified things that were not, “serving the creature rather than the Creator,” [Romans 1:25] thus involving themselves in foolishness and impiety.
He concludes with an exhortation to worship the Word or face peril on judgment day.

You will notice that although there were a couple of mentions of the church, there was no appeal to the authority of the church nor any appeal to the authority of church tradition apart from Scripture. Instead, the only appeal to authority was to the authority of Scripture, a source of authority that to Athanasius was so clear in its teaching of the deity of Christ even in the Old Testament that the Jews are to be faulted for inattentively reading the Old Testament Scriptures.

-TurretinFan

Friday, October 07, 2016

Sola Scriptura and Alexander of Alexandria "The Deposition of Arius" (Possibly Athanasius)

Around A.D. 320-324 Alexander of Alexandria sent out a letter regarding "The Deposition of Arius" (available from the CCEL here) As Athanasius was Alexander's right hand man at the time and because the arguments are similar to Athansius' own later arguments, it is believed Athanasius may have possibly authored the letter. What does this letter have to say about adherence to Sola Scriptura or some other view?

The letter does talk about "the doctrines of the Catholic Church" (meaning the universal church, not today's RCC) and "the sound Catholic Faith" (at the beginning and end of the letter). How are these doctrines and this faith defined, though? The constant appeal is to Scripture. We will see that in each of the sections.

First, section 1:
1. As there is one body of the Catholic Church, and a command is given us in the sacred Scriptures to preserve the bond of unity and peace, it is agreeable thereto that we should write and signify to one another whatever is done by each of us individually; so that whether one member suffer or rejoice, we may either suffer or rejoice with one another. Now there are gone forth in this diocese, at this time, certain lawless men, enemies of Christ, teaching an apostasy, which one may justly suspect and designate as a forerunner of Antichrist. I was desirous to pass such a matter by without notice, in the hope that perhaps the evil would spend itself among its supporters, and not extend to other places to defile the ears of the simple. But seeing that Eusebius, now of Nicomedia, who thinks that the government of the Church rests with him, because retribution has not come upon him for his desertion of Berytus, when he had cast an eye of desire on the Church of the Nicomedians, begins to support these apostates, and has taken upon him to write letters every where in their behalf, if by any means he may draw in certain ignorant persons to this most base and antichristian heresy; I am therefore constrained, knowing what is written in the law, no longer to hold my peace, but to make it known to you all; that you may understand who the apostates are, and the cavils which their heresy has adopted, and that, should Eusebius write to you, you may pay no attention to him, for he now desires by means of these men to exhibit anew his old malevolence, which has so long been concealed, pretending to write in their favour, while in truth it clearly appears, that he does it to forward his own interests.
Notice that Alexander begins his comments with a reference to Scripture, specifically Ephesians 4:3-4 "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling ... ." Next he alludes to 1 Corinthians 12:26 "And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it." He then seems to allude to 1 John 2 "18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. ... 22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son." and Jude 4 "For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ." There is an interesting comment made by Alexander: "I am therefore constrained, knowing what is written in the law, no longer to hold my peace, but to make it known to you all ... ." What law can he be referring to? As an examination of the rest of the letter shows, it seems the law he has in mind is Scripture.

Turning to section 2:
2. Now those who became apostates are these, Arius, Achilles, Aeithales, Carpones, another Arius, and Sarmates, sometime Presbyters: Euzoïus, Lucius, Julius, Menas, Helladius, and Gaius, sometime Deacons: and with them Secundus and Theonas, sometime called Bishops. And the novelties they have invented and put forth contrary to the Scriptures are these following:—God was not always a Father, but there was a time when God was not a Father. The Word of God was not always, but originated from things that were not; for God that is, has made him that was not, of that which was not; wherefore there was a time when He was not; for the Son is a creature and a work. Neither is He like in essence to the Father; neither is He the true and natural Word of the Father; neither is He His true Wisdom; but He is one of the things made and created, and is called the Word and Wisdom by an abuse of terms, since He Himself originated by the proper Word of God, and by the Wisdom that is in God, by which God has made not only all other things but Him also. Wherefore He is by nature subject to change and variation as are all rational creatures. And the Word is foreign from the essence of the Father, and is alien and separated therefrom. And the Father cannot be described by the Son, for the Word does not know the Father perfectly and accurately, neither can He see Him perfectly. Moreover, the Son knows not His own essence as it really is; for He is made for us, that God might create us by Him, as by an instrument; and He would not have existed, had not God wished to create us. Accordingly, when some one asked them, whether the Word of God can possibly change as the devil changed, they were not afraid to say that He can; for being something made and created, His nature is subject to change.
Notice that the standard Alexander immediately adopts is Scripture: "the novelties they have invented and put forth contrary to the Scriptures." Of course, as the rest of his comments are a short summary of the abominable heresies, he has no Scriptural support for these novelties.

Turning to section 3:
3. Now when Arius and his fellows made these assertions, and shamelessly avowed them, we being assembled with the Bishops of Egypt and Libya, nearly a hundred in number, anathematized both them and their followers. But Eusebius and his fellows admitted them to communion, being desirous to mingle falsehood with the truth, and impiety with piety. But they will not be able to do so, for the truth must prevail; neither is there any “communion of light with darkness,” nor any “concord of Christ with Belial.” For who ever heard such assertions before? or who that hears them now is not astonished and does not stop his ears lest they should be defiled with such language? Who that has heard the words of John, “In the beginning was the Word,” will not denounce the saying of these men, that “there was a time when He was not?” Or who that has heard in the Gospel, “the Only-begotten Son,” and “by Him were all things made,” will not detest their declaration that He is “one of the things that were made.” For how can He be one of those things which were made by Himself? or how can He be the Only-begotten, when, according to them, He is counted as one among the rest, since He is Himself a creature and a work? And how can He be “made of things that were not,” when the Father saith, “My heart hath uttered a good Word,” and “Out of the womb I have begotten Thee before the morning star?” Or again, how is He “unlike in substance to the Father,” seeing He is the perfect “image” and “brightness” of the Father, and that He saith, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father?” And if the Son is the “Word” and “Wisdom” of God, how was there “a time when He was not?” It is the same as if they should say that God was once without Word and without Wisdom. And how is He “subject to change and variation,” Who says, by Himself, “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me,” and “I and the Father are One;” and by the Prophet, “Behold Me, for I am, and I change not?” For although one may refer this expression to the Father, yet it may now be more aptly spoken of the Word, viz., that though He has been made man, He has not changed; but as the Apostle has said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” And who can have persuaded them to say, that He was made for us, whereas Paul writes, “for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things?”
Alexander begins by mentioning a regional council in Africa. He notes, however, that not everyone accepted the anathema of that council, focusing primarily on Eusebius of Nicomedia.

Alexander argues that Eusebius of Nicomedia is wrong to have communion with Arius, citing 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?"

To rebut Arius' position, Alexander turns directly to Scripture, quoting from John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word." He then also cites "only-begotten son" (John 1:18) and "all things were made by Him" (John 1:3).

He does not limit himself to the New Testament. He cites Psalm (LXX 44:2) "my heart has uttered a good word; I speak my works to the king." (See Psalm 45:1 in our Bibles) (Origen a spiritual ancestor of Athanasius in Alexandria (ca. 185 - 254), in his commentary on John, Book 1, at sections 151 and 280, pp. 64 and 91, draws the same connection to this psalm, which otherwise might not seem necessarily relevant.) He also cites Psalm (LXX 109:3) "Before the morning star have I begotten thee from the womb" (See Psalm 110:3 in our Bibles) (a younger contemporary of Athanasius, Epiphanius of Salamis (ca. 310 or 320 to 403) in his Panarion makes a similar connection to this Psalm, in Anacephalaeosis V, 65 "Against Paul the Samosatian," at 4,4-8, pp. 219-220)

He then goes back and cites Hebrews 1:3 "Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, ... " and John 14:9 "... he that hath seen me hath seen the Father ... ."

Alexander continues by citing the Biblical titles of "Word" (e.g. John 1:1) and "Wisdom" (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30).

Alexander also cites John 14:10 "I am in the Father, and the Father in me" and John 10:30 "I and my Father are one."

Once again, Alexander goes back to the Old Testament and quotes Malachi 3:6: "For I am the Lord, I change not" (the "behold me" in Alexander's citation may be taken from Isaiah 65:1: "I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name." or possibly from Malach 3:1: "Behold, I send forth my messenger, and he shall survey the way before me ...")

He then quotes from Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" and again from Hebrews 2:10: "For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings."

Turning to section 4:
4. As to their blasphemous position that “the Son knows not the Father perfectly,” we ought not to wonder at it; for having once set themselves to fight against Christ, they contradict even His express words, since He says, “As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father.” Now if the Father knows the Son but in part, then it is evident that the Son does not know the Father perfectly; but if it is not lawful to say this, but the Father does know the Son perfectly, then it is evident that as the Father knows His own Word, so also the Word knows His own Father Whose Word He is.
Notice again that Alexander quotes from Scripture, John 10:15 "As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: ... ."

Turning to section 5:
5. By these arguments and references to the sacred Scriptures we frequently overthrew them; but they changed like chameleons, and again shifted their ground, striving to bring upon themselves that sentence, “when the wicked falleth into the depth of evils, he despiseth.” There have been many heresies before them, which, venturing further than they ought, have fallen into folly; but these men by endeavouring in all their cavils to overthrow the Divinity of the Word, have justified the other in comparison of themselves, as approaching nearer to Antichrist. Wherefore they have been excommunicated and anathematized by the Church. We grieve for their destruction, and especially because, having once been instructed in the doctrines of the Church, they have now sprung away. Yet we are not greatly surprised, for Hymenæus and Philetus did the same, and before them Judas, who followed the Saviour, but afterwards became a traitor and an apostate. And concerning these same persons, we have not been left without instruction; for our Lord has forewarned us; “Take heed lest any man deceive you: for many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and the time draweth near, and they shall deceive many: go ye not after them;” while Paul, who was taught these things by our Saviour, wrote that “in the latter times some shall depart from the sound faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, which reject the truth.”
Here Alexander makes it explicit that his constant and continual practice in rebutting these heresies was appeal to Scripture:"By these arguments and references to the sacred Scriptures we frequently overthrew them ... ." In condemning them as wicked he again quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures, Proverbs (LXX - Brenton trans.) 18:3: "When an ungodly man comes into a depth of evils, he despises them; but dishonour and reproach come upon him."

Finally, Alexander comes back to mentioning the church. He says that in view of their folly/heresies "Wherefore they have been excommunicated and anathematized by the Church."

He says that their apostasy is sad but not unexpected, citing Biblical examples of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17-18) as well as Judas (e.g. Acts 1:25). He then points to Jesus' warning in Luke 21:8: "Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them" and Paul's warning in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 " Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;"

Lastly, turning to section 6:
6. Since then our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has instructed us by His own mouth, and also hath signified to us by the Apostle concerning such men, we accordingly being personal witnesses of their impiety, have anathematized, as we said, all such, and declared them to be alien from the Catholic Faith and Church. And we have made this known to your piety, dearly beloved and most honoured fellow-ministers, in order that should any of them have the boldness to come unto you, you may not receive them, nor comply with the desire of Eusebius, or any other person writing in their behalf. For it becomes us who are Christians to turn away from all who speak or think any thing against Christ, as being enemies of God, and destroyers of souls; and not even to “bid such God speed,” lest we become partakers of their sins, as the blessed John hath charged us. Salute the brethren that are with you. They that are with me salute you.
Notice again that Alexander appeals to the authority of Scripture as being the mouth of Jesus and the Apostles, referring to the warnings of section 5. There is again a reference to church discipline, but notice that Alexander is only asserting a declaration of what has been discovered, not assertion the ability to define what is true. Finally, he concludes with yet another warning from Scripture, 2 John 10-11: "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds."

In conclusion, we see that Alexander of Alexandria, and possibly his right hand man Athanasius, both relied in this letter exclusively, explicitly, and extensively on the authority of Scripture to combat the Arian heresy. This letter, therefore, may not have any explicit assertion of Sola Scriptura, but it is a great example of Sola Scriptura in practice even in a ecclesiastical setting that is different from our own. A lot of the orthodox men of the church in that time endorsed this letter, which implicitly endorses the approach of Sola Scriptura. Amongst them were Athanasius, as Alexander introduces the letter by saying "Alexander, being assembled with his beloved brethren, the Presbyters and Deacons of Alexandria," which would have included Athanasius.

-TurretinFan

Monday, September 12, 2016

Papal Priorities: Biblical Study or Saint Veneration?

Roman Catholics often raise the topic of authority and claim that we need an infallible interpreter to interpret Scripture.  This, they say, means we need the papacy.  But what does the papacy actually do or care about?

When pressed, however, Roman Catholic apologists typically acknowledge that an allegedly infallible interpretation has been provided for fewer than 20 verses (see this document from Roman Catholic apologist and pilgrimage promoter Steve Ray).  Moreover, when you dig into the claims about those verses, most of the interpretations are actually the alleged interpretations of ecumenical councils, rather than popes.

On the other hand, the Roman Catholic church also teaches that infallibility is exercised in the designation of a deceased person as a "saint."  How often is this alleged gift of infallibility exercised? John Paul II canonized 482 saints in 26 years (apparently a record number).  Benedict XVI canonized 45 saints in 7 years.  Francis has canonized 29 saints plus 812 companions of one of those, in his three years so far as pope.

I think it's fair to say that papal priorities are revealed by papal actions. In this case, the priority of the papacy is clearly on the veneration of the deceased, rather than on the study and interpretation of Scripture.  In the lifetime of most of my readers, the popes have never once infallibly interpreted Scripture but have allegedly infallibly canonized saints literally hundreds of times.

Roman Catholic apologists may say we need the popes to understand the Scriptures, but Roman Catholic practice demonstrates that announcing saints for veneration is far more central to the actual papal role.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Responding to Steve Tassi on Romans 9

In his recent live interaction with Dr. James White, Steve Tassi argued that while Romans 9 is referring to election, it is not discussing salvation when it refers to mercy.

Audience
First, he argues that we must consider the audiences spoken to.  He does not clearly elaborate on this point, but his implication seems to be that the audience spoken to is Jewish readers.

The audience, however, are gentile Roman believers.  We see this in the first chapter:
Romans 1:7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
So, the audience is not the nation of Israel, but rather is believing Gentiles.

Glorious Salvation Terms
Second, he argues that we must consider the references made are to Pharaoh, Moses, Isaac, and Rebekah, rather than to the typical terms that Paul uses when referencing salvation, such as "the blood of Jesus," "the cross," and other references to blood sacrifice and grace.

Dr. White countered this point by observing that the chapter and verse divisions are somewhat artificial, and that he demonstrated a continual flow from Romans 8.

To elaborate on that point more fully, Christ's death is explicitly mentioned in Romans 8:34.  Moreover, Romans 9:32-33 specifically mention faith in Christ.  Tassi surely cannot deny that both Romans 8 and Romans 10 are about salvation, so his assertion that Romans 9 is not about salvation because of the usage of terms, seems weak.

Context of Cited Texts
Third, he argues the Old Testament material cited or referred to by Paul never refers to salvation in its original context.

Dr. White countered this by pointing out that it's more important to note how Paul uses them, then how they were originally used.

To provide an example, in Galatians 4, Paul points to Hagar and Ishmael in contrast to Sarah and Isaac. Moreover, Paul explicitly interprets those figures as an allegory, rather than relying on their original context.

Furthermore, it is Pauline to shift between Old Testament images and analogous New Testament ideas.  For example, 1 Corinthians 10 is full of this kind of transition.

Conclusion
Tassi essentially concludes that the references in Romans 9 are references to election and mercy with respect to national Israel vis-a-vis the destruction of the nation, rather than to the church and salvation from hell.

This conclusion is unjustified.  To the extent it is premised on the arguments presented in its support, those arguments have been shown above to be incorrect.  Moreover, it is a conclusion that runs directly contrary to the text of Romans 9.  For example:
Romans 9:23-24 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
How can that be mercy on the nation of Israel if it includes not only Jews but also Gentiles?  It cannot.  Which is one of numerous reasons that Tassi's presentation on Romans 9 should be rejected.

-TurretinFan

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pope Francis on Luther on June 26, 2016

Pope Francis was interviewed aboard an airplane on June 26, 2016. In that interview he expressed the position that Luther was right about justification. Before we get too excited, though, please consider the statement in its full context:
Kleinjung: Holy Father, I wanted to ask you a question. Today you spoke of the gifts of the shared Churches, of the gifts shared by the Churches together. Seeing that you will go in I believe four months to Lund for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides but also to recognize the gifts of the reformation. Perhaps also – this is a heretical question – perhaps to annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of some sort of rehabilitation. Thank you.

Pope Francis: I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power...and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church, but then this medicine consolidated into a state of things, into a state of a discipline, into a way of believing, into a way of doing, into a liturgical way and he wasn’t alone; there was Zwingli, there was Calvin, each one of them different, and behind them were who? Principals! We must put ourselves in the story of that time. It’s a story that’s not easy to understand, not easy. Then things went forward, and today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, and these also depend on the Churches. In Buenos Aires there were two Lutheran churches, and one thought in one way and the other...even in the same Lutheran church there was no unity; but they respected each other, they loved each other, and the difference is perhaps what hurt all of us so badly and today we seek to take up the path of encountering each other after 500 years. I think that we have to pray together, pray. Prayer is important for this. Second, to work together for the poor, for the persecuted, for many people, for refugees, for the many who suffer; to work together and pray together and the theologians who study together try...but this is a long path, very long. One time jokingly I said: I know when full unity will happen. - “when?” - “the day after the Son of Man comes,” because we don’t know...the Holy Spirit will give the grace, but in the meantime, praying, loving each other and working together. Above all for the poor, for the people who suffer and for peace and many things...against the exploitation of people and many things in which they are jointly working together.
Some thoughts:
1) Notice that Francis doesn't make any promises regarding revitalizing Luther, even though that was what was asked.
2) Instead, Francis focuses primarily on ecuminism.
3) Although Francis appears to believe that Lutherans, Protestants, and Roman Catholics all agree on justification ("all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err.") his apparent basis for believing this is is the joint statement on justification, one which he acknowledges expresses divisions as well as agreement: "today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, ... ."
4) Moreover, neither that document nor this statement repudiates Trent's denial of justification by faith alone.

So, what the Pope means by agreement with Luther on justification is not something Luther would count as agreement. It is a very high level agreement, such as is found in the "joint statement on justification," and not one that addresses what Luther saw as the central point of the Reformation.

-TurretinFan

Friday, May 27, 2016

Westminster Confession: Cessationist as to Revelatory Gifts

The Westminster Confession of Faith is explicitly cessationist, at least with respect to the revelatory gifts. It states:
I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable;[1] yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.[2] Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church;[3] and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing;[4] which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary;[5] those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.[6]

[1] ROM 2:14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another; 1:19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. PSA 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. 2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. 3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. ROM 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. 2:1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

[2] 1CO 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 2:13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

[3] HEB 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets.

[4] PRO 22:19 That thy trust may be in the Lord, I have made known to thee this day, even to thee. 20 Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, 21 That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee? LUK 1:3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. ROM 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. MAT 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. ISA 8:19 And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? 20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

[5] 2TI 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 2PE 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.

[6] HEB 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.
Yet there is apparently doubt in the minds of some that this confession is explicitly cessationist with respect to the revelatory gifts. While the text itself is rather clear on its face, it may be worth considering what Reformed commentators have said in their commentaries on the Confession or related catechisms.

It will be noted that the Confession sharply contradicts the view popularized today by the neo-Pentecostal movement. In essence this view would have us believe that we can have the same charismatic gifts today-- such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and healing -- that we read occurred in the age of the apostles. This is a very serious error. In essence it is a result of a failure to grasp the biblical teaching concerning the history of salvation. The Bible itself makes it clear that there are many things in the history of redemption that cannot, and will not, be repeated. There will never again by a universal flood, or a crossing of the Red Sea, or a virgin birth. Never again will there be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit such as took place on the day of Pentecost. The sending of the Holy Spirit is just as much an unrepeatable event as the birth of Christ was. It is for this reason that the miracles -- the signs and wonders -- that we read of in the Bible were not constantly occurring but, rather, centered on the major events in the process of revelation. Note, for instance, how few the miracles are in the Bible until we come to the time of Moses (the author of the first part of the Bible). Note also how the signs and wonders that we read of in the book of Acts are always associated with the presence of the apostles. For these, and similar facts, there is a reason. The reason is that these signs and wonders were given by God to attest and confirm that these men were his spokesmen. And since this process came to completion in the finished work of Christ, and the testimony of these men is now deposited in the Scriptures, the Bible alone is God's present revelation.
G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith: For Study Classes, pp. 4-5 (link)

Quest. III. "Are these former Ways of God's revealing his Will unto his People now ceased?"
Yes.
Well then, do not the Enthusiasts and Quakers err, who maintain, That the Lord hath not ceased yet to reveal his Will as he did of old?
Yes.
By what Reasons are they confuted?
1st, Because God who at sundry Times, and in divers Manners, spake in Times past unto the Fathers by the Prophets, hat in these last Days spoken unto us by his Son. Heb. 1:1-2. The Apostle calls the Time of the New Testament the last Days, because under the same, there is no more Alteration to be expected, but all Things are to abide without adding, or taking away, as was taught and ordained by Christ, until the last Day; See also Joel 2:18, Acts 2:17. The Ways and Manners of old were first by Inspiration, 1 Chron. 15:1, Isai. 49:21, 2 Pet. 1:21. Secondly, By Visions, Num. 12:6,8. Thirdly, By Dreams, Job 33:14,15, Gen. 40:8. Fourthly, By Urim and Thummim, Num. 27:21, 1 Sam. 30:7,8. Fifthly, By Signs, Gen. 32:24, Exod. 13:21. Sixthly, By Audible Voice, Exod. 20:1, Gen. 22:15. All which do end in Writing, Exod. 17:17, 14 which is a most sure and infallible Way of the Lord's revealing his Will unto his People.

David Dickinson, Truth's Victory over Error (a commentary on the WCF), pp. 31-32 (link)

Q. 26. Why are the scriptures from Matthew to the end of the Revelation, called the New Testament?

A. Because they contain the most clear and full revelation, and actual ratification of the covenant of promise, by the death of Christ the Testator, who is also the living Executor of his own testament, Rev. 1:18 -- "I am he that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore." John 14:19 -- "Because I live, ye shall live also."

Q. 27. Will this New Testament dispensation of the grace of God ever undergo any other alteration?

A. No; it will remain new and unalterable, till the second coming of the Lord Jesus, Mat. 26:29.

...

Q. 46. Is the light within men, or the Spirit without the word, which is pretended to by the Quakers, and other enthusiasts, to be used as any rule for our direction?

A. No; because whatever light or spirit is pretended to, without the word, it is but darkness, delusion, and a spirit of error, 1 John 4:1, 6.
Fisher's Catechism (The Shorter Catechism Explained) at Question 2 (link)

Q. Why doth not God still work miracles for the confirmation of the scriptures? A. Because they were only necessary to establish truth at first, and to awaken the world to consider and receiver it; and if always wrought, be esteemed common things, and make no impression on the minds of men, Exod. iv.--xiv. &c.
John Brown, "An Essay Towards and Easy, Plain, Practical, and Extensive Explication of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism" (link)

The idea of the completeness of Scripture also implies that nothing is to be added to or taken from them at any time. The canon of Scripture is complete and closed, and all that men need for faith and life is therein contained. Hence no supposed new revelations of the Spirit are to be added, and the opinions and traditions of men are to be excluded.
Francis Robert Beattie, The Presbyterian Standards, p. 49 (link)

These are "the ONLY rule to direct us." We have seen that they are a rule, but now we see there is none other.
William Paton Mackay, Notes on the Shorter Catechism, pp. 5-6 (link)

The fourth proposition asserts, that this revelation has been committed to writing until the time of Moses, or for a period of two thousand five hundred years, no part of the sacred books was written. God then communicated his will to the Church by immediate revelation; and the long lives of the patriarchs enabled them to preserve uncorrupted what was so revealed, and to transmit it from generation to generation. Two persons might have conveyed it down from Adam to Abraham; for Methuselah lived above three hundred years while Adam was yet alive, and Shem lived almost a hundred years with Methuselah, and above a hundred years with Abraham. But after the lives of men severe shortened, and revelation was greatly enlarged, it pleased God that the whole of his revealed will should be committed to writing, that the Church might have a standing rule of faith and practice, by which all doctrines might be examined, and all actions regulated,–that sacred truth might be preserved uncorrupted and entire,–that it might be propagated throughout the several nations of the earth, and might be conveyed down to all succeeding generation. Though, in the infancy of the Church, God taught his people without the written Word, yet now that he former ways of revealing his will to his people have ceased, the Holy Scripture, or written Word, is most necessary. Without this the Church would be left to the uncertainty of tradition and oral teaching; but the written Word is a sure test of doctrines, and a light in a dark place, both of which are most necessary.–Isa viii. 20; 2 Pet. i. 19.
Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith

Hence, the Confession teaches in this section --
3. That consequently it has pleased God, of his sovereign grace, to make, in various ways and at different times, a super natural revelation of himself and of his purposes to a chosen portion of the human family. And that --
4. God has been pleased subsequently to commit that revelation to writing, and it is now exclusively embraced in the Sacred Scriptures.
Since, as above shown, the light of nature is insufficient to enable men to attain such a knowledge of God and his will as is necessary for salvation, it follows -- (1.) That a supernatural revelation is absolutely necessary for man; and, (2.) From what natural religion alone teaches us of the character of God, it follows that the giving of such a revelation is in the highest degree antecedently probable on his part. Man is essentially a moral agent, and needs a clearly revealed rule of duty; and a religious being, craving communion with God. In his natural state these are both unsatisfied. But God is the author of human nature. His intelligence leads us to believe that he will complete all his works and crown a religious nature with the gift of a religion practically adequate to its wants. The benevolence of God leads us to anticipate that he will not leave his creatures in bewilderment and ruin for the want of light as to their condition and duties. And his righteousness occasions the presumption that he will at some time speak in definite and authoritative tones to the conscience of his subjects. (3.) As a matter of fact, God has given such a revelation. Indeed he has in no period of human history left himself without a witness. His communications to mankind through the first three thousand years were made in very "diverse manners"-- by theophanies and audible voices, dreams, visions, the Urim and Thummim, and prophetic inspiration; and the results of these communications were diffused and perpetuated by means of tradition.
A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary

As miracles are now ceased, so such a method of confirming divine revelation is not necessary in all succeeding ages: God did not design to make that dispensation too common, nor to continue the evidence it affords, when there was no necessity thereof.
Thomas Ridgeley, A Body of Divinity, p. 115

-TurretinFan

BONUS (on the topic, but not directly addressing what the standards say):
2. After the faith of Christ was sufficiently confirmed, miracles ceased; and it was fit they should cease, for God doth nothing unnecessarily. The Christian doctrine is the same that it was, and is to be the same till the end of the world; we have a sure and authentic record of it, which is the holy scriptures. The truth of Christ's office and doctrine is fully proved, and cometh transmitted to us by the consent of many successions of ages, in whose experience God hath blessed it to the converting, comforting, and saving of many a soul. Look, as the Jews, every time the law was brought forth, were not to expect the thunderings and lightnings, and the voice of the terrible trumpet, with which it was given at first on Mount Sinai (one solemn confirmation served for after ages); they knew it was a law given by the ministry of angels, and so entertained it with veneration and respect; so Christianity needed to be once solemnly confirmed (after ages have the use of the first miracles); for the apostle compareth these two things, the giving of the law and the gospel: Heb. 2:2-4, 'For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward: how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard him?' we must be contented with God's owning it now only in the way of his Spirit and providence.
Thomas Manton, Seventh Sermon on 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2, (link)

Monday, May 02, 2016

Veneration of Images - Affirmative Constructive

The question today is whether image veneration is Biblical and Historical. Well, of course, in a sense it is. In Genesis 31 we have the first reference to people having “gods” when Rachel stole them from her father’s house. Then, in Genesis 35 we have the first purge of them. Jacob hid them under the oak in Shechem.

They were again forbidden during the Exodus, but when Moses delayed coming down from the mount, the people demanded an image, and Aaron complied by making one (Exodus 32). And the Old Testament law is very explicit in forbidding these objects of veneration – not just in the second commandment, but also in Exodus 34:17, Leviticus 19:4, 26:1, and so on.

The Old Testament contains numerous warnings against idolatry, both explicit and implicit. Jeroboam, the first king of the ten tribes, was a mighty man of valour and was ordained by God himself to be their king. But as soon as Jeroboam put up idols for the worship of God, God turned against him (1 Kings 14) and he became known as Jeroboam who made Israel to sin because he set up the veneration of the golden calves.

There were, of course, images in a religious setting in the Old Testament. There were angels above the ark of the covenant, for example. But these images were not venerated. Another example would be the brass serpent. Looking at the brass serpent miraculously cured those bitten by the firey serpents. However, when the people started venerating that serpent (by burning incense to it), Hezekiah was praised for destroying it (2 Kings 18).

Indeed, Hezekiah was praised in the same place for removing all the unauthorized worship, including the high places, the groves, and the images. And that’s the constant theme in the Old Testament.

Even the Apocrypha or “Deuterocanonical” books and parts are not an exception. The story of Bel in Daniel 14 makes a mockery of the veneration of idols in a way that is roughly consistent with the canonical view of idol worship as improper and ridiculous – and reflects the views of Jews in the intertestamental period.

We see the same thing in Tobit, which predicts: “And all nations shall turn, and fear the Lord God truly, and shall bury their idols.” (Tobit 14:6)

We see the same thing in the added part of Esther, which associates idols with heathen worship (Esther 14:8-10).

We see the same thing in Wisdom 14:11-30 and 15:15, which includes a long explanation of the foolishness of venerating images.

We see the same thing in Ecclesiasticus 30:19
We see the same thing in the Letter of Jeremiah 1:73 “Better therefore is the just man that hath none idols: for he shall be far from reproach.”

Both first and second Maccabees contain only negative references to idols as well.

But what about the New Testament. Well, no surprise, the New Testament continues to be anti-idol. The dozens of references to images for veneration in the New Testament all depict the use of such images negatively.

Paul repeatedly distinguishes Christian worship from that of the pagans by comparison to worship via images. For example:

1 Corinthians 12:2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

And let’s be clear the idols and icons you see in churches today are just as unable to speak as those that Paul confronted.

Thus, when preaching to the idolaters on Mars Hill, Paul said:

Acts 17:24-31
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

The point of Paul’s diatribe is not that the Athenians should start worshiping crucifixes instead of statues of Jupiter. Instead, the point is that idol worship should altogether shunned and the living God should be worshiped.

Do you remember the opposition that Paul got in Ephesus? It was because Demetrius, the silversmith, realized that Paul’s message was iconoclastic. He wasn’t going to have to melt down the silver shrines for Diana, if Paul’s religion was right there would be no more demand for his work.

John’s first general epistle contains a blunt admonition:

1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

So then, the New Testament is fully consistent with the Old on this point. The incarnation did not change the rules – it didn’t suddenly make the veneration of images ok. Instead, they remain forbidden.

But what about the early church? Eventually, image worship crept into the church as well.

Augustine, in Sermon 198, explains:

Why have I said this? Please consider carefully the chief point I’m making. We had started to deal with the apparently better educated pagans — because the less educated are the ones who do the things about which these do not wish to be taken to task — so with the better educated ones, since they say to us, “You people also have your adorers of columns, and sometimes even of pictures.” And would to God that we didn’t have them, and may the Lord grant that we don’t go on having them! But all the same, this is not what the Church teaches you. I mean, which priest of theirs ever climbed into a pulpit and from there commanded the people not to adore idols, in the way that we, in Christ, publicly preach against the adoration of columns or of the stones of buildings in holy places, or even of pictures? On the contrary indeed, it was their very priests who used to turn to the idols and offer them victims for their congregations, and would still like to do so now.

So, by Augustine’s day such veneration of images had begun to creep in, but was being resisted. We have other examples from church history of some of the opposition to image worship as it crept in, but eventually it became quite widespread.

It’s not really until the end of the patristic period that we see John of Damascus (8th century) defend the veneration of images. And that’s not just based on my own reading – I checked the Jurgens quote book to see what Roman Catholic patristics folks could identify – there were only three quotations on the topic in the entire collection, none of those were from before Nicaea, one of them was an erroneous categorization, one was alleged to be from Basil (but is from a fragment found in an a later catena) and the one from John of Damascus.

What’s the exact day? It’s hard to be precise, but consider this – they found what appears to be some kind of ancient church at an excavation site called Dura Europos. Those excavating it concluded that it was destroyed around the middle of the third century. If that dating is correct, and if the building was really a church, it would be the earliest example we know of, of a church being decorated as it was.

We don’t seem to know anything about whatever group worshiped there. Thus, I think it would be optimism to suggest that anyone was venerating the murals in that building. Is it possible? Of course it’s possible – men have been inclined toward idolatry since at least the time of Jacob and probably earlier.

Is the veneration of such images Biblical and historical? It’s certainly been done a lot in history, and it’s mentioned in the Bible, but the Bible condemned it and our best historical reconstruction of the early church based on their writings suggest that they didn’t venerate images.