The Apostolic Fathers and their quotations of the deutero-canonical books

Turretinfan (on facebook) writes:

Some Roman Catholics will try to appeal to the Apostolic Fathers to defend the Roman Catholics’ view of the canon of Scripture. The Apostolic Fathers were writers from the first generation of Christians after the apostles, and their works do reflect a working knowledge of the Old and New Testaments.

Schaff’s “Apostolic Fathers” volume lists 16 references to the deuterocanonical books (or sections). When we look more closely, that number shrinks further.

Both of the references to Tobit are actually references to a single quotation in Polycarp’s Epistle to the Phillipians (10:2), where Schaff quotes Polycarp as writing “alms delivers from death,” which would appear to be taken from Tobit 4:10 and 12:9. The Greek text of Polycarp only exists through 9:2. Thus, all of chapter 10 is from a Latin edition, and we have no real way of knowing how literal or free the translation was.

The first reference to Judith is part of a string citation to the statement that Abraham was called “the friend” of God. Obviously, this is a statement that is found in several places in the canonical scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments, and is not a clear reference to Judith 8:19.

The second reference to Judith is from Clement’s first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 55. Here, the author of the epistle refers to Judith as an example of bravery “The blessed Judith, when her city was besieged, asked of the elders permission to go forth into the camp of the strangers; and, exposing herself to danger, she went out for the love which she bare to her country and people then besieged; and the Lord delivered Holofernes into the hands of a woman.” The author does not explicitly say that Judith is Scripture, and alludes to her bravery alongside that of Esther.

The reference to Baruch 4:36 and Baruch 5 is also a single reference taken from Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 35. Irenaeus does not quote the material as being from Baruch, but rather as being from Jeremiah. Of course, because Baruch was traditionally included with Jeremiah as one book, this makes sense if Irenaeus was just treating Baruch as being part of the canonical book of Jeremiah.

The longer (and consequently more questionable) version of Ignatius’ Epistle to the Magnesians (chapter 3) makes allusions to portions of Susanna, which was traditionally included with the canonical book of Daniel.

Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, Book IV, at 26:3 quotes a portion of Susanna, referring to it as Daniel.

The reference to Sirach 4:31 is just in the editor’s comments, and does not refer to the text.

The reference to Sirach 19:4 is a quotation from the Epistle to Hero, chapter 6, which is a spurious work formerly misattributed to Ignatius.

That leaves only references to Wisdom of Solomon, of which there are six.

The first reference is found in the Epistle of Barnabas, at Chapter 6, where a comment about binding the just is found amongst Scripture quotations. However, this statement is actually instead a reference to Isaiah 3:10 in the Septuagint, which we can be pretty sure about, because the immediately preceding material quoted is from Isaiah 3:9.

The second reference is found in I Clement 3, where the author uses the phrase “envy, by which death itself entered into the world,” which is reminiscent of Wisdom 2:24.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies II, 28:9, provides the third and fourth reference. The editors here suggest Widsom 9:13,17, but the language of those verses doesn’t seem to be present. At best, there is some similar theme about how earthly people can’t be expected to provide heavenly knowledge.

1 Clement 27 provides the final two references. The author writes: “He established all things, and by His word He can overthrow them. “Who shall say unto Him, What hast thou done? or, Who shall resist the power of His strength?”” This doctrine seems to be taken from Job 9. For example, Job 9:12 asks the question “who will say unto him, What doest thou?” Similarly, Jeremiah 32:17 “Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:” Wisdom 12:12 says “For who can say to you, “What have you done?”” Likewise Wisdom 11:21 states “For great strength is always present with you; who can resist the might of your arm?”

The bottom line is this. Some of the deuterocanonical books (for example, the books of the Maccabees) are not referenced at all. Some references are only in the more questionable portions of the works or in the spurious works. At least some of the authors seem to have thought that Jeremiah and Daniel included the Deuterocanonical portions, but this is more of a textual critical issue than a canonical issue. Finally, we do have reason to think that some of the early writers were familiar with and maybe even learned from the deuterocanonical books. Nevertheless, they do not quote from them as Scripture in any of the cases where they are used. The one such reference asserted by the editor’s of Schaff’s edition is a mistake, where the father clearly had in mind Septuagint Isaiah.

Keep in mind also that the same writers sometimes quote things as though they were Scripture, when that’s not the conclusion we would draw. For example, the Epistle of Barnabas states: “What, then, says He in the prophet? “And let them eat of the goat which is offered, with fasting, for all their sins.”” (Chapter 7) While Leviticus 4 mentions a goat sacrifice for sin, this seeming quotation cannot be traced to the canonical or deuterocanonical scriptures.

Ultimately, our standard is not “What did the apostolic fathers use,” but it is nevertheless revealing that they did not use those texts as Scripture or call them Scripture, as they did with the canonical scriptures.

Looks Good, Until We Check Context

Dr. James White writes:

Earlier today I retweeted Ligon Duncan’s recommendation of Dr. Needham’s fine little book of daily readings from early church fathers. Well, (Roman Catholic Apologist) Patrick Madrid follows me on Twitter (as I follow him), and he replied that he surely hopes people will read the early Fathers! I replied with a quotation from Gregory of Nyssa on sola scriptura:

“..we make the Holy Scriptures the canon and the rule of every dogma; we of necessity look upon that, and receive alone that which may be made conformable to the intention of those writings.” (On the Soul and Resurrection).

He replied with the graphic I am posting in this article (above). Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? As soon as I saw it I was struck once again by the fact that our Roman Catholic apologist friends really seem content to simply repeat the same arguments, even when they’ve been dealt with…for decades. You see, I gave that very quotation in the book ‘Sola Scriptura: the Protestant Position on the Bible’, first published in 1995—22 years ago. Here is what I wrote:

Surely here we have the Roman position, do we not? Basil here posits an extrabiblical tradition that would fit quite nicely with Trent, would, it not? We see again the importance of looking at all the data, for both the context and the greater scope of Basils teaching contradict such a conclusion. First, we note the continuation of his words, which are often not included in the citation:

For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is there who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the hucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice?

No matter how we might view Basil’s beliefs, one thing is certain: the matters that he lists as being addressed by tradition are not the matters that Rome would have us to believe comprise its oral tradition. Basil is talking about traditions with reference to practices and piety.

Ironically Rome does not believe Basil is correct in his claims in this passage. Does Rome say we must face to the East at prayer? Does Rome insist upon triune baptism after the Eastern mode? Yet these are the practices that Basil defines as being derived from tradition. What is more, other statements from this same father fly in the face of the Roman claims, for example, when addressing truly important doctrinal truths, such as the very nature of God, Basil did not appeal to some nebulous tradition. How could he, especially when he encountered others who claimed that their traditional beliefs should be held as sacred? Note his words to Eustathius the physician:

Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth.

This mis-use of Basil has been refuted by the mere reference to the immediate context in my own published works for 22 years….yet Patrick Madrid is still quoting the same text! Well, not much has changed, that’s for sure! So while the graphic and the a-contextual quote looks real good, just a little homework once again exposes the fact that Rome’s use of patristic sources is, well, quite predictable.

Did the Early Church Fathers Know the Gospel?

Ligon Duncan teaches a guide to the early church Fathers’ often perplexing views on the gospel. The early church Father’s were best in criticizing disputed areas of doctrine. Heresy served the Church to give the Bible’s perspective. One should respectively and carefully read the Father’s under the authority and lens of Scripture.

The Church Fathers on Sola Scriptura

Nathan Busenitz – original source Arius was arguably the most notorious heretic of the early church.

Though Arius’s heretical views were soundly condemned by the Council of Nicaea (in A.D. 325), the controversy he sparked raged for another fifty years throughout the Roman Empire. During those tumultuous decades, the defenders of Trinitarian orthodoxy often found themselves outnumbered and out of favor with the imperial court. Yet they refused to compromise.

Among them, most famously, stood Athanasius of Alexandria—exiled on five different occasions for his unwavering commitment to the truth. He was joined by the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzas, and Gregory of Nyssa.

But how did these early Christian leaders know that the doctrine they were defending was, in fact, a truth worth fighting for? How did they know they were right and the Arians were wrong? Was it on the basis of oral tradition, a previous church council, or an edict from the bishop of Rome?

No. They ultimately defended the truth by appealing to the Scriptures. Continue reading

Substitutionary Atonement in the Early Church

Bread-and-FishMichael J. Kruger is professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, 2012). He blogs regularly at Canon Fodder. In an article at The Gospel Coalition he writes:

Skeptics commonly criticize core Christian beliefs by claiming that they were not really held by the earliest Christians. Instead, we are told, these beliefs were invented post facto by the institutional church.

The classic example of such an argument has to do with the divinity of Jesus. The earliest followers of Jesus didn’t really believe that Jesus was divine, this argument goes; it was only the later institutional church, under political pressure from Emperor Constantine, that insisted Jesus must have divine status. Thus, some argue, the belief that Jesus is God is not really, well, Christian.

Substitutionary Atonement

This same sort of argument has also been applied to other doctrines, particularly the substitutionary nature of the atonement. Critical scholars, led by the classic work of Gustaf Aulén, have long argued that the earliest Christians did not believe that Christ died as a substitute for sinners. Instead, they say, these Christians believed what is known as the “Christus victor” view of the atonement—the idea that Jesus’s death on the cross (and resurrection) conquered the Devil and other forces that held people in bondage. On this view, Christ did not die in place of rebellious sinners but instead rescued victims from a fallen world.

If Aulén is correct, then when did the substitutionary view of the atonement arise? Peter Carnley embodies the typical critical approach when he says that the substitutionary view “was not known before Anselm’s time.” Thus, Carnley claims, it was not until the Middle Ages, when Anselm wrote Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?), that Christians began to believe Christ died in place of sinners.

No doubt these sorts of scholarly arguments can explain why alternative theories of the atonement have gained popularity in recent years, while the substitutionary view continues to be vilified as un-Christian. Rob Bell does precisely this in his book Love Wins, where he roundly rejects the substitutionary view in favor of other options.

But is it really true that the substitutionary view of the atonement was not found before the Middle Ages? Not at all. Such a claim can be readily refuted merely by examining the writings of the New Testament itself—particularly the letters of Paul. However, it is also worth noting that key elements of the substitutionary view were held by some of the earliest Christian writers. One example is the author of the Epistle to Diognetus from the early second century. The Epistle to Diognetus was written by an unknown Greek author as an apology for Christianity. Below are some excerpts from the author that affirm key aspects of substitutionary atonement. Continue reading

Rivaling The Apostle’s Creed

it is one of the earliest patristic writings we possess. It is a lengthy treatise which compares the God of Christianity with the gods of the barbarians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks.

But, at one point, he summarizes what Christians believe in a manner that would rival even the Apostle’s Creed:

The Christians, then, trace the beginning of their religion from Jesus the Messiah; and he is named the Son of God Most High. And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man. This is taught in the gospel, as it is called, which a short time was preached among them; and you also if you will read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it. This Jesus, then, was born of the race of the Hebrews; and he had twelve disciples in order that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished. But he himself was pierced by the Jews, and he died and was buried; and they say that after three days he rose and ascended to heaven (Apol. 2).

Aristides makes it clear that Christians affirm a number of key truths:

1. The divinity of Jesus: “God came down from heaven…” In the mind of Aristides, Jesus is not an angel, or a semi-divine being, but the very God of heaven itself.

2. The incarnation: “clothed himself with flesh.” In very vivid language, the author affirms that Jesus is God enfleshed; he took upon himself a real human body (contra the Docetists).

3. The virgin birth: “from a Hebrew virgin.” This doctrine flows naturally from the prior two. If Jesus is God, and he took on human flesh, then his conception would be distinctive from other human beings.

4. The authority of the Gospels: “taught in the gospel…and you also if you read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it.” Notice for Aristides, there are books called a “gospel” which you can “read” to learn more about the person of Jesus. Moreover, these gospels contain a certain “power” which the reader can discern.

5. The authority of the apostles: “and he had twelve disciples.” Aristides recognizes that Jesus had an authority structure through the twelve that was necessary “so that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished.”

6. His death on the cross: “pierced by the Jews.” This is a clear reference to Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate at the request of the Jewish leadership.

7. His resurrection: “after three days he rose.” Jesus did not stay in the grave but was raised from the dead.

8. His ascension: “ascended into heaven.” Jesus returned to his former heavenly home, in a position of power and glory.

This is a surprisingly thorough and wide-ranging summary of core Christian doctrines at a very early point in the life of the church. And it was this form of Christianity that was publicly presented to the Emperor. Once again, we can see that core Christian beliefs were not latecomers that were invented in the fourth century (or later), but appear to have been in place from the very beginning.

Scripture and the Church Fathers

Here are excellent resources concerning the view of the early Church regarding Scripture.

Turretinfan writes:

Formal Sufficiency of Scripture

Stated and Examined from Scripture and the Fathers, with scholarly confirmation regarding the Fathers’ views.

In an introduction section, we discussed the nature of formal sufficiency that we, the Reformed, affirm. In the next section, we saw Scripture’s own testimony to its own sufficiency. If we were simply establishing the Reformed position, that would be completely sufficient. It would not be necessary to add anything to that.

Nevertheless, our challenger from the Roman side has requested some patristic confirmation. Frankly, we are not sanguine about the possibility that he’ll actually carefully read and consider the evidence that we present, yet perhaps these evidences will be sufficient to help establish that our insight into Scripture is not a novel insight.

Early Christian Writers

Third Century Fathers

Fourth Century Fathers

Fifth Century Fathers

The Gospel According to the Church Fathers

by Nathan Busenitz (from a blogpost California.

After the apostles died, was the gospel hopelessly lost until the Reformation?

That certainly seems to be a common assumption in some Protestant circles today. Thankfully, it is a false assumption.

I’m not entirely sure where that misconception started. But one thing I do know: it did not come from the Protestant Reformers.

The Reformers themselves (including Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others) were convinced that their position was not only biblical, but also historical. In other words, they contended that both the apostles and the church fathers would have agreed with them on the heart of the gospel.

For example, the second-generation Lutheran reformer, Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), wrote a treatise on justification in which he defended the Protestant position by extensively using the church fathers. And John Calvin (1509-1564), in his Institutes, similarly claimed that he could easily debunk his Roman Catholic opponents using nothing but patristic sources. Here’s what he wrote:

If the contest were to be determined by patristic authority, the tide of victory — to put it very modestly —would turn to our side. Now, these fathers have written many wise and excellent things. . . . [Yet] the good things that these fathers have written they [the Roman Catholics] either do not notice, or misrepresent or pervert. . . . But we do not despise them [the church fathers]; in fact, if it were to our present purpose, I could with no trouble at all prove that the greater part of what we are saying today meets their approval.

Source: John Calvin, “Prefatory Address to King Francis I of France,” The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Section 4.

How could the Reformers be so confident that their understanding of the gospel was consistent with the teachings of the ancient church? Or perhaps more to the point: What did the early church fathers have to say about the gospel of grace?

Here is an admittedly brief collection of 30 patristic quotes, centering on the reality that justification is by grace alone through faith alone. Many more could be provided. But I think you’ll be encouraged by this survey look at the gospel according to the church fathers.

(Even if you don’t read every quote, just take a moment to consider the fact that, long before Luther, the leaders of the ancient church were clearly proclaiming the gospel of grace through faith in Christ.)

1. Clement of Rome (30-100): “And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Source: Clement, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 32.4.
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