In the Vanity of Their Minds
by Fr. John Whiteford
Webmaster's Note: Father John Whiteford is a former Nazarene Associate Pastor
who converted to the Orthodox Faith soon after completing his B.A. in Religion
at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. He first encountered
Orthodoxy as a result of his involvement in the local Pro-Life (Rescue)
movement, which also included Father Anthony Nelson and several of his
parishioners. After over a year of searching the Scriptures and the writings
of the early Church; and through the love, prayers and patience of Father
Anthony and the Parishioners of St. Benedicts, Fr. John was received
into the Holy Orthodox Church. When he wrote this article he was serving
as a Reader at St. Vladimirs in Houston, Texas and is continuing his studies.
He has since been ordained a Priest and serves St.
Jonah of Manchuria Orthodox Church (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of
Russia), in Houston, Texas.
AN ORTHODOX EXAMINATION OF THE PROTESTANT TEACHING
Introduction: Are Protestants Beyond Hope?
Since my conversion from Evangelical Protestantism to the Orthodox Faith,
I have noted a general amazement among many of those who have been raised
Orthodox that a Protestant could be converted. This is not because they
are uncertain about their own faith, usually they are just amazed that
anything could break through a Protestants stubborn insistence on being
wrong! What I have come to understand is that most Orthodox people have
a confused and limited grasp of what Protestantism is, and where its adherents
are coming from. Thus when "cradle Orthodox" believers have their
run-ins with Protestants, even though they often use the same words, they
do not generally communicate because they do not speak the same theological
language in other words, they have no common theological basis to discuss
their differences. Of course when one considers the some twenty thousand
plus differing Protestant groups that now exist (with only the one constant
trait of each group claiming that it rightly understands the Bible), one
must certainly sympathize with those that are a bit confused by them.
Despite all that stands in their way, there definitely is hope for Protestants.
Protestants in search of theological sanity, of true worship, and of the
ancient Christian Faith are practically beating on our Church doors (of
course to those who are not paying attention, this may sound like a strange
claim). They are no longer satisfied with the contradictions and the faddishness
of contemporary Protestant America, but when we open the door to these
inquirers we must be prepared. These people have questions! Many of these
inquirers are Protestant ministers, or are among the better informed laymen;
they are sincere seekers of Truth, but they have much to unlearn and it
will require informed Orthodox Christians to help them work through these
issues Orthodox Christians who know where Protestants are coming from,
but even more importantly, who know what they believe themselves!
Ironically (or providentially) this surge in interest in Orthodoxy among
Americans from Protestant backgrounds has come even as the opening of the
doors of the former Communist-block has brought upon its Orthodox people
an unprecedented onslaught from every religious sect and cult. At the spearhead,
American Evangelicals and Charismatics have been stumbling over each other
with each of its sects seeking to gain the prestigious boast that they
too have established themselves even among the Godless Russians! So we
Orthodox are now presented with a double urgency on the one hand, there
is the missionary task of presenting the Faith to Protestants here in the
West; but on the other hand we must earnestly combat the spread of heresies
among the Orthodox, both here and in traditionally Orthodox lands. In either
case, the task at hand is to equip ourselves with sufficient knowledge
and understanding of the issues that confront us.
Perhaps the most daunting feature of Protestantism the feature which
has given it a reputation of stubborn resiliency is its numerous differences
and contradictions. Like the the mythical Hydra, its many heads only multiply,
and though it is a worthy task to seek to understand and confront these
heresies individually, this is not the key to their defeat. In order for
one to understand the unique beliefs of each individual sect, it requires
a knowledge of the history and development of Protestantism in general,
a great deal of research into each major stripe of Protestant theology,
worship, etc., as well as a lot of contemporary reading in order to understand
some of the more important cross-trends that are currently at work (such
as liberalism, or emotionalism). Even with all this, one could not hope
to keep up with the new groups that spring up almost daily. Yet for all
their differences there is one basic underlying assumption that unites
the amorphous blob of these thousands of disparate groups into the general
category of "Protestant." All Protestant groups (with some minor
qualifications) believe that their group has rightly understood the Bible,
and though they all disagree as to what the Bible says, they generally
do agree on how one is to interpret the Bible on your own! apart from
Church Tradition. If one can come to understand this belief, why it is
wrong, and how one is rightly to approach the Scriptures, then any Protestant
of any stripe may be engaged with understanding. Even groups as differing
as the Baptists and the Jehovahs Witnesses are really not as different
as they outwardly appear once you have understood this essential point
indeed if you ever have an opportunity to see a Baptist and a Jehovahs
Witness argue over the Bible, you will notice that in the final analysis
they simply quote different Scriptures back and forth at each other. If
they are equally matched intellectually, neither will get anywhere in the
discussion because they both essentially agree on their approach to the
Bible, and because neither questions this underlying common assumption
neither can see that their mutually flawed approach to the Scriptures is
the problem. Herein lies the heart of this Hydra of heresies pierce its
heart and its many heads at once fall lifelessly to the ground.
Why Scripture Alone?
If we are to understand what Protestants think, we will have to first
know why they believe what they believe. In fact if we try to put ourselves
in the place of those early reformers, such as Martin Luther, we must certainly
have some appreciation for their reasons for championing the Doctrine of
Sola Scriptura (or "Scripture alone"). When one considers the
corruption in the Roman Church at that time, the degenerate teachings that
it promoted, and the distorted understanding of tradition that it used
to defend itself -along with the fact that the West was several centuries
removed from any significant contact with their former Orthodox heritage
it is difficult to imagine within those limitations how one such as Luther
might have responded with significantly better results. How could Luther
have appealed to tradition to fight these abuses, when tradition (as all
in the Roman West were lead to believe) was personified by the very papacy
that was responsible for those abuses. To Luther, it was tradition that
had erred, and if he were to reform the Church he would have to do so with
the sure undergirding of the Scriptures. However, Luther never really sought
to eliminate tradition altogether, and he never used the Scriptures truly
"alone," what he really attempted to do was to use Scripture
to get rid of those parts of the Roman tradition that were corrupt. Unfortunately
his rhetoric far outstripped his own practice, and more radical reformers
took the idea of Sola Scriptura to its logical conclusions.
PROBLEMS WITH THE DOCTRINE OF SOLA SCRIPTURA
A. IT IS A DOCTRINE BASED UPON A NUMBER OF FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS
An assumption is something that we take for granted from the outset,
usually quite unconsciously. As long as an assumption is a valid one, all
is fine and well; but a false assumption inevitably leads to false conclusions.
One would hope that even when one has made an unconscious assumption that
when his conclusions are proven faulty he would then ask himself where
his underlying error lay. Protestants who are willing to honestly assess
the current state of the Protestant world, must ask themselves why, if
Protestantism and its foundational teaching of Sola Scriptura are of God,
has it resulted in over twenty-thousand differing groups that cant agree
on basic aspects of what the Bible says, or what it even means to be a
Christian? Why (if the Bible is sufficient apart from Holy Tradition) can
a Baptist, a Jehovahs Witness, a Charismatic, and a Methodist all claim
to believe what the Bible says and yet no two of them agree what it is
that the Bible says? Obviously, here is a situation in which Protestants
have found themselves that is wrong by any stretch or measure. Unfortunately,
most Protestants are willing to blame this sad state of affairs on almost
anything anything except the root problem. The idea of Sola Scriptura
is so foundational to Protestantism that to them it is tantamount to denying
God to question it, but as our Lord said, "every good tree bringeth
forth good fruit; but a bad tree bringeth forth evil fruit" (Matthew
7:17). If we judge Sola Scriptura by its fruit then we are left with no
other conclusion than that this tree needs to be "hewn down, and cast
into the fire" (Matthew 7:19).
FALSE ASSUMPTION # 1: The Bible was intended to be the last word on faith, piety, and worship.
a). Does the Scripture teach that it is "all sufficient?"
The most obvious assumption that underlies the doctrine of "Scripture
alone" is that the Bible has within it all that is needed for everything
that concerns the Christians life all that would be needed for true
faith, practice, piety, and worship. The Scripture that is most usually
cited to support this notion is:
...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.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,
for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the
man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (II
Those who would use this passage to advocate Sola Scriptura argue that
this passage teaches the "all sufficiency" of Scripture because,
"If, indeed, the Holy Scriptures are able to make the pious man perfect...
then, indeed to attain completeness and perfection, there is no need of
tradition."1 But what can really be said based on this passage?
For starters, we should ask what Paul is talking about when he speaks
of the Scriptures that Timothy has known since he was a child. We can be
sure that Paul is not referring to the New Testament, because the New Testament
had not yet been written when Timothy was a child in fact it was not
nearly finished when Paul wrote this epistle to Timothy, much less collected
together into the canon of the New Testament as we now know it. Obviously
here, and in most references to "the Scriptures" that we find
in the New Testament, Paul is speaking of the Old Testament; so if this
passage is going to be used to set the limits on inspired authority, not
only will Tradition be excluded but this passage itself and the entire
In the second place, if Paul meant to exclude tradition as not also
being profitable, then we should wonder why Paul uses non-biblical oral
tradition in this very same chapter. The names Jannes and Jambres are not
found in the Old Testament, yet in II Timothy 3:8 Paul refers to them as
opposing Moses. Paul is drawing upon the oral tradition that the names
of the two most prominent Egyptian Magicians in the Exodus account (Ch.
7-8) were "Jannes" and "Jambres."2 And this is by no
means the only time that a non-biblical source is used in the New Testament
the best known instance is in the Epistle of St. Jude, which quotes from
the Book of Enoch (Jude 14,15 cf. Enoch 1:9).
When the Church officially canonized the books of Scripture, the primary
purpose in establishing an authoritative list of books which were to be
received as Sacred Scripture was to protect the Church from spurious books
which claimed apostolic authorship but were in fact the work of heretics
(e.g. the gospel of Thomas). Heretical groups could not base their teachings
on Holy Tradition because their teachings originated from outside the Church,
so the only way that they could claim any authoritative basis for their
heresies was to twist the meaning of the Scriptures and to forge new books
in the names of apostles or Old Testament saints. The Church defended itself
against heretical teachings by appealing to the apostolic origins of Holy
Tradition (proven by Apostolic Succession, i.e. the fact that the bishops
and teachers of the Church can historically demonstrate their direct descendence
from the Apostles), and by appealing to the universality of the Orthodox
Faith (i.e. that the Orthodox faith is that same faith that Orthodox Christians
have always accepted throughout its history and throughout the world).
The Church defended itself against spurious and heretical books by establishing
an authoritative list of sacred books that were received throughout the
Church as being divinely inspired and of genuine Old Testament or apostolic
By establishing the canonical list of Sacred Scripture the Church did
not intend to imply that all of the Christian Faith and all information
necessary for worship and good order in the Church was contained in them.3
One thing that is beyond serious dispute is that by the time the Church
settled the Canon of Scripture it was in its faith and worship essentially
indistinguishable from the Church of later periods this is an historical
certainty. As far as the structure of Church authority, it was Orthodox
bishops together in various councils who settled the question of the Canon
and so it is to this day in the Orthodox Church when any question of
doctrine or discipline has to be settled.
b). What was the purpose of the New Testament Writings?
In Protestant biblical studies it is taught (and I think correctly taught
in this instance) that when you study the Bible, among many other considerations,
you must consider the genre (or literary type) of literature that you are
reading in a particular passage, because different genres have different
uses. Another consideration is of course the subject and purpose of the
book or passage you are dealing with. In the New Testament we have four
broad categories of literary genres: gospel, historical narrative (Acts),
epistle, and the apocalyptic/prophetic book, Revelation. Gospels were written
to testify of Christs life, death, and resurrection. Biblical historical
narratives recount the history of God's people and also the lives of significant
figures in that history, and show God's providence in the midst of it all.
Epistles were written primarily to answer specific problems that arose
in various Churches; thus, things that were assumed and understood by all,
and not considered problems were not generally touched upon in any detail.
Doctrinal issues that were addressed were generally disputed or misunderstood
doctrines,4 matters of worship were only dealt with when there were related
problems (e.g. I Corinthians 11-14). Apocalyptic writings (such as Revelation)
were written to show God's ultimate triumph in history.
Let us first note that none of these literary types present in the New
Testament have worship as a primary subject, or were meant to give details
about how to worship in Church. In the Old Testament there are detailed
(though by no means exhaustive) treatments of the worship of the people
of Israel (e.g. Leviticus, Psalms) in the New Testament there are only
meager hints of the worship of the Early Christians. Why is this? Certainly
not because they had no order in their services liturgical historians
have established the fact that the early Christians continued to worship
in a manner firmly based upon the patterns of Jewish worship which it inherited
from the Apostles. 5 However, even the few references in the New Testament
that touch upon the worship of the early Church show that, far from being
a wild group of free-spirited "Charismatics," the Christians
in the New Testament worshiped liturgically as did their fathers before
them: they observed hours of prayer (Acts 3:1); they worshiped in the Temple
(Acts 2:46, 3:1, 21:26); and they worshiped in Synagogues (Acts 18:4).
We need also to note that none of the types of literature present in
the New Testament have as their purpose comprehensive doctrinal instruction
it does not contain a catechism or a systematic theology. If all that
we need as Christians is the Bible by itself, why is there not some sort
of a comprehensive doctrinal statement? Imagine how easily all the many
controversies could have been settled if the Bible clearly answered every
doctrinal question. But as convenient as it might otherwise have been,
such things are not found among the books of the Bible.
Let no one misunderstand the point that is being made. None of this
is meant to belittle the importance of the Holy Scriptures God forbid!
In the Orthodox Church the Scriptures are believed to be fully inspired,
inerrant, and authoritative; but the fact is that the Bible does not contain
within it teaching on every subject of importance to the Church. As already
stated, the New Testament gives little detail about how to worship but
this is certainly no small matter. Furthermore, the same Church that handed
down to us the Holy Scriptures, and preserved them, was the very same Church
from which we have received our patterns of worship. If we mistrust this
Churchs faithfulness in preserving Apostolic worship, then we must also
mistrust her fidelity in preserving the Scriptures. 6
c). Is the Bible, in practice, really "all sufficient" for Protestants?
Protestants frequently claim they "just believe the Bible,"
but a number of questions arise when one examines their actual use of the
Bible. For instance, why do Protestants write so many books on doctrine
and the Christian life in general, if indeed all that is necessary is the
Bible? If the Bible by itself were sufficient for one to understand it,
then why dont Protestants simply hand out Bibles? And if it is "all
sufficient," why does it not produce consistent results, i.e. why
do Protestants not all believe the same? What is the purpose of the many
Protestant study Bibles, if all that is needed is the Bible itself? Why
do they hand out tracts and other material? Why do they even teach or preach
at all why not just read the Bible to people? The answer is though they
usually will not admit it, Protestants instinctively know that the Bible
cannot be understood alone. And in fact every Protestant sect has its own
body of traditions, though again they generally will not call them what
they are. It is not an accident that Jehovahs Witnesses all believe the
same things, and Southern Baptists generally believe the same things, but
Jehovahs Witnesses and Southern Baptists emphatically do not believe the
same things. Jehovahs Witnesses and Southern Baptists do not each individually
come up with their own ideas from an independent study of the Bible; rather,
those in each group are all taught to believe in a certain way from a
common tradition. So then the question is not really whether we will just
believe the Bible or whether we will also use tradition the real question
is which tradition will we use to interpret the Bible? Which tradition
can be trusted, the Apostolic Tradition of the Orthodox Church, or the
muddled, and modern, traditions of Protestantism that have no roots beyond
the advent of the Protestant Reformation.
FALSE ASSUMPTION # 2:
The Scriptures were the basis of the early Church,
whereas Tradition is simply a "human corruption" that came much
Especially among Evangelicals and so-called Charismatics you will find
that the word "tradition" is a derogatory term, and to label
something as a "tradition" is roughly equivalent to saying that
it is "fleshly," "spiritually dead," "destructive,"
and/or "legalistic." As Protestants read the New Testament, it
seems clear to them that the Bible roundly condemns tradition as being
opposed to Scripture. The image of early Christians that they generally
have is essentially that the early Christians were pretty much like 20th
Century Evangelicals or Charismatics! That the First Century Christians
would have had liturgical worship, or would have adhered to any tradition
is inconceivable only later, "when the Church became corrupted,"
is it imagined that such things entered the Church. It comes as quite a
blow to such Protestants (as it did to me) when they actually study the
early Church and the writings of the early Fathers and begin to see a distinctly
different picture than that which they were always led to envision. One
finds that, for example, the early Christians did not tote their Bibles
with them to Church each Sunday for a Bible study in fact it was so difficult
to acquire a copy of even portions of Scripture, due to the time and resources
involved in making a copy, that very few individuals owned their own copies.
Instead, the copies of the Scriptures were kept by designated persons in
the Church, or kept at the place where the Church gathered for worship.
Furthermore, most Churches did not have complete copies of all the books
of the Old Testament, much less the New Testament (which was not finished
until almost the end of the First Century, and not in its final canonical
form until the Fourth Century). This is not to say that the early Christians
did not study the Scriptures they did in earnest, but as a group, not
as individuals. And for most of the First Century, Christians were limited
in study to the Old Testament. So how did they know the Gospel, the life
and teachings of Christ, how to worship, what to believe about the nature
of Christ, etc? They had only the Oral Tradition handed down from the Apostles.
Sure, many in the early Church heard these things directly from the Apostles
themselves, but many more did not, especially with the passing of the First
Century and the Apostles with it. Later generations had access to the writings
of the Apostles through the New Testament, but the early Church depended
on Oral Tradition almost entirely for its knowledge of the Christian faith.
This dependence upon tradition is evident in the New Testament writings
themselves. For example, Saint Paul exhorts the Thessalonians:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have
been taught, whether by word [i.e. oral tradition] or our epistle (II Thessalonians
The word here translated "traditions" is the Greek word paradosis
which, though translated differently in some Protestant versions, is
the same word that the Greek Orthodox use when speaking of Tradition, and
few competent Bible scholars would dispute this meaning. The word itself
literally means "what is transmitted." It is the same word used
when referring negatively to the false teachings of the Pharisees (Mark
7:3, 5, 8), and also when referring to authoritative Christian teaching
(I Corinthians 11:2, Second Thessalonians 2:15). So what makes the tradition
of the Pharisees false and that of the Church true? The source! Christ
made clear what was the source of the traditions of the Pharisees when
He called them "the traditions of men" (Mark 7:8). Saint Paul
on the other hand, in reference to Christian Tradition states, "I
praise you brethren, that you remember me in all things and hold fast to
the traditions [paradoseis] just as I delivered [paredoka, a verbal form
of paradosis] them to you" (First Corinthians 11:2), but where did
he get these traditions in the first place? "I received from the Lord
that which I delivered [paredoka] to you" (first Corinthians 11:23).
This is what the Orthodox Church refers to when it speaks of the Apostolic
Tradition "the Faith once delivered [paradotheise] unto the saints"
(Jude 3). Its source is Christ, it was delivered personally by Him to the
Apostles through all that He said and did, which if it all were all written
down, "the world itself could not contain the books that should be
written" (John 21:25). The Apostles delivered this knowldge to the
entire Church, and the Church, being the repository of this treasure thus
became "the pillar and ground of the Truth" (I Timothy 3:15).
The testimony of the New Testament is clear on this point: the early
Christians had both oral and written traditions which they received from
Christ through the Apostles. For written tradition they at first had only
fragments one local church had an Epistle, another perhaps a Gospel.
Gradually these writings were gathered together into collections and ultimately
they became the New Testament. And how did these early Christians know
which books were authentic and which were not for (as already noted)
there were numerous spurious epistles and gospels claimed by heretics to
have been written by Apostles? It was the oral Apostolic Tradition that
aided the Church in making this determination.
Protestants react violently to the idea of Holy Tradition simply because
the only form of it that they have generally encountered is the concept
of Tradition found in Roman Catholicism. Contrary to the Roman view of
Tradition, which is personified by the Papacy, and develops new dogmas
previously unknown to the Church (such as Papal Infallibility, to cite
just one of the more odious examples) the Orthodox do not believe that
Tradition grows or changes. Certainly when the Church is faced with a heresy,
it is forced to define more precisely the difference between truth and
error, but the Truth does not change. It may be said that Tradition expands
in the sense that as the Church moves through history it does not forget
its experiences along the way, it remembers the saints that arise in it,
and it preserves the writings of those who have accurately stated its faith;
but the Faith itself was "once delivered unto the saints" (Jude
But how can we know that the Church has preserved the Apostolic Tradition
in its purity? The short answer is that God has preserved it in the Church
because He has promised to do so. Christ said that He would build His Church
and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
Christ Himself is the head of the Church (Ephesians 4:16), and the Church
is His Body (Ephesians 1:22-23). If the Church lost the pure Apostolic
Tradition, then the Truth would have to cease being the Truth for the
Church is the pillar and foundation of the Truth (I Timothy 3:15). The
common Protestant conception of Church history, that the Church fell into
apostasy from the time of Constantine until the Reformation certainly makes
these and many other Scriptures meaningless. If the Church ceased to be,
for even one day, then the gates of Hell prevailed against it on that day.
If this were the case, when Christ described the growth of the Church in
His parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), He should have spoken
of a plant that started to grow but was squashed, and in its place a new
seed sprouted later on but instead He used the imagery of a mustard seed
that begins small but steadily grows into the largest of garden plants.
As to those who would posit that there was some group of true-believing
Protestants living in caves somewhere for a thousand years, where is the
evidence? The Waldensians 7 that are claimed as forebearers by every sect
from the Pentecostals to the Jehovahs Witnesses, did not exist prior to
the 12th Century. It is, to say the least, a bit of a stretch to believe
that these true-believers suffered courageously under the fierce persecutions
of the Romans, and yet would have headed for the hills as soon as Christianity
became a legal religion. And yet even this seems possible when compared
with the notion that such a group could have survived for a thousand years
without leaving a trace of historical evidence to substantiate that it
had ever existed.
At this point one might object that there were in fact examples of people
in Church history who taught things contrary to what others taught, so
who is to say what the Apostolic Tradition is? And further more, what if
a corrupt practice arose, how could it later be distinguished from Apostolic
Tradition? Protestants ask these questions because, in the Roman Catholic
Church there did arise new and corrupt "traditions," but this
is because the Latin West first corrupted its understanding of the nature
of Tradition. The Orthodox understanding which earlier prevailed in the
West and was preserved in the Orthodox Church, is basically that Tradition
is in essence unchanging and is known by its universality or catholicity.
True Apostolic Tradition is found in the historic consensus of Church teaching.
Find that which the Church has believed always, throughout history, and
everywhere in the Church, and then you will have found the Truth. If any
belief can be shown to have not been received by the Church in its history,
then this is heresy. Mind you, however, we are speaking of the Church,
not schismatic groups. There were schismatics and heretics who broke away
from the Church during the New Testament period, and there has been a continual
supply of them since, for as the Apostle says, "there must be also
heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest"
FALSE ASSUMPTION # 3:
Anyone can interpret the Scriptures for himself
or herself without the aid of the Church.
Though many Protestants would take issue with the way this assumption
is worded, this is essentially the assumption that prevailed when the Reformers
first advocated the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The line of reasoning was
essentially that the meaning of Scripture is clear enough that anyone could
understand it by simply reading it for oneself, and thus they rejected
the idea that one needed the Churchs help in the process. This position
is clearly stated by the Tübingen Lutheran Scholars who exchanged letters
with Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople about thirty years after Luthers
Perhaps, someone will say that on the one hand, the Scriptures are absolutely
free from error; but on the other hand, they have been concealed by much
obscurity, so that without the interpretations of the Spirit-bearing Fathers
they could not be clearly understood.... But meanwhile this, too, is very
true that what has been said in a scarcely perceptible manner in some places
in the Scriptures, has been stated in another place in them explicitly
and most clearly so that even the most simple person can understand them.8
Though these Lutheran scholars claimed to use the writings of the Holy
Fathers, they argued that they were unnecessary, and that, where they believed
the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers conflicted, the Fathers were to be
disregarded. What they were actually arguing, however, was that when the
teachings of the Holy fathers conflict with their private opinions on the
Scriptures, their private opinions were to be considered more authoritative
than the Fathers of the Church. Rather than listening to the Fathers, who
had shown themselves righteous and saintly, priority should be given to
the human reasonings of the individual. The same human reason that has
led the majority of modern Lutheran scholars to reject almost every teaching
of Scripture (including the deity of Christ, the Resurrection, etc.), and
even to reject the inspiration of the Scriptures themselves on which
the early Lutherans claimed to base their entire faith. In reply, Patriarch
Jeremias II clearly exposed the true character of the Lutheran teachings:
Let us accept, then, the traditions of the Church with a sincere heart
and not a multitude of rationalizations. For God created man to be upright;
instead they sought after diverse ways of rationalizing (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
Let us not allow ourselves to learn a new kind of faith which is condemned
by the tradition of the Holy Fathers. For the Divine apostle says, "if
anyone is preaching to you a Gospel contrary to that which you received,
let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:9).9
B. THE DOCTRINE OF SOLA SCRIPTURA DOES NOT MEET ITS OWN CRITERIA
You might imagine that such a belief system as Protestantism, which
has as its cardinal doctrine that Scripture alone is authoritative in matters
of faith, would first seek to prove that this cardinal doctrine met its
own criteria. One would probably expect that Protestants could brandish
hundreds of proof-texts from the Scriptures to support this doctrine
upon which all else that they believe is based. At the very least one would
hope that two or three solid text which clearly taught this doctrine could
be found since the Scriptures themselves say, "In the mouth of two
or three witnesses shall every word be established" (II Corinthians
13:1). Yet, like the boy in the fable who had to point out that the Emperor
had no clothes on, I must point out that there is not one single verse
in the entirety of Holy Scripture that teaches the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
There is not even one that comes close. Oh yes, there are innumerable places
in the Bible that speak of its inspiration, of its authority, and of its
profitability but there is no place in the Bible that teaches that only
Scripture is authoritative for believers. If such a teaching were even
implicit, then surely the early Fathers of the Church would have taught
this doctrine also, but which of the Holy Fathers ever taught such a thing?
Thus Protestantisms most basic teaching self-destructs, being contrary
to itself. But not only is the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura not
taught in the Scriptures it is in fact specifically contradicted by the
Scriptures (which we have already discussed) that teach that Holy Tradition
is also binding to Christians (II Thessalonians 2:15; I Corinthians 11:2).
C. PROTESTANT INTERPRETIVE APPROACHES THAT DONT WORK
Even from the very earliest days of the Reformation, Protestants have
been forced to deal with the fact that, given the Bible and the reason
of the individual alone, people could not agree upon the meaning of many
of the most basic questions of doctrine. Within Martin Luthers own life
dozens of competing groups had arisen, all claiming to "just believe
the Bible," but none agreeing on what the Bible said. Though Luther
had courageously stood before the Diet of Worms and said that unless he
were persuaded by Scripture, or by plain reason, he would not retract anything
that he had been teaching; later, when Anabaptists, who disagreed with
the Lutherans on a number of points, simply asked for the same indulgence,
the Lutherans butchered them by the thousands so much for the rhetoric
about the "right of an individual to read the Scriptures for himself."
Despite the obvious problems that the rapid splintering of Protestantism
presented to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, not willing to concede defeat
to the Pope, Protestants instead concluded that the real problem must be
that those with whom they disagree, in other words every other sect but
their own, must not be reading the Bible correctly. Thus a number of approaches
have been set forth as solutions to this problem. Of course there has yet
to be the approach that could reverse the endless multiplications of schisms,
and yet Protestants still search for the elusive methodological "key"
that will solve their problem. Let us examine the most popular approaches
that have been tried thus far, each of which are still set forth by one
group or another
APPROACH # 1
Just take the Bible literally the meaning is clear.
This approach was no doubt the first approach used by the Reformers,
though very early on they came to realize that by itself this was an insufficient
solution to the problems presented by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Although
this one was a failure from the start, this approach still is the most
common one to be found among the less educated Fundamentalists, Evangelicals
and Charismatics "The Bible says what it means and means what it
says," is an oft heard phrase. But when it comes to Scriptural texts
that Protestants generally do not agree with, such as when Christ gave
the Apostles the power to forgive sins (John 20:23), or when He said of
the Eucharist "this is my body.... this is my blood" (Matthew
26:26,28), or when Paul taught that women should cover their heads in Church
(I Corinthians 11:1-16), then all of a sudden the Bible doesnt say what
it means any more "Why, those verses arent literal..."
APPROACH # 2
The Holy Spirit provides the correct understanding.
When presented with the numerous groups that arose under the banner
of the Reformation that could not agree on their interpretations of the
Scriptures, no doubt the second solution to the problem was the assertion
that the Holy Spirit would guide the pious Protestant to interpret the
Scriptures rightly. Of course everyone who disagreed with you could not
possibly be guided by the same Spirit. The result was that each Protestant
group de-Christianized all those that differed from them. Now if this approach
were a valid one, that would only leave history with one group of Protestants
that had rightly interpreted the Scriptures. But which of the thousands
of denominations could it be? Of course the answer depends on which Protestant
you are speaking to. One thing we can be sure of he or she probably thinks
his or her group is it.
Today, however, (depending on what stripe of Protestant you come into
contact with) you are more likely to run into Protestants who have relativized
the Truth to some degree or another than to find those who still maintain
that their sect or splinter group is the "only one" which is
"right." As denominations stacked upon denominations it became
a correspondingly greater stretch for any of them to say, with a straight
face, that only they had rightly understood the Scriptures, though there
still are some who do. It has become increasingly common for each Protestant
group to minimize the differences between denominations and simply conclude
that in the name of "love" those differences "do not matter."
Perhaps each group has "a piece of the Truth," but none has the
whole Truth (so the reasoning goes). Thus the pan-heresy of Ecumenism had
its birth. Now many "Christians" will not even stop their ecumenical
efforts at allowing only Christian groups to have a piece of the Truth.
Many "Christians" now also believe that all religions have "pieces
of the Truth." The obvious conclusion that modern Protestants have
made is that to find all the Truth each group will have to shed their "differences,"
pitch their "piece of Truth" into the pot, and presto-chango
the whole Truth will be found at last!
APPROACH # 3
Let the clear passages interpret the unclear.
This must have seemed the perfect solution to the problem of how to
interpret the Bible by itself let the easily understood passages "interpret"
those which are not clear. The logic of this approach is simple, though
one passage may state a truth obscurely, surely the same truth would be
clearly stated elsewhere in Scripture. Simply use these "clear passages"
as the key and you will have unlocked the meaning of the "obscure
passage." As the Tübingen Lutheran scholars argued in their first
exchange of letters with Patriarch Jeremias II:
Therefore, no better way could ever be found to interpret the Scriptures,
other than that Scripture be interpreted by Scripture, that is to say,
through itself. For the entire Scripture has been dictated by the one and
the same Spirit, who best understands his own will and is best able to
state His own meaning.10
As promising as this method seemed, it soon proved an insufficient solution
to the problem of Protestant chaos and divisions. The point at which this
approach disintegrates is in determining which passages are "clear"
and which are "obscure." Baptists, who believe that it is impossible
for a Christian to lose his salvation once he is "saved," see
a number of passages which they maintain quite clearly teach their doctrine
of "Eternal Security" for example, "For the gifts and
callings of God are without repentance" (Romans 11:29), and "My
sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto
them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck
them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28). But when Baptists come across
verses which seem to teach that salvation can be lost, such as "The
righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his
transgression" (Ezekiel 33:12), then they use the passages that are
"clear" to explain away the passages that are "unclear."
Methodists, who believe that believers may lose their salvation if they
turn their backs on God, find no such obscurity in such passages, and on
the contrary, view the above mentioned Baptist "proof-texts"
in the light of the passages that they see as "clear." And so
Methodists and Baptists throw verses of the Bible back and forth at each
other, each wondering why the other cant "see" what seems very
"clear" to them.
APPROACH # 4
Drowning in a sea of subjective opinion and division, Protestants quickly
began grasping for any intellectual method with a fig leaf of objectivity.
As time went by and divisions multiplied, science and reason increasingly
became the standard by which Protestant theologians hoped to bring about
consistency in their biblical interpretations. This "scientific"
approach, which has come to predominate Protestant Scholarship, and in
this century has even begun to predominate Roman Catholic Scholarship,
is generaly referred to as "Historical-Critical Exegesis." With
the dawn of the so-called "Enlightenment," science seemed to
be capable of solving all the worlds problems. Protestant Scholarship
began applying the philosophy and methodology of the sciences to theology
and the Bible. Since the Enlightenment, Protestant scholars have analyzed
every aspect of the Bible: its history, its manuscripts, the biblical languages,
etc. As if the Holy Scriptures were an archaeological dig, these scholars
sought to analyze each fragment and bone with the best and latest that
science had to offer. To be fair, it must be stated that much useful knowledge
was produced by such scholarship. Unfortunately this methodology has erred
also, grievously and fundamentally, but it has been portrayed with such
an aura of scientific objectivity that holds many under its spell.
Like all the other approaches used by Protestants, this method also
seeks to understand the Bible while ignoring Church Tradition. Though there
is no singular Protestant method of exegesis, they all have as their supposed
goal to "let the Scripture speak for itself." Of course no one
claiming to be Christian could be against what the Scripture would "say"
if it were indeed "speaking for itself" through these methods.
The problem is that those who appoint themselves as tongues for the Scripture
filter it through their own Protestant assumptions. While claiming to be
objective, they rather interpret the Scriptures according to their own
sets of traditions and dogmas (be they fundamentalists or liberal rationalists).
What Protestant scholars have done (if I may loosely borrow a line from
Albert Schweitzer) is looked into the well of history to find the meaning
of the Bible. They have written volume upon volume on the subject, but
unfortunately they have only seen their own reflections.
Protestant scholars (both "liberals" and "conservatives"
have erred in that they have misapplied empirical methodologies to the
realm of theology and biblical studies. I use the term "Empiricism"
to describe these efforts. I am using this term broadly to refer to the
rationalistic and materialistic worldview that has possessed the Western
mind, and is continuing to spread throughout the world. Positivist systems
of thought (of which Empiricism is one) attempt to anchor themselves on
some basis of "certain" knowledge. 11 Empiricism, strictly speaking,
is the belief that all knowledge is based on experience, and that only
things which can be established by means of scientific observation can
be known with certainty. Hand in hand with the methods of observation and
experience, came the principle of methodological doubt, the prime example
of this being the philosophy of Rene Descartes who began his discussion
of philosophy by showing that everything in the universe can be doubted
except ones own existence, and so with the firm basis of this one undoubtable
truth ("I think, therefore I am") he sought to build his system
of philosophy. Now the Reformers, at first, were content with the assumption
that the Bible was the basis of certainty upon which theology and philosophy
could rest. But as the humanistic spirit of the Enlightenment gained in
ascendancy, Protestant scholars turned their rationalistic methods on the
Bible itselfseeking to discover what could be known with "certainty"
from it. Liberal Protestant scholars have already finished this endeavor,
and having "peeled back the onion" they now are left only with
their own opinions and sentimentality as the basis for whatever faith they
Conservative Protestants have been much less consistent in their rationalistic
approach. Thus they have preserved among themselves a reverence for the
Scriptures and a belief in their inspiration. Nevertheless, their approach
(even among the most dogged Fundamentalists) is still essentially rooted
in the same spirit of rationalism as the Liberals. A prime example of this
is to be found among so-called Dispensational Fundamentalists, who hold
to an elaborate theory which posits that at various stages in history God
has dealt with man according to different "dispensations," such
as the "Adamic dispensation," the "Noaic dispensation,"
the "Mosaic dispensation," the "Davidic dispensation,"
and so on. One can see that there is a degree of truth in this theory,
but beyond these Old Testament dispensations they teach that currently
we are under a different "dispensation" than were the Christians
of the first century. Though miracles continued through the "New Testament
period," they no longer occur today. This is very interesting, because
(in addition to lacking any Scriptural basis) this theory allows these
Fundamentalists to affirm the miracles of the Bible, while at the same
time allowing them to be Empiricists in their everyday life. Thus, though
the discussion of this approach may at first glance seem to be only of
academic interest and far removed from the reality of dealing with the
average Protestant, in fact, even the average, piously "conservative"
Protestant laymen is not unaffected by this sort of rationalism.
The great fallacy in this so called "scientific" approach
to the Scriptures lies in the fallacious application of empirical assumptions
to the study of history, Scripture, and theology. Empirical methods work
reasonably well when they are correctly applied to the natural sciences,
but when they are applied where they cannot possibly work, such as in unique
moments in history (which cannot be repeated or experimented upon), they
cannot produce either consistent or accurate results.12 Scientists have
yet to invent a telescope capable of peering into the spirit world, and
yet many Protestant scholars assert that in the light of science the idea
of the existence of demons or of the Devil has been disproved. Were the
Devil to appear before an Empiricist with pitch fork in hand and clad in
bright red underwear, it would be explained in some manner that would easily
comport to the scientists worldview. Although such Empiricists pride themselves
on their "openness", they are blinded by their assumptions to
such an extent that they cannot see anything that does not fit their vision
of reality. If the methods of empiricism were consistently applied it would
discredit all knowledge (including itself), but empiricism is conveniently
permitted to be inconsistent by those who hold to it "because its
ruthless mutilation of human experience lends it such a high reputation
for scientific severity that its prestige overrides the defectiveness of
its own foundations."13
The connections between the extreme conclusions that modern liberal
Protestant scholars have come to, and the more conservative or Fundamentalist
Protestants will not seem clear to many least of all to conservative
Fundamentalists! Though these conservatives see themselves as being in
almost complete opposition to Protestant liberalism, they nonetheless use
essentially the same kinds of methods in their study of the Scriptures
as do the liberals, and along with these methodologies come their underlying
philosophical assumptions. Thus the difference between the "liberals"
and the "conservatives" is not in reality a difference of basic
assumptions, but rather a difference in how far they have taken them to
their inherent conclusions
If Protestant exegesis were truly "scientific," as it presents
itself to be, its results would show consistency. If its methods were merely
unbiased "technologies" (as many view them) then it would not
matter who used them, they would "work" the same for everyone.
But what do we find when we examine current status of Protestant biblical
studies? In the estimation of the "experts" themselves, Protestant
biblical scholarship is in a crisis. 14 In fact this crisis is perhaps
best illustrated by the admission of a recognized Protestant Old Testament
scholar, Gerhad Hasel [in his survey of the history and current status
of the discipline of Old Testament theology, Old Testament Theology: Issues
in the Current Debate], that during the 1970s five new Old Testament theologies
had been produced "but not one agrees in approach and method with
any of the others."15 In fact, it is amazing, considering the self-proclaimed
high standard of scholarship in Protestant biblical studies, that you can
take your pick of limitless conclusions on almost any issue and find "good
scholarship" to back it up. In other words, you can just about come
to any conclusion that suits you on a particular day or issue, and you
can find a Ph.D. who will advocate it. This is certainly not science in
the same sense as mathematics or chemistry! What we are dealing with is
a field of learning that presents itself as "objective science,"
but which in fact is a pseudo-science, concealing a variety of competing
philosophical and theological perspectives. It is pseudoscience because
until scientists develop instruments capable of examining and understanding
God, objective scientific theology or biblical interpretation is an impossibility.
This is not to say that there is nothing that is genuinely scholarly or
useful within it; but this is to say that, camouflaged with these legitimate
aspects of historical and linguistic learning, and hidden by the fog machines
and mirrors of pseudo-science, we discover in reality that Protestant methods
of biblical interpretation are both the product and the servant of Protestant
theological and philosophical assumptions.16
With subjectivity that surpasses the most speculative Freudian psychoanalysts,
Protestant scholars selectively choose the "facts" and "evidence"
that suits their agenda and then proceed, with their conclusions essentially
predetermined by their basic assumptions, to apply their methods to the
Holy Scriptures. All the while, the Protestant scholars, both "liberal"
and "conservative," describe themselves as dispassionate "scientists."17
And since modern universities do not give out Ph.D.s to those who merely
pass on the unadulterated Truth, these scholars seek to out-do each other
by coming up with new "creative" theories. This is the very essence
of heresy: novelty, arrogant personal opinion, and self-deception.
THE ORTHODOX APPROACH TO TRUTH
When, by God's mercy, I found the Orthodox Faith, I had no desire to
give Protestantism and its "methods" of Bible study a second
look. Unfortunately, I have found that Protestant methods and assumptions
have managed to infect even some circles within the Orthodox Church. The
reason for this is, as stated above, that the Protestant approach to Scripture
has been portrayed as "science." Some in the Orthodox Church
feel they do the Church a great favor by introducing this error into our
seminaries and parishes. But this is nothing new; this is how heresy has
always sought to deceive the faithful. As Saint Irenaeus said, as he began
his attack on the heresies current in his day:
By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the
simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily
destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous opinions....
Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being
thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked
out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear
to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true
than truth itself.18
Lest any be mistaken or confused, let me be clear: the Orthodox approach
to the Scriptures is not based upon "scientific" research into
the Holy Scriptures. Its claim to understand the Scriptures does not reside
in its claiming superior archaeological data, but rather in its unique
relationship with the Author of the Scriptures. The Orthodox Church is
the body of Christ, the pillar and ground of the Truth, and it is both
the means by which God wrote the Scriptures (through its members) and the
means by which God has preserved the Scriptures. The Orthodox Church understands
the Bible because it is the inheritor of one living tradition that begins
with Adam and stretches through time to all its members today. That this
is true cannot be "proven" in a lab. One must be convinced by
the Holy Spirit and experience the life of God in the Church.
The question Protestants will ask at this point is who is to say that
the Orthodox Tradition is the correct tradition, or that there even is
a correct tradition? First, Protestants need to study the history of the
Church. They will find that there is only one Church. This has always been
the faith of the Church from its beginning. The Nicene Creed makes this
point clearly, "I believe in... one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."
This statement, which almost every Protestant denomination still claims
to accept as true, was never interpreted to refer to some fuzzy, pluralistic
invisible "church" that cannot agree on anything doctrinally.
The councils that canonized the Creed (as well as the Scriptures) also
anathematized those who were outside the Church, whether they were heretics,
such as the Montanists, or schismatics like the Donatists. They did not
say, "well we cant agree with the Montanists doctrinally but they
are just as much a part of the Church as we are." Rather they were
excluded from the communion of the Church until they returned to the Church
and were received into the Church through Holy Baptism and Chrismation
(in the case of heretics) or simply Chrismation (in the case of schismatics)
[Second Ecumenical Council, Canon VII]. To even join in prayer with those
outside the Church was, and still is, forbidden [Canons of the Holy Apostles,
canons XLV, XLVI]. Unlike Protestants, who make heros of those who break
away from another group and start their own, in the early Church this was
considered among the most damnable sins. As St. Ignatius of Antioch [a
disciple of the Apostle John] warned, "Make no mistake brethren, no
one who follows another into a schism will inherit the Kingdom of God,
no one who follows heretical doctrines is on the side of the passion"
[to the Philadelphians 5:3].
The very reason there arose a Protestant movement was that they were
protesting Papal abuses, but prior to the Roman West breaking away from
the Orthodox East these abuses did not exist. Many modern Protestant theologians
have recently begun to take a second look at this first millennium of undivided
Christendom, and are beginning to discover the great treasure that the
West has lost (and not a few are becoming Orthodox as a result).19
Obviously, one of three statements is true: either (1) there is no correct
Tradition and the gates of hell did prevail against the Church, and thus
both the Gospels and the Nicene Creed are in error; or (2) the true Faith
is to be found in Papism, with its ever-growing and changing dogmas defined
by the infallible "vicar of Christ;" or (3) the Orthodox Church
is the one Church founded by Christ and has faithfully preserved the Apostolic
Tradition. So the choice for Protestants is clear: relativism, Romanism,
Most Protestants, because their theological basis of Sola Scriptura
could only yield disunity and argument, have long ago given up on the idea
of true Christian unity and considered it a ridiculous hypothesis that
there might be only one Faith. When faced with such strong affirmations
concerning Church unity as those cited above, they often react in horror,
charging that such attitudes are contrary to Christian love. Finding themselves
without true unity they have striven to create a false unity, by developing
the relativistic philosophy of ecumenism, in which the only belief to be
condemned is any belief that makes exclusive claims about the Truth. However,
this is not the love of the historical Church, but humanistic sentimentality.
Love is the essence of the Church. Christ did not come to establish a new
school of thought, but rather, He, Himself said that He came to build His
Church, against which the gates of hell would not prevail (Matthew 16:17).
This new community of the Church created "an organic unity rather
than a mechanical unification of internally divided persons."20 This
unity is only possible through the new life brought by the Holy Spirit,
and mystically experienced in the life of the Church.
Christian faith joins the faithful with Christ and thus it composes
one harmonious body from separate individuals. Christ fashions this body
by communicating Himself to each member and by supplying to them the Spirit
of Grace in an effectual, tangible manner.... If the bond with the body
of the Church becomes severed then the personality which is thereby isolated
and enclosed in its own egoism will be deprived of the beneficial and abundant
influence of the Holy Spirit which dwells within the Church. 21
The Church is one because it is the body of Christ, and it is an ontological
impossibility that it could be divided. The Church is one, even as Christ
and the Father are one. Though this concept of unity may seem incredible,
it does not seems so to those who have gone beyond the concept and entered
into its reality. Though this may be one of those "hard sayings"
that many cannot accept, it is a reality in the Orthodox Church, though
it demands from everyone much self-denial, humility and love.22
Our faith in the unity of the Church has two aspects, it is both an
historic and present unity. That is to say that when the Apostles, for
example, departed this life they did not depart from the unity of the Church.
They are as much a part of the Church now as when they were present in
the flesh. When we celebrate the Eucharist in any local Church, we do not
celebrate it alone, but with the entire Church, both on earth and in heaven.
The Saints in heaven are even closer to us than those we can see or touch.
Thus, in the Orthodox Church we are not only taught by those people in
the flesh whom God has appointed to teach us, but by all those teachers
of the Church in heaven and on earth. We are just as much under the teaching
today of Saint John Chrysostom as we are of our own Bishop. The way this
impacts our approach to Scripture is that we do not interpret it privately
(II Peter 1:20), but as a Church. This approach to Scripture was given
its classic definition by St. Vincent of Lérins:
Here, perhaps, someone may ask: Since the canon of the Scripture is
complete and more than sufficient in itself, why is it necessary to add
to it the authority of ecclesiastical interpretation? As a matter of fact,
[we must answer,] Holy Scripture, because of its depth, is not universally
accepted in one and the same sense. The same text is interpreted differently
by different people, so that one may almost gain the impression that it
can yield as many different meanings as there are men.... Thus it is because
of the great many distortions caused by various errors, that it is, indeed,
necessary that the trend of the interpretation of the prophetic and apostolic
writings be directed in accordance with the rule of the ecclesiastical
and Catholic meaning.
In the Catholic Church itself, every care should be taken to hold fast
to what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. This is truly
and properly Catholic, as indicated by the force and etymology of the
name itself, which comprises everything truly universal. This general rule
will be truly applied if we follow the principles of universality, antiquity,
and consent. We do so in regard to universality if we confess that faith
alone to be true which the entire Church confesses all over the world.
[We do so] in regard to antiquity if we in no way deviate from those interpretations
which our ancestors and fathers have manifestly proclaimed as inviolable.
[We do so] in regard to consent if, in this very antiquity, we adopt the
definitions and propositions of all, or almost all, of the Bishops.23
In this approach to Scriptures, it is not the job of the individual
to strive for originality, but rather to understand what is already present
in the traditions of the Church. We are obliged not to go beyond the boundary
set by the Fathers of the Church, but to faithfully pass on the tradition
we received. To do this requires a great deal of study and thought, but
even more, if we are to truly understand the Scriptures, we must enter
deeply into the mystical life of the Church. This is why when St. Augustine
expounds on how one should interpret the Scriptures [On Christian Doctrine,
Books i-iv], he spends much more time talking about the kind of person
the study of the Scripture requires than about the intellectual knowledge
he should possess:24
1. One who loves God with his whole heart, and is empty of pride,
2. Is motivated to seek the Knowledge of God's will by faith and reverence,
rather than pride or greed,
3. Has a heart subdued by piety, a purified mind, dead to the world;
and who neither fears, nor seeks to please men,
4. Who seeks nothing but knowledge of and union with Christ,
5. Who hungers and thirsts after righteousness,
6. And is diligently engaged in works of mercy and love.
With such a high standard as this, we should even more humbly lean upon
the guidance of holy Fathers who have evidenced these virtues, and not
delude ourselves by thinking that we are more capable or clever interpreters
of God's Holy Word than they.
But what of the work that has been done by Protestant Biblical scholars?
To the degree that it helps us understand the history behind and meaning
of obscurities, to this degree it is in line with the Holy Tradition and
can be used.
As Saint Gregory Nazianzen put it when speaking of pagan literature:
"As we have compounded healthful drugs from certain of the reptiles,
so from secular literature we have received principles of enquiry and speculation,
while we have rejected their idolatry..."25 Thus as long as we refrain
from worshiping the false gods of Individualism, Modernity, and Academic
Vainglory, and as long as we recognize the assumptions at work and use
those things that truly shed historical or linguistic light upon the Scriptures,
then we will understand the Tradition more perfectly. But to the degree
that Protestant scholarship speculates beyond the canonical texts, and
projects foreign ideas upon the Scriptures to the degree that they disagree
with the Holy Tradition, the "always and everywhere" faith of
the Church, they are wrong.
If Protestants should think this arrogant or naive, let them first consider
the arrogance and naivete of those scholars who think that they are qualified
to override (and more usually, totally ignore) two thousand years of Christian
teaching. Does the acquisition of a Ph.D. give one greater insight into
the mysteries of God than the total wisdom of millions upon millions of
faithful believers and the Fathers and Mothers of the Church who faithfully
served God, who endured horrible tortures and martyrdom, mockings, and
imprisonments, for the faith? Is Christianity learned in the comfort of
ones study, or as one carries his cross to be killed on it? The arrogance
lies in those who, without even taking the time to learn what the Holy
Tradition really is, decide that they know better, that only now has someone
come along who has rightly understood what the Scriptures really mean.
The Holy Scriptures are perhaps the summit of the Holy Tradition of
the Church, but the greatness of the heights to which the Scriptures ascend
is due to the great mountain upon which it rests. Taken from its context,
within the Holy Tradition, the solid rock of Scripture becomes a mere ball
of clay, to be molded into whatever shape its handlers wish to mold it.
It is no honor to the Scriptures to misuse and twist them, even if this
is done in the name of exalting their authority. We must read the Bible;
it is God's Holy Word. But to understand its message let us humbly sit
at the feet of the saints who have shown themselves "doers of the
Word and not hearers only" (James 1:22), and have been proven by their
lives worthy interpreters of the Scriptures. Let us go to those who knew
the Apostles, such as Saints Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp, if we have
a question about the writings of the Apostles. Let us inquire of the Church,
and not fall into self-deluded arrogance.
1. George Mastrantonis, trans., Augsburg and Constantinople: the Correspondence
between the Tübingen Theologians and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople
on the Augsburg Confession (Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press,
2. The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, vol. 2 (Wheaton: Tyndale House
Publishers, 1980), "Jannes and Jambres," by A. F. Walls, 733
3. Indeed this list did not even intend to comprise all the books which
the Church has preserved from antiquity and considers part of the larger
Tradition. For example, the book of Enoch, though quoted in the canonical
books, was not itself included in the canon. I will not pretend to know
why this is so, but for whatever reasons the Church has chosen to preserve
this book, and yet has not appointed it to be read in Church or to be set
along side the canonical books.
4. For example, there is no place where the question of the inerrancy
of the Scriptures is dealt with in detail, precisely because this was not
an issue of dispute. In our present day, with the rise of religious skepticism,
this is very much an issue, and if the epistles were being written today,
this would certainly be dealt with at some point. It would thus be foolish
to conclude that since this issue is not dealt with specifically, that
the early Christians did not think it was important or did not believe
5. Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology
NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1986), 51 ff.
6. And in fact, this is what Protestant scholarship has done. Though
Protestantism was founded on its claim of believing the Bible to be the
only authority for faith and practice, modern Protestant scholarship is
now dominated by modernists who no longer believe in the inspiration or
inerrancy of the Scriptures. They now stand above the Bible and only choose
to use those parts that suit them and discard the rest as "primitive
mythology and legend." The only authority left for such as these is
7. The Waldensians were a sect that was founded in the 12th century
founded by Peter Waldo which in some ways anticipated the Protestant Reformation.
Due to persecution by the Roman Catholic Church this sect survived primarily
in the mountainous regions of northwestern Italy. With the advent of the
Protestant Reformation, the Waldensians came under the influence of the
Reformed movement and essentially joined forces with it. Many early Protestant
historians claimed that the Waldensians represented a remnant of "true"
Christians that had existed prior to Constantine. Though today no credible
historian would make such an unsubstantiated claim, many fundamentalists
and cults like the Jehovahs Witnesses continue to claim descent from the
early church through the Waldensians despite the fact that the Waldensians
still exist to this day, and they certainly do not claim the Jehovahs
8. Mastrantonis, 115.
9. Ibid., 198.
10. Ibid., 115.
11. The term positivism comes from the French word positif, which
means sure, or certain. This term was first used by Auguste Comte.
Positivistic systems are built upon the assumption that some fact or institution
is the ultimate basis of knowledge in Comtes philosophy, experience
or sense-perception constituted that basis and thus he was the forerunner
of modern Empiricism [See Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, 1914 ed.,
s.v. "Positivism," by S.H. Swinny; and Wolfhart Pannenburg, Theology
and Philosophy of Science, trans. Francis McDonagh (Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1976), p. 29].
12. For example, one method for determining the reality of past events,
among empirically minded scholars, is the principle of analogy. Since knowledge
is based on experience, then the way one understands what is unfamiliar
is by relating it to something that is familiar. Under the guise of historical
analysis they judge the probability of a supposed past event (e.g. the
resurrection of Jesus) based upon what we know to take place in our experience.
And since these historians have never observed anything which they would
consider supernatural they determine that when the Bible speaks of a miraculous
event in history that it merely is recounting a myth or a legend. But since
to the Empiricist, a miracle entails a violation of a natural law, then
there can be no miracles (by definition) because natural laws are determined
by our observation of what we experience, so were such an Empiricist to
be confronted with a modern analogy of a miracle it would no longer be
considered a miracle because it would no longer constitute a violation
of natural law. Thus empiricists do not produce results that falsify transcendent
reality, or miracles; rather their presuppositions, from the very outset,
deny the possibility of such things. [see G. E. Michalson, Jr., "Pannenburg
on the Resurrection and Historical Method," Scottish Journal of Theology
33 (April 1980): 345-359.]
13. Rev. Robert T. Osborn, "Faith as Personal Knowledge,"
Scottish Journal of Theology 28 (February 1975): 101-126.
14. Gerhard Hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current
Debate (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), p. 9.
15. Ibid., p. 7.
16. I have discussed Liberal Protestantism only to demonstrate the fallacies
of "Historical" exegesis.
An Orthodox Christian is much more likely to be confronted by a conservative
Fundamentalist or a Charismatic, simply because they take their faith seriously
enough to seek to convert others to it. Liberal Protestant denominations
have their hands full trying to keep their own parishioners, and are not
noted for their evangelistic zeal.
17. For a more in-depth critique of the excesses of the Historical-Critical
Method, see Thomas Oden, Agenda for Theology: After Modernity What? (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1990) pp 103-147.
18. A Cleveland Coxe, trans., Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. i, The Apostolic
Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 1989), p 315.
19. In fact a recent three volume systematic theology, by Thomas Oden,
is based on the premise that the "ecumenical consensus" of the
first millennium should be normative for theology [see, The Living God:
Systematic Theology Volume One, (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), pp
ix xiv.]. If only Oden takes his own methodology all the way, he too
will become Orthodox.
20. The Holy New Martyr Archbishop Ilarion (Troitsky), Christianity
or the Church?, (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1985), p. 11.
21. Ibid., p. 16.
22. Ibid., p. 40.
23. St. Vincent of Lérins, trans. Rudolph Morris, The Fathers of the
Church vol.7, (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1949),
24. St. Augustine, "On Christian Doctrine," A Selected Library
of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 1, vol. ii, eds. Henry Wace
and Philip Schaff, (New York: Christian, 1887-1900), pp. 534-537.
25. St. Gregory Nazianzen, "Oration 43, Panegyric on Saint Basil,"
A Selected Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian
Church, series 2, vol. vii, eds. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff (New York:
Christian, 18871900), p. 398f.
From Volume 3 of The Christian Activist (now defunct). It is now a
monograph published by Conciliar Press.