How Should We Read the Early Church Fathers?

One of the great challenges as a Protestant is to know and understand how we came to be. The Reformation is our roots in history, but the Bible is our root in theology. Simply put, to be Protestant means you leave the man-made teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and look towards Scripture as your authority for faith and practice.

Why do I make this point when talking about the Early Church Fathers (ECF)? It is simple. Catholics tend to put an inordinate amount of weight and authority in the ECF. They do this to the point of elevating their writings to the level of Scripture. However, they will tell you that they do not do this. Yet, when shown their interpretation is incorrect Biblically, they will say, “But Origen said…” or “But Iraneus argued….” or “But Clement states…” and so on. When you simply say they are wrong, and point out the error, they will say that are we to know better than those that sat under the Apostles?

This, of course, is a logical fallacy. It is an appeal to authority. However, there is no authority there.

We do not hold that the ECF were infallible. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that the ECF, or the church today, including the Pope, are infallible in any way (though the Catholics will try to argue that there is). So how are we to use the ECF?

The answer to this is not difficult. We should use the ECF as we use any other commentary. It is useful for study and instruction but must always be tested against the Scriptures. The Scriptures and Scriptures alone have the final say in all matters of faith and practice. The ECF did get things wrong, and often, they even contradicted each other. Scripture, on the other hand, has no contradictions. It is the perfect and holy words of God.

So while we should read the Fathers, we should not elevate their work to the level of Scripture.

Can We Know What The Bible Means?

The question of whether we can know what the Bible means or not is not a new one. The question has come up often when controversy arises. But the answer is simple, yes, we can know what the Bible means. How? We must follow sound principles of Biblical Interpretation.

First, let’s look at how not to interpret Scripture. We don’t go through Scripture acting as if it were written today to today’s audience. We don’t go through Scripture looking for buzzwords and then take things out of context to twist meanings.

So how do we know what Scripture means?

Here are some basic steps.

  1. Observe the passage in our own language. Who is the passage written to? Where was it written? Etc.
  2. Observe the passage in the original language. Are there any nuances of Greek or Hebrew words that might not be conveyed in the English text?
  3. Study the historical and cultural contexts of the day. The purpose of this is that we want to know what a particular passage would mean to the original audience.
  4. Determine the plain meaning of the passage in its original context.

This is not difficult in many cases in Scripture. Yes, there are some passages that are more difficult than others but this is the exception and not the rule. It is not arrogant to say that we can understand the original meaning of the text, nor is it impossible. If it were impossible, what would the point be?

People who say that we cannot know the original meaning with 100% certainty usually say so because the plain meaning and interpretation of Scripture does not mesh with something they want to happen in their life or in society. In other words, they don’t want to see the light.

Another thing to note, and this is important, is that any given passage only has one correct interpretation. Let me say that again, there is only one correct interpretation of Scripture. There can be any number of applications for a passage, but only one correct meaning.

Let me close with an example.

On September 2nd, 1776, General George Washington wrote a letter to the Continental Congress. That letter was written in a different time and culture to a different recipient. Yet, we can interpret that letter with 100% clarity. The army was demoralized and, in Washington’s opinion, underpaid. He recommended the possibility of land being added as an incentive for enlistments.

There is no question to the meaning of this letter from Washington. In the same way, we can look at the books of the Bible, many of which are letters themselves, and interpret the text with 100% clarity.

People Are Broken

I recently read an article that suggests that humanity is not broken. That we are perfect just the way we are. I am sorry but that is not what Scripture tells us. In fact, it tells us just the opposite.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:23 ESV

We are not perfect. We are sinners. To suggest that we are perfect you must live blind to the things that go on in this world. Sin is abundant. We are a broken people.

This is what happens when we have a low-view of Scripture. When we don’t believe that Scripture is the Word of God. Everything becomes distorted. Lines are no longer visible. Everything is ok.

But we know that the Bible is the Word of God because of 2 Timothy 3:16. It does not say some Scripture is God’s, it says all Scripture. And that includes the passages that say we are not perfect just the way we are. We are broken.

The article was in direct relation to LGBTQ. In fact, the quote from the article says:

Because the truth is simple: We’re all divinely created. We’re perfect just the way we are. Me. You. Your annoying [edit] neighbor. All of us. We’re valuable.

God doesn’t love us in spite of who we are. He loves us BECAUSE of who we are. Gaiety & all.

There is, of course, some truth in this statement. Yes, we are all divinely created, all of us, and we are all valuable. That is not under dispute. But we are not perfect. And it certainly is not true that God loves us because of who we are. We are sinners. God only loves us because of who HE is.

Does Inerrancy Matter?

This is a question that comes up over and over again. The simple answer is, yes, inerrancy matters. But why? This post will not go into the intricate details of inerrancy. This is not the proper format for such an undertaking. The purpose here is to look at some logic regarding the truth of Scripture and the issue of inerrancy.

The Bible is to be the guiding light for Christians. The Bible gives us the truth on every facet of life that you can imagine. Now, it doesn’t give us guidance on whether or not we should wear a purple shirt or a green shirt today, that is not what we mean when we say every facet of life. But what we mean is that every situation you encounter has principles in Scripture that will help you work out a right attitude and response to that situation. And this is where inerrancy comes into play.

First, we need to define inerrancy as it relates to Scripture. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy defines inerrancy as follows:

Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching…

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy 1980

Scripture is without any error in everything that it teaches. That means it is without fault in its historical statements, theological statements, scientific statements, and any other statement the Bible makes. This, of course, refers to the original manuscripts and not any specific translation of Scripture.

So what? Why does this matter? Let’s think about it this way, if you can take any part of the Bible, let’s say Genesis, and says that it contains error, then you call the rest of Scripture into question. Scripture builds on itself. Yes, it is a collection of 66 different works but those works (books) give one unifying message and they stand on each other.

If you can call into question the account in Genesis, you can call into question the accounts of Jesus Christ. At that point, you call into question the exclusivity of Salvation for Christians and Christians alone. After that, you can throw out any part of the Bible that does not agree with modern thought.

It is a dangerous slope. You either take all of Scripture or you throw it all out. Inerrancy is one of the most fundamental beliefs that impact the Gospel today.

Sola Scriptura: Does It Matter?

Recently, I have been challenged with the question of whether or not Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone, matters. The answer is, of course, YES! Sola Scriptura is a major issue that was really one of the crucial points of the Reformation.

The question is this, do we get truth from Scripture alone or are there other authorities? The Roman Catholic Church, for example, believes the church is the final authority and can overrule Scripture.

The reason this has come into question recently is because I was corresponding via email with the headquarters of a mainline denomination, I am not ready to mention the denomination yet, last week and asked about their position on ordaining women and how they could hold to that practice despite the blatant prohibitions in Scripture. Their answer terrified me.

In short, they said while Scripture is the primary source, it is not the only source and we must go with experience, logic, and reason as well as tradition. I am sorry, but that is not how it works. If we can throw out the writings of Paul, why not the writings of Peter? And if we can throw out the writings of Peter because they don’t agree with what we feel, then why not throw out the words of Christ? Do you see where this leads?

If Scripture is not the final authority you can replace it with whatever you please. In other words, there are no absolutes. Everything is fair game.

Sola Scriptura is vital.