Sola Scriptura’s Epistemological Problems – Summary

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Sola Scriptura’s Epistemological Problems (4 of 4)

A Response to David Roxas (3 of 4)  See also: (2 of 4) and (1 of 4)

 

Within the Protestant tenet of sola scriptura are significant epistemological problems.  I list them below and describe how Orthodoxy addressed these problems.

First, if Scripture is divinely inspired but interpreted by flawed, fallible men, then how do we know that we have the right interpretation and not some heretical misinterpretation?  Most Protestants would answer in one of two ways.  They might assert: “It makes perfect sense. It’s logical.”  A more sophisticated version of this takes the form of: “By using the most advanced tools of scientific exegesis we can objectively ascertain the meaning of the biblical text.”  Or, they might say: “The Holy Spirit showed me the true meaning of Scripture.”  Both answers point to Protestantism’s individualism and subjectivism, especially when these interpretations are assessed against church history.

In their struggle against heretics the early Church Fathers did things differently.  They cited written Tradition (Scripture) which they had received from the Apostles, and they interpreted Scripture according to the oral Tradition which they also had received from the Apostles. Irenaeus raises the question of how to find the truth when there is a doctrinal controversy.  He writes:

Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches? (Against Heresies 3.4.1; ANF pp. 416-417; emphasis added)

In the above passage, we see that Irenaeus would not have commend sola scriptura as a means for resolving theological controversy. He recommends that we look to the “most ancient Churches.”  Then he notes that if the Apostles did not leave us a written record on disputed topics, then we ought to follow the tradition handed down to their successors, that is, the bishops.  Athanasius the Great made a similar appeal to Tradition.  In his letter to Bishop Serapion he writes:

In accordance with the Apostolic faith delivered to us by tradition from the Fathers, I have delivered the tradition, without inventing anything extraneous to it. What I learned, that have I inscribed conformably with the holy Scriptures; for it also conforms with those passages from the holy Scriptures which we have cited above by way of proof. (§33; emphasis added)

While Athanasius speaks highly of Scripture, he would not have advocated Protestantism’s sola scriptura.  Rather, what we find is Tradition with Scripture as taught by Orthodoxy.  Athanasius commended the passing on of Tradition by the Church Fathers, something that Protestants do not advocate.

 

Zwingli and Luther at the Marburg Colloquy (1529) – two rival interpretations of the Bible

Second, if Scripture is the true revelation from God, how do we deal with competing interpretations of the Bible?  Within Protestantism there are those who believe the Bible teaches double predestination while other sincere Protestants affirm free will; some believe in a literal one-thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, while others prefer to understand Revelation 20 as symbolic; and some Protestants believe that miracles have ceased, while others believe that charismatic gifts are with us today.  The plethora of conflicting interpretations of the Bible has given rise to thousands of Protestant denominations – all of them claiming fidelity to sola scriptura. This raises the question as to whether truth is multiple or whether there is one reading of Scripture that is true and all others are wrong.  If there is only one true interpretation, then how can we find our way among the many readings within Protestantism?

Orthodoxy understands Scripture within the framework of the patristic consensus, the Divine Liturgy, and the Ecumenical Councils.  All these interrelate organically.  The early Church Fathers, for the most part, were bishops who celebrated the Divine Liturgy every Sunday and who expounded Scripture in the Liturgy.  The Church Fathers who attended the Ecumenical Councils likewise, for the most part, were bishops — successors to the Apostles.  We need to keep in mind that at their ordination, they were charged with safeguarding what the Apostle Paul called “the good deposit.” (2 Timothy 1:14)

Orthodoxy does not have systematic theology texts like those in Protestantism.  The closest thing Orthodoxy has to a systematic theology is the Divine Liturgy.  Every Sunday I hear the Church’s teaching on Christ being fully divine and fully human, his saving death on the Cross, his Resurrection, his Second Coming, the kingdom of God, and God as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Liturgy provides Orthodoxy a doctrinal stability that has served it well for two millennia.

 

Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms – “Here I Stand!”

Third, sola scriptura is implicitly individualistic and thus anti-Church.  There is within Protestantism a strong distrust of the Church having the authority to interpret the Bible.   Many Protestants believe that they as individuals have the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit guides them individually to the “true meaning” of the Bible, no matter that this “new insight into the Bible” is at odds with so many others. This individualistic attitude has troubling implications.  Can you imagine a first-year medical school student rejecting the teachings of the faculty? Or a local attorney putting his personal interpretation of the Constitution over the precedents set by the Supreme Court?

This third assumption in effect constitutes a rejection of the promise of Pentecost.  When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse, he used the plural you.  As one person noted humorously that Jesus was using the Southern “Y’all” form of “you.”  The plural you points to the Holy Spirit being given to the Church as a corporate body, not to individuals.  This is the basis for the Church’s authority to define doctrine for its members.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you [ὑμᾶς] all things and will remind you [ὑμᾶς] of everything I have said to you [ὑμῖν]. (John 14:26; NA28)

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you [ὑμᾶς] into all truth. (John 16:13; NA28)

In Acts 2, we read how the Holy Spirit descended on the assembly of believers.  In Acts 13, we read how the Holy Spirit guided the Church in Antioch to consecrate Barnabas and Paul to the missionary calling.  In Acts 15, we are told that the Holy Spirit guided the early Church through its first theological crisis (Acts 15:28).  In all three instances we see the Holy Spirit guiding the early Christians as a corporate body.  To assert: “I have the Holy Spirit and others do not,” manifests an individualistic attitude that is so contrary to the spirit of humility and solidarity that runs through the Bible and what it teaches about the Church.

Orthodoxy believes that the Holy Spirit was present in the early Church guiding the early bishops as they celebrated the Eucharist, discerned which writings were to be regarded as inspired Scripture, and expounded on the true meaning of Scripture.  The Holy Spirit later guided the Church Fathers as they refuted heresies, and made historic rulings at Ecumenical Councils.  Holy Tradition in its varied forms – the Liturgy, the episcopacy, the Nicene Creed, the Ecumenical Councils, the patristic consensus, all inspired by the Holy Spirit – has given Orthodoxy a doctrinal stability and profound spirituality that has served it well for two millennia.

 

Seminarians Studying (“We Need a Neo-Evangelical Shakedown“)

Fourth, sola scriptura is implicitly secular.  Among many Protestants is the belief that the Holy Spirit was active during the lifetime of the Apostles, especially during the writing of the New Testament, but once the New Testament was completed and the last Apostle died, the Holy Spirit then retreated into heaven.  Shortly after that, the Church fell into ritualism, false teachings, and spiritual darkness until the Protestant Reformation.  (See Ralph Winter’s BOBO theory.) Protestantism’s rejection of the papacy led to a greater reliance on the human intellect. Among many Protestants, notably in the Reformed tradition, is the belief that the right understanding of Scripture is best guaranteed through knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, textual criticism, and a good training in scientific exegetical approach acquired at seminary. They then supplement all this by keeping up with the latest trend in biblical scholarship.  In doing so, they place academic scholarship ahead of and in place of the Church, despite Christ’s promise that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would lead them into all Truth.  This attitude has led many Protestant Reformers and present day Evangelicals to disregard the teachings of the Church Fathers and Ecumenical Councils when these contradict their own interpretation of Scripture. From the Orthodox perspective this attitude is tragic as we consider the Church Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils the Holy Spirit’s gift to the Church founded by Christ. As noted earlier, to reject the Church Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils is to reject the promise of Pentecost.

Tragically, the conclusion we draw from the findings presented above is that sola scriptura’s individualistic, modern epistemology, by rejecting Orthodoxy’s sacramental, Holy-Spirit-inspired hermeneutics, contradicts historic Christianity and the Scriptures that they claim to revere.  Lord have mercy.

Robert Arakaki

 

Recommended Readings

Robert Arakaki.  2012.  “Pentecost and the Promise of God Fulfilled.” OrthodoxBridge (29 June 2012)

Robert Arakaki.  2016.  “Early Church Fathers: Babies or Giants?OrthodoxBridge (10 June 2016)

Robert Arakaki.  2014.  “Calvin and the ‘Fall of the Church.'” OrthodoxBridge (29 January 2014)

Ralph D. Winter.  1981.  “The Kingdom Strikes Back: Ten Epochs of Redemptive History.

 

56 comments:

  1. In referring to the fourth problem; i.e., “sola scriptura is implicitly secular,” I’ve noticed that this problem has lead many Protestants into adopting a general agnostic or outright atheistic attitude towards God in general and the Bible in particular. Those individuals that have adopted such an attitude are either now completely secular or are wholly antagonistic to any form of “biblical” Christianity altogether.

    What they really reject is not Christianity, because they’ve only known heterodox version(s) of it. On the other hand, those that wish to remain faithful to their particular Protestant tradition; e.g., Calvinism or Lutheranism or a particular non-denominationalist claim, assuming that to be one and the same thing as the Apostolic Tradition of the Orthodox Faith, have unwittingly become the new generation of Gnostic religiosity. By Gnostic religiosity I mean a kind of individualistic attitude that assumes that “Only I have the true understanding of Scripture, and everyone else is completely lost!” (reminds me of Zwingli and Luther’s arguments about what should be the correct understanding of the Last Supper).

    This attitude is the raison d’être in Restorationist movements like the 7th Day Adventists and the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses). This also leads me to recall, and completely agree with, Mr. Arakaki’s article “Protestantism’s Fatal Genetic Flaw: Sola Scriptura and Protestantism’s Hermeneutical Chaos” (January 3, 2012).

    As an afterthought, Christ’s promise concerning His Church as recorded in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (16:16-19) is proving itself true whereas those that find themselves estranged from the Life and Grace of the Orthodox Church, whether unwittingly by default or willingly by choice “because Orthodoxy is just another man-made, icon-worshiping form of paganism,” are slowly being prevailed against. Me thinks that this will be all the more obvious as we continue to move through the ages towards their consummation.

  2. Robert,

    This is a concise but cogent summary of some of the problems of Sola Scritura.

    One should note that Scripture is an authority like the Constitution that requires interpretation. If each of us were to interpret the Constitution individually, we would have anarchy. Likewise, when each of us interprets Scripture according to our own idiosyncratic exegesis, we get denominational anarchy and disunity. The first person plural form in John 14 suggests that our interpretation of Scripture was never meant to be done in isolation.

    Thanks and blessings to you.

  3. Robert,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions. There is so much to respond to that keeping a tight and brief focus is rather difficult. You bring out many things worth our consideration. I am glad that you zereoed in on the central matter of my question which is epistemology. I asked “What is the source of Christian knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel of Christ?” Despite taking a few weeks and four posts to answer this question and the others you did not answer the question at all. You completely side stepped the issue of epistemology as it concerns God, the law, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    In part 1 you write that the other source of our knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is Apostolic tradition. You define it thusly: “oral tradition is not mere “tradition of man,” but rather apostolic instructions.” Your definition of oral tradition is relegated to praxis and you spend the bulk of part 2 telling us what some of these practices are. None of these practises are epistemological sources of our knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel. Rather they presuppose such knowledge. Praying to the east, using oil in chrism, and all the rest of the traditions Basil lists have nothing at all to do with knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel but are merely practices of the Church. This is not to say praxis is unimportant or unrelated to doxa. It is. Our praxis stems from our doxa. But praxis is not doxa.

    In part 3 you deal with my quote from Irenaeus and accuse me of cherry-picking. It is true that I selected the clearest testimony of Irenaeus to what one would call sola scriptura. I can’t quote the whole of part 3 of Adv. Her. where he goes on to equate tradition with the content of scripture which you even admit when you write, “Irenaeus treats written and oral Apostolic Tradition as equal and complementary to each other.” The quote you provide from Irenaeus in part 2 certainly proves that he believed the content of scripture and tradition are similar when he writes, ”…yet is totally unlike those which have been handed to us from the apostles, any who please may learn, as is shown from the scriptures themselves.” He points men back to the scriptures and says that what is handed down is right there in the scriptures. Why did you highlight “handed down” and neglect to note that he was referring to the scriptures as proof of what was handed down? For further proof of Irenaeus believing and teaching that the scripture is the ground and pillar of our faith just read “Proof of the Apostolic Preaching” which is full of scripture citations and never once an appeal to unwritten oral tradition. And why would it be if, as you claim, tradition is only instruction and related to praxis? It is clear that for Irenaeus the epistemological source of God, the law, and the Gospel is the scriptures.

    Allow me to clarify my statement about Irenaeus not having a body of tradition. I am talking about the compounded body of tradition that has arisen in the past 2000 years. Hence I wrote “absent a body of oral tradition and the corpus of the church Fathers.” Irenaeus was not privy to any of the ecumenical councils, to the trinitarian and Christological formulations of the later fathers, did not celebrate the liturgies of Basil or Chrysostom, nor was he privy to any of the teachings of Dinoysius the Aeropagite. The point is to say that there is not a static body of tradition in the church but rather a growing body that is ever added to and Irenaeus did not have access to it. No one does since it was and still is in the process of growth. For example if Seraphim Rose becomes a Saint then there will be a new tradition as it concerns the veneration of him. There will be an addition to the tradition of the church. My contention is that Irenaeus equated tradition with the content of scripture which means I do recognise the fact that he did have a tradition. Perhaps I could have worded my query better.

    In part 4 you give a final list of problems with sola scriptura.

    In problem 1 you recognise the fact and admit that the Fathers cited scripture. But it would be erroneous to say they interpreted it according to praxis, your definition of tradition, since praxis presupposes doxa.

    Both Athanasius and Irenaeus tell us that tradition conforms to and is equal with the scripture. For them oral doctrinal tradition is no different from the scripture. Tradition is more than “apostolic instructions” for them. It is equivalent to doctrine. So it would seem your definition of tradition and theirs does not match.

    Problem 2, like problem 1, deals with the interpretation of scripture which is beside the point and is not what I am asking about at all in my original question. Interpretation presupposes an epistemological source which is being interpreted. The epistemological source of the patristic consensus and divine liturgy is the scripture as you admit in part 3:

    “First, much of the writings of the Church Fathers are exposition or application of Scripture.
    Second, much of the Liturgy is either Scripture or paraphrase of Scripture.”

    Problem 3 is solved when you admit in part 1 that the scriptures are divinely inspired. Also the question is not about interpretation. The question is about epistemology. You are confusing the issue here despite having recognised in part 1 that the issue is epistemology.

    Problem 4 has nothing at all to do with the original question and your assertions are easily refutable since the Reformers did in fact interact with the Church Fathers and did not cast them aside. I have not read a single Reformer or any other Protestant who teaches that the Holy Spirit has retreated into heaven. Reading through devotional literature of the 16th and 17th centuries would disabuse you of the notion that anyone taught the Holy Spirit abandoned the Church.

    To conclude, you have not directly answered my question though you have danced around it and when you write that the teachings of the Fathers and the Liturgy are derived from the scripture you indirectly affirm my assertion that Scripture alone is the epistemological source of our knowledge about God, the law, and the Gospel. The fact is if I want to know about God, the law, and Christ then the scriptures are the only place to go to. It is only in the Pentateuch that we learn about the law. It is only by reading the Gospel that we learn about Christ. Interpretation is not the issue here. Any and all interpretations of scripture presuppose scripture as the epistemological foundation of their interpretation.

    I will end with a quote from Seraphim Rose’s biography which illustrates the danger of neglecting scripture and relying on hearing the liturgy to get our knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel.

    “Eugene attend the courses for three years. One thing that struck him early on was the other students’ lack of knowledge of the Bible. “The Russians ask such obvious questions,” he told Gleb, “as if they never read the Scriptures.”

    “They don’t,” Gleb responded. “It’t not a habit for them. They follow the traditional forms of worship, which no one can deny is a good thing, but they neglect the Scriptures.” This discovery strengthened Eugene’s conviction about the need for Orthodox missionary work – for the sake of those in the church as well as those outside it.

    Father Seraphim Rose: HIs life and Works, pg 277

    1. David,

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I will reflect on what you have written and respond at a later date. In the meantime, I’m sure there are others who will wish to join the conversation.

      Robert

      1. Robert,

        I look forward to your reply to my comment. As I said there was so much in your posts to respond to. The comment above would be the sum of my response to you but there are little things here and there such as your remark in part 3 that in order to prove sola scriptura I would have to prove “that the Church can fall into error, but Scripture will be there to correct the Church.”

        I would point you to the OT story of Josiah and the rediscovery of the law where this exact thing happens. I know you have written on that very incident before.

        Another thing would be your assertion that hearing the divine liturgy is as good enough as reading the scriptures. That it functions as a sort of systematic theology. I would heartily disagree.

        In the liturgy you do not have teaching. You do not have exposition. You have recitation and performance. The people are listening to know when to cross themselves and when to bow. The priest is walking around with the censer smoking up the icons and he is praying over the chalice and he is kissing the icons and he is changing his garments and he is parading around and kissing the huge golden book of scriptures. He does read a few passages and the choir does chant a few psalms but the people are not getting instruction such as a Protestant minister would give. The liturgy is not didactic. And the priest and the choir and the people are facing away from each other which further isolates all three groups. (The priest looks toward the altar or is invisible behind the iconostasis or is fidgeting about at a table in the centre of the sanctuary, the choir is in a corner reading from the Psalms, and the people are facing both the choir and the priest.) The people are not worshipping as much as they are watching a performance. (This is my experience from attending Saturday vespers and Sunday Divine Liturgy at the Russian Orthodox Church in Singapore which is in a house and not in a proper church building.)

        It’s like saying you can learn a discipline by only listening to audiobooks of slected portions of books dealing with that discipline rather than through proper and thorough reading and teaching. On my shelf I have several volumes of sermons from the Fathers which shows they took the time to educate the people from the scriptures. Even in the OT you have Ezra teaching the people and not just relying on the performance of the sacrifices to teach them.

        Nehemiah 8:8: So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

        Isn’t the bloodless sacrifice of the sacrament supposed to mirror the OT form of worship? So where is the teaching?

        I took a lot of notes but I don’t want to expand my comments much further.

        1. It all goes together. The bible came out of the ecclesial context, not the other way around. By way of analogy, I like to ask: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Protestants will say that it’s the egg that’s important, even though eggs can’t be laid without chickens; i.e., they will say that it’s the Bible that matters, not the Church. Likewise, Scripture did not write itself, nor did it fall out of Heaven into the hands of the Apostles, nor was it sole intention of the Apostles to write a collection of epistles we now call the New Testament, and that’s it. EVERYTHING must be seen from the ecclesial context. Protestantism assumes that the Church, as a whole, is corrupt, which is a true statement when referring to Roman Catholicism because Medieval Catholicism was/is a church that was behaving and believing in heres[y]ies. However, Orthodoxy isn’t Catholicism; therefore, the assumption of ecclesial corruption cannot be equated to Orthodoxy; one of Protestantism’s fatal flaws when trying to cope with, or to reconcile its past experiences of Catholicsm, to Orthodoxy; i.e., the Undivided Catholic Church of the First Millennium.

          1. John,

            The Apostles, and especially Paul, fill their epistles with proof texts from the Scriptures. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ was crucified according to the Scriptures. Even without a New Testament collection of Scriptures there have always been Scriptures used by the Church. And those did not come from the Gentile Church. They came from the Jews. You could call the epistles of the New Testament a commentary on the Old Testament in light of the fact of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Christ himself gave a Bible study “beginning at Moses and the Prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27

          2. David,

            Thank you for your reply. In reading it, it makes me think that you’re assuming that it was Jesus’s intention, as well as that of the Apostles, to give us a book as the end-all-be-all. Again, I would ask: Which came first, the Bible or the Church? Recall my sentence from above: “Likewise, Scripture did not write itself, nor did it fall out of Heaven into the hands of the Apostles, nor was it [the] sole intention of the Apostles to write a collection of epistles we now call the New Testament, and that’s it. EVERYTHING must be seen from the ecclesial context” (fourth sentence). Even the Old Testament did not write itself, or fall out of Heaven into the hands of Moses, but is the holy fruit of the Jewish experience with God…before the Incarnation of the Logos. By the way, I disagree with your referring to the Church as the “Gentile Church” as if that is somehow any different from the same Church we read about in the Acts of the Apostles. Orthodoxy, regardless of the peoples that have made, and are now, the membership of this same Church that Christ mentioned in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (16:16-19), is the unbroken continuum of the Church read about in the Acts of the Apostles. With all due respect, to call it “Gentile” kinda smacks of Protestantism’s typical anti-history assumptions.

  4. Robert, on the place of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Orthodox person I think you minimize the activity of the Holy Spirit in the personal spiritual journey and over emphasize the corporate. Like much else in the Church it is a complimentary inter-relationship.

    During our Christmation we receive personally the gift of the Holy Spirit but it is sealed in us by the anointing of the priest and the word of those we are about to join in communion. Thus as the priest annoints the body with the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the congregation responds, Seal! Several times as the whole body is annoited.

    As far as the knowledge is concerned. It is revealed by 1. a personal encounter with the living Christ. That encounter comes in many ways but it is always a call to “Follow me”; 2. A confirmation and recognition of our union with Christ in Baptism in which we pass from death to life; 3. that encounter/union with Christ is confirmed and deepened by both the formal teaching and praxis of the Church and the interaction with our brothers and sisters. It is here that the Holy Spirit is highly active in leading us into all truth. Truth calls to Truth. Praxis becomes knowledge by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

    The Church has always held that theologians are ones who pray. It is in prayer and the other prayer-like activities that knowledge is given and traditioned. Those activities include participation in the Sacraments; fasting/almsgiving; repentance especially. Caring for one another and baring each other’s burdens.

    It is important that what God reveals is not knowledge “about” Him but knowledge “of” Him.

    Academic knowledge is important, but is at best a secondary source. Thus Mr. Roxa is trying to make a distinction that does not exist in Orthodox understanding.

    To paraphrase a saying by Fr. Seraphim Rose of blessed memory knowledge of God is not and idea you seek and know with the mind but it is the fruit of seeking to know and love a person, The Person, Jesus Christ.

    Such love is always experiential.

    1. Michael

      Much of what you have written sounds very much like Quakerism with its doctrine of the inner spiritual light. “We don’t need scripture because the Spirit is in us and guides us.” That is not Orthodoxy at all. Even Orthodoxy does not neglect the scriptures for some vague encounter or union with Christ. Without the Scriptures we would not know anything about Christ. The Scriptures, as Christ says, testify of him. From Genesis to Revelation the whole book is about Christ.

      It is not the ones who pray that are theologians. Even the Hindu and the Muslim pray. The quote is:

      If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.
      ~ Evagrios the Solitary (of Pontus)

      And how do we know if we are praying truly? How do we know if our doctrine is correct? From the Scriptures of course. Seraphim Rose was not a man who neglected scripture for vague spiritual encounters. He was well versed in the Scriptures and he made it his life’s work to see that those inside and outside the Church were acquainted with the teaching of the Scriptures.

      When I affirm that the Scriptures are the source of our knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel I am not talking about dry academic knowledge void of the Spirit. I am not talking about mere book learning or philosophical scholasticism. I am talking about the same thing Christ did who began at Moses and the Prophets explained to the disciples how the whole of the Scriptures testify of Him. The Scriptures are God’s revelation of himself to man. And Christ said not one jot or tittle of them shall fall away. When Israel fell into corruption it was the rediscovery of the law that changed everything and brought about new spirit life into the nation.

      Did you know St Seraphim of Sarov read the NT every week? Every week! And he was allegedly shining with the divine light so that it was almost impossible to look at him. Do you know what this means? It means, just as Lossy writes in his intro to “Mystical Theology,” that theoria and theology go together. Our practice stems from our doctrine and our doctrine comes from the scripture.

      1. Dear David,

        You say that “The Scriptures are God’s revelation of himself to man”, but I think that John 1:17-18 and Hebrews 1:1-2 makes it clear that Christ is God’s ultimate revelation of himself. The Scriptures function as both signposts and guardrails to point us to the final revelation of God in Christ, but the Scriptures themselves are not the revelation (John 5:39.) The turning point of the gospel of Mark is when Christ asks Peter “Who do you say that I am?” and not “What do you think of the scriptures?”, and every depiction of the final judgment that is given to us in the New Testament turns on the relationship of the person to Christ rather than to the scriptures.

        The scriptures are good and necessary and ought to heard and understood and loved by every believer. But they are a penultimate good, and it is wrong to confuse the penultimate good with the ultimate good. The Bible holds and expresses the words of God (thanks be to God!). It is reliable and trustworthy. But we can call it the Word of God only in a limited sense. The true and eternal Logos tou Theou is Christ himself, and the body of Christ is the Church.

      2. David,

        It is not through the Scriptures alone that one can know whether or not one is both praying and believing correctly. If such were the case, there would have been no need for any of the Ecumenical Councils or for right-believing Bishop’s to meet synodically even in our own day. What is an Ecumenical Council? It’s when the Body of Christ spread throughout the whole world; i.e., the Church against which the Gates of Hell shall not prevail (Matthew 16:16-19), comes together in the unity that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit to proclaim that which has ever been “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) in the face of the day’s heresy. Arius justified his doctrines and practices through the Scriptures, just as did the Gnostics of yesteryear and many of today’s so-called “biblical” cacodoxies. It is the Church, being solidly grounded in the Apostolic Tradition to which Sacred Scripture bares witness, that makes discernment possible. If one does not have the Church, and I’m referring to the Orthodox Church, then one is relying upon one’s own faith tradition instead of that which was “traditioned” by the Holy Apostles to their sucessors, the Orthodox Bishops. Again, I ask: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which came first, the Old Testament or Ancient Israel? Which came first, the New Testament or the Church? The Scriptures came to be through the ecclesial context; i.e., the people’s experience of God, whether it be through Moses’s encounter with God the Word in the burning bush, the experience of Ancient Israel with the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night during the Exodus, or through the experience of the Apostles with God the Word having assumed human nature, and even now the experience of the New Israel with God the Word through the Holy Mysteries, most notably the Holy Eucharist. It all goes together.

        1. John,

          The very first scriptures came from God literally writing his law in stone. The scriptures do not rise out of people’s experience with God. They come out of God’s dealings with his people. Be it the law, history, the psalms, or the prophets the impetus each time was God and his dealings with his people. As for Moses it was God who took him into the mountain. The people were left behind. And it was up to Moses to proclaim what God told him and for the people to believe him. Jesus says “They have Moses and the Prophets.” Christ refers again and again and again to the authority of written scripture as our source of knowledge of God and even Himself, Christ.

          Peter tells us that the Scriptures come from God and not from men’s experience. “II Peter 1:21: For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

          Don’t misunderstand my calling the NT Church the Gentile Church as if it means there is some kind of dispensational or ahistorical separation between Israel and the Church. There is not. They are one and the same. However the fact remains that the Jews were given the promises and the law and the scriptures and not the Gentiles who were left in their paganism and sins. Jesus said it, “Salvation is of the Jews.” The scriptures were given to the Jews and then the Gentiles took them up.

          1. David,

            By “experience” I should have said “inspired” instead. Clearly, Scripture was written by holy men inspired of God. Scripture is indeed a primary source of knowledge of the things of God, but this does not prove the “Sola” or even the “Solo” of your “Scriptura” claim. It’s the “Sola” that’s an issue, not the “Scriptura” :0)

  5. Robert, 1 John 4 seems to be particularly applicable here. We know God because He knows us. Because of the Incarnation, love and knowledge cannot be separated. He is taken on our whole being body, mind and soul. Thus the revaltory naure of Christian epistomology . The Bible is one such revelation but if it were the only St. Paul and countless others would not know.

  6. Dear David

    Allow me to give a sort of answer to your basic question, as I understand it: Are the Scriptures the only way to know God/the law/Christ? As far as I can tell, that is the heart of the matter.

    But, before I do this, I’d like to start with your observations regarding the Liturgy, since I think they are closely connected to the rest of the matter. One major reason why I left protestantism was, that I didn’t think the liturgies I attended had anything to do with worship; someone else described it as essentially witnessing a concert and a lecture. How ironic, that you have similar sentiments as far the Orthodox Liturgy is concerned. However, when I started attending the Orthodox Liturgy, I found it completely directed towards worship of God, and, what’s more, to be a didactic thanksgiving from man to God for letting us participate in His saving grace.

    I think, that your observation, that there is no didactic content in the Liturgy, is factually wrong. Not for nothing is the first part of the Liturgy called “The Liturgy of the Word.” There is nothing there, that is not didactic; the Psalms are, the litanies are, the readings are, the sermon is, and, every action of people and clergy has didactic functions. One could think it similar to (but not the same as) the aristotelian way of acquiring virtue: Doing virtuous deeds.

    I could go into a lot more detail, but since this is not my main point, I’ll move on. If you are interested, I can point you to some enlightening material, that is readily available, although you probably know it already.

    Back to your question, to which my answer is: No, the Scriptures are not the only way of encountering or to know God.
    But, can you know about God through the Scriptures? Of course. That’s what they are for, and one would be silly not to read them. In fact, we are requested to do so by every saint I have ever heard of.

    Never the less the Scriptures themselves don’t claim to be the sole source of knowledge about God. And what do they tell? They tell stories of people who have encountered God more or less directly in a multitude of ways; all the stories are written after the fact, right? They even tell us the story of Saint Paul who encountered Christ directly some time after His Ascension.

    And that, I think, is central to the teaching of The Orthodox Church as I understand it, that one can encounter God in all sorts of ways: Through the Scriptures, in the shape of miracles, in the face of the person sitting next to us, through direct revelation … and why would it be any different? Why should God not do absolutely anything He can, to reach us? Which in fact He does time and again in the Scriptures too.

    Perhaps you are familiar with the Balaamite/Heschycast controversy and the essence/energies distinction? It dealt with exactly the problem of how one can encounter God. It is Orthodox doctrine, that you can
    know God through his energies – or become partakers of divine nature, if you will.

    The safest place to go, to know God’s energies, is the Church, since an ongoing revelation of God takes place there. At the very least at each and every Liturgy when – having been prepared in The Liturgy of the Word to know what are we are going to parttake of – we parttake in the Body and Blood of Christ.

    Fr. John Breck has written a wonderful book called The Power of the Word, in which he eloquently describes the intimate relation between Scripture and ongoing revelation, about how the two complement each other.

    In conclusion I would say, that in my opinion, one creates a false (and unscriptural) dichotomy if one claims, that Scripture and revelation (in one of many possible ways) contradict each other.

    Thank you for your time.
    Kind regards
    Robert Johannes Ulrich

    1. Robert Johannes Ulrich,

      I would not say you can’t learn anything from the liturgy. But that is not it’s purpose. The purpose of the liturgy is for worship. When the priests open the doors and shut the doors and change their garments and smoke the icons and light the candles and read a few bits of scripture they aren’t giving a Bible study. Attending the liturgy is not at all like reading “On the Incarnation” or even the Gospel of John. They are not doing as Ezra did by “reading in the book of the law of God distinctly, and giving the sense, and causing them to understand the reading.” Consider the testimony from Seraphim Rose’s biography that I quoted above where the people are Biblically illiterate despite attending the liturgy week after week.

      Maybe others have said it but your remark about Protestant worship being a concert and a lecture is from Thomas Hopko for sure. He said those remarks after being invited to Wheaton College a few years back.

      “Never the less the Scriptures themselves don’t claim to be the sole source of knowledge about God.”

      Now here is a common error that even former Protestants seem to be making and which Robert Arakaki wrote in Part 1. I would agree that the scriptures are not the only way we can know about God. Romans 1 and Psalm 19 both give us a foundation for natural theology. But natural theology is not revelation and there is only one place for revelation which is the Scriptures. You cannot learn about the Trinity, the Gospel, or even the law by observing nature. You can learn about God’s glory and power as the Scriptures testify but such knowledge is not the Gospel.

      Then of course there are miracles and theophanies and prophecies, all of which we do not have today. The only recourse then is the Scriptures which are divinely inspired and divinely preserved and which contain the sum and substance of our faith. All the traditions of our faith stem from the Scripture. The writings of the Fathers are essentially commentaries upon scripture. Experiencing the energies of God don’t teach us anything new. The energies are not new revelations but they are God taking us into communion with himself. Subjectively we might have a greater awareness of God but they are by no means new revelation.

      Sola Scriptura does not mean the scriptures are the only way we learn about God. Sola Scriptura has to do with the special revelation God gives us in the Scriptures. Scripture is revelation. The Scriptures alone are our source of faith and doctrines because they are God’s revelation to us. They are divinely inspired. Robert Arakaki admitted this in Part 1. You cannot get your faith by contemplating nature. You will end up like the pagans in Romans 1.

      God can do anything he pleases. And he has pleased to give us the Scripture. Jesus Christ on the road to Emmaus opened the eyes of the disciples not by immediate revelation and communion with his energies but mediately via the scriptures and with a Bible study that covered Moses and the Prophets.

      “They tell stories of people who have encountered God.”

      I would disagree. The Scriptures do not tell stories about people who have encountered God but they do tell a story about God saving his people working in history to bring about his plan which is the incarnation of Christ and the salvation of men. The Bible is not about people. It’s about God dealing with His people. I think Maximus sums up quite nicely what the scriptures teach.

      “He who brought the whole world into existence, visible and invisible, according to the sole urge of His will, beyond all the ages and the very creation of the created, He had ineffably the supreme goodness of the will towards His creatures. And this will was for Him to be united without change with the nature of men, through the true union of existence, and to unite with himself the human nature without change, so that himself would become a man, accordingly as He knows, and by the union with Him, He would make man God. Namely, He divided wisely the ages and He appointed a part of them to the work of Him becoming a man, and the other part to the work of making man God.”

      -Ad Thalassium 22

      1. Dear David

        Some further remarks from me in our conversation.

        Reg. Liturgy: I have never attended a Liturgy that didn’t incorporate exegesis, that didn’t examine the scriptural readings of the day in light of the church’s teaching as a whole. That is evidently not the same as conducting a study session on the gospel of John or some such, but, it is also not a problem. There is connection here, not contradiction. What ever study I undertake I relate to the Church as a whole, and the I think the proper exegetical framework for an Orthodox Christian is the eucharistic community, the Church. The study doesn’t exist independently of the eucharistic community – there is interconnectedness here not independence. And that, I suspect, is probably quite different from the more individualistic protestant bible studies I am familiar with – and, I suspect, also a thread running through this conversation, explicit or not.

        On a side note, I would strongly recommend fr. Hopkos analysis of the Liturgy, that he did for Ancient Faith Radio (although, sadly, he didn’t finish it before falling asleep in the Lord). His main point is, that the best way to understand the Liturgy is to know the Scriptures, and he goes on to demonstrate how every movement, song, psalmreading … absolutely every element of the Liturgy is embedded in Scripture and vice versa – connection not contradiction.

        ” … a common error …” I have read the Good Book a lot, and I have not yet found any claim staked in it about it being “top of the heap” as far as knowing God is concerned. If you can point me to such a claim, I will gladly examine it.

        “… miracles and theophanies …” I can say for sure, that miracles, theophanies and prophecies take place in the Orthodox Church on a very regular basis; some in private some public. Luckily the most important miracle of all is accessible to everyone who wants to witness it, and takes place at least once a week all over the world, when the eucharistic bread and wine are turned into Christ’s body and blood.

        “… Jesus opened the eyes …” In the Damascus-road story I know, St. Paul has a direct and unmediated encounter with Christ, so strong that he is blinded for three days before the scales fall from his eyes (the symbolism is clear to see). Some time after that he seeks solitude, seemingly for three years, to study the Scriptures anew; and this is a man who knew the Old Testament better than anyone, and still he could not see Christ for whom he is! So, he had had to reorient in light of his encounter with Christ. Revelation leading to reflection.

        You write about the energies of God, as if you know their effects; I have to ask you: Have you ever encountered God through his energies?
        I know someone who has, and the course of his life was forever changed after this encounter; he turned around and began a new way of life, because he now knew what he did not know before: That God Is.

        Kind regards
        Robert Johannes Ulrich

        1. Robert Johannes Ulrich,

          You write:

          “His main point is, that the best way to understand the Liturgy is to know the Scriptures, and he goes on to demonstrate how every movement, song, psalmreading … absolutely every element of the Liturgy is embedded in Scripture and vice versa – connection not contradiction.”

          This is pretty much affirming my thesis that scripture is our source of knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel. There would be no need to know the scriptures if that was not so. If the scriptures were not the primary source for our knowledge then knowledge of them would be peripheral and secondary. You are telling us that the Liturgy arises out of the scriptures which means that the scriptures at the epistemological source of the liturgy and therefore of God, the law, and the Gospel.

          I downloaded Hopko’s Liturgy series a few weeks back and will get to it eventually. So I am one step ahead of you.

          “I have never attended a Liturgy that didn’t incorporate exegesis, that didn’t examine the scriptural readings of the day in light of the church’s teaching as a whole. ”

          Not sure what you mean by this. Is there supposed to be some kind of lesson after the liturgy? When I went, and I have only been those two times since there are no Orthodox churches here and the time in Singapore was really the only opportunity I had to attend Divine Liturgy, there was no lesson.

          What happened is the priest recognised the hard work of one of the Mothers and gave her a bouquet of flowers. Then he introduced a guy who happened to be the secretary for the Patriarch of Moscow and they discussed the future plans for the church, which as I said is meeting for now in a house and not a proper church building. Then we all had a nice lunch with real homemade Russian goodies. And that’s it. No lesson or teaching at all.

          So if there is supposed to be a lesson afterwards it definitely did not happen when I was there.

          1. Dear David

            No, I don’t confirm your thesis, not by a country mile – I merely state, that there is interconnectedness between the Liturgy and the Bible. It is a simple statement about about a specific set of affairs. That says nothing at all about the myriad of ways in which God reveals Himself to humans. And, in fact, as you will come to know, if you don’t already, the second part of the Liturgy is about giving thanks to God, for what he has done for us, all the while He allows us to parttake of Him – directly and unmediated by any set of texts by way of matter in the shape of transformed bread and wine. That is the conclusion of the Liturgy, if you will. That tops the readings of.

            “I have never …” Again it’s simple: The sermon is what I am talking about. There is not just one way of doing exegesis.

            Robert Johannes Ulrich

        2. Hi David,

          The lessons you seek in Liturgy are right next to you, All around you, Ignore them, and mypocally focus on Scripture alone instead of what the communion is doing together, and you miss where God truly reveals himself to us; through His Holy Spirit in the One True Communion. Only there does Scripture make sense, and only then does Liturgy make sense because they are all known through the Spirit in Christ: Love Himself among us is the only hermeneutical lens. Without this Love as epistemology, Scripture is indecipherable. 1 Cor 13.

          It seems to me the lesson and teachings you so wanted to see and hear were all around you, but you demand that Life and knowledge comes from the Scriptures alone.

          Yet, these very Scriptures testify that your premise is false;

          “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, recognized and read by everyone. It is clear that you are Christ’s letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God — not on stone tablet but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.”
          2 Cor 3

          You had living epistles surrounding you…but it didn’t meet your desires. You are epistemologically blind to the epistles around you because you are focused on the form rather than the content. So to with the Protestant approach to Scripture;

          Sounds familiar;

          “You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.”

          John 5

          I pray the Lord may bless you and keep you as you journey.

  7. David, you mistake the content of my words due to your own bias and that is a fundamental problem in communicating. The Scripture had almost zero impact on my coming to Christ. Knowing Him. It has had a great impact on my trying to become as Christ. Jesus Christ introduced Himself to me one day on a hill in northern Illinois and grabbed hold of me before I had ever read any Scripture except in the most casual and flighty way. I was in trouble, He helped. Then, later I began to read the Bible incorrectly for the most part as I wandered in a wilderness of heresey. It was only much later that I came to the Orthodox Church in part due to the witness of Fr. Seraphim Rose and found Jesus Christ waiting for me in the Liturgy walking down the isle with the priest during the Great Entrance.

    But what really capped it for me was beginning to understand the Scripture more clearly and correctly. I cannot tell you how many times I said “Oh. That is what that means!” as I approached the Church. Still doing that today thirty years later. By His Grace. Just happened this last Sunday as my priest expounded on the Scripture readings given us for the day and the day before from Deutoronomy, Titus and Matthew.

    I take an experiential approach but without the Scripture to give form and guidance to experience it is easy for the experience to turn into delusion. Yet when I participate in the Divine Liturgy I meet Him again each time in the context of Holy Scripture. I walk into the Scripture and it is all around me, the heavenly worship described by Isiah in chapter six even in me beyond the level of my conscious mind at times. The Cross, the grave and His glorious third day ressurection. And I partake of Him who gave Himself up for the life of the world as Jesus Himself commands as reported by St. John.

    It is easy for me to get lazy and not read enough of the Bible. I am sure I would consciously recognize more than I now do now if I read more. The synergy would be deeper and more evident and my testimony more complete.

    However to say that Scripture is the only way to know God is simply untrue and a distortion of the reality. If it were true I would have never found Christ. That there are others who come to Christ through the Scripture I have no doubt. Some of my parish family is that way. But they also tell me that only their experience in the Orthodox Church has shown them the deeper truth of the Scripture. It is those who cannot broaden their understanding who end up leaving. God forgive me.

    Forgive me too David as MY bias causes misunderstanding of you I am sure. But, God is merciful.

  8. Super interesting article thank you. I think you would agree that most protestants are pre-mill in their eschatology so would you also agree that bad eschatology can also create for Christians this sort of “strong distrust of the Church having the authority to interpret the Bible”? The church today corresponds to the sleepy church in Revelation’s, which suffers final defeat in history (at the end of the church age) when Anti- Christ takes control of the world. There is no Christian or godly Kingdom in the church age ,and most definitely no Nation that obeys the Lord until the millennium, when Gods law is the law of the Nations and so on. It ironic to see what you would call un-othodox Christians appearing to rely sole on “church tradition” to counter the re constructionists. The reconstruction faction are usurping the authority of the scriptures (doctrine of sola scripture), and “expanding/ perverting the mission of the church” and setting it on a different course than the one the church had been entrusted with at the time of Pentecost. It does not seem productive or scriptural that the only kind of unity that matters is the sort defined in the believers confessions. I’m not buying this narrow definition of the church. It seems to me that accuracy and relevance should be measured by the entire span of church history going back to the first “church in the wilderness.” Do you know who that “great Cloud of witnesses” are and what they are witnesses of”? Mahalo.

  9. David,. The Liturgy is for wordhip, yes. But what is worship but and exchange of love a mutual revelation.. The Liturgy is a call and response; it is not one way. Jesus does most of the offering, but we do not worship an absent God.

    The ultimate problem with sola scriptura is the it tends to deny the Incarnation.

    1. Michael, this tendency to deny the Incarnation can also be witnessed through Protestantism’s proclivity towards iconoclasm.

      1. John and Michael

        The charge that Protestantism tends to deny the incarnation is pretty outrageous and definitely wrong. Protestants affirm the incarnation 100%.

        1. Dear David, on paper Protestantism does not deny the Incarnation, but when it comes to existential experience (Protestantism’s orthopraxy) Protestantism is very much iconoclastic. The claim may come across as unfair when looking at some of Protestantism’s key doctrines, but when it comes to what Protestantism actually does in terms of worship and practice, it clearly has iconoclastic anti-Incarnation tendencies.

        2. David, it may be that you have fallen victim to the Cartesean blasphemy ( all of us are impacted by it) of I think therefore I am. The Biblical testimony is that God loves therefore I am. He knew me in my mother’s womb.

          Jesus Christ is a person who became man. He is still a person not an idea.

          Protestant theology as expostulated, if not actually lived, tends to remove the Presence of His divine/human person.

          Thus the anti-sacramental iconoclasm.

          As John explained the RCC had already made similar mistakes.

          Orthodox are not Roman Catholic. Really NOT Roman Catholic. Failure to appreciate the difference is, IMO, one of the great causes for misunderstanding by both Protestants and Roman Catholics of our practice and theology.

          We have an entirely different ethos and context.

          Several years ago, I was giving a tour of my parish temple to an RC woman. After everything I said she would nod her head and say, “That is just like us”. Even when it was clearly not. I got the feeling I could have said, “We believe the office of the Papacy is heretical” and she would have responded the same way.

          I am not now nor have I ever been a Protestant nor a Roman Catholic. I was a heathen wandering in the desert when Jesus found me and brought me to the Oasis of the Church that I might live.

          I was deep in the wilderness and the journey to the Oasis took 20 years. It was Him I relied on all that time even when I was kicking against the pricks.

  10. John, certainly it is a whole package. I don’t know if it really makes a difference but I’ve always been struck by the fact that the original hot bed of the Reformation was originally evangelized by Arians.

    1. Dear Michael,
      Let us not forget that the Papacy of Rome was eventually taken over by the Carolingian Franks, who were basically German barbarians seeking power, both political and ecclesiastic, over the West. As you point out, Germany was “evangelized” by many of the Arian bishops who had been cast out of the Roman Empire shortly after the First Ecumenical Council. Charlemagne sought to cleave the West from the East in order to support his empire and his church. The Franks also used the Filioque controversy to accuse the East of both disobedience to Rome (laying the foundations to papal supremacy) and that it was the East that had changed the Faith, whereas it was actually the West that had been innovating doctrines and strange new liturgical practices; e.g., replacing the leavened bread for the Eucharist with unleavened azymes. Also, keep in mind that the West, since about the mid-8th century, had been well-known for forgeries such as the Pseudo Isidore Decretals and the most infamous and fraudulent Donation of Constantine. See this web link for more details: http://www.christiantruth.com/articles/forgeries.html. As for the Protestant Reformation, it grew out of the Roman Catholic context and as a reactive movement to the abuses of Roman Catholicism. One cannot fully grasp the Reformation and the raison d’être for its doctrines if one does not take into account Medieval Catholicism and its overdependence upon scholasticism and its assumption/promotion and defense of the threefold papal claim to universal jurisdiction, individual supremacy, and now since the First Vatican Countil, the personal infallibility and absolute monarchical authority of Rome’s Pope(s). Unfortunately, Protestantism equates Orthodoxy with Catholicism, treating it as another form of “Catholicism, just without a Pope,” as some might say because Catholicism looks like Orthodoxy; however, as I like to say, Catholicism has the structure of Orthodoxy but lacks the substance of Orthodoxy (by “Orthodoxy” I mean right-belief and right-glory in divine worship). Protestantism is essentially the flip side (mirror image) of Roman Catholicism’s errors.

  11. Robert,

    Today I began Fr. Hopko’s series on the Divine Liturgy and in part 3 at about 2:45 he says the following:

    “Its really impossible to understand christian worship, to understand d the divine liturgy without understanding the bible.”

    So here you have a very respected Orthodox priest admitting that the epistemological source of the Divine Liturgy is the Bible, the Scriptures.

    1. David,

      That quote from Fr. Thomas Hopko is a fine one. I am very much in agreement with what he said. I think where you and I differ is whether Scripture is the sole epistemological source.

      Robert

    2. David,

      I noticed that you avoided one problem – probably the central problem – of sola scriptura which is: “If Scripture is the true revelation from God, how do we deal with competing interpretations of the Bible?” (Question 2 in Part 4). Right next to this question, I juxtaposed a picture of the historic meeting between Luther and Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529. Here you have two Reformers committed to sola scriptura yet holding to two incompatible interpretations of Christ’s words at the Last Supper: “This is my body. . . .” Luther affirmed the real presence, whereas Zwingli viewed the Lord’s Supper as symbolic. The two Reformers were unable to agree on what Christ’s words meant which resulted in their breaking fellowship with each other. The problem at the Marburg Colloquy – contradictory interpretations and church division – would repeat itself many times over in the subsequent history of Protestantism. This incident is a clear instance where source (Scripture), interpretation (literal versus symbolic) converge into praxis (Holy Communion). The Marburg Colloquy shows how source and interpretation are inseparable for Christian epistemology. The doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist is part of the oral Tradition of the early Church Fathers and is one important instance of the doctrinal nature of oral Apostolic Tradition – contrary to your claim that oral Tradition is just praxis. Unlike Protestantism, the early Church was united on the real presence in the Eucharist because it had oral Tradition to guide it in its interpretation of Scripture.

      So my questions to you are: (1) If you were present at the Marburg Colloquy, how would you have resolved the problem?, (2) Which Reformer do you believe had the right interpretation?, (3) Is this interpretation the one that your church holds to?, (4) Is this interpretation in agreement with the early Church Fathers?, and (5) How do you deal with problem of Protestants who hold to the wrong interpretation of the Bible? Tell me what you think and we can address the other topics after that.

      Robert

      1. Robert,

        I don’t think I avoided the problem at all because the issue at hand wasn’t interpretation but our source of knowledge. Though I do understand the two are intertwined.

        1. I do not know how I would have resolved the problem. The issue of the Eucharist is a contentious one. I think the doctrine rests less on our Christology and more on the supposition that Christ meant anything more by “is” than a simile. There are many verses like this in the Scriptures where God is compared to something (a hen, a door, a man of war) but he is not those things. You do not have in the Scriptures a single verse that gives a definitive “yes” to the real presence. The Eucharist is also a doctrine where the Scripture and tradition part ways. Did Christ cut up the bread into tiny squares, soak them in the wine, and then distribute each piece to the Apostles on a golden spoon after which they washed it down with holy water to make sure the blood did not stay in their mouths? Did he hand down the elaborate ceremony that is in the Divine Liturgy or the Mass? No.

        2. I am not very familiar with Zwingli’s view but I think he was more correct. Christ said “Do this in remembrance of me.” I would reject the doctrine that the elements change into or contain flesh and blood.

        3. No.

        4. No. It is not. The early Church Fathers did believe in a real presence and transformation of the elements. They also taught the efficacy of baptism. That it literally washed away sins. I do not believe the scriptures teach either one. Baptism is being buried with Christ and rising up to newness of life and putting off the old man etc. (Romans 6), and the Eucharist is a meal eaten in remembrance of Christ.

        5. What do you mean by “deal with?” Christ said “let them alone they are blind leaders of the blind.” There is always a time and place for apologetics but there is no need to always be dealing with each sect or error. I do recognise that the fractures in Protestantism are a problem. I do not think all errors are damning. While I do believe the real presence is an error its not going to damn anyone. I think the issue of error and how it affects our relationship to God is illustrated in this passage:

        II Kings 15:3: And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done;
        II Kings 15:4: Save that the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places.

        Azariah is said to have done that which was right in the sight of the Lord even though he did not remove the high places. That is he allowed the people to continue to commit idolatry and was still held to be a righteous man! In the same way I think it will be said of many people they did that which was right in the sight of the lord though they……etc.

        I do not know how united the early church really was on the doctrine of real presence but in the West this did not become a fixed dogma until 1215. And there were intense debates regarding real presence up to that time. See Pelikan History of Doctrine Vol 3 pg 184.

        I did not claim that oral tradition is just praxis. This is what I gleaned from what you wrote. Everything you wrote about tradition, especially in part 2, was about praxis. Aside from real presence that it is. But you kept the focus on praxis and not doctrine. You called tradition “Apostolic instruction.”

        1. Dear David,

          I am astonished by the juxtaposition of your acknowledgment of the early church fathers’ belief on two key doctrines (baptism and Eucharist) and your quick dismissal of these beliefs. How is it that you can feel confident that your answers to these fundamental questions are more trustworthy than their answers?

          Did the whole church, unanimously expressing these ideas only one or two generations removed from direct interactions with the apostles, fall prey to some universal falsehood (I call this the Mormon theory of history)? Was there some Bart-Ehrman-esque plot by the church fathers to suppress the true teaching on these core doctrines–but which still allowed an orthodox Christology to slip through? Were they–far more familiar with the oral tradition and with the nuances of the Greek language–simply unable to grasp the correct meaning of the apostles’ writings–a meaning which would lie in plain sight and yet undiscovered for 1500 years?

          I come from a non-sacramental and evangelical background that sounds similar to yours, so I am very familiar with hermeneutical glasses which lead to a rejection of any kind of sacramental system. Yet as I started to read and understand the teachings of the early fathers, I realized that there were some pretty big gaps between their understanding of the truth and mine. If I were to continue to hold my interpretation, I would have to come up with an explanation for how they erred so completely on things as fundamental as how one enters into and continues in communion with Christ and His church. I have yet to find an explanation big enough to cover all those gaps.

          1. Tim,

            I wrote that the issue of the Eucharist is contentious and for the West real presence was not a dogma until 1215. There were many debates over the issue. Debates over what was “already established as normative practice and doctrine” one could say.

            Did the whole church fall into falsehood? I don’t know. What does the Apostle Paul say?

            Galatians 3:1: O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

            How many of the seven churches does Christ have only positive things to say about? One.

            Now how likely is it that the Church would remain free from error seeing as in the days of the Apostles error had already crept in? Seeing as how the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people whom he knew above all the people on the earth and with whom he dwelt in the temple between the cherubim on the ark of the covenant, slipped into error from the first moment they left Egypt until this day. Error in the Church does not make the Church “not the Church.” Error does not mean the gates of hell have prevailed.

            It is an undeniable fact that the early Church taught the physical water washed away their sins and that the bread and wine were somehow transformed into flesh and blood. It is also an undeniable fact that despite the centrality of the Eucharist in the worship of the church as a sacrifice of Christ offered up to the Father we find very little about the meaning and administration of the Eucharist in the Scriptures. The Gospels and 1 Corinthians is it. (Breaking bread in Acts I don’t think has anything to do with the Eucharist and even if it does we aren’t informed about it beyond noting that it was an observed practice.) For something so central to Christian worship it is very striking how little is said about it. In Romans Paul gives a complete overview of the Christian’s life and he never once mentions it as part of our worship in chapters 12 and 13 where he discusses what our reasonable service is.

            So we are left with what? The Didache, the Constitutions, various writings here and there, the telephone of oral tradition. Simply because there is a witness to this practice in the early Church does not mean it is a scriptural or Apostolic practice. It only means that it was a practice in the Church.

            “Did the whole church………fall prey to some universal falsehood?”

            Is this not exactly what the EO believes about the West and their adoption of the filioque and divine simplicity and Augustinianism in general?

          2. David,

            A comment about your response to Tim regarding the early evidence for the real presence. I find your cavalier dismissal of the historical evidence distressing. How much evidence would it take to convince you of this doctrine? You may not realize it but there is an element of arrogance here. You are in effect saying: “Let me set bar here, and it is up to you to meet my expectations.” As a church history major from a leading Reformed seminary — Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary — I can tell you that while the early evidence for the real presence in the Eucharist is sparse, there is enough evidence for us to say that the early Church believed in the real presence. As a matter of fact, the only people at the time who held to the symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper were the heretical Gnostics. In other words, you are not working from the evidence at hand but from your self-created standards. On the other hand, I am working from the discipline of church history and from this discipline present my case to you.

            Your argument that in Romans the Apostle Paul gives “a complete overview of the Christian’s life” and that he made no mention of the real presence in chapters 12 and 13 makes clear your Protestant bias. For Protestants, Romans is the Apostle Paul’s magnus opus, his summation of the Christian Faith. From the standpoint of the history of biblical interpretation, this is a Protestant innovation. It is a bias that can be traced to Martin Luther. It’s understandable that you would take this stance but in a interfaith dialogue between Protestants and Orthodox, you cannot assert: “The Protestant approach is right. You must give us reasons why the book of Romans is the normative source for Christian doctrine and practice.”

            You wrote: “It only means that it [the real presence] was a practice in the Church.” Only?! What you have done is to oppose yourself against the worship of the early Church. You would be denied Holy Communion in the early Church. You have no leg to stand on unless you can point to an early source who shares the same view as you. I invite you to name an early Christian who has the same understanding of the Lord’s Supper as you.

            In your response to my first question about how you would resolve the Marburg Colloquy. You wrote: “The issue of the Eucharist is a contentious one.” It would have been more accurate to write: ‘The issue of the Eucharist is a contentious one for Protestants.’ The early Church was united on the real presence in the Eucharist. For the early Church the real presence was never a contentious issue. The Church universally held to this belief. Your questions about the elaborate rituals and the golden spoon show a concern with the outward practice and pretty much ignores the awesome mystery of Christ’s being actually present in the Eucharist.

            You wrote: “You do not have in the Scripture that give a definitive “yes” to the real presence. My response is: “But neither does Scripture give a definite “no” to the real presence.” This silence or ambiguity on the part of Scripture is what makes sola scriptura so problematic and ultimately unworkable. Where you and I differ is with respect to our methodology. You appeal to sola scriptura and logic. I appeal to the historical witness of the early Church. I do this because the early Church Fathers represent common ground between Reformed Protestants and the Orthodox.

  12. I just wanted to quickly remark that what is usually meant by Sola Scriptura really means the “tradition” of the Reformers in Reformed theology. And it should be called out as “tradition”. Usually it is a presupposition dogmatically asserted that the Reformers theology and Sola Scriptura are the same thing. But, when in the case of someone like N.T. Wright you have a challenge regarding the Reformer’s interpretation of justification by faith alone, they stick to confessional standards instead of adhering to the Bible. Sola Scriptura is usually, not always, the equivalent of saying our group understand the Bible better than everyone else. Take for example the criticisms of Hank Hanegraff and how he couldn’t be The Bible Answer Man anymore because he doesn’t hold to Sola Scriptura – what is really meant is that there is no possibility the scriptures could be teaching what Orthodoxy says they are teaching. I think as Orthodox we could uphold Sola Scriptura given the caveat that we understand exactly what is meant by the Biblical writers – with modification on worship practices which aren’t explicit in scripture.

  13. There is no doubt that one can come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ through the Bible. Jesus Himself unfolded that to His disciples after the Resurrection.

    But if Jesus is a person, not just an idea, it cannot be the only way. I will succinctly state again that I am reminded of Jesus when I read the Bible because I met Him first. I became Orthodox because the person I met and longed to love is in the Church and her sacraments. The person I met and long to love is the Church and her sacraments.

    Even if I were the only person who had a similar experience, and I am not, it disproves the thesis. Unless I and everyone like me is demonically deluded. There is no middle ground. The Gospel writers themselves met and knew Jesus first. I am an ignorant and unlearned man, but I can recognize people as people when they introduce themselves to me. Jesus is a person, not a book

    The real problem of Sola is that it tries to make a created thing God. Read Romans lately?

    Sola discounts the testimony of all of the people whose stories about meeting God are the narrative of the book while at the same time proclaiming the superiority of the book. Sola is an inversion.

    Big words and created concepts and long castigations will never change that.

    God bless us every one and forgive me a sinner.

  14. David, the western innovations are heretical in nature and obviously did not overtake the Church but created schism. That is what heresy does-divide.

    By the grace of God, the Church is intact and whole. Nothing has to be recreated or restored. She is alive, present and available to anyone who heeds our Lord’s call to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

    Your assertion is illogical and untrue.

  15. David,
    Individual churches can fall into error, but THE Church will always remain indefectible, ever lead by the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy says that Rome had been falling into errors since the Great Schism, the first of its errors being papal supremacy now rationalized into papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council (1870). Orthodoxy cannot be equated to a particular patriarchate or an earthly city as Rome claimed for itself; in other words, Rome claimed that it was the “Mother and Mistress of All Churches,” and that communion (more like subjugation) to the Pope of Rome was essential to (1) being a member of the Church; and (2) the prerequisite that makes a Church a Church. It seems to me that you are equating and/or confusing Roman Catholic ecclesiology with Orthodox ecclesiology, which, I assure you, are two very different ecclesiolgies altogether. Christ’s promise as mentioned in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (16:16-19) remains applicable to the local Church as long as that Church remains true to the Orthodox Faith. As one of the Church Fathers said, “Where there is the Bishop, there is the Church.” However, what I’m saying probably doesn’t make sense if people are still stuck in Solo Scriptura mode, focusing on a single tree while forgetting the whole forest.

  16. Robert,

    I haven’t denied at all that the early Church believed in the real presence. I admit the fact. It’s right there in the Diadache and in the letters of Ignatius. The issue is not whether the early Church believed this or whether there are early writing attesting to this fact but whether this doctrine is taught in the Scripture. And it is a contentious issue not just for Protestants. Read Pelikan’s History of Doctrine vol 3 where he discusses the debates on this issue in the Roman Church.

    I do not understand your objections to my calling Romans an overview of the Christian life. And I did not say “The Protestant approach is right, etc. or that Romans is normative.” Paul starts in Romans 1 and 2 and 3 with lost sinners. Then in 4, 5, and 6 he shows them their hope in Christ through faith in him. Then in 7 and 8 he shows how Christ is with us and all things are for our good. Then in 9-11 he shows why the Jews do not believe and the Gentiles do. Finally he ends 12-16 by telling us what our reasonable service as Christians is. The book of Romans is an outline of the Christian life from lost sinner to Christ worshipper. I don’t understand the controversy about that. If eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ is so important for our salvation and spiritual life this would be the place to mention it. And he doesn’t. He does mention baptism in Romans 6.

    About the golden spoon and the chalice and the epicleis and the elaborate ritual….it all relates to the doctrine of real presence. The elaborate ritual and the doctrine go hand in hand.

    “You appeal to sola scriptura and logic. I appeal to the historical witness of the early Church.”

    And what did the early Church appeal to? What did Irenaus say was the foundation and pillar of our faith and from where did he draw his Proofs of the Apostolic Preaching? What did Justin appeal to in his dialogue with Trypho? According to what did Paul say Christ was crucified for our sins? What did Chrysostom, Jerome, Maximus, and the Cappadocians study all their lives? To be a Bishop one had to memorise all 150 Psalms which were part of what? What was so important that to hand them over to the Romans made one a traitor unworthy of the priesthood? From what source did the early Church battle the Jews and the pagans and prove the truth of Christianity? What did the heretics have so many false copies of in order to mislead the people? What is Christ the fulfilment of and according to what did he say, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”

    The Scriptures.

    1. David,

      The point I wanted to make is that given your symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper you would have been out of synch with the early Church and therefore denied Holy Communion. The issue here is that because Scripture is not clear about the meaning of Christ’s words at the Last Supper whether one should give weight to the teaching and practice of the early Church. I do, and you don’t. You don’t because you are a Protestant who holds to the sixteenth-century novelty called sola scriptura.

      I’ve read volume 3 of Pelikan’s The Christian Doctrine series. The point is that officially Roman Catholicism has resolved the medieval controversy by adopting the doctrine of transubstantiation. In contrast to this Protestantism to this day continues to be divided over the real presence in the Lord’s Supper. This schism within Protestantism over the Lord’s Supper and its disagreement with the early Church over the Eucharist points to its separation from ancient Christianity. Its inability to reconcile its differences over the real presence is a sign of Protestantism’s theological incoherence.

      I am in agreement with Irenaeus of Lyon’s statement that Scripture is the foundation and pillar of our faith. As an Orthodox Christian how could I say otherwise? Scripture is Apostolic Tradition in written form. Where we disagree is whether Scripture by itself is sufficient. I have been trying to show that apart from oral Tradition one ends up with competing interpretations that result in theological confusion and church splits. You seem to imply that for Orthodoxy Scripture is secondary or optional, but that is a false accusation. You cited the anecdote of Eugene (later Fr. Seraphim) Rose’s encounter with an Orthodox Christian who knew little of Scripture. This may indeed be true but it ought not be taken as normative. Instances of biblical literacy in Orthodoxy like this are lamentable and need to be remedied. At my local Greek Orthodox parish I gave a series of presentation titled “The Biblical Basis of Holy Tradition,” “The Biblical Basis for the Liturgy,” “The Biblical Basis for Icons,” etc. Holy Scripture is a treasure that needs to be shared with all especially in the Liturgy. We need preachers like Saint John Chrysostom who exposited Scripture while being faithful to Holy Tradition. I would encourage you to read the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom to see how much Scripture suffuses the Liturgy. Your fondness for biblical exposition indicate a preference for didactic prose but another way to exposit Scripture is through song and this is what the Orthodox Church does in its liturgical services. I suspect that you have been evaluating the Liturgy in Singapore on the basis of sermon/lecture that you hear. May I suggest that you listen for the Scriptural content as it is sung during the Liturgy? But let me also say that we need better preaching and bible exposition in Orthodox churches today.

      Robert

      1. Robert,

        “Instances of biblical literacy in Orthodoxy like this are lamentable and need to be remedied. ”

        What is the remedy? Only presentations, sermons, and the liturgy or actually reading the Scriptures as well?

        It does not matter how much Scripture is in the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is a time of worship and not study. And as I quoted above, Hopko, and I would suspect others too, says you cannot understand the Divine Liturgy without understanding the Bible. The Divine Liturgy presupposes the Scriptures. All our songs, all our dogmas come from the Scriptures.

        Think of DaVinci’s Last Supper. It is not didactic. It is illustrative and if you do not know the Gospel then you will not understand that painting or much of any Western art.

        The Jews finally wrote down all their oral traditions in the Mishna. What is the Christian Mishna? Why is anyone still relying on oral traditions 2000 years on? Why is there a canon of written tradition but not a canon of oral tradition?

        1. David,

          I agree with you that in addition to faithful attendance of the Liturgy we should encourage people to read Scripture with the guidance of the Church. I recommend that you and others check out Be the Bee podcast “How to Read the Bible” as evidence that Orthodoxy does encourage people to read Scripture. I’m all for people reading the Bible so long as it is done under the guidance of the Church. We need more of this.

          I would agree that the songs and prayers of the Liturgy come from Scripture. I would also point out that historically people learned Scripture via the songs and the prayers before the printing press in the 1400s. I would say that the dogmas of the Seven Ecumenical Councils derive from Scripture and oral Tradition.

          You asked why does Orthodoxy not have a written compilation of oral Tradition? I suspect the answer is the reality of Pentecost in Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church can be understood as a spiritual river continually flowing from the first Pentecost in Acts 2 to the present. There is an organic and dynamic quality to Tradition in Orthodoxy. I suspect that reducing oral Tradition into written form would open the door to a spirit of legalism that would in time quench the Pentecostal quality of Orthodoxy.

          But how well would a written Mishna work? Your question makes me think of the detailed Westminster Confession and the Three Forms of Unity in the Reformed tradition. How well has these written compilation of interpretations of Scripture worked? It is a well known fact that the Reformed churches suffer serious divisions among themselves. Which also makes me curious as to which particular confession you hold to. Can you divulge that to us?

          Robert

          1. Robert,

            While I would generally agree with what the 3 Forms teach, I am not beholden to any confession. I have not nor would I ever bind my conscience to any confession.

            “There is an organic and dynamic quality to Tradition in Orthodoxy. ”

            This is why I wrote that no one has access to tradition since it is constantly growing and not static.

          2. Dear David,

            If you willfully disregard the Apostolic Tradition of which Sacred Scripture is a sacred fruit, then you are adhering to the self-made tradition that exists nowhere else except in your head. It sounds like you’re totally dedicated to the “Me, My Jesus, and My Bible” religiosity of modern Protestantism. Ironically, you prove Mr. Arakaki’s point on Sola Scriptura; i.e., it is implicitly individualistic and thus anti-Church. As I’ve always said, Protestantism is the flip side (mirror image) of Roman Catholicism.

            “Essentially, Protestantism is nothing other than a generally applied papism. For in Protestantism, the fundamental principle of papism is brought to life by each man individually. After the example of the infallible man in Rome, each Protestant is a cloned infallible man, because he pretends to personal infallibility in matters of faith. It can be said: Protestantism is a vulgarized papism, only stripped of mystery (i.e., sacramentality), authority and power” (Blessed Fr. Justin Popovich of Serbia, “Humanistic Ecumenism” in Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, by Father Justin Popovich, trans. by Asterios Gerostergios (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1994), p. 169.

  17. Dear David,
    You said that the Eucharist isn’t a normative part of the Christian life because Saint Paul didn’t mention it in his Epistle to the Romans (2nd paragraph). A question that comes to mind is how can you say this when Saint Paul did teach the Eucharist’s significance in his Epistle to the Corinthians * (11:17-30)? With that in mind, it should be quite clear that Saint Paul clearly did not see the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) as something purely symbolic; after all, symbols, unlike actual realities, do not make people inform and then cause them to pass away (see 11:26-30). Also, what about Jesus’s own words concerning the Bread of Life discourse in Saint John’s Gospel (6:54-59), and how this resurfaces again at the Last Supper in the upper room with the Apostles (Matthew 26:26-29), and then again after the Resurrection (Luke 24:30-35), and then again as the apparently normative orthopraxy of the Ancient Church after Pentecost (Actus 2:41-43)? Clearly, what Saint Paul taught in his Epistle to the Corinthians (but not necessarily purposefully ignored in his Epistle to the Romans) is a further expository of the apostolic doctrine concerning the true meaning of the Eucharist and its centrality in the Christian’s life. With all due respect, I think you are indeed cherry picking Scripture to affirm your own particular faith tradition (narrative), practically treating one book of the New Testament as more important than all others combined. Dare I say it, it’s as if the Gospels themselves are relegated to some kind of second class status in comparison to Saint Paul’s epistles, at least for certain kinds of Protestant traditions. As an afterthought, could we not say that this is what the papal apologists also do in affirming their own Roman Catholic dogma of papal supremacy and infallibility; i.e., taking those Scriptures, and even certain writings of the Church Fathers, that seemingly glorify Peter while ignoring the other Apostles to the detriment, ironically, of the rest of the Scriptures as well as the the general consensus of the Fathers? For example, Saint Peter never wrote, or even alluded, about himself as one supreme over the other Apostles while Saints John, James, Jude, and Paul never ever wrote, or alluded, about Peter’s absolute primacy and supreme headship of the Church. I think you get my point :0)

    * Scriptural citations based on the Douay-Rheims Bible.

  18. David, the Divine Liturgy is structured on the revelation given to Isaiah and the Hebrew temple worship. It is not the “doctine of the real presence” it is the person of Jesus Christ kenotically giving Himself.. A foretaste of the Kingdom. “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”. Lord have mercy.

    Keep this in mind:. Jesus Christ is a real person who loves you. He is not an idea. Because He loves you and inexplicably, me, He reveals Himself to us so that we can learn to love Him. It is a hypostatic love. That is the purpose of the Divine Liturgy.

    It is a feast of offering, forgiveness and promise.

    Again you have the order of things reversed. The love and offering and promise came first, even before the foundation of the world. Doctine such as it is flows from experiencing that offering, forgiveness and promise not as a mental event, but an ontological reality. Real communion with the living God. Worshipping the undivided Trinity who has saved us.

    I must remind you, we Orthodox are not RC. We actually have very little doctrine. What we do have is largely Christological.

    1. Thank you Michael. Well said! Truly in the Liturgy we encounter Christ, not just learn about Him.

      Robert

  19. All else that I have said in this thead can be ignored. Fr. Stephen Freeman on his blog, Glory to God for All Things
    “The sacramental world of classical Christianity speaks a wholly different language. It presumes that the world as we see it is an expression of a greater reality that is unseen. It presumes that everything is a continuing gift and a means of communion with the good God who created it.”

    BTW Communion in this context is of the heart/mind, body and spirit not mere ideas.

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