Scripture and the Church

codexsinaiticusI have written several posts lately on Holy Scripture – reading comments tells me that there is a point that needs to be underlined that I have neglected to some extent – the relationship between Scripture and Church. Much of the modern world is today the product of Protestant cultures – or cultures in which the view of the Bible has been largely shaped by the Protestant project.

The most critical part of that intellectual project was the decoupling of Scripture and Church. For Martin Luther or the early Reformers (particularly the successors of Luther, Calvin and Swingli), the Bible became the only authority (sola Scriptura) and it was through the Bible that the Church was to be judged, corrected and reformed. Thus the Scriptures took on a new form – one in which they became an independent book with authority over everything else. Problems of interpretation were often met with theories of “soul competency” in which it was postulated that each individual soul was competent to interpret the Scriptures for themselves. Of course, these were all novel doctrines, unknown to the Fathers of the Church.

One of the results was to create something of a Christian parallel to the Koran. Christianity, at the hands of well-intentioned reformers became a “people of the book.” A single Christian, with a copy of the Scriptures, somehow became a sufficient example of Christianity. Of course this phenomenon was itself a contradiction of the Scriptures. Today we see the embodiment of this sea-change. Crowds of young and old, carrying Bibles under their arms, dutifully make their way into buildings, euphemistically called “Churches,” although in America they are increasingly called something more attractive than “Church.”

The separation of Bible and Church was not an accident – it was an intentional political move. The goal was to establish the Scriptures as an authority independent of the Church. Nor was this independence purely for the sake of the spiritual “freedom” of the individual. The great competitor for the authority of the Church in the 16th century was not the individual, but the State. More than the work of reformers, the Reformation was a work of the State. Ask the many murdered monks of England. The 16th century is not the great century of democracy in Western Europe, but the great century in which were born the nation states. The authority of the Church was diminished while the authority of the state was expanded. Far easier to offer the spiritual comfort of a private Bible and a private God than the inherently dangerous political entity of a spiritual community.

Of course history has moved on and these original intentions have morphed into present-day realities. Of course, the individualized Christian with his individualized Bible continues to live at the mercy of the nation state, oftentimes endowing those entities (especially in America) with an authority that does not properly belong to them.

But of course, the radical mistake of removing the Holy Scriptures from the interpretive context of the living Orthodox Church, is to kill the Scripture as Scripture. Scripture apart from the Church makes no more sense than Holy Communion apart from the Church. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Scripture is written for the Church, to the Church, and is read by the Church. Apart from the Church it can have no particular meaning – for within the Church it has a most peculiar meaning that can only be traditioned within the Church.

This is made clear in several incidents within the New Testament. To the Sadducees who rejected most of the Old Testament, Christ said: “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 20:29).

And yet more bodly, to the Pharisees He said, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me” (John 5:39). It is a radical claim in which Christ points to Himself as the meaning of the entire Old Testament. I can think of no bolder claim from His lips to His messiahship.

But we also see evidence of the proper place for reading and understanding the Scripture. The Sadducees did not understand, nor did the Pharisees. To a great extent, even the disciples of Christ did not understand until after the resurrection. On the road to Emmaus, we hear this encounter between the Risen Lord and His yet to be enlightened disciples:

And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:25-32).

After this encounter, Christ appears to His disciples by the Sea of Galilee. He greets them from the shore:

And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:41-47).

It is clear that the entire interpretive scheme of the Old Testament – as a revelation of the suffering and resurrected God – is not at all understood by the disciples until it is given to them by Christ after the resurrection. This same “scheme” (in the sense of “schema” in the Greek – meaning “framework”) is precisely the scheme of the liturgies, hymns and prayers of the Church. They are the most abundant witness to this primitive proclamation of the Church in which the Old Testament, rightly sung in its proper context, yields up its meaning in bearing witness to Christ and His resurrection. This rich interpretive scheme is completely lost to those who have detached the Bible from the fullness of the Orthodox Church and placed it in various forms of history – either fundamentalist literalism – or historical critical schemes of blasphemy.

The Scriptures do not stand apart from the Church. They are the “Scriptures of the Church.” To refer to them as Scripture apart from the Church is simply an absurd statement that ignores the very meaning of the word “Scripture.” They are Scripture, or “Holy Writing,” precisely because the Church sees and hears in them what it was taught to see and hear in them. Removed from that context they will always be read incorrectly. It is equally absurd to claim that the Scriptures have some “objective” meaning, as though they were written for nobody – like a rock exists in the desert. They are not objective, but are “ecclesial,” that is, existing for the life and as part of the life of the Church.

If a man would know the word of God, then he should stand in the midst of the assembly of the Church and listen to the hymns and prayers of the saints. There he will hear the rich treasures of the Word of God offered as praise, as doctrine, as worship, as a verbal icon of Christ Himself. In so doing He can come to know the word of God.

Comments

  1. Cuthbert says

    Father,

    One question: how do you reconcile your statement that the scriptures can be interpreted incorrectly with your assertion that they are not objective? Does correct and incorrect interpretation imply at least some level of objectivity?

    Thanks.

  2. Philippa says

    This post has helped me understand the unity of Scripture and the Church. I’ve never had it explained so simply and clearly so I could grasp it. Thanks be to God, Father Stephen.

  3. says

    I agree that church and scripture are connected, but exclusivity was never a tenet of Jesus. How do these two ideas reconcile? It is not for the church to hoard scripture. I realize that there is tension in most of scripture that requires constant study and meditation, maybe this is just one more example of that tension?

  4. says

    I am contrasting “objectively” with “ecclesially.” Objective would mean that anyone could arrive at the same conclusion. I am saying that only the Church will arrive at the ecclesial interpretation and as far as the Church goes, that is the authoritative interpretation. The passages from Luke make this clear.

  5. says

    I guess I take issue with that because it sounds like you are saying that the Orthodox Church has it right and most other forms of witness have it wrong, even to the point of blaspheming. The passage in Luke indeed says that Jesus had to interpret the Old Testament for his disciples, but in context this seems to me to simply say that he was explaining this to Jews who, in large part were expecting a conquering king. I am not sure that I follow how this means that the church is the only authority on scripture. It feels an awful lot like God is being placed in an Orthodox box, which is as good a box as any, but is still a box. Is it not possible that a Protestant and a follower of Orthodoxy Christianity such as yourself could draw the same conclusion from scripture?

  6. says

    I was raised in a tradition which said that we should all read the bible as if we had never seen it before, as if the book had simply dropped out of the sky in front of us. It was firmly believed that if we could simply get rid of polluting creeds and traditions, we could all read the bible objectively, and on the basis of rationality would come to the same conclusions about God and the life of the Church. This proved to be impossible, and our churches continue to splinter, often painfully. (Indeed, if you do not see the scriptures the “objective” way, as I see them, you must be mentally deficient, or perhaps something worse.) The fracturing of the Protestant movement at large is a direct result of Sola Scriptura. As time goes on, I am becoming more and more aware of the need for an authoritative interpretation. Thank you, Father Stephen, for providing such a concise summary of the issue.

    This is not to say that any particular interpretation of scripture could fully describe God – to “put Him in a box”. Please correct me if I have misapprehended this, but as I understand it the Word of God is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, and the Church is Christ’s Body. Therefore it is in the name of Christ himself that the Church continues to interpret the scriptures as he taught his disciples and has been passed down in Tradition.

  7. says

    Fr. Stephen,

    An excellent post. The relation of the Church and Scripture is lost on most protestants. Officially I am still in that fold right now. Primarily because I’m still getting up the courage of my convictions. And am still rattling around with east or west in my mind.

    For me it comes down to this. The Church defined scripture and that is undeniable. But for tradition and authority of the church we’d have no scripture. And if I cannot trust the Church I by extension cannot trust Scripture. Jewish authority defined their scripture and Christian defined the canon we inherited from them and also what the Church decided was scripture and what was not. Tradition preserved that going forward. The Church rejected many books that were not authentic, or taught things contrary to the faith handed down. In many cases the heresies condemned in councils also held to different canons. That is something that continues to the present day.

    The idea that scripture is defined because its recongized as the word of God (self authenticating) is an idea that Luther started. Most protestants do not know that Luther not only threw out the dueteroncanonical works but also Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation. He left them in the translation but prefaced them saying they were not to be considered canonical. Now of course there was some historical basis to his stance in that the NT books were held in dispute to varying degrees. But the Church over time agreed they were canonical. And to this day protestants accept the determination of the Church. They just refuse to admit it.

    You mention the realities of the reformation as being state more than personal. That is something I’ve been reading a lot of lately and its really important history. Both in Germany and in England the motives were largely by the rulers and largely centered on raiding the Church and actively suppressing it using the excuse of various abuses. Charles Butler’s 1824 work Book of the Roman Catholic Church does a great job detailing the same cruelty invoked upon Catholics by Protestants as Protestants complained about when the roles were reversed. The view of the reformation we grow up with as protestants is very much one sided propaganda.

    The modern protestant views are essentially impossible. The Church started w/o any writing. All churches were setup by oral tradition. 2 Thess 2:15 lays it out clearly.

    I realize I spoke in Roman -vs- Protestant terms above ( not Orthodox ) but most protestants approach from this view. As you read most of the protestant arguments about why they are right it becomes clear they don’t know Orthodox even exists. The realization of Orthodoxy is so refreshing and reassuring. Thank you for preserving the faith!

    Forgive my rambling. This is something I am so passionate about. I don’t know why its not more forcefully presented in the US. There is no way to defend Sola Scriptura. The rejection of tradition results in chaos.

  8. says

    I am still quite protestant in my convictions that the Holy Scriptures should serve as an anchor for the traditions of the Church – calling her back to her core tradition and vocation she had from the beginning. Thus, I don’t think the Reformers were wrong in principle to appeal to them against some of the strange developments in the Western Church. But I completely agree that they are the Church’s book, and that we should not consider ourselves first and foremost a “people of the book” but rather members of the “body of Christ”. The Holy Scriptures are given for our nourishment in this context.

  9. says

    Great comments, I am learning much history that I was unaware of. I think that anytime there is any one group who claims a monopoly on interpretation of scripture, indeed even to use the bible to interpret how the bible should be interpreted, there is a danger of arrogance because when we claim to know the mind of God more than others there is still an imperfect human element to it all. I don’t think that the protestant church has it all right. I know I don’t have it even close to right. I guess that’s why anyone who claims to have it right is suspect in my mind.

    It feels like the argument here is that scripture is incomplete without the church. The problem with that is that the church is based on scripture. It is like a dog chasing its tail. Forgive me if I am rambling, but I am simply not as sure as everyone else here about where the ultimate authority is. Obviously God is the authority, but how is that manifest on earth?

  10. Bill M says

    Many of the Protestant splinters are traceable to sola scriptura, and the resulting differing translations or interpretations. But many as well can be traced to cultural matters – dress, lifestyle, income sources, music. While nowhere near as splintered, the Orthodox have their divisions as well – calendar, music, country of origin, beards – none of which have been easily settled by the assertion that Scripture is to be rightly (and only) interpreted within the Church.

    This is not to argue with what Fr. Stephen has posted in this article. It’s only to point out that people are very creative about finding ways to separate from one another. Protestant mishandling of Scripture is certainly one of those ways, but were it not a problem, we would have found other means… :)

  11. says

    Well said Bill.

    On another note, where is a good place to learn about Orthodoxy? I am very uneducated and would like to remedy that, time allowing. Thank you all for some great comments, I enjoyed them all. Thank you Father Stephen for granting us this space to have a conversation.

  12. William says

    Aaron, I think it’s less about competing claims to rightness in interpreting scripture, as though the truth were merely a matter of dialectic and the Church were merely a particular group with a particular interpretation, just like all the other groups and all their interpretations. Instead, the Church is the living and continuous presence of Christ in our midst and the communion in his life. As such, its witness stands firm and its interpretation of Scripture does not contradict itself over the course of time. It is not putting God in a box to acknowledge that there are right ways and wrong ways to read scripture, and it is perfectly reasonable to expect that the Church, which Paul called “the pillar and ground of truth,” would read scripture today in harmony with the way it did 1,000 years ago, 1,500 years ago and nearly 2,000 years ago. Yes, there is a human element that can err, including within the Orthodox Church, but it is not the Church that errs when her members stray from what she has handed down. The Church, rather, calls all erring ones, inside and outside of her, back to her constant witness to the truth of Christ.

    To say that the Bible is only properly read by the Church is not to say that this one group of people is the only one who could arrive at a true conclusion about any given scriptural passage. It is to say that without the Holy Spirit, there is no understanding of the Holy Scriptures. The Spirit blows where he wills, but the Church has always been his sure habitation.

  13. mic says

    Aaron…

    The Orthodox Church, by Bishop Kallistos Ware.

    That is a great introduction to Orthodoxy!

    peace
    mic-

  14. says

    Well said William, your wording is the clearest so far, without sounding pedantic. Your comment seems the most systemic in nature, which is really where I was driving at. It satisfies my original questions very well. It brings up another. The first is in regards to your comment:

    “…it is perfectly reasonable to expect that the Church, which Paul called “the pillar and ground of truth,” would read scripture today in harmony with the way it did 1,000 years ago, 1,500 years ago and nearly 2,000 years ago.”

    Since there are a multitude of translations of scripture, is the Orthodox Church still using the same translation as before…you see where I am going here. Everything changes to some degree. If Orthodoxy is not changing its traditions, etc, what is changing?

  15. Theodora Elizabeth says

    Fr. Stephen, thank you so much for this post! The timing was quite interesting. A woman raised in the Episcopal Church (although I’m not sure if she’s currently practicing) asked two days ago on a discussion forum about the Orthodox view of the Bible. She had seen posts by converts noting that they saw the Bible much different once they become Orthodox. I’ve linked to this post in the discussion – it’s a great help and says so much better than the words I could find.

    Happy Meatfare Week!

  16. William says

    Aaron, I assume your question about translations of scripture is particularly referring to English, French, etc. translations, in which case, translations have differed. Liturgically, the King James is widespread, the Orthodox Study Bible’s New Testament is the New King James version (I think these two are popular in Orthodoxy because they follow the received Greek text rather than text cobbled by scholars looking to recreate as best they can the “originals”) There is the new Eastern Orthodox Bible that is an independent translation done by Orthodox translators.

    So translations change, and likewise other things change. Liturgical practice and customs have changed in various ways over time. Practices have changed and some matters of discipline look different today than they might have at another time in the Church’s history. Doctrinal articulations certainly gained greater precision over time during the patristic period, which is not the same as saying that doctrine itself changed. Even today, a person can make a fresh restatement in his or her own words of a perennial truth. The key, really, is that the Church on earth today is in harmony with the Church in heaven today. My own words and readings of scripture can be fresh and new, but must be in harmony with that of the great saints in whom the Church has acknowledged as holy and God-bearing upholders of truth.

    I hope this gets at your question. You ask some good things. I’d second the recommendation that you read Kallistos Ware’s “The Orthodox Church.” I’d also recommend Ware’s book, “The Orthodox Way,” which I like even better.

  17. Robert says

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

    “the scheme of the liturgies, hymns and prayers of the Church. They are the most abundant witness to this primitive proclamation of the Church in which the Old Testament, rightly sung in its proper context”

    As a protestant I boasted about “being scriptural”. However, in contrast, I have never experienced an abundance of scripture since becoming Orthodox.

    “If a man would know the word of God, then he should stand in the midst of the assembly of the Church and listen to the hymns and prayers of the saints. There he will hear the rich treasures of the Word of God offered as praise, as doctrine, as worship, as a verbal icon of Christ Himself. In so doing He can come to know the word of God.”

    OK I am sitting down. :D

  18. Robert says

    correction: As a protestant I boasted about “being scriptural”. However, in contrast, I have never experienced an abundance of scripture [b]UNTIL[/b] becoming Orthodox.

  19. Darla says

    Aaron, I’ve been reading about Orthodoxy recently, being drawn to the reality of the Orthodox church because of the shortcomings I see in the Protestant church, and here are some resources I’ve appreciated:

    Becoming Orthodox by Peter Gillquist
    Evangelical is Not Enough by Thomas Howard
    Facing East by Frederica Mathewes-Green
    At the Corner of East and Now by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

    HTH.

  20. Robert says

    Aaron:

    “where is a good place to learn about Orthodoxy?”

    You can’t read yourself into Orthodoxy as they say. I recommend attending Divine Liturgy at your local Orthodox church.

  21. Darla says

    Robert, I agree! (“You can’t read yourself into Orthodoxy.”) At the same time, I wouldn’t have known about the Orthodox church when I did were it not for a book I’d discovered at a thrift store and the subsequent reading I did after that. If I’d just gone to an Orthodox church, I would have thought it weird and unBiblical. The reading gave me a better context for understanding the what and why. I’d never even been exposed to the idea of early church history before and how that might still be relevant today.

    Another thought is that just getting to an Orthodox church isn’t always as easy as that, KWIM? Our nearest Orthodox church is a good 45 minute drive to another county and town. I know some would find that enviable, but not all would esp. one of a Protestant background who has a “good” church where they live.

  22. says

    Occasionally we would draw similar conclusions, but you’d be surprised at how messed up much Protestant interpretation sounds to the Orthodox. Orthodoxy is not a box, it’s the Church Christ founded. There was no Protestant Church then, only Orthodoxy. The Church has faithfully kept the what was taught them, much of which is ignored or twisted by others. What I mean by blasphemy is the teaching of the angry God who punishes for legal infractions, and the whole dispensationalist nonsense. We do differ. Orthodoxy, however is not a box, it is the Church, which Scripture describes as “the pillar and ground of truth.” Scripture said it, not me.

  23. says

    Yes, but if the Church is the Body of Christ, how is it possible to make such distinctions? Everything the Church does is in the name of Christ. The Church, described in Scripture as “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”

  24. says

    But they did not call people back to the core tradition. They were called to be servants of the newly created nation states. The Peace of Augsburg, that the “religion of the prince should be the religion of the people” makes clear that it was politics ultimately and not religion that gave us the religious wars of Europe. The Orthodox had already condemned the Roman Church for having turned itself into an earthly state. The Protestants did not greatly improve that situation. The separation of Church and state has made some improvement, though it is very often abused and misinterpreted.

  25. says

    Read what the Scripture actually says about the Church. Orthodoxy is not making any claims for its relationship to Scripture and Scripture’s relationship to the Church that it did not make for the first 1000 years of Christianity, when there were no other Christians than the Orthodox. Now that men have invented new groups and called them Churches, are the Orthodox to abandon the faith for which they died and bore witness for a 1000 years?

    I have respect for many, many Protestants, and quickly admit that I am by far the greater sinner. But I will not abandon the Church founded by Christ, nor surrender the Scriptures to the madhouse of multiple interpretations. Everybody is not right. Some people and some groups are just wrong. Having more than one Church so we can have different points of view is interesting, but is not Scriptural. Orthodoxy doesn’t lead to arrogance – my experience has been that it leads in quite the opposite direction. But it sounds arrogant in the modern world to say that Christ actually founded a Church, and that Church still exists, and it is not invisible and doesn’t go by a thousand different names.

  26. says

    The things you mention, while problematic in Orthodoxy, is not a cause for breaking communion, except on the part of very extreme splinter groups. We recognize differences, but teach only one and the same faith. I recall my daughter when she was living in Siberia saying to me, “Papa. It’s so interesting. The priest here says the same things you do.” It reassured me about what I was teaching. :)

  27. says

    We generally use the original languages, at least for interpretation. Everything does change to some degree. Very subtle things change. We pray for people who travel “by air” where once we did not. Americans tend to seem more American in Church, even though it’s the same service, while Russians seem more Russian, and we think that is perfectly fine.

    Orthodoxy, believes that Tradition, is nothing other than the living presence of the Spirit in the Church. It is expressed in many outward forms, which, like using a different language, do not change the meaning. But the inner meaning does not change. If this happens, we confront it as heresy. Including in modern times.

  28. Heather says

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    you don’t know me; I’m reading your blog from Vancouver, BC, Canada; I just became a catechumen a couple weeks ago.

    I was initially troubled by your posts about Scripture since the Protestant view on these thing is something I’d held faithfully for many years. However, I make sense of it something like this: Having studied botany for many years, I’ve seen a fair bit of the biochemistry and genetics that underly the life of a plant. Some of my colleagues would say that these molecular aspects wholly sum up the being of the plant. I find that idea worrying; it’s true that there is a genetic and biochemical basis to the plant’s existance, but what the plant really is is not genes or metabolites, but a being that by its very being gives glory to God and communicates something from God to us. I can know that about a plant without having any idea of genetics; genetics may give me an interesting additional appreciation of the plant, but at the same time I do need to guard against the very tempting possibility of eclipsing the truth of the plant with this knowledge of its genes.

    In the same way, the Scriptures, the Old Testament, really is a revelation of Christ. Just as we can study the genetics of the plant, we can study something of the history, comment on the literary structure, and so on, of the Scriptures. This may yield some valuable insights; I know that in the time when I was most obviously in danger of rejecting the Christian faith, a teacher who is VERY sola scriptura and VERY devoted to those historical and literary studies of Scripture helped me return by showing me how much wealth of wisdom is offered in the Bible, just as my first course in biochemistry miraculously awoke in me a new awe of God. At the same time, we still need to be careful this sort of study doesn’t eclipse what the Scriptures ultimately are.

    What do you think?

    (I don’t have internet at home, so I’m posting this from work and didn’t have time to properly read all the comments that followed, so sorry if this is repeating/ignoring something already said!)

  29. Heather says

    Oops, I didn’t mean to conflate Scripture and Old Testament, but just to highlight the OT as part of this discussion.

  30. Gene B says

    A great post. Yes, there is truth, and a correct view of the Bible. It takes great courage for those to let go of whatever they have learned to embrace a truth they might not fully understand yet. The Orthodox faith is an inexhaustible well. For those on the fence, let go … taste and see how good the Lord is, and submit yourselves. May God Bless You All.

  31. says

    Hi Father Stephen,

    It was a bit confusing, reading the long string of comments of yours and trying to discern which was addressed to me. Would you mind responding by name, or else quoting the bit in italics like this below so I know who you are responding to? It would help – forgive.

    But they did not call people back to the core tradition. They were called to be servants of the newly created nation states. The Peace of Augsburg, that the “religion of the prince should be the religion of the people” makes clear that it was politics ultimately and not religion that gave us the religious wars of Europe. The Orthodox had already condemned the Roman Church for having turned itself into an earthly state. The Protestants did not greatly improve that situation. The separation of Church and state has made some improvement, though it is very often abused and misinterpreted.

    I don’t disagree – I am not one who looks back at the protestant reformation with nostalgia. I just said that, in principle, I believe it to be one of the roles of scripture to call us back to our core tradition when we stray. That was what happened with Luther when he was struggling with the angry God and turned to the book of Romans, even if he in his personal interpretation only got things partially right. I grant that much of what happened afterward was disastrous.

  32. says

    A General Thought, possibly a correction,

    It has occurred to me that for many readers, interpreting the Scriptures is a continuing project, and I realize that can lead to some misconceptions. I do not think that interpreting the Scriptures is a continuing project, at least in some very primary ways. The faith of the Risen Christ and its fullness has been made known and received into the very life of the Church. Nothing new is added. It is true, however, that this same faith, in its infinite facets are and continue to be revealed to those who study the Word of God and keep it. But there is nothing new to be said. The Christ who made Himself known is and always is known in the Church as the same Lord.

    Also, the primary act of interpretation is the life of the Church itself (cf An Orthodox Hermeneutic). “You are my epistle” St. Paul says to the Corinthians. If the Scriptures are not fulfilled in the life of the Church then they become useless – just a collection of old writings. It is in the life that has been given to the Church in the Holy Spirit, that Scripture finds its interpretation. There we either read that “God is love,” or we see nothing at all.

  33. jim says

    It seems to me that you are arguing here as to who should have authority over people, the church or the state. It may be that the church lost that authority due to its own abuse of authority. You say to just look at the many monks that were killed by the state but you do not mention how many monks as well as civilians were killed and or punished by the church. The authority of the state it would seem was a direct result of the abuses of the church. As the old saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, ask joan of ark or Galileo or many others who held opposite views or found new truths, what dangers putting authority into the hands of a single institution can bring. This kind of spiritual community that dare not speak to authority under penalty’s of torture or death could not forever stand over rational human beings because in the end like it or not we are rational. You say that now we live at the mercy of the nation state,that being democracy,as if that is somehow worse than the absolute power the church has shown it would abuse people with. I agree with aaron that there should not be any one group to claim a monopoly on the Interpretation of scripture,it is dangerous and we have seen this in the past. Apart from the church you say that scripture has no meaning, but no one as far as I have seen including the church is able to give clear meaning to scriptures anyway. You say father that Jesus is the God of the O.T., but if i ask you was it jesus who asked moses to sacrifice animals to him or was jesus the god who talked to Noah and told him to build an Ark,then you say, no, that part was just symbolic. Well it seems to me that you can not have it both ways.It seems to me that the church does not so much interpret scripture but rather puts whatever meaning to it they want, even if obscure, so long as it supports their cause.
    As for jesus telling the sadducees that they were wrong because they didn’t know the scriptures, were not the sadducees the religious leaders of the church back then? How is it that that church somehow didn’t know scripture, is it possible that a church does not know its own scriptures? One question I have though is, if you know, what was gods purpose in our creation? Because all i can see from the reading of this book is that we are some kind of play things for him, to judge us , to punish us, to send us to heaven or hell,I mean why?

  34. says

    Jim,

    Forgive me, but you are confusing a number of things. Most of what you describe under the name of “the Church” fits the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but does not fit the history of the Orthodox Church – and that certainly makes some difference.

    But I would agree, that the rise of the nation state is in many ways a result of failures within the Church’s hierarchy. Corruption of one gives way to the other.

    But the sins of the members within the Church are not the sins of the Church. The Church, which is the Body of Christ, abides and remains despite the abuses of some of its members. The right interpretation of Scripture (did you read my comment shortly before writing?) is when the very life of God is being manifest in the life of the Church – this is just the opposite of exercising power. I believe I said that if in looking at the Church, if you did not see the interpretation “God is love” then you would be seeing nothing, because there would be no true interpretation dwelling there.

    I think this is quite different than what you’ve said.

    I also think that if you would read Kalomiros’s River of Fire, you’d understand that the God you speak of, who sees us as play things, who judges us, who punishes us, who sends us to hell, etc., is considered a heretical teaching by the Orthodox Church and is a wrong interpretation of Scripture and a perversion of the Christian faith.

  35. William says

    Jim, much like in the last post about the Bible, you are making claims about the Church which are confusing Orthodoxy with some of Western Christendom’s darker periods. To understand the discussions that happen around here, you need to distinguish the Orthodox Church from religious events that happened in the West since the 1050s. Orthodoxy has nothing to do with Joan of Arc or Galileo (whose birthday was last week, I believe). When you limit your examination to the Orthodox Church itself, you will find a remarkable consistency in teaching that does not support the evils that have been done in the name of Christ, including evils done by some who thought themselves to be Orthodox.

    No, the Sadducees were not the religious leaders of the church. They were members of a particular school of thought within Judaism that didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.

    The issue is less one of authority (these people tell those people what to think and do) and more one of life (this is what the life of Christ is like, and here are people who have clearly shared in it — the saints).

    I cannot authoritatively state the Orthodox answer to why God created us, but I think there is ample support in the Church’s teaching to say that God created us to share in his abundant life, love and glory. God doesn’t send people to Hell, but his all-pervading life, love and glory will be hell for those who hate him.

  36. Michael Bauman says

    Jill, if all you get from the Holy Scripture is that we are God’s playthings it is because you are reading it from a Protestant/humanist mindset. The longer I am in the Church, the more I see God’s mercy and love when I read the Scriptures.

    Your comments actually make Fr. Stephen’s point perfectly.

    The whole point of Jesus’ Incarnation was to restore us to God that we might once again experience His love for us. Despite that, we torture ourselves rather than allow His love to change us.

  37. says

    Father Stephen and William,
    Thank you for taking the time to expand on this post in a most enlightening way. You are both able to articulate Orthodoxy in a most compelling manner. I still have some misgivings about some of the things that you say, but I have a feeling that if I do some reading I will be able to add meat to the bones of your argument. If I was not a regular reader here before, I am now. How fun!

    One thing that makes me a little sad is that there is no Orthodox Church for me to attend, not practically. I live in a small rural community that hosts mostly evangelical congregations. My sister has been attending a Presbyterian church and is in love with the liturgy of it all. I have to admit that I am looking to strip down the faith that I have because it seems like most theology that I run across has a lot of humanity thrown in the mix. I want to have a strong core of faith, but be able to hold it loosely with the knowledge that at any given moment I might be wrong.

    I am disappointed with how most Christians treat people. We should not be satisfied to only love those who are easy and comfortable to love. That isn’t love at all. How are we loving our enemies? Are we feeding the hungry? Are we sheltering the homeless? I am so frustrated because most Christians where I am have views that contradict what I feel about how people ought to be treated. I reject them, therefore I reject their theology as well. But where does that leave me? There is a small group that meets a couple of times a month here and we are all trying to distill a core set of beliefs that we can adhere to. But I think that we are largely lost. It seems to be easier to know what we don’t want than what we do.

    Sorry to vent, but it’s killing me. I love the idea of the church, but lately it has becomes hard to love the actual church. Maybe it’s me, I honestly don’t know. I do like the idea that the church being the body of Christ, I just don’t see it very often.

  38. Robert says

    Wonders for Oyarsa said: “I am still quite protestant in my convictions that the Holy Scriptures should serve as an anchor for the traditions of the Church – calling her back to her core tradition and vocation she had from the beginning. ”

    This notion that the Church has lost her tradition and needs be restored, this is an entirely foreign concept to Orthodox ecclesiology, make no mistake about it.

    The danger in approaching the Church and Scriptures by way of discursive reasoning using non-Orthodox paradigms is to risk missing the Church, as well as the Scriptures.

  39. Carl says

    Great post, Father!

    Another example of this is given in Acts: God sends Philip to help the Ethiopian eunuch read the book of Isaiah. On his own, the scriptures make no sense to him. After Philip teaches him, he asks to be baptized.

  40. Reader John says

    Thank you, Father, for this posting. The political side of the Reformation had never crossed my mind. Having come of age in the 60s, any point that undermines the state is right by me.
    For finding out more about Orthodoxy:
    1. I agree you cannot read your way into Orthodoxy, but I read and talked my way pretty close before closing the deal by attending.
    2. I am 60 years old, a former Wheaton College-type Evangelical, then a Calvin College-type Calvinist. That means I have a different mindset than other readers here may have. Having said that, I recommend Fr. John Whiteford’s monograph Sola Scriptura as a polemical corrective if you’re coming from Evangelicalism or other “low” Protestantism as were my roots. It was the first of several epiphanies for me in my journey.
    2. I found “Evangelical is Not Enough” very helpful. But, ironically, I had read it before encountering Orthodoxy, and since I thought the eventuality of Howard’s point was either Rome or Canterbury, I set it aside as interesting but unworkable.

  41. Reader John says

    I meant to add a third book for inquirers: Matthew Gallatin’s Searching for God in a Land of Shallow Wells. It wasn’t in print when I became Orthodox, but when I read it later it seemed to recap in broad terms the Protestant dilemma and the Orthodox antidote.

  42. Brantley Thomas says

    Aaron,

    Sorry I’m late to the party (and skimming the comments at that), but I wanted to reply back to your post of Feb. 19th at 5:14P.M.

    Quote:

    “I guess that’s why anyone who claims to have it right is suspect in my mind.”

    –AND–

    “….I am simply not as sure as everyone else here about where the ultimate authority is. Obviously God is the authority, but how is that manifest on earth?”

    As to the first point, I couldn’t tell if you were directing that at Protestants only or at the catholic faith of the Fathers (note the small “c”). For Protestants, you are absolutely correct. Many charismatic yet disturbed people have truly believed that they and they alone have it right, and in their hubris have convinced others of this error, often with tragic results.

    The catholic faith of the Fathers, on the other hand, is grounded in the instruction delivered by Christ himself (note the discussion that Christ gave to the disciples on the road to Emmaus; the disciples didn’t “sit on” this information that was divinely revealed…it was handed down to Christ’s burgeoning Church). Frequently you’ll see fathers referring to other Fathers’ interpretations, showing the humility one should use when approaching scripture.

    As to the second point, you are correct in saying that “God is the authority”. The way in which that is manifest on earth is in the Orthodox faith handed down by Christ himself, as in the Emmaus passage referred to above. Scripture isn’t revealed in any other way (which is what Christ was saying to the Pharisees and Saducees). This principal has been reinforced time and again throughout history, from the First Ecumenical council (Arius had some pretty good arguments, and they were based on his interpretation of scripture), through the defense of the faith by St. Gregory Palamas, and up to our present time with the manifestation of this blog post by Fr. Stephen.

    At the risk of cluttering up this conversation, it’s also worth noting that the only time the Church claims to be infallible is in council; not necessarily in how an individual Father interprets scripture. You will find instances where Fathers are at odds with one another. When those differing interpretations start impacting the Faith, that’s when you’ll see a council to clarify things. Only in council is the Church infallible; and no one person can speak for the Church (though at times, a single person seemingly has kept the faith from being distorted).

    HTH,
    Thomas

  43. Brantley Thomas says

    One last thing:

    One of the things I finally realized is that the Church produced the scriptures, not the other way around. St. Paul had to have some material to write about before he could write about it!

    Thomas

  44. coffeezombie says

    @Reader John I will have to check out Fr. John Whiteford’s Sola Scriptura; I have not heard of it before. Personally, I read Dr. Clark Carlton’s The Way, which is primarily about Sola Scriptura, as well. I think it was that book that cemented in my mind the idea that Sola Scriptura is the main wall that stands between most “low” Protestants and Orthodoxy.

    As a side note, I agree with your point #1 as well. I do think that, for many of us, reading and talking with Orthodox people about the Church and about the various differences is often a necessary precursor to actually visiting an Orthodox service. I, for one, had to have a lot of misconceptions corrected, and a lot of walls (like Sola Scriptura) knocked down before I would have been able to really appreciate my first Liturgy.

  45. says

    Robert,

    “This notion that the Church has lost her tradition and needs be restored, this is an entirely foreign concept to Orthodox ecclesiology, make no mistake about it.”

    I didn’t say she had “lost her tradition” – I said that at times she strays from it. Two examples I might give are “Athanasius Contra Mundum” and the period of the dominance of Iconoclasm. In both cases, scripture plays a role in being a witness to the core tradition of the faith, just as the writings of the fathers do.

  46. says

    Thomas,

    Thank you for your comments, they do shed light on my concerns, but they still don’t fill in a couple of blanks. You said, in reference to the the authority of God:

    “The way in which that is manifest on earth is in the Orthodox faith handed down by Christ himself, as in the Emmaus passage referred to above.”

    What troubles me is the huge gap between that statement and what Orthodoxy teaches. The passage referred to by Father Stephen, as well written as it is, is laden with assumptions and knowledge based on a faith that is not revealed in the same statement (I do recognize that it would be impractical to explain Orthodoxy in a blog post). Also, the passage in Luke is also very vague, so how can one be sure of what those teachings actually were? My guess is that much of the gaps I speak of can be filled in by reading Church history and educating myself about Orthodoxy. It makes it hard though, to read this and agree when we’re not really on the same page. It is not that our beliefs are so different as much as it is that we are coming at this from two pretty different viewpoints. I have started reading a couple of the links that have been posted and hopefully will have time to read some of the books. I am intrigued if nothing else. I have a similar discussion with evangelical friends about making sure that when you start talking about Jesus, you can use terms that are at least understandable to the point where both parties are mostly talking about the same thing.

    Grace and Peace,

    Aaron

  47. Darla says

    Aaron, we are not Orthodox as of yet and it sounds like we and you are on the same path …. wondering and intrigued. Sometimes I feel more “convinced” than my husband, but last night he read this post and many of the comments and again was questioning what we have both believed for 20 (me) and 40 (him) years about Church, Scripture and God. And then he, and I, sighed. Converting would be such a huge thing in our lives (rightly so) — we love our church and the relationships we have there, and as ministry leaders in another avenue, our decision would be questioned greatly by people we respect.

    Different note:
    I have often commented on my own salvation, saying that I was saved from reading Scripture — I’d borrowed my roomies’ Bible much in our dorm room. In prayer last night I was thinking “If that’s true, then why didn’t I find the Orthodox church at that time?” and I realized that my reading the Word had in fact been joined with attending a very evangelical, missions-oriented Protestant church a couple of times. That was enough to give my reading of the word that evangelical Protestant slant. I appreciated the comment in Fr. Stephen’s blog post about Scripture needing to be read through the context of the Orthodox Church; this just makes sense yet is so far removed from actual experience in the American / Protestant church.

  48. Brantley Thomas says

    Aaron,

    As you say, the passage in Luke is vague, but the point is that Christ was teaching to faithful men (that He Himself had chosen). It’s not too much to grant that they themselves passed that teaching on to other faithful men, and that, as He promised, the Church would never fail.

    As others have pointed out, simply following the call to “Come and see!” can be what makes it all click.

    I was a struggling seeker at one point. I didn’t even know what I was seeking until I was invited to Pascha by a friend. I knew nothing about Orthodoxy, except that it was a Russian or Greek thing, and that it was WEIRD! What awaited me there was enlightenment. After Paschal Matins, I was hooked.

    Is it still hard? Yes. Is it still weird? Yes. (In a sense, it should be….you’re in the presence of The Kingdom.) Do I still have questions? My spiritual father would give you an exasperated YES! :-)

    May God grant you illumination!

    In Christ,
    Thomas

  49. MaryGail says

    Fr. Stephen:

    This post is invaluable. I have never read anything so clear and concise on such a deep topic. I will use it to answer my friends questions about Orthodoxy. Brilliant! Sorry, Fr., I am not trying to start a fan club, but, you have to publish these essays!!

  50. dale says

    a couple comments that may be helpful and if not please forgive me…
    as for reading leading one to Orthodoxy… I would say only the Spirit does that but He certainly used reading as a major part of my path. The one reading that pushed to beyond the point of return to my protestant roots was Athanasius’ On the incarnation. A fantastic piece of Wisdom from the fathers.

    the other point I would like to comment on is mostly directed at jim but also worth consideration to all who like to depend on logical reasoning which we define as rational thought.
    It is dangerous to put confidence in logical reasoning in itself unless we have complete knowledge of the assumptions that we begin with. our tendency is to examine our path of logical steps and seeing that they are valid we believe our conclusion is therefore true. the problem is that while all my steps were correct the error in my initial assumption logically leads to an error in my conclusion even though the steps were applied correctly.

    and lets face it. our assumptions are rarely even realized fully never mind individually analyzed for truthfulness. in actuallity the only way to examine our own assumptions is for something outside of us to be the standard. eventually it comes down to a faith issue. either my standard for ultimate truth can be placed in myself or in something I find more beautiful. I know myself to be ugly, ignorant and inconsistent and I have learned that the Orthodox Church is beautiful, consistent and of inexhaustible wisdom. (and by learned I do not mean I have been told but that through experience with it- this requires a bold step of faith to even allow yourself to consider it may be true – this goes against modern tendencies) I choose to have faith in something far better than myself. In fact, the faith in the Orthodox church which is ultimately faith in Christ makes myself more beautiful, consistent and wise and I become more willing to trust my own assumptions because they become aligned with Christ.

    I will stop now and I am sorry if this is not helpful for others but for me it was a big moment in my journey when I realized how misplaced my faith in my approach to logical reasoning was.

    May the Spirit move to bring all who are searching teh Peace that only is to be found in Him.

    Lord have mercy!

  51. says

    Wonders,
    You noted: Two examples I might give are “Athanasius Contra Mundum” and the period of the dominance of Iconoclasm. In both cases, scripture plays a role in being a witness to the core tradition of the faith, just as the writings of the fathers do.

    The Orthodox account of these events would not say that the Church had strayed – Athanasius, Hosios of Cordoba and a number of other bishops remained faithful to Nicaea. Those who rejected Nicaea, separated themselves from the Church (were technically in Schism or Heresy). But the Church did not err. However, Arius was a great Scripture scholar and based almost all his arguments on Scripture. But, as St. Irenaeus would have said two centuries earlier, Arius’ interpretation of Scripture was contrary to the “Apostolic Hyposthesis.” Creeds (as in Baptismal Creeds) predate the writing of the New Testament. Athanasius read the Scriptures right because he maintained the faith that had been delivered to him (the Tradition). It was not the other way around – that he upheld the Tradition because of the Scriptures. Tradition reads the Scriptures. The Scriptures do not read the Tradition – if that statement makes sense for you.

  52. says

    Mary Gail,
    Glory to God for all for all things is, through the kindness of a group of students in Bucharest, daily translated into Romanian (I am overwhelmed at such kindness). Recently I’ve been contacted about an Orthodox publisher in Romania wanting to do a book with a selection of writings from GTGFAT. Apparently, I will be published in Romanian before English. God is good, and sometimes He makes me laugh.

  53. says

    Thomas,

    Your point is taken about the passage of teaching from one man to the next. The Jewish oral custom would have been strong, even among Christians. I still wonder at the content and Orthodox claims to be the one Church that came from the gospel. It is quite a claim, coming from man. At the same time I can accept some mystery, mainly since I have no choice, and can also assume that Orthodoxy is not coming claiming out of arrogance. It is still a little hard to see the humility since there is so much railing against protestantism. Winning an argument never won anything. Also Orthodoxy implies that one interpretation is right; the glass half full/half empty analogy clearly demonstrates that the same thing can be looked at two different ways.

    I love the mystery and I love the love with which you and others in this thread have communicated Orthodoxy to me. In some ways Orthodoxy is speaking to my heart in a way that other theology doesn’t. In some ways it is repelling me. I love the tension.

    As far and “coming and seeing”, that is not very practical, as the nearest Orthodox Church is two hours away. Even if I was sold on Orthodoxy itself, I have a hard time traveling that far, since I believe that Church and community should be intertwined. However, I hope that I can continue to learn and discuss these matters of faith and belief on blogs such as this. It is also a community of sorts.

    Grace and Peace,

    Aaron

  54. says

    Father Stephen,

    OK, father Stephen – I’ll grant you your semantic clarification for the sake of discussion – that “the Church” is defined in retrospect as those who did not stray into heresy during those conflicts. Of course, if we are living in these times and not looking back at them, then it is a bit harder to discern who are members of “the Church” and who are schismatics and heretics. During those times, is it not right and prudent to look to tradition to anchor us? And is not scripture the chief tradition – the apostolic witness?

  55. asinusspinasmasticans says

    Hmmm…. On “restoration” and “revival” in the Church. The Church needs no Reformation. Thank God. My soul needs reformation.

    Nevertheless, what St. Cosmas of Aitolos did sticks in my mind. He was roughly contemporary with John Wesley in the West, and he appears to have had a similar sort of spirit. From what my [Greek] priest tells me, the Greeks were very careless in their Orthodoxy, and very ignorant, not being allowed more than an elementary education by the Turks. For most of the Orthodox of the Ottoman state, their Orthodoxy was a combination of external routine and superstitions. St. Cosmas was a preacher and an educator, and called the Greeks back to Orthodoxy.

    The idea that the Church never needs “Reformation according to the Scriptures” doesn’t sit well with me either. As long as I need “Reformation according the Scriptures”, the Church will need “Reformation according to the Scriptures”, until that day when I am practicing all I can. What I don’t like to see, and what I don’t think the Church needs, are novelties and syllogisms extracted from the Scriptures wandering away from their proper place in the Tradition, gaining an autonomous life of their own, and mauling and wounding the faithful.

    Thank God for faithful Orthodox bishops.

  56. Handmaid Anna says

    Aaron,
    My family and I are recent converts (2 yrs. ago) to Orthodoxy. We, like you, were questioning everything from our protestant point of view which is all we knew. Once we got to the point (after much reading) that we desperately needed to “Come and See” the Orthodox church for ourselves, we drove 3 1/2 hrs. each way as often as we could to the closest one to us. We were concerned also about the loss of community that we would have to endure if we became Orthodox, but we came to the conclusion that would be a sacrifice we would have to endure. I would never have thought back then that today we would be the beginnings of an Orthodox mission in an isolated rural area. Our priest, who has other missions, visits us once a month for Divine Liturgy. We still visit the Orthodox church where we were Chrismated for we made lifetime friends there.

  57. Robert says

    Father, bless.

    Are my ears right in hearing echoes of Behr and Cavanaugh here? Both were instrumental in teaching me the lessons of this post.

  58. Dana Ames says

    Wonders,
    from all I have found out so far, Orthodoxy holds scripture as the most important “part” of tradition; scripture is not opposed to it, as I think you understand.

    I don’t mean to go all postmodern on you :)
    -but the issue for me around scripture is *interpretation* of scripture. Otherwise, the bible is no more than ink on paper. One of my favorite Noel Stookey lyrics: “If you get the Message, you might refuse it- but if you get the Meaning, hey, don’t ever lose it… if you get the Meaning, oh, of it all…”

    Earlier in my life, I moved from the RC interpretation of scripture to an evangelical protestant interpretation; it made the most sense to me at the time. But it started to wear thin after 20 years. I had too many questions that schema couldn’t touch. About ten years ago I turned and started down another path, not knowing where it would take me, but assuming it would be someplace within protestantism.

    Along the way, I set aside an interpretation of scripture that made God schizophrenic and the author of evil, marginalized the Trinity and focused only on getting to heaven after we die. The low value of this life was divided between “doing something great for God” (which we didn’t really do, but God did everything through us, because nobody can do anything good, and God is “in control”) and doing moral acts that were somehow intrinsically better than the moral acts of non-Christians (I do believe they are “better”, but my received theology couldn’t explain why). If you could hear my tone of voice, it would not be sarcastic; I’m trying to report how it was for me as best I can. There was something in my gut that said to all that, and more, “No! That’s not reality. God is not like that, based on what I can apprehend of scripture.” It was important to me that wherever I landed had to reconcile scripture and what was in my gut. It was then that I found and moved to NT Wright’s interpretation (which can’t really be said to be specifically Anglican- if there is such a thing), because it was so doggone holistic- (whoops, another postmodern word, but it’s the one that says it for me) as I’m a “big picture” kind of thinker. The relief I felt was overwhelming.

    Once I made *that* move, moving into the Orthodox understanding wasn’t so hard, although I have to say that I was certainly surprised by it at every turn, in a good way. Not that I know very much, but I think I’ve gotten over the biggest humps put up by my old way of thinking about things. I so appreciate that, in spite of not coming from a teaching magisterium, it leaves no loose ends and is organic (-there I go again!). I have to add my testimony that it is most fully apprehended in Orthodox liturgy and hymnody. The Mystery is good, and I’m glad for it, even hunger for it; Beauty and Symbolic Meaning likewise. And I need to have my mind engaged too. I find it fascinating how everything that is vocalized in O. worship- scripture included -is woven together in such a way that it points to some things, and if you pay attention to what is said and sung, you begin to get the picture. It took a while for me to figure out that that’s how it “works”. That’s how I’ve found it to be in my experience ;)

    Dana

  59. Dana Ames says

    p.s.

    I drive 65 minutes one way to my church. My husband does not support me becoming Orthodox and has requested that I not make the trip more than once a week. Children are grown. What am I supposed to do in the face of my conscience with what I now know?

    Dana

  60. says

    Wonders,

    Of course Scripture has a chief place in the apostolic witness and in Tradition – but it is simply not self-interpreting. As noted, Arius and many other heretics were great quoters of Scripture – but they did not hold with the Tradition of the Church by which the Scriptures were interpreted. In some way, forgive me, Arius is among the first Protestants (in terms of his hermeneutical theory). Irenaeus’ The Apostolic Tradition is probably the best treatment of this problem. Essentially, he says there is an Apostolic Hypothesis, a Traditioned understanding by which Scripture is rightly interpreted. This is the Apostolic faith given to the Church. Without it, the Scriptures become useless. Thus, Scripture is authoritative, but only when used and quoted according to the Apostolic Tradition. There’s really no other way to solve the problem

  61. says

    Respect your husband and don’t despise him in this matter. God will honor that. Speak to your priest about it, and ask his advice and a blessing for how often to come. God will honor the blessing and feed you richly in your obedience. Don’t be afraid. God is with you and will not abandon you or your husband.

  62. Robert says

    Dana,

    I very much identify with your experience, when you say “an interpretation of scripture that made God schizophrenic and the author of evil, marginalized the Trinity and focused only on getting to heaven after we die. The low value of this life was divided between “doing something great for God” (which we didn’t really do, but God did everything through us, because nobody can do anything good, and God is ‘in control’)”

    Well put!

  63. Jane says

    Re Fr Stephen’s comment about people who see interpreting Scripture as an ongoing process: For me, it is *learning* and understanding the Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, which is the ongoing process for me, and the Church’s explanations, made plain in the services and in the writings of the Fathers (old and new), continually help me in this.

  64. David says

    I want to thank Fr Stephen for his continuing patience with his virtual flock (forgive me if that makes you a bit uncomfortable, I don’t mean to inappropriately oblige you, just make a metaphor).

    He could easily speak only about things which draw no controversy, but he rises to the challenge to help us work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We should all remember to pray for him, to support him as he carries us.

    So much of what is true, simply never occurred to me. This is why I now value that which I have received more than that which I believe I have discovered.

  65. William says

    Speaking of the need to interpret scripture through the lens of tradition and the heretics being great scripture scholars, I’m reminded of a statement by Tertullian that said St. Paul had become the “apostle to the heretics.” Of course, he wasn’t trying to criticize Paul (as some do these days), but to criticize the use made of Paul by those who didn’t adhere to the true faith.

    Aaron, I thought I’d make another comment on one of your statements above, where you said “Orthodoxy implies that one interpretation is right.” I think that statement is a bit unhelpful, because it seems to suggest that you believe the Orthodox have only one way to read a given verse. This just isn’t the case. If you read the fathers, you’ll often find in them a variety of equally Orthodox interpretations on many passages of scripture. The interpretations will differ from one another but do not necessarily preclude one another. They are in harmony with one another (though of course, occasionally there are irreconcilable differences in two fathers’ interpretations). This harmony in variety comes from the fact that there is a shared faith. I think it’s better to think in terms of there being a properly Orthodox “interpretive scheme,” which is the term that Fr. Stephen used above, rather than in terms of there being just one interpretation, which does indeed belie the richness of interpretation found in the liturgical and patristic witness.

  66. William says

    David,

    You said: “So much of what is true, simply never occurred to me. This is why I now value that which I have received more than that which I believe I have discovered.”

    That is so true. I second that.

  67. says

    If I couldn’t read, would you sell me a cure? Thank you Father Stephen. The Church was competing with the State at the time of the reformation but there were other preconditions for the reformation though. People were learning to read and the book they were interested in reading was the Bible. The Roman Church had ruthlessly exploited the sacrament of penance to extract money from the sinners through the sale of cures, and lost the trust of the faithful. Has something changed? The ideas, beliefs and symbols written about in the Bible are powerful and can be used for any number of purposes with or without good faith as history has demonstrated conclusively. I am often surprised by how much more ignorant I am than most Christians, they seem to have been told a lot more and believed a lot more than I have. You assert that the protestant churches have sold them a pup, I waver between agreement with this and an appreciation that God will call people in different ways. If I can’t effectively read the Bible for myself, who can I trust, and what would I get for the time and money that they will inevitably ask for to support their version of a sacred mission?

  68. Dana Ames says

    Father Stephen,
    Thank you. This is what I am trying to do. I believe God is good and merciful.
    You’re in my prayers.
    D.

  69. says

    Epiphanist,

    I’m no fan of ore or post reformation Rome. But read one of Eamon Duffy’s works on the reformation in England before you falsely assert that the reformation was in any way popular.

  70. Karen says

    Dear Father, bless!

    Your counsel to Dana is a blessing to me, too. Thank you. This is a timely post again for me. Yesterday, a friend’s son, and self-designated Fundamentalist Christian, who had attended one of J I Packer’s Orthodox-evangelical dialog conferences grilled me (in a mostly friendly way) about Orthodoxy for about an hour and a half! Two big sticking points, of course, were the Orthodox Church’s claim to be, in fact, THE Church and also the fact that Orthodox Christians don’t claim to have assurance of salvation in the sense that Fundamentalists are taught. It is walking a tricky line to hold to the truth while attempting to honor the needs of someone’s heart (to affirm that God is truly good and merciful and genuinely forgives when we ask) and to refute the mechanistic, magical understandings most Protestants have of the ancient sacramental symbolic understandings because of Roman Catholic distortions at the time of the Council of Trent.

  71. jim says

    Father

    In my last comments I was not so much making an interpretation of God, or maybe I was, but mainly I was asking you what your understanding of his purpose for our creation was. I did mention that it seems as though we were nothing but toys to god because I can not for the life of me see what could possibly be the purpose of creating man in order to test our obedience and then deal with us accordingly. Unfortunately you did not answer the question.
    My second question was in regards to your assertion that Jesus by his own assertion is the God of the old testament. What I asked was that if this be true then how is it that you can at the same time claim that the O.T is symbolic,or typological? Did jesus speak to Adam,banish him from eden? Did jesus speak to Noah,tell him to build an ark? Did jesus speak to moses,telling him to make burnt offerings to him? Did jesus part the red sea? Did jesus topple the walls of Jerricho and stop the flow of the jordan river? Did he speak out of a burning bush to moses and give him the ten commandments? You say on the one hand that jesus claimed to be the God of the O.T. that did all these things and many more,but then on the other hand you say that none of these things really happened, there’s no history there, that its all just symbolic. I am sorry for being rational but I do not think that you can have it both ways. It seems to me that either Jesus was the God of the O.T. and that he said and did these things or he was not that God and it is all made up.

  72. Lucian says

    Jim,

    Here’s something that might help shed some light on Your question regarding creation.

    As far as the historicity of the Old Covenant is concerned, I think You’ll have to accept that the Bible was written by Eastern Semites living 3,500 to 2,000 yrs ago, and not by scientifically-obsessed Western Europeans living 500 yrs ago. Somehow I can’t really bring myself to believing the former to have had some sort of a mental problem with a more mythical presentation of history. — This as far as the Jews are concerned. And as regards us Christians, the Scriptures are clear that the Word of God is Christ (John 1) and that the role/purpose/fulfillment/meaning of the OT Scriptures themselves was to show Christ to us (Luke 24:27; John 5:39).

  73. William says

    Jim,

    Please provide direct quotes of where Fr. Stephen or anyone else here said that the Old Testament events were ALL JUST symbolic.

  74. Lucian says

    Jim,

    if You want to have a “101” face-to-face impression of what Orthodox interpretation of the OT looks like, (especially now since we’re slowly approaching the season), I would recommend You the same links I’ve provided for Aaron: #1, #2, #3, and #4.

  75. says

    Jim,

    Yes to all of the above. Christ, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, does all of these things – it is He who is revealed in these events. But you don’t know how to read them except in the literalist manner of the modern fundamentalist. Jesus is the ark. He is the tree in the midst of the garden. He smashed the walls of Jericho on the 7th day – yes all of it is true – but it is all about Pascha. When speaking of Pascha we would never say something is “just symbolic”. Everything only has meaning and even existence through its relationship with Pascha.

    God creates us purely out of love, for the sole purpose of sharing His life with us. We rebelled and turned from Him, rushing ourselves towards non-being. God became man and rescue us, even entering into “hell” itself (something that is a state of being we had created for ourselves). There is no extent to which He would not go in order to bring us into His life and joy. There is no toy. No plaything. Only a Loving God seeking a rebellious man. It is the great love story of the universe.

    Compared to this, it is the atheist who sees us as the plaything of a cruel accident that brings us into being only to crush us with death and meaninglessness.

  76. Jim H. says

    I’ve been an OC inquirer for four years, and am remain dismayed by the lack of interest amongst the vast majority of the faithful to read their Bibles.

    It’s easy to bash evangelicals. But the fact is that the NT is full of references to acquiring scriptural knowledge.

    This is not a popular place to say this, but after attending dozens of Orthodox liturgies (both in the US and in Orthodox countries), I think it’s fair to say that most of those chanting the liturgy have absolutely no idea what it means.

    Sorry for the tone, but the constant sneering of protestants (especially evangelicals) on this blog is tiresome.

    “…..an interpretation of scripture that made God schizophrenic and the author of evil, marginalized the Trinity and focused only on getting to heaven after we die…..”

    Give me a break!

  77. Theodora Elizabeth says

    Jim H., it’s not just the Divine Liturgy. If you want to *really* get the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, which we hear in church the first four days of Great Lent, you really have to know your OT as well…

  78. Dale says

    Jim, it is obvious that you are struggling on your journey as we all do to differing extents. I understand the frustration and have spent many days there. you say you have been an inquirer of EO for 4 years. I was too for four years and growing increasingly frustrated with my faith during that time until I found I could continue as I was no longer. I was no longer comfortable staying evangelical but still unsure of EO. It just seemed so different and strange compared to all I had ‘known’. I had to do something though so I deccided I would take the plunge and build a relationship with a priest and parish and ‘try it out’. this led to becoming a catechumen and chrismation much quicker than I expected. really the moment I stopped actively holding on to my need for the protestant approach to be right, the beauty of EO and truth in it became so much more obvious. A little humilty is what I really needed the whole time. This was my story and it doesn’t mean it will be yours but I do prayer for those dealing with the frustration of feeling uncomfortable everywhere but desirely something to hold on to as true and real. That fact that you have remained an inquirer for four years suggests your spirit is drawn to it in a real way. maybe it is telling you something.

    as for your post it is true that as a protestant one can easily feel bashed by RCs or EO but let us not forget that far more often it is protestant bashing protestants. usually RCs and EO are more concerned with their own faults than those of the protestants. We can’t blame them for defending their beliefs though when protestants continuously claim that they hold the truth and the traditional church is lost in ritual.

    as a protestant I was always dismayed by the lack of interesst amongst the vast majority of protestants to read their bibles so chalk that up to human failing regardless of where you find yourself. as for members having no idea what they are chanting. We are only able to know what has been revealed to us. I certainly only know in part due to the grace of God. In time I trust I will know more fully. Be careful when judging the state of another man’s soul for we are barely able to know that state of our own.

    and lastly, I can only speak for myself but no apology is required for the tone. I spent many years with that tone and for me it came from exaspiration and exhaustion and frustration and anger all balled up into one and I know it did far more damage to myself and especially to those around me than it ever did any good. but what is one to do when that is the state you are in. I prefer an honest harsh tone than a dishonest one dripping with honey.

    many people have suggested good reading but honestly i suspect it would be vastly more useful for you to develop an ongoing relationship with a local priest to work through your struggles doubts frustraions etc. this does not need to lead you into the OC but regardless of where you end up it will have clarified some things for you in a way that reading cannot possibly accomplish.

    If this is unhelpful I apologize but your last post hit so close to home for me and I am poor and holding my tongue. Forgive if I have offended and any more mature orthodox please correct me if I have said anything inappropriate.

    Lord have mercy on us all.

  79. Michael Bauman says

    Jim H, in the early Church catechesis didn’t fully begin until a person made the committment to unite with Christ and join the Church. In a sense that is still true today. There are some questions that simply can’t be answered or understood from the outside. The ineffable grace of acutal participation in the sacramental life is amazing.

    Your criticism that we Orthodox need to read and study our Bibles more is valid. Certainly, in the traditional practice of the Church, knowledge of Scripture is quite important. Nevertheless, the immersion in the Scriptures that one experiences if one is a regular attendee of the services of the Church is exceptional.

    As we pray using the Scriptures, as opposed to merely studying them, our minds and hearts are changed. Hearing the Scriptures in the presence of the Holy Trinity, the angelic host and the saints makes for good leaning opportunity that goes far beyond anything I can achieve on my own.

  80. MichaelPatrick says

    It’s not about authority. As a former Roman Catholic and Protestant I have plenty of baggage on the subject of authority. From authoritative vicar to authoritative bible. We should ask why we are we so hung up on authority that we somehow always have to start there?

    As an Orthodox person now for some years, I’m struck by how little scripture and authority have in common in any sense that we tend to think. God presses his “authority” so very differently. I like the passages Fr. Stephen quotes where Christ is clearly the interpretive rule for all scripture. It has no role outside of his singular authority. Even Chris’s own didn’t get it until he showed them that it was all about Him.

    In Orthodoxy scripture is a flowing force of life from the throne of God through his body which it nourishes. Its words, much like those that also called our food or bread into existence, sustain us and put us into communion with God the giver.

    Scripture is so far from being a mere criterion of truth, a competing source of authority, and so on, that I can’t help but think we make a massive error of category if we dare to start these discussions with modern (and western) notions like authority. God doesn’t come to us as an authority and his gifts don’t either.

    Scripture has no purpose but God’s purpose. That alone should make us silent in its presence. Like the Eucharist, we should gather around to receive it as the gift it is to our life together in Christ. It instructs the church in all times. The only proper response to it, I think, is listening together and giving thanks.

  81. jim says

    Father

    I do not pretend to be a bible expert, but your language in describing its interpretation is as confusing to me as is the bible itself. First you say that the O.T. is mostly symbolic, then that jesus is the god of the O.T.. Then you seem to infer that he did not do all of those things or say all of those things in the O.T. literally, but yet he still did them, but that one can only understand them through the pascha. Could you be so kind as to explain to me what that means exactly? Like I said I am no expert, but is not the pascha the passover where god murdered the first born of all the egyptians while sparing the jews who marked their door posts with blood in order that god would know who was who which seems a little strange in and of itself? Is it not also associated with easter? Or if I am mistaken, what exactly do you mean that it is to be interpreted through the pascha? Not literal, Not symbolic, but paschal?

  82. Lucian says

    Jim,

    I don’t envision the ancient Jews to have had historicity-vs-myth problems. Genesis 1-3 does not have the same historicity level as Genesis 4-11, which does not have the same level of historicity as Genesis 12 onward. Think about it: 13+ billion yrs in just one chapter [Gen. 1]; then some .2 million yrs. in just 2 chapters [Gen. 2-3]; then some seven-and-a-half millennia in just a few chapters [Gen. 4-11]; then about one millennium in the reast of the book, chapters 12 to 50, telling the lives of just four generations: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Then You have an entire four books, Exodus to Deuteronomy, spanning over some 120 yrs., etc. — I think You’re starting to see my point.

  83. says

    Thanks Father, but I am not falsely asserting anything, the power of the Reformation is historical fact. The Irish, as well as the Scottish, have very good reason to dislike the Reformation, it caused their lands to be seized, and ultimately led to the ethnic cleansing of the massacres of the Highlanders and the awful cruelty of the potato famine. Strangely, both of these cleansings are formative events for your Nation because of the flood of refugees. My own family is more likely related to the Hugenot’s, French protestants who fled to England from France in huge numbers to avoid the persecution of the Catholics. It is arguable whether the Church of England fully reformed. The tremolous and dithering nature of that church today is a symptom. Many Anglicans are not aware of belonging to a reformed church, and in practice there is not much distinction though Article 11 of the Articles of Religion does applaud the doctrine of justification through Faith. The church of Knox and Calvin is a better example of the reformed church in England, and is more obviously related to the points you have been making in this discussion. The popularity of your blog is evidence of the continuing need for people to read about God, Faith and Religion. Keep up the good work!

  84. says

    Jim,
    I see that I did not write very clearly. Sorry. I’m both trying to say something and trying to avoid terms that Orthodox would either not use or would mean something very different by them. It makes writing a bit difficult. Several points:
    1. The Orthodox Fathers held that the God encountered in the Old Testament was indeed the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, the Only Begotten Son of the Father. The Father is only known through His Son and not apart from Him.
    2. The Orthodox Fathers held that the Old Testament was “shadow”, that is, that what it said, it said unclearly, and had to be interpreted in the light of the New Testament. Thus, the violence, etc., of God seen in the Old Testament was interpreted “spiritually” or other ways that made it conform with the image of God we see revealed in Christ in the New Testament. Thus it is not literalism, but they would never have said “merely symbolic” or anything of the sort.
    3. Pascha is also the Orthodox name for Easter (it is the Greek word for Passover). The events of Passover, in terms of their revelation of God are interpreted spiritually. This is not the same thing as saying that the events did not happen, but that their significance is to be found in their foreshadowing the death and resurrection of Christ.
    4. Orthodoxy teaches that Christ’s Pascha is the meaning of all things – and that all things have their most full interpretation when seen or read in the light of that event.
    5. If pressed, I would say that the Orthodox read the Scriptures “iconically” and it would not be wrong to say that the Old Testament in particular is read “mystically,” though that is not a term the Orthodox normally would use when talking about Scripture.

  85. Damaris says

    Jim (not Jim H.): You asked about the symbolic interpretation of scripture and, it seemed to me, implied that symbolism and concrete truth were mutually exclusive. (You asked if Father Stephen was saying that the OT wasn’t actual history but only symbolism.) I am not a theologian, but my field (literature) defines symbol in a way that might be useful. An image, to start with, means only what it is. A figurative term in a simile or a metaphor means something other than what it is. A symbol, though, means what it is AND something other that what it is. (I’m using Perrine’s terms from Sound and Sense.) God can — and does — act in real history, freeing the Jews from Egypt, for example. God means us to know that He is active in history but also intends us to understand the “something other” of the Exodus — that we too are set free from slavery and protected from the angel of death by the blood of the Lamb. There is no conflict between these two levels of reality. Symbols are not either-or but both-and. No one is saying that the Bible is a metaphor or an allegory; that would imply that it was not objectively verifiable fact but a code to be broken — as Pilgrim’s Progress is, for example. No one believes that Pilgrim’s Progress is factual but only that it is true on an allegorical level. The Bible, though, being both factual and symbolic, can and must be read at several levels at once. Father Stephen is saying that we do well to read it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which is to say the witness of the Church over the last two thousand years. I hope that this comment is useful and doesn’t offend against feeling or doctrine.

    On another subject, I can’t help but notice that when Father Stephen writes about the love of God, or prayer, there are generally only a few comments; but his posts on the wrath of God and interpreting the Bible have each garnered more than a hundred comments. I hope that is because the love of God is so unarguable that there is nothing to say about it. I am intrigued, without understanding, why there is so much fervent discussion about these other topics. Does anyone have any insights?

  86. says

    Damaris,

    Everyone agrees, it seems, that God is love. Some folks want Him to be wrath as well, or can’t see how to get from a theology of wrath to a theology of love, or how to handle Scripture is such a way as to get there.

    Many of us, myself included, spent so many years laboring under and battling liberal theology, that it’s hard to trust anything that seems to undermine the literal sense. But I have found the hermeneutical insight of the Fathers to be the most liberating experience I have ever known as a reader. I laughed when I was studying the Post-modernists at Duke, when I realized that pre-modernism is even better with far more integrity and insight. They understand the role that Tradition must play in reading, only they have no Tradition.

  87. Steve says

    Jim,

    I recall Father Stephen saying that the spiritual meaning of scripture is the literal meaning. This is another way of saying that the spiritual meaning is Truth (but not the same as saying that literal meaning is truth).

    In scripture as in life, truth (like treasure) is hidden out of sight. It is for us to dig. You mention history.

    It is widely accepted that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (although some books, notably Daniel, were written in Aramaic).

    After the Christ was revealed, the early Fathers translated the Old Testament into Greek, the language of the world. Yet another layer was added. Linguistics being in it’s infancy, words were translated in different ways. “Kahal” and “edah” became “ekklesias” or “sunagogue” (in Greek) or “assembly” and “church” in English.

    These words mean different things today but history is revealed in Christ (which of course is Greek for the Hebrew “Mashiach”).

  88. Karen C says

    Steve, you said:

    “After the Christ was revealed, the early Fathers translated the Old Testament into Greek, the language of the world. ”

    Forgive me if I have misunderstood your assertion above, but the OT Scriptures (including the Deuterocanonical books) were translated by “The Seventy,” a group of Jewish scholars, many years before the Incarnation of Christ and the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation of the OT was the predominent text used by the Greek-speaking Jews of Jesus’ time. If this is what you meant to say, forgive me, but it was not clear from what you said above. The Greek OT preceded the revelation of Christ, if by that you mean His Incarnation.

  89. Isaac of Syria says

    If I could add another book to the list of “introductions to EO” I would recommend:

    http://www.amazon.com/Bread-Water-Wine-Oil-Experience/dp/1888212918

    Far more disconcerting to me when I finally broke with sola scriptura was the notion that ontologically Protestantism (at least in its American incarnation) is individualism rather than communion. The nearly rabid intensity with which I now notice Protestants (not here but in other contexts) clinging to that individualism is frightening and saddening. It exposes what is at the heart of upholding scripture against any communal body–individual determinacy.

  90. Sarah says

    The more I read the articles presented here, the more I am drawn, curious, intrigued by Orthodoxy. here in Australia, orthodoxy is Ethno Specific; that is, congregations are an outwelling of particular migrant groups to Australia; Greek, Russian, the various Balkan countries, Middle Eastern variants and the like. There are no services in English and converts usually not only adopt the faith, but the culture of the community into which they are entering almost exclusively resulting from marriage to a member of that community.

    i find the Orthodox interpretation of ‘hell’, rebellion and the state of the human condition profoundly beautiful; makes me cry just thinking about it – God as the great and incredible lover of humanity – of the universe – after growing up Anglican, spending twenty one years as a Seventh Day Adventist and coming back to Anglicanism four years ago (currently studying theology at a Catholic university in my city) Orthodoxy sings a beautiful and compelling song over the noise of Sydney’s Evangelical Anglican scene and that of my SDA past. Icons I grasp (as high church Anglicanism has a place for them,(though my vision impairment prevents me from truly appreciating them; stonework or woodcuts providing images in relief; is there such a tradition?) the perpetual virginity of Mary somehow doesn’t bother me; even if it’s scientifically impossible – wasn’t the virgin birth in and of itself already ‘scientifically impossible?? :-)… but unlike congregations even in England that cater for all people who are Orthodox as one, and those in the US, there is nothing here I could go to that I could actually understand (and I’ve experienced Ethno Specific church – it’s nice, but I felt distinctly like an outsider – couldn’t even bring in my guide dog to the church lunchion afterwards… and that’s another thing; there is scant little enough material in alternative format for Anglicans (tracked down a Braille BCP only late last year and paid around $200 Australian for it) all the works recommended here – hmm – wouldn’t even exist in English Braille, let alone Audio; (and as a student of theology, I know how important it is to be able to reference and read for oneself instantly as well as relying on spoken electronic media)…

    To see how persons with little or no sight access technology, see http://www.humanware.com and http://www.serotek.com . In the Orthodox community, is there an organization similar in scope to http://www.torchtrust.org who have provided support and literature for me that has proven invaluable over the years?

    Just a few questions, that’s all.

    Sarah,
    Australia.

  91. jim says

    Father
    …… It all makes understanding a bit difficult also father.
    We have found it seems so many different terms with which to describe the interpretation of the O.T.. Now we have along with symbolic, historic, literal,we add to the mix iconical and mystical definitions. But yet you say that these doings of god never the less did take place. So what’s with all these different terms, if it literally happened then it literally happened no matter how one wishes to define its interpretation. Then you actually say that the orthodox fathers reinterpreted the O.T. spiritually in order to “CONFORM” it to the revelation’s of the N.T. . I will not be so arrogant as to submit that this is true, but it would be more reasonable to believe that it was the other way around,that is to say that the N.T. was written in conformation of O.T. revelations.
    I will look into the passover,but perhaps you could tell me how this event in the O.T. foreshadowed the death and resurrection of christ?

  92. says

    Wonders of O,

    To help illuminate your mention of Athanasius Contra Mundum, this was said in reference to the enthronement of the new emperor who sided with the Arians. Hence the “whole world” was not literally the whole world, but the Roman world, which was to the Romans, the only civitas or polis, or at least the only one that mattered. It is a statement regarding imperial policy and not the church per se. This is why Jerome likewise remarked that the whole world groaned to awaken to find itself Arian.

    I hope that helps.

  93. says

    Jim,

    Moses prefigures Christ. The parting of the Red Sea is a type or figure of Baptism (death). They cross the Red Sea and Pharoah and his army, who prefigure Satan and his hosts, are drowned – destroyed. The key in Pascha, is the Orthodox uinderstanding that Christ descended into hell, and set free the captives, defeating Satan.

    As for the pssover meal itself – it prefigures the Eucharist and Christ’s atoning death. The passover lamb, a type of christ, is slain, and his blood is marked on the doorposts, with the angel of death passed by. In this the Passover Lamb becomes the substitute or protection of Israel, just as Christ’s death frees us from eternal death and protects us from evil.

    Jim,

    I really think you should do some reading. Fr. Thomas Hopko’s series the Orthodox Faith – perhaps especially his small volume on Scripture would be useful.

    It is printed on line as well as in regular book form. that volume is at

    http://www.oca.org/OCIndex-TOC.asp?SID=2&book=Bible

  94. jim says

    Father

    Your response looks to be in agreement with mine, that is that the N.T. was written in conformity with the O.T.. Moses prefigures christ, he is brought out of egypt, therefore christ in the N.T. is sent to egypt and is then called out of egypt. then the passover lamb is slain and eaten, and so it is written that christ who was slain, crucified, not unlike thousands of others were I might add, is akin to this slain lamb of the jews. To say that the N.T. reveals the O.T. is a bit presumptuous I would say, unless you want to add that it may have been intentionally written that way, in order to bring it in line with the O.T.. Because as you say yourself the O.T. is unclearly written or shadow, so in the N.T. things had to be made clearer.
    I am sure that you are correct father, I do need to do more reading, and we should all be a little more critical when doing so.

  95. Steve says

    Karen C,

    Thanks for pointing this out. I very intentionally avoided the Deuterocanonical vs. Protocanonical “conversation” which can go on forever yet detracts, potentially at least, from the figurement of Christ in history which is still unfolding (the last time I looked anyway!) :-).

  96. Jim H. says

    Fr. Stephen,

    You write: “I really think you should do some reading.”

    This kind of condescension is precisely the superior attitude that I am addressing.

    With all due respect, I’ve spent much of the last four years reading a wealth of Orthodox books and articles. I wouldn’t be lurking on this site, and continuing to “inquire” if I did not have a strong belief in Orthodox teaching on all matters of the Christian faith.

    It is the self-righteous and elitist attitude I find on this, and many other Orthodox websites that is troubling, and I think, revealing.

  97. Steve says

    Jim H,

    Father Stephen has, on frequent occasions claimed to be an ignorant man. I do believe a great deal of those who visit this blog are ignorant. I certainly am :-).

  98. Theodora Elizabeth says

    Jim H. –

    You say you’ve spent the last four years doing a lot reading on Orthodoxy. I’m curious, how much have you been attending Orthodox services? I’ve witnessed first hand a lot of young men (20-somethings) who spent a lot of time in the reading and debating mode, when they would benefit from attending services more. Perhaps it’s time to put the books aside (except for the Bible and a prayer book) and spend more time in church, particularly with Great Lent coming up. The Canon of St. Andrew the first week of Lent is particularly rich.

  99. Paul Johnston says

    Father Stephen:
    I am evangelical Christian, nurtured in IVCF and by John Stott’s writings. I have started reading Orthodox teachings in the last two years. I find your posts very helpful. I can see the validity of this post, of Scripture heard within the Church, not Scripture independent of the Church.

    There are some things I don’t understand about how the Church reaches concensus about its reading/hearing of Scripture. There have not been ecumenical councils for a long time.

    1. How does the Orthodox church decide that a particular father’s teaching is part of the Tradition that should shape the universal church? e.g. What process led the church to view Maximus the Confessor as a definitive teacher? and not Augustine?

    2. When and how has the Orthodox Church allowed Scripture to correct its life and teaching? Where historically has the church realized it needed correction?

    Thanks,
    Paul

  100. Adam van Drimmelen says

    When we see the sins of others more clearly than our own
    perhaps it is time to examine our hearts.
    I have to give an account for my own sins and not
    the sins of my brother.

  101. Lucian says

    It is the self-righteous and elitist attitude I find on this, and many other Orthodox websites that is troubling, and I think, revealing.

    You mean something like this? 8)

  102. says

    Jim H.,
    I was addressing the other Jim, who said all of this, including the Scriptures, were new to him. I certainly do not try to condescend and rarely suggest that as a route for someone. But I think for Jim (the other one) some basic reading on Orthodox topics would help him here. Sorry for the mistake – I would have used the “H” with your name. I am very sorry if I seem self-righteous and elitist. I assure you that I am an ignorant man and a sinner.

  103. says

    There continue to be Councils, local councils, all the time, with then agreement by other local councils. The primary source of the Church’s life is its liturgical life, which is largely unchanging. But we continue to exercise authority. For instance Bulgakov back in the 20th century was condemned for his teaching on sophiology and he repented. I could multiply such examples.

    The Slava Imya movement was another, etc.

  104. Isaac of Syria says

    Possibly the worst affront to an individualistic nihilist is the assertion that truth is exclusive and applies to more than the mere choosing individual. It is like telling a consumer that he must buy a certain product when he upholds his choice to buy any product as a central right of his existence. I don’t know how to discuss truth without insulting this person. By the way, by nihilist I don’t mean a person who finds no meaning in existence. I mean a person who refuses to recognize any meta-narrative that might be compelling on any level besides individual choice.

  105. Michael Bauman says

    Paul, historically the correction needed in the Church comes in many different ways. Some times there are distinct points in time that we can point to, other times not. Always it is an organic process led and fed by the Holy Spirit.

    Personally, I think we are under going a massive period of correction now. It involves three distinct, but inter-related areas begining with a return to our understanding of the Holy Scripture which is, I think, led by Protestants who have converted (Fr. Stephen being one) as they submit their Scriptural knowledge and acumen to the guidance of Holy Tradition and begin to communicate and teach the rest of us. We are also seeing a reclamation of the Holy Tradition regarding the Scripture in our bishops, most of whom are not converts.

    Secondly, we are being called to move away from the Dhimmi mentality inculcated in the Church while we were under direct and powerful persecution by the Turks and the Communists. A mentality that makes us subservient to the political realm and the world, weakening our prophetic voice.

    It also involves a revival of our missonary responsibility. Among other things that revival entails the gradual breaking down of the the etho-centric segragation that we still experience. (see this article as one example of us a view http://en.hilarion.orthodoxia.org/6_22)

    The testimony of the Holy Scripture is central to this revival and is being heard and taught in an increasingly hearty voice.

    As Fr. Stephen has commented in previous posts, we Orthodox have what he calls a ‘weak’ ecclesiology, i.e, it is predicated on mutual submission to the Holy Spirit and the Cross rather than a legalistic organization. Such an ecclesiology often, by man’s understanding, seems chaotic and inefficient. However, if I am correct, the Church that will be revealed from the current confusion will be something to behold, forged by God into something beautiful. I don’t know that I will still be in my body to see it come to fruition. I do pray that I, by the grace of God, be part of the positive portion of the process.

    Of course, I may be entirely off-base in which case I ask Fr. Stephen to delete my post.

  106. William says

    This is one of the least elitist Christian sites I’ve found on the Internet. The posts are gracious, and so are the bulk of the comments.

    I hardly think it’s “self-righteous” in and of itself to point out Orthodoxy’s differences with the more dominant ideas in religious thought in our society and to suggest that they might have gone astray at times. Why should anybody be surprised or offended when an Orthodox writer supports the Orthodox teaching over and against an oft-encountered teaching that is in opposition to Orthodoxy? Is this now out of bounds?

  107. Lucian says

    the Dhimmi mentality inculcated in the Church while we were under direct and powerful persecution by the Turks and the Communists

    Shhh! The walls have ears! (What if the Securitate catches hold of Your comment, and informs the His Great Eminence the Sultan about it)? :(

  108. says

    Father Stephen,

    I recall your observation a while back that you have a few posts dealing with angels that get by far and away the highest number of views on your blog.

    Its interesting for me to observe that your posts on scripture seem to get the most comments.

    In your comments above about Arius I realized that he was refuted from tradition not argument from scripture on account of how he would twist scripture as well. But somehow your comment made me realize how much that first council dealing with him was as much about the authority of the faith handed down versus the authority of personal reason based upon scriptural proof texting.

    Regards and as always thanks for your ministry here.

    Lucias

  109. Darla says

    Way back, Reader John suggested a book called Searching for God in a Land of Shallow Wells (side note: the correct title is THIRSTING for God … ). I wanted to say thank you so much for recommending this title. Should we become Orthodox, this is likely the book we will suggest to others to read if they are interested.

    We attended Vespers at our local Orthodox mission last night (much as a result from reading this blog post; we’d attended one service previously), and they had this book to lend. We brought it home and have spent the afternoon reading aloud in the company of our kids.

    Lots of good discussion — and conviction — going on.

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for your blog.

  110. Michael Bauman says

    Lucian, I guess you are attempting to be sarcastic.

    Consider the following:
    I’m talking about over 500 years in which the vast majority of Orthodox believers where under constant persectuion that resulted in more marytrs than in the entire previous history of Christianity combined.

    Even before the Communist persecution, the Czarist state subjected the Church to state control. Even though the Turkish Yoke lessened in 1917 with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it has not gone away. The current Turkish government is still inforcing policies that have the effect of causing the extinction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate based in Constantinople. The Israelis and Jordaian governements combined are doing all that they can to snuff out the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and with the jihadists drive all Christians from the Holy Land. Both the Coptic and Orthodox Patriarchates of Alexandria in Egypt are subject to homicidal violence that is rarely punished by the Egyptian government. All of the Orthodox bishops in the old Soviet Bloc countries are fighting their way free of the both the real and assumed subjegation to the state from which they were only recently released, at least overtly. The Patriarch of Antioch is protected from Muslim violence only by the totalitarian Baathist regime in Syria which may not outlive the current Assad. It is an experience never even approached in the West once Constantine legalized the faith in A.D 312. It has only been within the last 25 years that any significant number of clergy and bishops or even lay people have grown up and been taught the faith under any other way of living. I’m not sure of the number of current Orthodox bishops serving in the United States that were born outside this country in one of the lands of which I speak, but it is still quite high. There are also still a significant number of priests as well, not to mention a lessening number of the lay population.

    Call it what you will, that experience is a heavy influence on the attitudes of all Orthodox believers vis-a-vis the state. I believe we will recover from that protracted experience in a relatively short time and by the grace of the Holy Spirt recover our prophetic voice in the process.

  111. C L says

    Fr. Stephen,

    One of these days, maybe I can read all 133 previous comments, but right now I just have a question.
    When, in the protestant world( or in any christian circles) did The Word of God become equated with Scriptures, rather than CHrist himself. I know that we venerate the Gospel book as the Words of Christ, but should all of scripture recieve, what seems to me to be, such an exclusive “title”?

  112. Lucian says

    C.L.,

    first of all, congratulations for having the same initials as myself! :D

    I’ve got an even better question: when did the word of God first become equivalent, in Protestant/Reformed circles, with the *written* word? Are words usually written, or are they rather normally spoken?

  113. LynneA says

    I recently changed careers and I am now working in a hosital rehab setting. When I did my clinical rotations, I learned much more, and learned different skills, than I had with the book study in class. All medical professions require a time of clinical education. The book learning is not enough to be able to practice. In my Protestant time, I read 5 Psalms a day as part of my devotion time. Now, when the Psalms are read in church, through the course of the day in the Hours, through the week, and through the year, they have much more meaning. I hear a familiar phrase, and say, “Oh that’s what that means!” Yes, the Scriptures’ meaning is part of the life of the Church.

  114. says

    CL,

    I don’t know the timing on that change. However, I encourage people to look carefully at Protestant roots. If you will, to “deconstruct” many of the myths that have surrounded their existence and dominance, almost without question, in the mythology of our culture.

    Eamon Duffy’s work on the Reformation in England is outstanding. Marsden’s historical work on American religion has no equal in my mind.

  115. jim says

    Father

    I noticed that you never responded to my last comment. I hope that it was not so ignorant a question that it merited no answer.I was only wondering if you thought it possible, since you say the O.T. is shadowy, or unclearly written, that the N.T., for a new age, was written in a way to make clear as well as be in harmony with the O.T.

  116. Karen says

    Dear Father, bless!

    There is also a book “Common Ground: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian” by Jordan Bajis and published by Light and Life Publishing, which was invaluable to me in systematically clearing away roadblocks on the way to understanding Orthodoxy as the fullness of the true Apostolic biblical faith. I read it at least three times on my journey to Orthodoxy along with most of its copious footnotes. Admittedly, I was highly motivated already at that point (albeit still with many fears and questions), a fast reader, and at home in an academic context, so for me it was highly accessible. But it did the job in a highly efficient way by collecting material from many sources all in one place and presenting them in a carefully systematic way for careful study. I recommend it as another good option. Admittedly, my catechesis wasn’t complete without access to live Orthodox who could answer my questions and affirm my developing understanding of what Orthodoxy is and is not. And ultimately, it could in no way compare with entering the actual life of the Church in its Mysteries and Liturgy.

  117. says

    Jim,
    Sorry, I must have forgotten to say something on that. I would generally agree. The N.T., written in the clarity that came with the death and resurrection of Christ, is written in a way to “reread” or make clear the OT in a fashion that made it in harmony with Christian teaching.

    For example, Christ specifically says in Luke 18

    31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and
    shamefully treated and spit upon; 33 they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

    The question I have asked many evangelicals, is “where do the prophets say he will be raised on the third day?”

    Usually I get no answer.

    The answer is found in Jonah. In that story the fish throws up Jonah on the shore after three days. The Church sees this as foreshadowing the resurrection of Christ. But it is the single reference that I have found to his “three days.” That’s not an obvious OT reference – it is a reading that must be taught.

    The Fathers broke things down like this: The age to come is Truth itself. The NT is Icon. The OT is Shadow. A shadow shows correct outlines, but its details are blurred, you cannot get an accurate image. An icon show the image but shows the image in such a way (in Orthodox art) that all images point towards the age to come. And, of course, it is Christ Himself who is the fulfillment of the age to come.

    This is complex stuff, but it should be fairly clear. Sorry about the delay.

  118. zoe says

    It is good to note that Christ Himself was the one who first taught his disciples how to read the OT by means of prefigurement or typology with what he said in Mt. 12:39-40 and Jn. 3:14 (prefigurement of Christ’s Crucifixion). It was not like the Holy Apostles came up with this means of reading the OT; Christ taught them.

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for letting me add one more comment.

  119. Isaac of Syria says

    It is true that Reformation biblical centrality would not have worked without the printing press and widespread literacy. The truth is most people who called on the name of Jesus probably couldn’t read scripture themselves just as most humans who have ever existed were not literate. In a typographic age we take for granted that most of humanity lived in times where ideas were conveyed orally more than other mediums. The message was heavily tied to the messenger so it was the living Christian who became the witness of Christ. The notion of simply distributing Bibles without context would be both foreign to early Christians and frankly impossible considering the cost of making copies. It also takes a long time for cultures to transition from oral expression to written expressions as primary means of communication.

  120. Michael Bauman says

    Isaac of Syria says:
    “It also takes a long time for cultures to transition from oral expression to written expressions as primary means of communication.”

    And much is lost in the process, just as now we are loosing the peculiar vibrancy and fullness that reside in well written and well bound books for the more ephemeral, flatter electronic media.

  121. says

    The traditional histories of the Reformation are like reading extreme patriotic accounts of the Revolutionary War. It is simply mythology. Isaac is quite right about literacy levels. Even Bibles were expensive to print at the time of the Reformation. Instead it was pamphlets that spread that revolution, and the middle-class in league with the ruling class that pushed for the reforms – though the evidence is largely that the reasons were more economic and political than religious – though Rome had made a shambles of the faith by then. Hard to blame the reformers.

    But good history is important for the truth of good living – including good history of Orthodoxy. Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s little book, the Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy is one of the most straighforward and honest accounts I’ve ever seen. Fr. John Behr’s current work is also quite good and reflective.

  122. jim says

    Father

    This is what concerned me about the scriptures, particularly the N.T.,that none of it is necessarily historical or true, but as you say it was written in a way to reread or make clear the O.T.. If, as you said earlier that the N.T. is historic, why then would there be a need for the scribes to write anything other than the historical truth which would have necessarily been in accord with the O.T.? This was my fear, that these scribes who wrote the N.T. some 40 or 50 years after christ had free license to write into the story whatever they felt necessary for their purposes. This is the problem I have with interpreting the bible through the bible itself, what the writers want you to see is what you will see. It merely gives you confirmation of what you already believe, there is no objectivity.
    As for the symbolism of Jonah,representing the resurrection of christ, the only connection I see there is the three days. Jonah was not symbolic of jesus, rather he was being punished for his impiety, in what significant way does that connect with the resurrection of jesus?

  123. says

    The three days, and the belly of the whale being like Hades.

    Your point is not an incorrect point – and the anxiety you express makes sense in the light of historical problems. But this is where the historical has been allowed to triumph over everything – a particularly modern problem.

    The NT is not written to be a history book, though there is plenty of history there – but is written as the Church’s Scriptures. The Church’s belief in Christ is not, finally, based on how we read a book, but in the fact that we do indeed know the risen Christ. I shared some of that in my own story in an earlier post. But this is the true heart of the Christian faith. Christianity is alive and living and the Scriptures are part of that. But you cannot get to what is alive and living merely by reading a history book. The life would remain somehow trapped in history – when the resurrection shatters history.

    As I said, I understand your concerns. But the living Christ is simply greater than the rational forms you have suggested as being important. He is not anti-rational, just bigger than rational. So too, Scripture is not anti historical, just bigger than history with greater and deeper purposes.

    Jim, in the 20th century alone, 10’s of millions of Orthodox Christians died as martyrs (under the communist yoke). We still know the risen Lord. We are afraid someone has fooled us, because we know what they knew and still know.

  124. William says

    Jim, forgive me for butting in again. I’d say that the Christian understanding is not that the N.T. writers changed the history to make it conform to the O.T., but that Christ’s life itself fulfilled what is found in the O.T. This was always God’s purpose, and Christ did this, and the telling of it by the apostles highlights the fact that he did so. It wasn’t a falsifying of the history of Jesus’ life and death, but a recounting of it with the purpose of revealing God’s eternal purposes. Also, the Christian perspective is that Christ’s advent is actually the beginning of all things and the end of all things, in spite of its historical occurrence in what we moderns would think of as “the middle of the story.” That’s why the Genesis account is really an account of Christ, as he has identified himself with all humanity. Same with Jonah. Jonah was disobedient, and as such he is like us, but he went into the belly of death and returned, and as such he foreshadows Christ. If you’re interested, I can offer some nice passages from St. Ephrem the Syrian that are representative of how the Church looked at the Jonah story, but it’ll have to wait until I can find them in the book.

  125. William says

    Jim, the parallel between Jesus and Jonah was first indicated by none other than Jesus himself.

    “But he answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.” (Matt. 12:3)

    I had said I could offer some passages from St. Ephrem on Jonah, but I think some passages from St. Maximus the Confessor might be more helpful right now. St. Maximus uses the Jonah story to remind us that a scriptural person or passage can signify multiple things.

    “For the name of each thing signified in Scripture lends itself to many meanings by the potency of the Hebrew language. Clearly we find this to be the case here [in Jonah]. …

    “The prophet Jonah therefore signifies Adam, or our shared human nature, by bearing in himself mystically a figure of the following. Human nature has slipped from divine benefits, as from Joppa, and has descended, as though into a sea, into the misery of the present life, and been plunged into the chaotic and roaring waters of attachment to material objects. It has been swallowed whole by the whale, that spiritual and insatiable beast the Devil himself. It has been enveloped with water all around it, the water of temptations to evil, up to the soul, in the sense that human life has been submerged with temptations. …”

    But then, Maximus goes on to say of Jonah:

    “Perhaps he happened into these circumstances because, being in himself a figure of the passions of humanity, the prophet Jonah was mercifully preparing humanity itself for the same, taking on himself what is common to our human nature. … On the other hand, when Jonah prefigures the God who for our sake became like us, through flesh animated by a rational soul, save only without sin, he marks out in advance the mystery of the incarnation and the sufferings that accompanied it. He signifies the descent from heaven into this world in his transit from Joppa into the sea. His being swallowed by the whale and his impassible submission for three days and three nights indicates the mystery of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. … For our Lord and God himself became a man and entered into the sea of life like ours, insofar as he descended from the heaven of Joppa … into the ocean of this life. As Scripture says, he is the one ‘who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2).’ He even descended willingly into the heart of the earth, where the Evil One had swallowed us through death, and drew us up by his resurrection, leading our whole captive nature up to heaven.”

  126. Zoe says

    William, let me add my own thoughts on what you said about Jonah being like us in his disobedience to God. Jonah was a puzzle to me because unlike most prophets, He was blatantly disobedient to God; Moses was also hesitant to obey God’s command for him to confront the Pharaoh but eventually obeyed Him (God). But the prophet Jonah really went out of his way to disobey God, here again, he is so much like us (like me, stubborn and disobedient and insist on my own will instead of God’s). In contrast, Christ whom the prophet Jonah prefigures also, was “Obedient” to God “unto death”. The great lesson that I see here is that God Loves us even in our disobedience. He did not abandon Jonah in the belly of the whale.

  127. jim says

    Father

    By stating that N.T. scripture is not written as history, but rather is written as the churches scripture, you seem once again to imply that it is not historic or exactly true which unfortunately is my suspicion. The Implication is that the church had authority to write, not necessarily historic truth, but rather,and since it is the churches scripture’s, whatever suited their purposes. The fact that the church does indeed know the living christ is only possible because his life was recorded by the apostles in the first place, or do you suppose everybody knows christ and his crucifiction and resurrection before they saw or heard or read anything about him? That the resurrection as you say shatters history, is only true if it is history,and for that, one has to depend on the veracity of the writers of that history. This possibility (that the writers had free reign, as you say, to shape the history ) I am afraid would refute William’s
    claim as well, that is that Christ’s life fulfilled what was said in the O.T.. How can we know for sure, he may have fulfilled it or the writers may have imitated it? Why for instance was John the Babtist portrayed as wearing the exact same garb as EliJah, is that what you would call in writing, just for effect? So how does anyone know for certain which was the writers purpose, to portray the history or, as father said earlier, to shape the history ? It is not a history book, they are the churches scriptures.( Your words Father ). It is just a question, HOW DOES ANYONE KNOW !

  128. Lucian says

    Jim,

    I guess the answer to Your question lies (no pun intended) in the fact that you can’t deduce the N.T. from the O.T. (hence why many of the Jews still don’t believe until this day), but once the N.T. has been revealed, one can go back the O.T. again to read it afresh, with new eyes.

  129. William says

    The implication is not really that the New Testament is not historical, but that it’s a historic account told with a certain purpose. It’s purpose is not journalistic or academically historical or even biographical in the modern sense, in which case it would be ideal for the writers do research and interviews to amass as much detail, no matter how minute, as they could about Jesus and to compare eyewitness accounts in order to arrive at the most certain or most probable description of what was said and done during Jesus Christ’s life and death on earth. Aside from the fact that people in antiquity didn’t write such modern-style books, this wasn’t the purpose of the apostles. At the very end of John’s Gospel, for instance, he writes: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

    So why didn’t the apostles and their disciples write down every one of those things, or at least a lot more than they did? Because they were not writing history or a fascinating piece of journalism. They were concerned with transmitting the “kerygma,” which is the preaching of the good news of salvation and release from captivity to all mankind and is the revelation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To preach this message, they didn’t have to change the story or change the facts to suit their purpose, but they chose the details that they did and told them in their particular way with their evangelistic purpose in mind. This does not diminish the historic nature of what’s written. In fact, the writers did insert some details, such as the names of kings and Pontius Pilate and the times of Jewish feasts, so that the events could be placed in their historical context and recognized as historical events.

    The fact that the Church had the liberty to tell the story with its purpose in mind (which is not the same as “shaping” the history, as one would find in historical revisionism or something like it), doesn’t in itself refute the claim that Christ’s life fulfilled what is said in the O.T. For one thing, think about the fact that the way Christ is described as fulfilling the O.T. is generally quite contrary to the messianic hopes of first-century Judaism. You would think that a contrived first-century attempt to convince people that the O.T. had been fulfilled would actually be more obvious in its parallels and would play to the expectations of the time. There were, apparently, other messianic claims made during the time which did this very thing. But in fact, it seems that most Jews of the time rejected the claim that their scriptures had been fulfilled in Christ. Jesus fulfilled the O.T., but he did it in a way that turned conventional expectations on their head.

    In the end, though, your questions are very frank and honest: “How can we know for sure” that the N.T. writers didn’t imitate the O.T., etc. I think nobody will be able to offer you some firm piece of history, something akin to an ancient film clip of Jesus walking out of the tomb, that will prove to you these things in the way that you are asking for them to be proved. For one thing, everyone who saw the resurrected Jesus was or became a believer (it’s reasonable to expect that anyone who would see such a thing would become a believer), and any such person is therefore suspect in your eyes of being privy to shaping the history. Jesus said to St. Thomas: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

    I don’t say any of this to discount what appears to be earnest concern on your part to understand these things and to find some rational/historical/academic plank of certainty to stand on that is somehow more satisfactory than what you have heard so far. But ultimately, the knowledge of Christ is found not in the demonstration of proofs but in a faith that approaches Christ with an acknowledgment of one’s own spiritual poverty and self-insufficiency and sinfulness which allows one to see one’s life as it really is. This is the beginning of humility and repentance, and it is greeted with Jesus Christ’s own good grace, which is himself in the Holy Spirit. It really is a matter of faith, even the smallest amount of faith, surrounded by many doubts. Faith is greeted by Christ’s coming, and it is in the tasting and seeing that the Lord is good that you will begin to know his truth, not by propositional assent, but by experience. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says: “Even if you are faithless or of little faith, the Lord is loving unto man; he condescends to you on your repentance: only for your part say with honest mind, ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief’ (Mark 9:24) But if you think that you really are faithful, but don’t have the fullness of faith, you also need to say with the Apostles, ‘Lord increase our faith.’ (Luke 17:5) For some part you have of yourself, but the greater part you receive from him.”

    Fr. Stephen above mentioned to you the tens of thousands of martyrs who died for their faith, who died for what they knew. This is another crucial consideration: the martyrs of the Church, from its earliest days to the past century. When you examine the lives of the saints, you begin to see that these people knew the same person, Jesus Christ, and this is one of the most powerful witnesses that there is to the truth of Christ.

  130. jim says

    William

    I believe that I understand your basic premise here, that to know Christ is not achieved by by scripture’s alone but by faith and actual experience, and some claim to have had such experience, but I can not get around the fact that without the scripture’s nobody would have faith in or even know Christ to begin with so that the truth of them is imperitive to myself. I guess that you would say that I am like St Thomas in this regard, If I can see truth I can believe truth, but why would christ require it otherwise? If the scriptures were less obscure and more rational then maybe I could put my faith in this christ. When I read those scriptures though, more doubt rather than less, consumes me. When I read of a god who would cast that which he supposedly loves into fiery gehenna for their disobedience it strains my credulity. When I read that Jesus upon meeting two demoniacs in the road, casting them into an innocent herd of swine who then run off the cliff ,it strains my credulity. When I read that jesus says that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed that you can move a mountain from here to there and that nothing is then impossible for you, it strains my credulity. When I see it written that jesus tells those that he miraculously cures, see that you tell no one about this,when he being God already knows what they are going to do, tell it, it too strains my credulity. When he tells his disciple to go fishing in order to retrieve a coin from a fish to pay their taxes it seems more like a magic show, it seems so unnecessary. It also seems unnecessary that God would have need for an angel to come down to remove the stone from Gods tomb. Would God not have been able to get out otherwise? When it is written that the saints were resurrected bodily at Christ’s death, by what reason would one believe this? When Jesus speaks directly to his disciples and tells them that their generation will not pass away before he returns, and to therefore stay awake and yet 2000 years or so later he has yet to return, It makes me think, hmm. Matthew must have been telling a fib there for some reason. When you tell me that Jesus is God,then why does god ask himself on the cross, God why have you forsaken God? Did he not know already why? All of these things I think are a bit suspect to say the least to” modern man” as father stephen condescendingly likes to call those who have doubts of interpretation. Is it possible to see such things and still believe, put ones faith in it?

  131. says

    By modern man, I mean those whose world view is a product of the enlightenment. It has its usefulness but modern rationalism is too reductionistic. I would agree that you will not come to faith asking the questions you currently ask. They’re not really questions, just arguments. Strangely, there still are plenty of saints, Mother Theresas whose faith is worth a thousand of those who are too wise to be fooled by Scripture. Sorry to sound so condescending.

  132. Zoe says

    It is inherent in man to pick apart and destroy anything and everything that exist including himself, but it is God alone who creates from nothing out of His Love. For me, to doubt the existence of God is to doubt my very own existence.

  133. says

    Hi Jim,

    I think to answer all of those questions would require a book, not a blog. Many of these are legitimate questions, and there are good answers to them, but I do not know if this is the best medium for that. Perhaps others could recommend some good resources…

    “I cannot get around the fact that without the scriptures nobody would have faith in or even know Christ to begin with”

    I think the key here is that the faith has spread not primarily through the scriptures alone but by the preaching of the gospel. The Church had spread out from Jerusalem and into the whole Roman world before probably any of the New Testament was written. People who knew nothing of the Old Testament came to know Christ (the Living Word) and have faith in him through his Church.

  134. Karen says

    Dear Father, bless!

    Jim, I would add that it is the conviction of the Church that the Faith would indeed have survived and been transmitted, word of mouth and by the evidence of the holy lives of those who have encountered Christ in the Holy Spirit, even if they had never been written down. The Church does not stand upon the Scriptures, but upon the Rock Himself, Christ, Whose Voice is a living Voice that speaks to those who will listen. I understand your struggle, but you are working with a paradigm of thought that demands a kind of proof in the form of rational explanation that simply does not exist. The Christian Scriptures are simply not writings whose full and proper meaning is open to be discovered rationally by those outside the community of faith. If God were subject to the kind of proof you seek, such that you could rationally comprehend and contain His working, He would not be worthy of your love or worship since you in your understanding would be shown superior to Him in that case. Faith demands a little humility and risk. There’s no way around it. If you’re not willing to go there, then God won’t force you (and He doesn’t throw people into Gehenna! Read the material at this site and look for the link to “The River of Fire” for a better understanding of this issue from an Orthodox perspective. Perhaps Fr. Stephen will kindly post a link in the comments for you. I can’t go there without losing my comment because I’m computer challenged at the moment!) Sometimes when we hear others as condescending, it is merely a projection of our own attitude. Though some comments may sound condescending at times at this site, truly I think all of us relate to your struggle and are rooting for you to discover in your own life what it is we who have taken such a risk have discovered. It’s yours for the asking, but not for the figuring everything out in advance. . . if that makes any sense. I pray God may, in His love and grace, grant you the gift of faith. His love for you is more profound than you could ever comprehend. The God Who spoke the universe into existence and sustains all things (including you) by His power is far beyond the limits of our sense experience or rational abilities.

  135. Katia says

    Hi Jim, “Indeed if we found that we could fully understand it,that all would show it was not what it professes to be – the inconceivable,the uncreated the thing from beyond nature,striking down into nature like lightning. You may ask what good it will be to us if we do not understand it. But that is easily answered.A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him.A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it. “

  136. Stephen W says

    It seems that many of these comments have been said at least a dozen times spread over several posts. Although many are good and true comments the content has been virtually the same and the same questions keep coming. Experience vs. rationalizing the truth. I don’t think anyone is going to convince Jim of anything until he decides to experience the Church for himself. Even if he does this he may not to believe and that will be his choice. I have known people, genuine seekers that have walked into an Orthodox Church, felt nothing and did not see a vision of heaven and earth touching. It seems to me that the heart and the mind need to be reunited for a more full understanding. Most of us (maybe just me) have only caught glimpses of this, keeping us coming back for more, and which are ironically often times connected to times of intense suffering. Thats my two cents. I agree with Karen C;. in that if we could understand the mysteries of God, we would not have God at all.

  137. Lucian says

    Jim,

    You obviously never were to Gehenna in the first place, otherwise You wouldn’t still think it is God that throws us there. We are completely able at arriving there all by ourselves, thank You very much, without anybody showing us the way or pushing us towards it.

  138. William says

    Jim,

    Some of these latest comments have already made the main points that I would make in response to your last message. It simply isn’t true that without the Scriptures nobody would have faith. The Church expanded throughout the Roman empire and beyond its borders without the Scriptures or with only parts of the Scriptures. People essentially come to the faith through the Church, by means of other Christians, whether or not they have access to the Scriptures.

    Nevertheless, we have the Scriptures and they are important. Each of the things that strains your credulity has a response, but it would be tedious and pointless of me to respond to each one in detail. But I’ll make a few comments anyway since I’m the one who elicited your response.

    First: God doesn’t cast anybody into fiery Gehenna. People choose that for themselves by their mode of life, seeking God or rejecting God, which is what determines how they will experience the revelation of Christ in all his glory. I know that Fr. Stephen has directly responded to you with a link to “The River of Fire.” Read that if you care to know more on this topic.

    Secondly: “innocent herd of swine?” Do you eat meat?

    Thirdly, about Jesus telling people not to do something (tell others about their healing) even if he knows they will do it anyway: This sounds like a very familiar theme with God and human beings.

    Fourthly, about Jesus crying out to God, “why have you forsaken me?” This is a reference to Psalm 22 (21 in LXX), indicating that the words of that Psalm refer to Christ’s own passion and death and that our own sufferings are subsumed in his own suffering. In addition to this, it’s worth pointing out that Jesus, even though he was God, also was man. He “emptied himself” and allowed himself to be limited as a man, even without ceasing to be God. He could ask questions like “why.”

    Fifthly, Jesus could have miraculously rolled the stone away from the tomb’s opening. He could also have walked through the stone or just appeared on the other side, just as he did later in his resurrected body. Why would he get an angel to roll back the stone, you ask? Why not? Angels do all kinds of things for God. He must want it that way. None of the accounts indicate that Jesus needed angels to let him out. For all we can tell, Jesus was already out when the tomb was opened. The angels, being messengers, were there to tell the women that Christ was risen.

    Sixthly, Jesus said this generation will not pass away. Well, one way to understand that is to recognize that the disciples, all the saints, are alive with Christ right now.

    Lastly, about mustard-seed faith, miracle coins in fish, saints resurrected bodily at Christ’s death and other prodigious things. None of these things are so outlandish if you accept the primary premise of Christianity, which is that the Creator has entered into his Creation and become one of us and has saved us from death and allowed us to participate in his very life.

    I’ve already written too much. But I should also say that the problem with modern man, of which I am one, is that we are conditioned by our cultural inheritance to want explanations and narratives to be told in certain linear and rationalistic ways (which aren’t always really rational, but we at least want to see the garb of reason). We want to see chains of cause and effect and such things and we think this is what makes us people of understanding. So when reference is made to the problems that a modern man or woman has in understanding certain things of God — who confounds our reason not because he is contrary to reason but because he is far beyond our powers of perception and comprehension — it isn’t condescension, it’s just observation of a condition that all or most of us have to grapple with in one degree or another.

    Here’s the bottom line. If you want to know God, keep pursuing him. He is not intimidated by your doubts and they aren’t going to keep you away from him. You should seek out an Orthodox church and priest in your area and speak to him face to face if you really want to pursue a better understanding what the Bible and the Church are about. If on the other hand, you just want to argue with the Bible or with Christians, then you can spend all your life honing your arguments and helping Christians hone theirs but really achieving nothing more than that. Your desire, not reason, is what will determine the outcome of all these discussions.

  139. Sarah says

    Jim,

    May I recommend a couple of titles that, though older, are no less valid in presenting answers to these very questions you ask.

    World without End by R Pilkington, 1961, collins, London
    and
    Also
    Your God is too Small by J. B. Phillips 1952, Epworth pres, London.

    Reason without faith is Atheism; Faith without reason is Fedism (Please excuse my atrocious spelling and the ‘easy to understand’ ‘Sarah’s own’ referencing system adopted above :-)

    if there is an Orthodox publication comparible with the New Catholic Encyclopaedia, I would strongly reccomend studying its definitions concerning faith; along with those regarding reason. We are touching upon these very questions within my course of theological studies at present, also doing so last semester; A Faith and reason are the two tracks of the faith railway, as it were, balanced faith itself is reasonable :-) however even ameteur theologians in training such as myself beginning this journey have come to the realization that faith, i in and of itself embraces the transcendant, accepting the fact it cannot be reduced scientifically into its elemental parts; though we must entre faith and the Christian life with our minds, as well as our hearts, souls and bodies, we embrace and accept the reality of the Transcendant within our lives and over god’s entire creation.

    This has probably merely served to muddy the waters still further.

    Sarah,
    Australia.

  140. says

    Jim,

    A brief Bible answer or two. On the statement that this generation will not pass away… the context occurs just before the account of the Transfiguration, in which that generation (in the persons of Peter James and John) indeed see the Son of Man coming in power. This is the traditional Orthodox interpretation of the passage.

    There is also the matter of Christ’s omniscience as incarnate man. St. Paul says that Christ “emptied himself” and it is generally accepted that although he remains God, he also participates in human limitation. He knows essentially “only what the Father tells him.”

    I agree that the statements about hell and eternal punishment, on a literal level, read as you have described them. The received tradition of the Orthodox Church, however, has much to say on the interpretation of these, and reads them as William has described.

    It is difficult, and occasionally frustrating, not because you ask questions, but because of the realization that the answers are large and encompass a great deal. I think sometimes a Christian, particularly an Orthodox Christian, does not realize how much they have assimilated in their journey. It’s hard to say some things briefly. God bless.

  141. Zoe says

    Father Stephen and Jim: How true that “a Christian, particularly an Orthodox Christian, does not realize how much they have assimilated in their journey. It’s hard to say some things briefly.” Since conversion to Orthodoxy in a little more than a year now, I’m amazed at how much I have learned and how different my understanding of a lot of Biblical passages and verses which I’ve been familiar with since I learned how to read. I can sympathize with a lot of your confusion, Jim, I think I’ve been there and it was worst, as I remember it because I was somehow made to feel that it was wrong to question the Scriptures. (please, correct me, if I’m wrong, Fr. Stephen).

    There are some Biblical truths, specially the Love of God that I was only able to understand lately because: 1) Teachings of The Orthodox Church
    2) I have been a parent and had the experience on loving and raising a difficult child. When I look back to my younger days and my understanding of the Love of God and comparing that understanding with what I understand now; my understanding now about the love of God is richer. I’m not saying that the Love of God for mankind is anything like my love for my child; but for me, it is a very tiny glimpse by which I can come close to understanding the Scriptures.

    There is such a thing as spiritual maturity. St. Paul in the NT talks about it. Spiritual maturity (I’m not being condescending here), is similar to our human developmental stages. As an infant, we don’t understand anything about our parents, as we grow, we learn their language. There is a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunications between parent and child; the child even grows rebellious. Then as we mature and have families of our own and gain varied experience in life, we begin to see from our parent’s perspective; this is when we begin to understand them.
    I’m sorry I’ve used “we” when I should have used “I”. But maybe I’m not unique in this aspect of understanding. If this does not make any sense, please forgive and forget.

    My conclusion is that our understanding of God develops in similar fashion. It takes time and experience and a good guide, the Church, to arrive to the Truth.

    Zoe

  142. Zoe says

    Father Stephen, I apologize, I did not realize that this has been submitted
    several times without my realizing it, you can ban me from your blog, I’ll understand. This is a problem with not having a separate mouse pad. Or maybe, it’s just me and my schizophrenic hands ha ha. Please forgive.

  143. MichaelPatrick says

    Jim,

    Orthodoxy stands in broad tradition that existed before Spinoza, and it’s not just a club of Christians. A good read is James Kugel’s “How to Read the Bible.”

    While the Orthodox may have a unique Christ-centered liturgical hermeneutic, they stand with many others who over time have believed that you have to be in the right company or in the right place to appropriate scripture. To the dismay of many, historical, critical questions cannot unlock its treasures. To receive the family’s inheritance one has to be in it.

  144. Zoe says

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for editing, otherwise, I was completely embarrased seeing my errors.

    Thank you again and God bless.

  145. jim says

    Father stephen

    I have to say father that it really does dismay me that even though you reply to some of my concerns,concerns that others may have as well, that still for some reason you delete them. Why is that? I do not believe that I was disrespectful or rude in any way in my comments,I was merely looking for explanations. If you can not explain something because as you say the answers are to large, thats fine, but why then delete the questions? Is it that I asked something that you didn’t want others to see? I truly hate to say this father but the only logical reason I can see for your doing this is that you are afraid of something I asked. You did though answer one question, but it seems to be a false answer.So at the risk of being repetitive I will asked again.
    In Mt 24, 34 jesus says: Amen i say to you this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. He may have been speaking to peter, james and john, as you say, but it is made explicit throughout Mt 24, 29 to 24, 44 that he is speaking OF all the people of that generation,and it is also made explicit that he is speaking of his triumphant return to earth when he says he will send his angels to gather his elect and that everybody had better be ready.
    So my question was that that generation has passed away so why has he not returned and done these things? How can you read that differently?
    Then you say that you agree that the statements about hell and eternal punishment literally, read as I describe them, yet you or the church interprets them differently. Why?
    But one of my questions you just totally ignored which made me very curious and that was: Why, as it is shown to be, that Jesus or God already knows our future, such as ( judas would betray him,or that peter would deny him three times before the cock crows ), then why should we be judged and or punished. We obviously according to these scriptures have no choice.

  146. says

    Which comments? I haven’t deleted one or seen one in spam in days. Though I just checked and you had two in the spam thing. I freed up one since they were the same post. Don’t know why the spam filter caught it. Normally it behaves itself.

    I have no idea what you mean when you say I delete your questions. I am not. But, Jim, after a point, your questions do become irritating – particularly when you infer or just state that I’m doing something evil in the process. I’m sorry my answers don’t work for you. Draw your own conclusions. Forgive me for my poor writing and reasoning. Forgive me because I am obviously not of any help to you. Sometimes I’m obviously more of an ignorant man than others.

  147. William says

    Jim, the Church interprets the passages about Gehenna the way it does because God has revealed himself to be love, to be the lover of mankind, not willing that any should perish. God so loved the world, the cosmos … Christ is the salvation of the entire cosmos, the salvation of the entirety of human nature, which means that all humanity will be resurrected and brought into the presence of Christ’s glory. In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul says “these shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.” This doesn’t mean punished “away from” the presence of the Lord, but punished because they are in the presence of the Lord and are exposed to the glory of his power. It’s just like Moses, who was on the mountain with the Lord, but the people and animals died if they touched the mountain. The face of Moses burned so bright when he came down from the mountain that the people were blinded and begged him to cover his face. The brightness of God’s glory will be the delight of those who delight in the Lord now. That same brightness will be blinding (darkness) and torment to those who have not received the Lord’s light now through his Holy Spirit. God’s power is like fire. God’s love is like fire. The whole world will be exposed to the full fire of God’s love. Even those who will be saved will be saved “as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).

    This is traditional Christian teaching. You and I are given this life to grow accustomed to this light and fire: “And we are put on earth a little space,/That we may learn to bear the beams of love … For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear/The cloud will vanish; we shall hear his voice,/Saying: ‘Come out from the grove, my love & care,/And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.'” (the non-Orthodox poet William Blake)

    Again, God does not “throw” people into Gehenna as though he has rejected them. It is they who reject him. When you begin to see this and understand that God is love, the passages no longer read the same way as they do to a mind trained to suspect God and hide from him. Adam and Eve hid from God because they no longer trusted him after they disobeyed God, but St. Symeon the New Theologian says that had they immediately come to God in repentance, they would have been restored on the spot. This is another way of pointing out that God does not change in his loving disposition toward us. But our disposition toward him determines how we receive his coming.

  148. Lucian says

    You did though answer one question, but it seems to be a false answer.So at the risk of being repetitive I will asked again. […] So my question was that that generation has passed away so why has he not returned and done these things? How can you read that differently?

    Sorry.

    At the risk of sounding repetitive also: Matthew’s horrors described in the chapter about the end-times remind us of His promise to Peter a few chapters prior: that the very Gates of Hell itself shall not prevail against the Church. Here also we’re again reminded of the same hope: that this generation (of the sons of God) shall not pass away because of the succession of these evils, but shall endure until their end. The word generation is not unimportant, because it reminds us of the missing generation in the very first chapter of his Gospel: there are supposed to be 42 there, but there are only 41 listed, the last one of which is that of Christ’s own life-time. And the 42nd generation is that following His life, death, resurrection and ascension, beginning by His sending down upon the Apostles at Pentecost of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who pours out from the Father.

    And the fact that “many of you shalt not taste death until ye shalt see the Kingdom of God coming with Power” refers to the Transfiguration is not a cop-out: it’s the very heart of our faith: that’ why our Divine Liturgy each Sunday begins with the words “Blessed is the Kingdom”; that’s why the last stage of prayer is not even called prayer anymore, but divine vision and the kingdom of God.

    Sorry for the lengthy, preachy response.

  149. jim says

    Does anybody have a response to the question of predetermined futures as stated by Jesus when he foretells of his betrayal by Judas, and of Peter’s denial of him 3 times before the cock crows? Not to mention all the other events to come that he foretells. Because it seems to me that if God already knows what we will do before we do it, then it follows that we really do not have any say in the matter. In other words we have no choice as to whether or not we do right or we do wrong. I ask this not because I believe that we do not have choice, although that notion is a matter of scientific uncertainty,but I ask because the Bible seems to claim that we don’t have choice. Why therefore are we to be judged at all?

    Father stephen please accept my apology, I am sorry for jumping to false conclusions about my comments being deleted. I am sorry also if i have been irritating with so many questions.

  150. jim says

    Well,It seems as though my question got caught somehow in the spam filter again, so I guess I will have to ask once again.
    What I asked was a previous question I had about Gods inherent knowledge of the future as stated repeatedly throughout the bible and specifically in the gospels where he foretells of his betrayal by Judas, and of Peter’s denial of him 3 times before the cock crows. Can anyone explain to me if this is so, that God knows beforehand our future actions, how it is that we can be said to have any choice in them? I asked this question not because I believe that we have no choice, but because the Bible itself implies that we do not, and if this be true why should we be judged by our actions if we have no choice in the matter?

  151. says

    Yes, Jim, Foreknowledge and predestination are two distinctly different things. Let’s say someone had a gift and could tell the future. Would their predictions be the cause of the future? God knows how we will use our freedom but that does not change the fact that we choose freely what we do. That God knew we would abuse our freedom and that it would,in His love, mean that He would have to give all that He had in order to rescue us, and yet He created us anyway, is love, not a lack of freedom. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son…and knew He would have to do it before He created us. That’s love, but not lack of freedom.

  152. jim says

    Father stephen

    I appreciate your answer to this difficult question, but, and hopefully without causing to much irritation to you, however I do not believe because I have never seen it in truth that any human has been endowed with such a gift as foreknowledge. People certainly attempt at guessing at times with differing results but whether or not right or wrong they never have the exact details.Now, Jesus being God could certainly be endowed with this foreknowledge or even have predestinate understanding. The question that I raised though has more to do with the latter because Jesus not only predicted the future ,but he had the exact details such as: Peter would not only deny him, but would deny him exactly three times before the cock crowed twice. I just cannot see how this can be construed as anything other than knowing our exact future’s or in other words predestination. So I am sorry if I did not state it correctly, but how is it if God knows our future actions in such a detailed way can the fault be said to be in ourselves, and for what reason a judgement? Thank you for helping me to make clearer this question even in my own mind.

  153. Katia says

    Hi Jim, “…everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and i are going to do to-morrow. But if He knows i am going to do so and so,how can i be free to do otherwise? Well, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the time line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well if that were true,if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case,what we call to-morrow is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call to-day. All the days are “Now” for Him.He does not remember you doing things yesterday;He simply sees you doing them,because, though you have lost yesterday,He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things to-morrow;He simply sees you doing them:because,though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him.You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your to-morrow’s actions in just the same way-because He is already in to-morrow and can simply watch you. In a sense He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already “Now” for Him….” C.S.Lewis

  154. jim says

    Hi Katia

    This is a very intriguing answer,one that I would not have thought of. I think though that it still leaves or leads to the question as to why then all the fuss? If God is outside and above our or” the” time line, and is therefore always in the “NOW” then it would naturally follow that he not only sees and knows what we will do tomorrow, but he also sees and knows what we will do a week, a year, a hundred years or even an eternity from now. I think then that this scenario leads us once again to the same dilemma, that is one of no choice. I personally, nor does anybody else feel as though we have no choice, though I believe it is a matter of scientific inquiry,that the choices we feel that we are making are merely an illusion,which would coincide with the scriptural account of Peter’s choices of denying Jesus being foreordained,or in simpler terms not choices at all. In your scenario though, God can see all things at once from the beginning of time to the end of time which leaves no room for choice, which leaves us with the same question, why the judgement? Am I missing something?

  155. says

    I do not see how God’s knowing what choice I will make takes away my freedom. I made the choice, did I not? God’s foreknowledge did not make the choice for me. The judgment is simply the consequences of our choices – not a decree forced on us from outside of ourselves. In that sense the judgment is a representation of our freedom.

  156. William says

    If simply being being present and seeing somebody make a choice means that the one who was present must have ordained/predestined that choice to happen, then likewise, my own presence and vision of someone else’s action also must mean that I ordained/destined that other person’s action.

  157. says

    I’ll make a brief observation – Jim, you keep wrestling with passages in the Scriptures and certain ideas – arguing with believers about what things mean. The original article (long ago lost sight of) noted that the Scriptures, as Scripture, cannot be taken out of the Church and examined apart from the Tradition. The Scriptures mean what the Church understands them to mean because we follow a Tradition given to us by Christ. There can be no argument with the Tradition, from an Orthodox point of view. We are not Protestants and do not read the Bible like a Protestant or a Rationalist. We are Orthodox and we read in an Orthodox manner. You can make philosophical arguments or even say what you think the Bible plainly says to you, but it actually makes no difference to an Orthodox believer – because we believe what we believe because we are Orthodox. What we believe is the Truth because it was given to us by Christ. It can be asked what an Orthodox Christian believes, or asked what the Church teaches – but there is no common ground that we share outside of the Church on the basis of which we can argue or in most cases even discuss Scripture with the non-Orthodox.

    Oddly enough, the case I’ve stated above is not only a Traditionalist position, it’s also a post-modern position. Sometimes come round full circle.

  158. Katia says

    Hi Jim,

    Fr.Stephen is right!!!
    I do think that you are missing the point, we always try to reason the Unreasonable. Free will is given to us and free choice. What is the choice?
    We either believe in God Jesus Christ or not, we follow the narrow path,which he showed us or the wide and luxurious path without Him,and without Him everything in this world is one big illusion.

  159. jim says

    father stephen

    It seems as though you are speaking for all orthodox here. Are you saying that the orthodox do not wrestle with scripture, they don’t think about it, and try to better understand it, people are not allowed to examine the scriptures with their own minds. Do you yourself understand all of scripture father? Have you never wrestled with it? Can I ask you why it is father that you have such contempt for rationality? It merely means intelligent,wise, judicious. what faculties do you suggest that one should employ in order to better understand something? What does reading in an orthodox manner mean? I know, not rationally, but if not rationally, what? You say All orthodox believe what they believe because they are orthodox? For no other reason? I cant believe that you speak for all orthodox there. I am sure there are some rational believers. Then you say you can not even discuss scripture with the non orthodox. I am sorry to say father but you make it sound almost cultish. If you do not wish to discuss scripture then why do you keep raising the topic? Or is it that only the already indoctrinated are truly welcome here? As you can see I am quite frustrated right now and I am sorry for that, but to basically be told by you and by katia to go away because Im missing the point and because I ask to many questions is a little hard to take. Sorry.

  160. Katia says

    Hi Jim,

    Forgive me if i upset you i did not want this,you ask yourself ” Am i missing something?” I just reply to it.

    I hope this ‘propoved’ will help a little, I took it from my bishop:

    “Assuredly, it is possible for one to study Holy Scripture, but
    certain questions arise: Does the “word of Christ” abide in such a
    student “richly”? Is this so each time that he studies it? Does he
    know Holy Scripture sufficiently? Is it a shining guide and arbi-
    ter of his life? Do the Sacred Texts have power and influence over
    his inner world, his heart?
    The Holy Fathers advise us to undertake the unceasing and
    pious reading of the Holy Scriptures in such a way that this
    continual effort may familiarize our hearts with the teaching of
    Christ and that our minds might be literally bathed in it: then our
    actions will more easily and more naturally come into concord
    with the Gospel.
    in this vein, let us note that Saint Pachomios the Great, the
    very Father of coenobitic monasticism, knew the Holy Gospel by
    heart and, prompted by Divine Revelation, imposed on his disci-

    ples the duty of memorizing the Gospel, so that it would always
    accompany and guide them. Special care must be taken, so that the Book of Life is
    not read merely intellectually, for “lofty flights,” or out of curios-
    ity and simply to gain knowledge: we are required to read Holy
    Scripture with our actions, by putting them into practice, so that
    its Life becomes our life.
    We shall understand this better when we take heed of the fol-
    lowing truth, one so simple but so profound: The New Testament
    begins with the Holy Gospel of St. Matthew, which directs us
    to the “practice” and keeping of the Commandments, and it con-
    cludes with St. John the Theologian, who guides those who have
    been purified by “practice” to union with our Lord, to “mystical
    vision” [“theoria”].

    But let no one think that the study of the “word of Christ”
    is an easy undertaking, or that it is achieved by our own mental
    skills: prayer, with a spirit of contrition and humility, is indispens-
    able in order that the Divine Comforter might open the eyes of
    our souls and that the Divine Truths might be revealed to us.
    likewise, insofar as the interpretation of the Divine Texts is
    a gift of the Holy Spirit, we ought sedulously to avoid our own
    “easy” and subjective interpretations and have recourse with con-
    fidence and reverence to the hermeneutical perspectives of the
    Holy Fathers of our Church. it should also not escape our notice that in Holy Scripture
    there is nothing insignificant and unworthy of attention; on the
    contrary, everything in it radiates the Light of Grace, and, conse-
    quently, it should be studied with much reverence, attentiveness,
    and dedication.
    The God-Bearing Teachers of our Faith advise pious
    Christians to study the Holy Gospel standing, out of respect for
    the Sacred Words. In the event, however, that someone studies
    the Divine Word kneeling or sitting down-and this by conde-
    scension-, then reverence, fear of God, compunction, and atten-
    tiveness should dominate his soul. ”

    Glory to God!