There are certain ideas that, once introduced, tend to change how people think of everything else. This is certainly the case with the Bible. For of all the ideas about the Scripture, the most recent is the notion of “the Bible.”
The word “Bible” simply means “book.” Thus, it is a name that means “the Book.” It is a particularly late notion if for no other reason than that books are a rather late invention. There are examples of bound folios of the New Testament dating to around the 4th century, but they may very well have been some of the earliest examples of such productions. The Emperor Constantine commissioned a large number of such copies (all produced by hand) as gifts to the Bishops of the Church. How many such editions is unknown, though it may have been several hundred. One of the four manuscripts dating to the 4th century may very well be a survivor of that famous group.
In the Church (and to this day in Orthodoxy), the gospels are bound as one book and the Epistles, etc., are bound as another. And these are only those books appointed for reading in the Church. The Revelation is not usually included in such editions.
The “Bible,” a single book with the whole of the Scriptures included, is indeed modern. It is a by-product of the printing press, fostered by the doctrines of Protestantism. For it is not until the advent of Protestant teaching that the concept of the Bible begins to evolve into what it has become today. The New Testament uses the word “scriptures” (literally, “the writings”) when it refers to the Old Testament, but it is a very loose term. There was no authoritative notion of a canon of the Old Testament. There were the Books of Moses and the Prophets (cf. Luke 24:27) and there were other writings (the Psalms, Proverbs, etc.). But writers of the New Testament seem to have had no clear guide for what is authoritative and what is not. The book of Jude makes use of the Assumption of Moses as well as the Book of Enoch, without so much as a blush. There are other examples of so-called “non-canonical” works in the New Testament.
It is difficult on this side of the Reformation for people to have a proper feel for the Scriptures. First, though we say “Scriptures” (sometimes) we are just as likely to say “Scripture” (singular) and always have that meaning in mind regardless. We think of the Scriptures as a single book. And with this thought we tend to think of everything in the Book as of equal value, equal authenticity, equal reliability, equal authority, etc. And this is simply not the case and never has been.
The New Testament represents, in various forms, the Christian appropriation and re-reading of the Scriptures of Pharisaic Judaism (or even wider). The writings in the Old Testament do not, of themselves, point to Christ or prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. The Jews of Christ’s time, though expectant of a Messiah (God’s “Anointed One”), did not expect such a one to be the Son of God, nor Divine, nor to be crucified dead and resurrected. All of these understandings with regard to Christ are understandings that are post-resurrectional. The New Testament is quite clear that the disciples understood none of these things until after Christ’s resurrection, despite being told them numerous times. St. Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians describes the failure of the Jews to see Christ in the writings of the Old Testament as a “veil,” and compares it to the veil that Moses put over his face.
Thus the New Testament reading of the Old Testament is a “revelation” (an “apocalypse”) of the “mystery hidden from before all the ages.” Were it clear in the Old Testament, the mystery would not have been hidden. This is a unique and peculiar claim of the primitive Christian community. They present a novel, even apocalyptic interpretation of the writings of Judaism, and describe them as the true meaning of the Scriptures as revealed in Jesus Christ.
This is a world removed from modern (post-Reformation) claims for the Bible. For the equality (in authority, authenticity, etc.) of each writing within the Scriptures only becomes paramount when their individual worth is eradicated in their assumption by the whole. Thus Joshua suddenly becomes of equal importance with the Pentateuch (the 5 books of Moses) simply by reason of being included in “the Bible.” But historically, the book of Joshua never held the kind of central role that belonged to the Pentateuch. Saying this is not intended to diminish its importance, only to remove an importance to which it is not properly due.
Of course, starting down such a course raises enormous red flags for many. The concern would easily be voiced, “How, then, do you know what is more valuable and what less?” And this brings us back to the proper place. For the role of interpretation, weighing, comparing, etc., is the role of the Church, the believing community. There can be no Scriptures outside the Church. To say, “Scriptures,” is simply to name those writings which the believing Church holds to be important and authoritative – nothing more and nothing less. St. Hilary famously said, “The Scriptures are not in the reading, but in the understanding” (scriptura est non in legendo, sed in intelligendo).
The creation of a “canon” of Scripture was never more than a declaration of what a general consensus within the Church treated as authoritative. The Scriptures as a place for creating and proving formal doctrine is something of a fiction. 2Timothy 3:16-17 is the primary verse trotted out in defense of Scriptural authority:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2Ti 3:16-17 NKJ)
But this is a very troublesome and questionable translation. In Protestant usage, the key phrase is “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” But, in fact, the phrase “given by inspiration of God” is a single word (θεόπνευστος), just as accurately translated, “all Scripture that is inspired of God,” thus being a limiting phrase and not one that serves as an authoritative licensing of something later described as “the Bible.”
What we actually have in 2 Timothy is a very homely, parenetic expression in which the author suggests that reading the Scriptures is a good thing. It is not, despite its use as such, a foundational proclamation of the Bible as sole authority. For it is the Church that is described as the “Pillar and Ground of Truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15).
And the “canon” of Scripture was historically not a list of authoritative books, but a list of those works commonly read in the Churches. It is, something of a catalog of the lectionary. What we actually find in the Fathers is not the later proof-texting from an authoritative text, the Master Book of All Knowledge, if you will, but a use of quotes that seemed at hand and most useful for whatever topic was being treated. There are, to be sure, careful expository writings, such as those of St. John Chrysostom and others, but these are what they are: expositions of various writings. When the Church turned to the central core doctrines of the Faith, such as the Trinity, the natures and Person of Christ, the character of salvation, etc., arguments were far more wide-open and non-expository. Reason and language played as much of a role as Scripture itself. The words homoousios, hypostasis and ousia that play such completely central roles in the foundational doctrines of the Trinity and Christology are not given meanings drawn from Scripture, but from arguments that incorporate Scripture and every possible tool. The Church is not a Bible-based teaching institution – the Church is the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the Body of Christ, divinely given by God for our salvation and it uses the Scriptures and everything that exists for the purpose of expounding the truth it has received from God from the very beginning.
The only “thing” approaching a “Bible” in the sense that has commonly been used in modern parlance, is the Church. The Scriptures have their place within the life of the Church and only exist as Scriptures within that context.
I’ve often heard people reference “The Word” as used in Holy Scripture to infer the Bible, rather than in referring to Christ himself. Any thoughts on this?
It’s almost a nickname, isn’t it? It’s terribly limiting in a way. The Hebrew for word (Davar), has a much larger meaning. The Davar of God can also mean the “act” of God – a dramatic act, an intervention. So when the “Word of the Lord came unto me,” (in Ezekiel’s favorite phrase) it is not just phrases that came into his mind. It is a dramatic action of God that has settled within him, out of which he speaks. Even when a prophet says, “Hear the word (davar) of the Lord,” he doesn’t mean, “Consider these things that God is saying through me.” He also is saying, “Here’s the very active and powerful and unstoppable word/action of God – look out!”
But people blithely pet their favorite Bible and talk about the “Word” with no fear and trembling. I live in a town that works with nuclear materials (at the National Laboratory). They handle stuff very carefully. The Davar of God makes such materials seem tame by comparison.
Well said Father. Would that more of our Protestant friends and family were willing to challenge their so often entrenched paradigm…or is that “tradition”? As the Spirit is found in the interpretation…so too in the heart of those willing to read. Lord have mercy.
Good, I now have reason to toss out my “Orthodox Study Bible” published by Anicent Faith press. Whew.
Somewhat tangential, but would you support the publication of a single translation of the Scriptures for Orthodox usage? How do you feel about the various attempts/failures to accomplish this elsewhere?
Droll. Very droll.
I would support any good translation. But the Orthodox in the US don’t even have a single translation of the service books within a single jurisdiction. So, there won’t be a common Orthodox translation anytime soon. There are some things out there that are far superior. The Eastern Orthodox Bible, which currently has only completed the NT, is head and shoulder above anything else I’ve seen.
I would be interested in seeing the various English jurisdictions commissioning a panel to examine it, and make a recommendation. With the Episcopal Assembly, such a thing could be done.
Fr. Stephen, you challenge my theology with every single post. Thanks for allowing the Holy Spirit to use you to open our eyes to Truth as the Church has always held it. I often find that unconnected tangential ideas I’ve had come together after reading your posts and book.
Thank you for this, Father. As a Protestant who has lost his reasons for protesting (against the Orthodox Church, at least), I think this is really hitting at the crux of the matter. The only reason we can say that it is OK for us to have divisions among us (and yet maintain some sort of invisible unity) is because we all have the unifying Authority of the Bible. And yet, as I’ve been coming to understand, and as you demonstrate, the Bible does not have authority apart from the Church. This is a big problem for Protestants.
I found the article well thought out and see how it could challenge some Christians. Generally there was nothing new to me in the article about the history of the Bible but I still enjoyed it and have reason to continue thinking it through since i believe the Bible is not only a great document of faith but a wonderful work of literature. I found the essense of the article to be somewhat similar to the recent statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury about sometimes doubting God’s existence or at least God’s presence to which many of us can say ditto. In my case articles like this one give me reason to pause and possibly doubt on some level but I still choose to believe in a God far beyond my mortal comprehension to understand. Please add me to your mailing list. Thanks!
Your translation of that passage is horrible. The actual Greek has no verb within the passage until the copulative subjunctive at the very end. The supplied copulative at the beginning is because almost every word after Scripture is either a noun or an adjective, including theopneustos, which, contrary to your assertion, is a feminine case adjective, not a participle. There is no -a ending of this word, only -os and -on. I expect better from an E/O priest. In this case, it appears that your doctrinal position has blinded your eyes, and your mind, to the truth.
Love this reply, father. Thank you! Excellent article as well.
Thank you for correcting my grammar. I’ve gotten lazy in my old age. You are correct about the adjective – though were it a participle as I said – it would be an adjectival use – and thus without change in the meaning. I certainly expect better of myself when it comes to Greek. I’m chagrinned. But it’s not my doctrine that’s at fault. I’ve corrected the article. But the translation point still stands. It is by no means necessary to render the verse as a sweeping statement about the nature of Scripture – though I certainly believe and the Church holds that the Scriptures are inspired of God.
You mean fifth century folks couldn’t pick up a copy of the Bible at their local Barnes & Noble store? 🙂
This article was very helpful to me. Thank you!
A few times in the past when in discussion, some protestant (most recently a Jehovah Witness – tangent: are they considered “protestants” as such, or for that matter are Mormons?) will ask me “Does your church use the the Bible?”. I have cheekily replied, “use it, we invented it!” I will then try to talk a little about history, canon, etc. but you can tell it’s difficult for them to grasp. I think in the future I will just hand them this essay instead…:)
The EOB:NT is great!
Thank you so much for this, Fr. Stephen!
Great read. I’ve not come across a discussion of the Bible or the canon that cut through the usual rhetoric so clearly and concisely. My Protestant friends might have difficulty with it but then.. well.. they should. And apart from the translation error which I have no basis for disputing either way.. the history you provide seems spot on. Did I say, it is informative, to the point and easy to follow?
Believe me, the Protestants are beginning to listen. We don’t have much of a choice these days as so much of what the Reformation built is crumbling right before our eyes. The
Sola Scriptura doctrine led to the idea of Scriptural Inerrancy which seems to be a dead end (though many are still holding on and others struggle to admit the inevitable). The question that is left to be answered is “Where now lies the authority?” I, for one, am very interested in what the Orthodox Church has to say about this.
Thank you for this article, Father. I have one question to ask: What about Acts 17:11? This verse is always used by evangelicals to support Sola Scriptura. But if this verse isn’t supporting Sola Scriptura, as you contend, what exactly does it mean? I grew up an evangelical, but my study of church history (not to mention your blogs) has thrown everything I learned in doubt. Any insight would be great.
P.S. You may not remember me, but your blog has helped me escape biblical Literalism (cf. ‘The God of the Old Testament’). It’s truly liberating to no longer worry about the latest developments in science, linguistics or archaeology. Thank you again for all your help. God bless!
May I recommend you an essay by a dear friend of mine, Fr. Walter J. Ong:
“Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought”.
Oh, and by the way:
“The medium is the message.” 🙂
Ah, the old Berea ploy! I’ve heard the verse tossed around for years. It’s an excellent example of anachronistic reading – sort of imagining the Bereans to be a group of Baptists who’ve suddenly been presented with a new Bible problem.
Let’s think for a moment about the historical situation. They are Diaspora Jews, doubtless Greek-speaking, etc. Paul shows up and begins teaching Christ. To do so, he has to introduce them to this new (even radical) reading of the Old Testament. He’s telling them something completely new about the meaning of the Passover Lamb. He’s telling them that this Messiah is actually God in the flesh, etc. He is introducing them into the whole Christian way of reading and understanding the Scriptures (he is like Christ on the Road to Emmaus). So how do they react? Well they can’t go “look up” what he’s said, because what he’s said is an interpretation. So what do they do? They search throughout the Scriptures, seeing if the “pattern” of teaching (as described by Irenaeus) holds up. I’ll bet the fur was flying in their arguments. And the result? They were “fair minded” and “many of them believed.”
I would gladly sit down with any believer, including a fundamentalist, and have them teach Christ solely from the Old Testament. It can obviously be done, but in the process, you’ll begin to realize the method that is being used.
I can imagine that some might think that this article of mine is meant to question the authority of Scripture – it is not. Only the question how they understand that authority.
Firstly, “the scriptures” in question would have been some collection of scrolls from the OT.
Secondly, I would suggest that they were not examining the news they had received against what the scriptures “told them”, but rather they were examining the scriptures they had, in the light of the new revelation, to work out whether they could be interpreted in this new way.
“The writings in the Old Testament do not, of themselves, point to Christ or prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.”
That is simply not the Orthodox faith. One of the reasons we consider the Septuagint as authoritative is that we believe that the Massoretes watered down the messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. The Holy Story is one continuous narrative and the Old Testament does, in and of itself, point to Christ.
If it is “in and of itself,” then why did the disciples not understand it until Christ “opened their understanding.” That is the witness of the gospel of Luke, for example. And it is the Orthodox faith. The letter alone will not reveal Christ – He is spiritually discerned. Indeed the entire Old Testament, every jot and tittle, points to Christ. He is beneath every word – even the spaces between the words. But this is under a veil until the veil is removed – it is hidden until God reveals it. That is the Orthodox faith. Every time before the reading of the gospel we pray, “Illumine our hearts with the understanding…”
But that you see this continuous narrative in the Old Testament is the gift of grace, not produced by an objective treatment of the narrative. The objective treatment (which is imaginary) is a Protestant doctrine, not the Orthodox faith.
Perhaps you have misunderstood what I have said.
The pattern for this is in Acts and the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.
And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. (Act 8:27-35 NKJ)
“How can I unless someone guides me?” Philip does not reply and say, “But it’s obvious!” Christ must be preached. The Scriptures must be interpreted, as noted in the quote from St. Hilary. That is the Orthodox faith. The whole life of the Church, her rites and hymns, her every action and word is the interpretation of that which was hidden.” Only Protestants who think the Church is not necessary say that the Scripture is sufficient in and of itself. It is not. It must be read, interpreted, preached and taught. That is the faith of the Fathers.
In his book, The Mystery of Christ, Fr. John Behr explains the death and resurrection of Christ as providing the apostolic hypothesis by which scriptures are to be read and interpreted. Only in the light of Pascha is the deeper allegorical sense of the Old Testament revealed.
I take this to mean that, prior to Pascha, it would have been absolutely impossible for anyone to sit with the scriptures and anticipate the manner by which God would reconcile the world to Himself in Christ.
I recently revisited Fr. Behr’s book, and I saw some very close connections with your article, Father.
What you attribute to Protestantism is NOT the position of the Augsburg Confession. Nowhere do Luther, Melancthon, or the signers of the Solid Declaration say that the Scripture, in and of itself, reveals Christ, but that the Spirit speaks to us using the Scripture, rather than independent of either the preaching of Scripture OR the distribution of the Sacraments of Baptism or Holy Communion. If you are talking, on the other hand, about Zwingli or Calvin, then say so. The Reformation began with Luther, not with the English or the French.
The faith of the Fathers is that Christ was always there in the Scriptures, objectively, yet some did not have eyes to see him there. Thus He explained the references to Himself in Scripture after the Resurrection. Many believed He was the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament, before his Resurrection. St. Peter even confessed Him as the Son of God.
The reason that your statement is contrary to the Orthodox faith, Fr., is that it is essentially higher criticism. It is suggesting that those inspired did not objectively receive inspiration to describe the Christ, it is only later when He has revealed Himself that it is even possible to identify Him in the Old Testament.
This is not fundamentally different than saying that the Old Testament was not written with Christ in mind, but that Christianity is an overlay which takes license to interpret the Old Testament prophesies as applying to Christ. That is not the Orthodox faith. The faith is that all the Scriptures point to Christ – explicitly and objectively – that they were always intended that way to all hearers. Thus those of the Jews who rejected Him and condemned him were wrong to do so, and those who accepted Him had eyes to see and ears to hear. Yet some have obscured the meaning of Scripture so that the Christology is hidden.
The word ‘read’ means to ‘guess’ — look it up in the big dictionary. Reading is an activity of rapid guessing because any word has so many meanings — including the word ‘reading’ – that to select one in a context of other words requires very rapid guessing. That’s why a good reader tends to be a very quick decision-maker.
I really cannot understand your ” contrary to the Orthodox faith” criticism!
The ‘veil’ St Paul talks of is used throughout the Orthodox hymnography with Father’s exact meaning…
It is what we see in the walk towards Emmaus after the resurrection. If Christ does not reveal Himself to those who are open to this revelation, if that Light of Pascha does not illumine the ‘reader’, Scripture will not reveal its depths of its own. One cannot use the objective/subjective categories the way you did very precisely…
There is incongruity in your statement:
Not having eyes to see and ears to hear is a subjective phenomenon – a failure to appreciate what is actually there, the witness to the Christ that those souls Christ freed during his Descent into Hades had perceived before His coming.
A good article. I would make one small correction: ‘Bible’ means ‘books,’ rather than ‘book.’ This etymology supports your overall point, however.
I was Evangelical Covenantal for about a year and a half before I started to lean more toward High Church traditions (Anglo-Catholic, Catholic, Orthodox). They had six doctrinal points all centering around the Bible as solely authoritative and I never agreed with the notion that the Bible was solely authoritative.
I think you misunderstand how I am using the word “objective.” Christ is absolutely, truly there in the Old Testament, even though that presence is largely hidden. Thus the outstretched arms of Moses truly are the Cross, as the Fathers note, but it is hidden beneath the literal level of the story, etc. Many of the prophecies that are most familiar to us are not clearly pointed towards Christ, until someone helps us see that it is so. But they are certainly truly there.
How much of this an individual Prophet or writer was aware of is not clear and is not part of the Orthodox faith. I am not using higher criticism. If you think that is so then you neither understand what I am saying nor do you understand higher criticism.
But “objective” generally would mean something that is apparent to anybody without any outside aid whatsoever. And this is clearly NOT the teaching of the Orthodox faith. It is clearly the teaching of the Fathers and the gospels themselves that Christ is revealed to us (even in the Scriptures) through the Holy Spirit. That does not mean such revelation is merely subjective. Rather, it means, that human beings do not see the truth of things (as they really are) without grace. And that is the faith of the Church.
Luther and the first Protestants were ‘schoolmen’ who were trained in literacy. They transposed the old method of scholastic discussion into the new visual order: they used the new discovery of print to dig the trench that separated them from the Roman Church.
“Our literate world of visually processed sounds has been totally unfamiliar to most human beings, who always belonged, and often still belong to this oral world. ‘Homo sapiens’ has been around for some 30,000 years, to take a conservative figure. The oldest script, Mesopotamian cuneiform, is less than 6,000 years old (the alphabet less than 4,000). Of all the tens of thousands of languages spoken in the course of human history only a tiny fraction — Edmonson (1971: 323) calculates about 106 — have ever been committed to writing to a degree sufficient to have produced a literature, and most have never been written at all. Of the 4,000 or so languages spoken today, only around 78 have a literature (Edmonson 1971: 332). For some of the others linguists have devised more or less adequate ways of writing them, with results that appear in linguistics publications and convention papers that have no noteworthy effect at all on the actual users of the language. Dr C. Andrew Hofling has recently completed a linguistic study of discourse in the Itza Mayan language which transcribes the language in the Roman alphabet. This transcription is essential for linguistic studies, but it is useless, inconseguential, for the Itza Maya themselves. With only some 500 speakers, the language has no effective way of developing a literate culture. Most languages in the world today exist in comparable conditions. Those who think of the text as the paradigm of all discourse need to face the fact that only the tiniest fraction of languages have ever been written or ever will be. Most have disappeared or are fast disappearing, untouched by textuality.” (Walter J. Ong)
Yes, if the sentence were about etymology. But, in English, “Bible” is singular and shows no sign of being from the plural. Thus “To Biblion” rather than “Biblia”. It is “the Book.” And, of course, it’s not “a book” but many books. Not to quibble…
I’ll confirm what Fr. Stephen says here regarding the Hebrew דבר davar as well as add that, whatever we might call “The Word,” should primarily refer to Christ Himself who is the incarnate Logos or “Word.” The revelation of God is definitively embodied in Him, and whatever we might call Scripture ultimately is a witness to and is dependent upon the revelation of Christ as the Logos “Word” of God.
BTW, Fr. Steven, this is a fantastic post. Thanks so much!
I find the NKJV to be the least problematic. I check every epistle and Gospel reading against the Greek each Sunday, and I find I have fewer quibbles with the NKJV than, say, the RSV.
I agree in general about the NKJV. But it persists with bad English renderings as “fellowship” for koinonia – one of my pet peeves. But the only translation in English that is mindful of traditional Orthodox meanings is the EOB.
The OSB tries to do some of this with its treatment of the OT, but the NT is simply straight NKJV. The notes are good and useful, however.
But it is extremely common that the understanding of union with Christ is absent from the minds of most modern Christians because its omnipresence in the Greek text has been undertranslated (as in koinonia). Protestant Bibles are broken.
The revelation is of thing, not theory. And where revelation reveals actual thing-ness you are not dealing with concept. The thing-ness revealed in Christianity has always been a scandal to the conceptualist: it has always been incredible. This issue is raised in the Book of Job, where faith and understanding were put at totally opposite poles. Job was not working on a theory but on a direct percept. All understanding was against him; all concept was against him. He was directly perceiving a reality, one revealed to him.
You wrote in the original piece, “The word ‘Bible’ simply means ‘book.'” I take the meaning of a word to be either its etymology, definition, or (following Wittgenstein) its use in a language. In none of these does ‘Bible’ simply mean ‘book.’
Etymology: from the Greek plural _ta biblia_ and not the singular _biblion_
Definition: The primary definition is given by the OED “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament” (another plural — scriptures), and by Merriam-Webster as “the sacred scriptures of Christians comprising the Old Testament and the New Testament” (another plural).
Use in the language: Here the primary meaning as well is a reference to the Scriptures (plural).
The OED, of course, points out that ‘Bible’ can be used _figuratively_ to refer to “a text-book,” “authority,” or “a sacred book.” Or it can be used in a _transferred_ sense to refer to “a large book.”
None of these support the idea that ”Bible’ simply means ‘book.”
I say all this not to argue, but because I think the reminder that ‘Bible’ refers to a collection of books supports your general approach to the Bible and reinforces that it is a collection of books written by many different authors at different times. I rather like that St Jerome referred to the Bible as _bibliotheca_ (Greek and Latin for ‘library’), and that his usage continued for some time.
The first part of what you wrote makes complete sense, but what you say at the end about Father’s “doctrinal position blinding his eyes, and his mind, to the truth.” (!!) sounds unbelievably far-fetched…
The point he makes is completely valid the way it is being made. There is a mistranslation that favours Protestant Sola Scriptura here…
Also, as a native Greek, I would go even further than Father Stephen in saying that the original letter to Timothy should clearly read in English thus:
“All Scripture that is given [the verb ‘to give’ being implied in the original] by inspiration of God, [take a breath/break] is (also) profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction…”
it is also fairly obvious that in the previous sentence -where St Paul mentions how St Timothy had been taught the holy scriptures/“letters” from infancy (when one cannot read or understand much ‘letters’) – he infers the ‘spirit’ of scripture, the Spirit ‘traditioned’ in the Church (through word and letter), as in 2 Corinthians -when he claims that the letter kills whereas the Spirit gives life- and in a similar fashion to 2 Thessalonians when Paul admonishes us to keep the traditions that were passed both by word and letter.
The main point to keep is that nowhere does the original 2Ti 3:16-17 make the Sola Scriptura point that ‘only’ the Bible (OT for Timothy) is God-inspired.
Point taken. I stand corrected.
I understand that you’re a confessional Lutheran (a vanishing breed). But arguing with Luther is, ultimately, a straw man. He’s dead. What we have now are Protestants, very few of whom are strict confessionalists of any sort, almost all of whom propound some adulterated version of a false Sola Scriptura. Perhaps Luther himself would not have gone as far as his numerous offspring – but he’s a moot point, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not interested.
I think I would push it even further. What St. Paul meant my “Scriptures” (grammata) would probably scandalize a modern Protestant. I suspect that it would have black and white and many shades of gray. Some things are Scriptures, some things are not, other things are but not as much, etc. So, if he wanted to make a very solid case, then Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah – indeed look at what he quotes. Those are his hard core books. But our eyes can wander as far as the Assumption of Moses in one of the apostolic writings and hints at other stuff as well. The Church gradually narrows the field, more or less, by use. If something wasn’t used, then it doesn’t get included. The book of Enoch is an excellent example. It does get used (and was once something of a Christian favorite) and is included in the Ethiopian Orthodox canon.
None of this stuff was all that tight until the arguments between Catholics and Reformers forces it to be tight. For the Orthodox, these were not our arguments and the sense of things never got so tight – so that even today there is some variation between what you find in Russian usage versus Greek usage as well as the Ethiopian. Were there ever a healing of the schism with the Oriental Orthodox, you can be sure that the canon will not be a concern. What I am writing about here – is the reasoning and understanding that makes the Orthodox attitude to the Scriptures/Canon possible. We are neither Roman Catholics nor Protestants and we should not think of the Scriptures as they do. Their arguments poisoned their wells.
Hmm, well it’s not worth too much effort in this forum. Christ was meant to be discerned in the Old Testament by the Inspirer, just not perfectly. He could not be discerned too fully until He actually appeared.
As He began to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies, it would have become clear to those who witnessed it and were of a discerning nature that He was the Messiah. The question is how wise and honest the witness would be in response to Him.
And, just in general, I’m sure many Old Testament saints had some imperfect (in the sense of incomplete) appreciation of the Messiah to come – Suffering Servant, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, etc.
As to higher criticism, there is a way to believe that resonates with higher criticism and one that resonates with the method of Holy Tradition, which is not modern historical analysis and with which it is mutually exclusive. Keeping that in mind keeps us out of mischief.
Thus I suppose I would reword your sentence as follows:
“The writings in the Old Testament do, of themselves, point to Christ and demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. In fact, He pointed to them Himself after His Resurrection to show that He is their fulfillment. However, these prophecies do not give a complete picture of who He was/is. Nonetheless there are many Old Testament prophecies of which Christ is and was meant to be the fulfillment, some of which have been obscured by His adversaries.”
Exactly. I should have included some exclamation marks to signify that that is exactly where the incongruity lies:
Christ was always there in the Scriptures, objectively, yet some [objectively????] did not have eyes to see him there.
It is the nature of that discernment that is at question. It is far more hidden than you seem to think. But I’ll leave that for now.
As a fairly new orthodox convert I have a very hard time reading the Bible without “hearing” 40 plus years of evangelical Sunday school, bible studies and sermons in the words I read. I confess to avoiding the daily readings as I feel like I hardly understand anything I read anymore. The notes at the bottom of the page in the Orthodox study Bible can be helpful but how does one begin to re-read scripture as an orthodox christian?
Slowly. Seriously. And with some help. Fr. Lawrence Farley’s various commentaries are very readable and reliable. The Protestant lens tends to be very heavy on the grace/works paradigm and forces it even when it’s not there. St. Augustine, for example, who certainly was clear on justification, saw it as a life-long thing and did not make a distinction between that and sanctification. That is, he was not a Protestant (though they’d like to claim him).
One thing that I have found helpful over the years was the simple discipline of “re-thinking.” I know I often ride the hobby-horse of “union with God” as the primary model for understanding salvation and the Christian life. I do it because it’s true and because we need a super heavy dose of hearing it. So, I read through passages and ask – “does this say anything about union?” or “can this be understood in a union model?”
When I’m really stuck, I read myself. 🙂
AJ. The key lies in re-listening. Attend as many services as possible and listen with your heart. Experience the context. Gradually your mind will be renewed.
The passing on of the Holy Scriptures is still primarily oral. It has to be heard and heard in the context of a truly worshipping community.
During my conversion I stopped reading the Bible for myself for around a year. Instead I listened to the readings during Liturgy and to the homilies. It’s not that I consciously set out to reeducate myself–I was just tired of the whole rigmarole (reading the text, with or without understanding, as the Protestant sacrament). Then I started picking up the text again and found that I had “new eyes.” In other words, what Michael Bauman said.
you could always stop paying any attention to your desire to, or your memory of a previous understanding. As they say “get out of your head and into your heart”. Why not read as a mystagogy for a while – like when they chant it and you can’t make everything out but God’s presence is vivid? Not that other words of the Fathers, that are heavy on Scriptural explanation (like ‘On the life of Moses’) won’t help the intelectual comprehension too…
I congratulate you regardless!
This is how I feel….but there is still a certain amount of guilt about not reading and studying scripture as part of a daily exercise.
Years of hearing that God speaks to me directly through the scriptures and now he doesn’t is hard to unlearn.
I guess it’s a bit of laziness and a touch of frustration that I have to start all over.
I must disagree. “Bible” comes from “βίβλος”, which is singular, and is in fact the first word in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, where it clearly does not refer to “books”.
I’m thankful that you do ride your hobby horse, as you wrote, on our union with Christ. How can one hear that message too often, knowing that through the sacraments (mysteries) and prayer one can be joined in an eternal union with God? This has also been a constant refrain of Matthew Galatin in his podcasts on AFR with John 17:20-23 being his favorite passage on this marvelous truth. And this rethinking you mention, I believe, is part of what it means to have our mind (nous) renewed so that we can indeed prove what is the will of God, the good, acceptable and perfect.
Dear Fr Stephen,
Permit me if I may – ‘pneumastos’ is not typically considered a participle in Ancient/Koiné Greek philology, but this is something of an accident of the evolution of the language and its grammatical school. It is, from an historical point of view, a past perfect participle formed on the suffix (Proto-Indo-European) *-to-. This is quite productive for the formation of such participles in Latin – “am-a-tu-s”, “duc-tu-s”, etc. Its counterpart, *-no- is more common in Russian. Take the simple phrase – “I am very busy” = “Ja ochen’ zanjat”. Picking ‘zanjat’ apart etymologically, we have preverb ‘za’ + root ‘n(e)m’ (cognate German ‘nehmen’) + suffix ‘tъ’, ultimately from *to-(s). Both *-no- and *-to- are found in Germanic PPPs; we say ‘known’ in English but in Old English it was cuð and Gothic kunþs (*ǵn-to-s; cf. Latin cognitus < *ḱm-ǵnh3-to-s).
In summary, it is a participle, simply the suffix -to- in Greek ceased to be productive at some ancient point in time and also appears on some adjectives that do not appear to be derived in the same way. For this reason, in Greek philology, -to- adjectives are generally not referred to as participles, even though most of them are.
The noun 'pneuma' itself is historically a (mediopassive) participle from *pneu-mn, nominalised as an abstract noun, its semantic etymology thus something like 'blowing (through the air)' (< pneo:, which is actually cognate with the English word 'sneeze'). There are a few levels of derivation from pneo: to pneustos, but the -to- still has a participial function, evident in all its varying translations.
Not to quibble either, but Bible is taken from Latin biblia which has to reflect Greek biblia directly. Both Modern and Ancient Greek for book is ‘biblos’, ‘biblion’ being a dimunitive. So ‘ta biblia’ is ‘the wee books’ or can be reanalysed as a collective, which is what I would say the origin of Latin ‘biblia’ is – ‘a collection of small books’, now a feminine singular noun.
Interestingly, this is the origin of the feminine ending in Indo-European – it appears to have its origin in the neuter plural ending -a: ( “collective singular or abstract noun” (feminine singular) and from there was applied to feminine animate nouns. In the oldest attested Indo-European languages, there is no feminine.
AJ, I understand what you are going through. I converted, too, and found that the book we used for weekly ‘Scripture Study’ was helpful.
It is Johanna Manley’s compilation of the daily and weekly readings, with [short] commentary from the Fathers, called “The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox.”
It may be worth the price (over $50) for you.
I don’t mean to always promote Lutheranism when I come to your blog, but it strikes me that you are not saying anything that Luther and Chemnitz also did not emphasize vs. not only their Roman Catholic opponents, but also the Protestants who did not want a conservative Reformation….
Here is a bit from Chemnitz:
“And as the ancient church at the time of Moses, Joshua, and the prophets, so also the primitive church at the time of the apostles was able to testify with certainty which writings were divinely inspired. For she knows the authors whom God had commended to the church by special testimonies; she knew also which were the writings which had been composed by them; and from the things which she had received by oral tradition from the apostles she could judge that the things which had been written were the same teaching which the apostles had delivered with the living voice.” — Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis, Concordia, 1971), 176.
Now that might sound to some folks here like it could potentially be a typical Protestant thing to say, until one realizes that Chemnitz and Luther were keen to downgrade the authority of certain books precisely because they were “antilegomena” that is, books that were “spoken against”. It is not that these books have no value, but that there value did not compare with things like, as you say, the “book of the Gospels” and the “book of the Epistles”. The Lutherans as a whole did recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in these books – including Revelation – but they made a point to insist that these books should not be able to help determine doctrine without the help of other books. This also showed sensitivity to other quarters of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church who while holding orthodox beliefs were nevertheless unable to fully embrace such books as being Scriptural…
Again, we do agree that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth, as the Scriptures say, but also that staying with the divinely revealed faith once delivered to all the saints means perpetually fleeing back to the Scriptures to test all things, particularly those things that seem wrong or unfamiliar (Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11)!
I don’t think you will find Fathers disagreeing with that.
This is an excellent article and the responses have been very thought provoking. As a convert (formally an Episcopalian for 40 years) I have a question related to this discussion. When discussing the place or role of the “church” in interpretation of scripture, how is the “church” to be understood.? Is it the Orthodox Church? Is it the Roman Catholic Church? Is it the Protestant denominations? I suspect it is implied that the “church” is the Orthodox Church. If that is the case, what are we to consider regarding the contribution of the Roman Catholic Church and the various Protestant denominations? Are the various contributions, such as the Jerome Commentary or the Interpreter’s Bible Commentary and other works to be discounted, or how exactly are they to be valued? Personally, I am discovering the fullness of the faith once delivered, as it is oft mentioned, fully expressed (more than I realize I imagine) in the Orthodox Church. And, I’m conflicted somewhat in that there are so very many Christian brothers and sisters, whose witness and unconditional love for me made my journey “home” to Orthodoxy possible, yet they were not Orthodox. I suppose like me, they too see things from a pretty incomplete perspective, but your post begs the question about the church. The entire body of Christ or a particular expression? Thanks.
Oh, please don’t misunderstand–it’s not that God *doesn’t* speak to us in the Scriptures, not at all. He does, and as we read or hear we are supposed to apply them to our own state. It’s just that for myself, I needed to take a break in order to hear them from a within-the-Church context, and I needed to learn that it was okay if when reading the daily lesson I didn’t feel like singing praise choruses. Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t.
When I say Church, I mean, the “Orthodox Church.” I do not do that as any form of triumphalism, nor to speak ill of other Christians. But I understand Church as “that which is in communion.” The status of those outside of the communion of the Church varies in many ways. Some are there by fault of schism, some by heresy, and most just by the fault of history. An article by the late Fr. Georges Florovsky on The Limits of the Church is probably as good as anything I could recommend for thinking about this.
But, the Church only exists as “One,” as we confess in the Creed and the “One” that is the Church is not an invisible, vague “unity of all Christians” somehow apart from any “particular expression.” The “particular expression” is the only Church that exists. Nothing exists “in general” only in particular reality.
The scandal this creates is that it reveals the results of schism, etc., to be true disasters and not just inconveniences. Orthodoxy itself does not exist as a denomination. It is a communion of the faithful that has extended throughout history and maintained its unity at great personal, emotional, and spiritual expense. It is an ongoing miracle.
But the denominational organizations are not properly “Churches” in Apostolic Succession and continuity with the One Church. Most do not even intend to be. Others have various theories that try to make it so, but fall short.
In truth, the doctrine of the Church (ecclesiology) is the single greatest failure of Protestantism in all its forms and this was so from the beginning – for in many ways the Reformation was a rebellion against the idea and reality of Church rather than a reform.
The status of Rome is a different story. There is a genuine schism there – which is a peculiar thing in the canons and thought of the Church. That “peculiar” status is reflected in how its people are received back into communion with the Orthodox and even the acceptance of its priesthood (by almost all of the Orthodox). It has an “impaired” relationship – but from the Orthodox understanding – whatever “Churchliness” it possesses, it does so only in relationship to the One Communion of the Orthodox Church.
This is often a hard topic for readers (I’ve noticed). The ecumenical ideas of “one” are a deeply flawed heresy but are enmeshed in modern culture. I’ve written a number of times on the topic – creating consternation for many.
But we should treat with charity and thankfulness all who name Christ everywhere (as well as all others). We should be as generous as possible while not saying things that are not true. I am deeply grateful to all that I received from my Baptist childhood as well as much that I received in my Anglican years. With the Anglicans, I would not have found Orthodoxy. I was guided on the path by several mentors (one had been a student of Florovsky). Oddly, when I told my last Anglican bishop that I was intending to convert, he asked if he could give me his blessing. I knelt and received it gratefully. Anglicans are a peculiar lot!
I will refrain from linking items from my own blog – Father, I hope you do not mind. I know this is your blog and I am a guest – but suffice it to say, the confessional Lutheran view of the church is similar. We also hold ourselves to be “truly church” in a visible sense. We do not often claim to be the true church – though many in our midst certainly and firmly believe this to be the case – but “a true church”, holding out hope for discussions with other Christians whereby the one truth might be recognized and all of us might be one in the fullest sense. Certainly, we look at some communions and see them as “further gone” than others. Many of us find much in E.O. which impresses us, even as we have important concerns as well.
I understand. I think that Lutheranism tends to make the Church more of an ideological construct (of necessity). Of course, the other Protestant groups have tended to lose even their ideology.
Thanks Father. I think that is true for some Lutherans but not all Lutherans. I see it as ontological to the hilt, the mystical body of Christ, pure and simple.
I can’t stop thinking about what you said above when you talked about “confessional Lutherans” being “a vanishing breed”. Would you be willing to expound a bit more on what you are trying to communicate here. I assume since you talk about us in this way in this conversation there is some real significance to you bringing it up.
I’ve had a number of friends in various “confessing” Church groups – Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists. Good people – and faithful – and often waging the good fight. But I think, forgive me, that history’s judgment on the main Protestant bodies has shown that there were woeful inadequacies from the beginnings. They were all “confessing” Churches to start with – and there are naturally today – those who are “conservative” and maintain a loyalty to that confessing root.
But I think the confessing remnants, though good and true and faithful, are remnants and as such reveal something. It’s not a happy thought, I admit. But I think the West is passing away (I sound like a Tolkien Elf or something). Orthodoxy is not the “East” but has a different story. It is, I believe, the fullness of the Christian faith – not a remnant – but the true root that remains.
But the tides of time and the worlds of men are in the hands of God. I do not see the waxing of the Confessing Churches, only their waning. I could be wrong, of course.
Thank you kindly for your answer. Here is what now comes to mind: the idea of the remnant, of course, has O.T. roots… Further, we get the impression from Jesus in the N.T. that the number of faithful in the very last days will be few and beleaguered indeed. Is there anything like the remnant motif in Orthodoxy?
Yes there is. The Scriptures seem to indicate that the end of things become exceedingly difficult and the consensus is that the persecuted Church will consist of but few. This is a strong prophetic theme among many of the Holy Elders especially in our modern times.
Of course, there is always a temptation within this. Every schismatic group sees in itself a fulfillment of this, and slips deeper into delusion. I certainly would not counsel despair to those in the Confessing movements. There are much worse places to be. But I would suggest that Orthodoxy is the original confessing movement and has remained faithful in a measure that has no comparison. And they have been winnowed from time to time, survived and flourished again. It is an amazing story – blessed and sustained by God – I believe with all my heart.
Jesus Christ draws all men to Himself. Not all follow, most others follow imperfectly.
In the eschaton He will know His own and they will know Him.
The Orthodox Church is the best expression of that intimate, loving, reciprocal knowledge (despite our many sins). Those who are drawn to Him will come closer to the revelation given to the Church and that she still holds.
An article like this would have freaked me out 5 years ago, when I was still nose-deep in Calvinism. I would have said AHA! Those Orthodox are nothing but long-bearded 19th Century Liberals who doubt both the Bible and probably the existence of God, too! I would have accused you of undermining the very Word of God, and therefore of being a non-church entirely.
In fact, I did say all those things about Orthodoxy. But for some reason I couldn’t quit coming back and looking again.
Now I’m Orthodox, your article above makes perfect sense, like “Well, yeah, how could it be otherwise?” And now it is the Protestant arguments that sound rather foreign to me.
I never should have tasted the Kool-Aid 🙂
BT it wasn’t Kool-aid, it was a taste of the fullness of the Truth, you can’t accept anything less once you have tasted that.
I would like to add these to these comments.
from the catechism by st Philaret of Moscow approved by the holy synod. http://www.pravoslavieto.com/docs/eng/orthodox_catechism_of_philaret.htm
Which states in question 19 19. What is that which you call holy Scripture? Certain books written by the Spirit of God through men sanctified by God, called Prophets and Apostles. These books are commonly termed the Bible.
“Don’t worry, dearly beloved, don’t think Sacred Scripture ever contradicts itself, learn instead the truth of what it says, hold fast what it teaches in truth, and close your ears to those who speak against it.” — St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 4.8
Met. Philaret’s Catechism is probably one of the most “Westernized”documents ever issued by a Holy Synod. It is correct in what it says, though almost everything in it is said in a manner that is neither the way it had been said before in Orthodoxy, nor how it is said now. It was a historical time in which official Orthodoxy in Russia was speaking with a very Latinized accent.
I can site many more examples of Orthodox proclaiming, what is a clearly western-influenced message. Fr John Romanides was credited -polemical though he sometimes came across as- as pointing out many of these deviations from genuine tradition.
Even the fact that we are now stuck with a sermon (in most Sunday Liturgies) just before partaking of Holy Communion (a thoroughly protestant-influenced notion of the importance of words over ontological participation in the mystery/sacrament) is such a core deviation.
When a Bishop goes to the holy Mountain and suddenly comes out to talk before Holy Communion, (extremely rare though this may be) it is thoroughly cringe-worthy for all…
(any other time is better)
“Fr John Romanides was credited…”
I am surprised no one has mentioned Fr. John’s thesis (Charlemagne, “Franks”, and the west subsequently becoming bogged down in dialectical theology and losing it’s patristic consensus) in relation to the Scholastic and ecumenism themes yet. I have only read excerpts/summaries of his work on the internet so I can’t really comment…
Here is some funny stuff.
During WWII, how many code languages were being used to pass secret information back and forth. Well obviously more than one code language was being used by different countries, or else the whole point of using a code language would have been ridiculously stupid if all countries shared the one same code language.
Thus if you cracked one code language it did not mean that you had cracked them all since they are all different code languages. On top of that, if one code language was pure trash, it did not mean that all the other code languages were all crappy as well, since they were all different code languages.
However, in the world of possible Bible code languages, one crappy code language was studied and was soon identified as trash. Following this rejection, a large group of mentally challenged people immediately concluded that since this trash Bible code language was identified as such, then it was also an instantaneous fact that all other possible Bible code languages were therefore trash as well.
The funny part was that this large group of mentally challenged people even included professors from universities. But still, obviously they were mentally challenged since they concluded that all of the infinite number of possible Bible code languages were all somehow magically connected together, such that if just one was identified as trash, then it was to be accepted that they were all trash.
To make it even more embarrassing, many other mentally challenged folk instantly believed that the Bible code phenomena was just pure trash and in turn they could not be convinced otherwise no matter what.
However, if you visit http://www.outersecrets.com/real/biblecode2a.htm and click on the flashing words “Watch/Listen”, you get a mini tour of a real Bible code language. This includes automatic web page scrolling, and full audio coverage. So just sit back and enjoy the show.
Excellent article. The penultimate paragraph, though, is somewhat questionable. Use of philosophical terms like “homoousios” was very contentious at the time of the first Ecumenical Council precisely because it was non-Biblical. The Arians used the necessity to appeal to non-Biblical terminology for expressing the Orthodox position to argue that the Orthodox were on the back foot. Even many Orthodox Fathers took a lot of persuading before they accepted its use in defence of their position.
Then you have figures like St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who, although he clearly makes reference to traditions not explicitly taught in scripture, insists that all doctrinal statements must be backed up by Scripture. If “reason and language played as much of a role as Scripture itself”, they were by no means regarded as comparable.
While I appreciate the comment, I think it is not actually the case. You have cited the controversy surrounding “homoousios,” and indeed its failure to be found in the Scripture was significant. Of course, it won the day. But in the extended reading of the fathers, rather than isolated quotes, the role of reason and language is, I think, as I have described it. Spend significant time in the sermons and writings of St. Gregory the Theologian, to use only a single example. He is not so much an expositor as he is “theologian.” The entire development of apophatic theology in the early fathers uses Scripture as the point of departure. Even then, the Scriptures that become of most importance are often rather apophatic in their own right rather than careful expositions. The Church’s fealty to Scripture is not at question – but what that fealty looks like – what it honestly looks like – is indeed worth careful attention. And it is not at all similar to the treatment(s) imagined by the Evangelicals.
Very good point on Saint Gregory the theologian Father.