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Changing Doctrine? How Do Protestants (And Others) Justify Themselves?

Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Views on the Development of Doctrine

How do Protestants justify their belief in sola fide (salvation by faith alone) if it didn’t exist prior to the sixteenth-century? How do Catholics explain their belief in the Assumption of Mary when it wasn’t dogmatized until the twentieth-century? How does Eastern Orthodox justify their under-developed beliefs and tendency to punt to “mystery”? What’s going on with all this changing doctrine?

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How do Protestants justify their belief in sola fide if it didn’t exist prior to the sixteenth-century?

How we answer these questions is our doctrine about the development of doctrine itself. Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholics have to account for the way truth has been progressively understood over time. Here are the problems each tradition faces:

Protestant Problems

Why do we hold so strongly to doctrines such as sola scriptura and sola fide when, prior to the Reformation, many (if not most) in the church didn’t? The typical answer is “because the Bible is clear about these teachings”. While true, it causes us to wonder, if the Bible was so clear, why did these doctrines take so long to develop?

If the Bible was so clear, why did these doctrines take so long to develop?

Catholic Problems

In 1950, the doctrine of The Assumption of Mary was dogmatized in Catholicism, and enforced under pain of excommunication. However, it finds no biblical warrant and little support in church history.  In fact, the first mention of the Assumption of Mary we find in church history isn’t until the fifth-century. Why wasn’t it heard of before this? Why did it take so long for it to become dogma? This is only one of the many doctrinal “developments” Catholicism must explain. Here is a partial list:

  • Doctrine of Purgatory
  • Dogmatization of the seven sacraments and the specific role they play in one’s salvation in the Middle Ages.
  • Papal infallibility
  • The Marian Dogmas
  • What “outside the Church there is no salvation” meant (pre and post-Vatican II).

The first mention of the Assumption of Mary we find in church history isn’t until the fifth-century.

Both Catholics and Protestants face the same question: What about those who came before? Why didn’t they understand or emphasize these issues to the same degree?

Eastern Orthodox Problems

Eastern Orthodoxy has a very different approach to doctrinal development. In short, they don’t really believe in it, at least not in the way we’ve been talking about it. They hold that the fullness of doctrine was developed in the first few centuries of the church. All future developments are deemed novel and/or heretical. In short, if the early church didn’t articulate it, neither should we.

If the early church didn’t articulate it, neither should we.

What’s the problem with this perspective? It sounds good. The difficulty is that the early church articulated doctrine only to the degree that those doctrines were challenged. In other words, there wasn’t enough time for all doctrines to be fully established, challenged, and refined in the first few centuries.

Just insert the word “mystery”, and you’ll be fine.

Because of their perspective on doctrinal development Eastern Orthodox have difficulty with:

  • The meaning of the atonement
  • The instrumental cause of salvation
  • The canon of Scripture
  • The authority in the Church
  • The “ransom to Satan” theory of the atonement

They’re frozen in the past. Issues that weren’t dogmatized and articulated in the first few centuries are doomed to a perpetual state of apophatic necessity. In other words, just insert the word “mystery”, and you’ll be fine.

The Protestant View of “Changing” Doctrine Defended

Both Catholic and Orthodox are alike in that they seek, above all else, to find their tradition in the early Church. Their philosophy of history is, “the closer you get to the Apostles’ successors, the closer you are to truth.”

Do you get closer to truth the closer you get to the Apostles?

Protestants, by-and-large, do not take this approach, believing it to be naive. We reject the assumption that the early church (the one right after the Apostles) got it all right. (Hang with me here). We opt for a development of doctrine which sees the Protestant dogmas as defining Protestant orthodoxy. While true and important, these dogmas do not define historic orthodoxy (see my blog Are You Orthodox or Heretic for more on this).

God, in His grace and in His own time, allows doctrines to develop in essence and articulation.

In other words, the doctrine of sola fide, for example, may not have been strictly held, prior to the Reformation. However, God, in His grace and in His own time, allows doctrines to develop in essence and articulation. It is true that Evangelical Protestants who hold to essentialism would fly this flag higher than other traditions in the Protestant faith.

A Uniquely Protestant Problem

Here is an attempt to represent how Protestants understand doctrinal development.

The Protestant Model of Changing Doctrine

Our argument would be that the essentials of who Christ is and what He has done has always been held by all (Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox):

  • That Christ is both fully God and fully man
  • That Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave
  • That mankind is sinful and in need of a savior
  • That faith in Christ is necessary
  • That grace is the only foundation for salvation

This is just a short list of doctrines that form the bedrock of orthodoxy (not Orthodoxy as in “Eastern”). Yet, from this perspective (the crucible of time) controversy, canonical reflection, and maturation help us to add flesh to what these doctrines mean. Many times, this flesh significantly develops our understanding.

“Change” is a Bad Word

Change is the key word here. And if you noticed, I have not used it to describe our belief. No one likes this word. No tradition (outside of liberalism) believes doctrines change.  Evangelical Protestants say that all the essential components for doctrine are found in the apostles’ teaching, but even the apostles had yet to put flesh on these bones.

No tradition (outside of liberalism) believes doctrines change.

Here’s another way Protestants look at it. Scripture is an undeveloped seed that could grow in the wrong way if it’s grown in bad soil (Catholic) or lacks water (Orthodox). This seed can be restored by being placed in purified soil and with allowance to grow (hence the developments of the Great Reformation).

From the Protestant’s perspective, it is not as if the Orthodox and Catholics are without the essential element – the seed, but that they have failed to allow doctrine to develop correctly.

Another way to put this (I work through this extensively in The Church History Boot Camp) is that the DNA of truth never changes. It is immutable. But the DNA has to mature and develop. The Scriptures never change. The truths of Scripture are perfect and without error. But these truths (this DNA) can, have, and will continue to mature. The primary evidence of the maturing is not only in articulation, but systematic understanding.

Free Video – Session 1 from the Church History Boot Camp

“Development” is a Good Word

It’s naive to think that the early Church got everything right simply because they were closer to the Apostles. Why would we make such an assumption? How would we justify this belief? I don’t even think the Apostles themselves had everything figured out. They certainly would not have articulated the doctrine of the Trinity the way we do, even if they did progressively believe and teach its basic components.

I don’t even think the Apostles themselves had everything figured out.

The Apostles planted the perfect seed and, like a seed, it wasn’t fully grown at the time of its planting. This is why the earliest creeds simply state, in biblical language, what the truth is without providing detailed definitions. Again, it is only when challenges are made and time has passed that the church further studies and refines doctrine. This is how I can say that belief in the doctrine of sola fide can be historically defended. It is not a change, but a development.

The Failure of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

Catholics, on the other hand, I believe, must admit with Martin Luther that their tradition is riddled with compromising change. Catholic scholar John Henry Newman put together the first substantial defense against the charges of change in Catholicism (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine). But, as brilliant as it was, history is the witness that significant contradictions exist in the history of Catholic doctrine. This would not be so devastating to Catholicism if they did not believe Church dogma to be infallible. “Development” or “maturation” are words Catholics would like to adopt, but they’re simply self-deceiving Band-Aids covering what I believe to be fatal wounds.

The Orthodox time machine is quite impressive. And, for the most part, their theology does reflect what might be considered an eastern consensus on doctrine. They hold to the first seven Ecumenical Councils and the statements of faith they represented. Protestants greatly appreciate that the Eastern Orthodox reject:

  • Purgatory
  • Papal infallibility
  • The assumption of Mary
  • The equality of the Protocanonical works (Protestants 66-book canon) with the Deuterocanonical works (the Apocrypha).

However, their “time freeze” is not only unwarranted, but denies the power of the Spirit to work through the church, bringing us a more mature, sanctified, and systematic understanding of God. If we’re going to grow in our understanding of the Lord throughout eternity, why claim that all maturation of our faith ceased in 787?

I’d like to share a quote from my favorite Christian historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, who converted from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy in his 70s and died just a few years ago. He sums it up like this (taking about Catholicism and Protestantism):

I consider that the parting of the ways between the two Christian communities takes place on the issue of development of doctrine. That development has taken place in both communities cannot possibly be denied. The question is, what is legitimate development, what is organic growth in the understanding of the original deposit of faith, what is warranted extension of the primitive discipline of the church, and what, on the other hand, is accretion, additive increment, adulteration of the deposit, distortion of true Christian discipline? … Perhaps, above all, the question is, what are the limits of development and growth – the limits that must be reached on peril of archaistic stuntedness, and the limits that must not be transgressed on peril of futuristic decadence?” (J. Pelikan, Development of Christian Doctrine. Some Historical Prolegomena [London 1969], p. 1.)

46 Responses to “Changing Doctrine? How Do Protestants (And Others) Justify Themselves?”

  1. Eastern Orthodox said: “If the early church didn’t articulate it, neither should we.”

    Hmm… I wonder if the early church articulated that?

  2. You’re confusing “maturation” with “mutation”.

    A legitimate development can never downright contradict what came before it, as sola scripture does.

  3. Neither sola Scriptura nor a dual source theory (Catholics) had a maturation in the early church. However, the DNA of sola Scriptura finds significant representation. It is best to say it was assumed.

    One can see that here: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2012/11/early-church-fathers-on-sola-sciptura/

    This serves as a decent example of the post above, but not great as it would be hard for me to see too much need to develop. Spend enough time in the Fathers and I find they they had the same view of Scripture and it’s relationship to tradition.

    • Damien Woods 2014-07-24 at 3:57 pm

      It’s as easy to selectively quote the Fathers as it is to selectively quote the Bible. Are you open to things the Fathers said on other subjects?

      Since Paul’s writings (which predate the Gospels) are written to the Church in various places, it’s clear that the Church existed before the scripture (i.e. Paul’s writing to them) and so the Church must be something other than a fellowship of folks who believe in the Bible.

      • Wait a minute, since when did Paul’s writings predate the Gospels? If that were true, what is then the Gospel that Paul is telling the churches to hold fast to? A Gospel that will later be preached to them after they received the epistles?

        • Dante,

          The Gospel was preached, and churches existed, before the first four books of the New Testament were written.
          Christianity gave birth to the Scriptures, not the other way around.

          • Well of course, but please don’t tell me those four books we have now are not written down based on the Gospel that was being preached to the churches before Paul penned his epistles.

          • Dante,

            Yes, 1 Thessalonians was written in the 50s. The first Gospel written was Mark, in the 60s.

            This is a Protestant site, but it is accurate:

            http://carm.org/when-was-bible-written-and-who-wrote-it

          • Hi pete,

            Sorry for the very, very late response. Couldn’t figure out how to reply after the change in layout, until just recently…

            Anyway, I understand that the epistles predate the written account of the Gospels. Surely the Gospel accounts have been going around orally long before the writing of the epistles?

  4. This is quite perfect. Honestly, Mr. Patton, I’m not sure how I could stay an evangelical Protestant without the help of your insight.

  5. Michael,

    I looked again at that blog post you linked just above. I remember it now…John and Pete again, especially in the very first few comments, quickly and easily discredited your interpretations of those quotes.

    Just as some, as you often point out, mix up sola and solo Scriptura, aren’t you confusing (in the Catholic paradigm) the authority of the magisterium and the authority of the Scriptures? Remember, the magisterium is subject to Scripture…it may not contradict it. However, the Scriptures were written in the tradition of the Church, and must be interpreted in the tradition of the Church.

    So, any “seed” that talks about the power and primacy of Scripture is just as much a seed for the Orthodox and Catholic traditions as well….even more so, because sola Scriptura contradicts other “seeds” in the early church.

    There is no way to reconcile sola Scriptura with early church history. Unless you want to claim a centuries long absence of the Church of Christ.

    Contradictions are not maturations.

    • If we cannot find justification in the Scriptures, how are we to know if some “tradition” is or isn’t actually from the tradition of the Apostles? Or worse, the fact that some “traditions” are in fact contrary to Scripture? What about the dogmas that have been mentioned? Those find absolutely no support in either Scripture or tradition.
      What other “seeds” does Sola Scriptura contradict?

  6. Damian,

    You are right. But what are the options? Not quote the Bible or fathers at all because the charge selective quotations is a possibility? Isn’t it also very possible that these quotes do help my case? You are going to have to deal with that.

    As well, my conviction is very stable as I spend time in the fathers, and all of church history. I am a very committed student here.

    Also consider the many joint demarcations the Protestants have with Eastern Orthodox concerning the ultimate authority of Scripture. Orthodox, like Protestants view Scripture as the norm that norms but is not normed. And no one could accuse the Orthodox of ignoring or selective quoting history.

  7. With due respect Irene (because you are an awesome sister in Christ!), there was no sense in which I believe the quotes can be shown to do anything other than exactly what they seem to do at first read. But, again, it is not simply the quotes alone, it is the consistent theology behind the quotes to which I am bound as I read much more extensively than proof texts.

    Solo Scriptura (nuda) is the consist at straw man that others can easily dismantle. Once you understand that evangelical magisterial Protedtants, such as myself do believe in the authority of Tradition (even of the big “T” variety). I believe in five authorities all-together. Scripture is the ultimate source. ThT is what sola Scripture means. Defined rightly with the respect of Tradition rightly placed, the Fathers (and their quotes) are reaffirmed in my arguments.

    However, having said ALL of that (phew), it was unnecessary and tangential for the argument of this post. The main point of this post is not to show how an articulated 21 st century form of all our beliefs is not necessary to find and we all rightly go to some theology of development. The next step is to explain and justify our understanding.

    The funny thing JH Newman is the best that we ALL have! And we ALL need to have a basic united front (which we can) about this issue to the outside Christianity as they will use it to dismantle our faith in Christ. One day I am going to put together a proposal to all traditions showing how we can learn from Newman.

  8. “The Gospel was preached, and churches existed, before the first four books of the New Testament were written.
    Christianity gave birth to the Scriptures, not the other way around.”

    Amen. Christianity, in theory, never needed the Scriptures. Truth precedes the recording of truth, even an inspired recording.

    Christianity is a historic faith having as it foundation the person and work of Christ. This preceded the Scriptures, but you must understand that it precede the Church, both visible and invisible, as well.

    So this, as well, does not really have anything to do with this post or it’s arguments. But it is important. 🙂

    • Damien Woods 2014-07-25 at 12:18 pm

      Of course, Christ precedes both the Scripture and the Church. But is the progression Christ > Scripture > Church (Protestant) or Christ > Church > Scripture (Catholic)? Since Christ founded a Church (whose members then wrote (and canonized) what became the New Testament) and He didn’t write anything that we know of, I find the Catholic view more compelling.

      In that case, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Tradition is larger than the Scripture. And since the canon of Scripture is closed, the Tradition is where the doctrinal development happens (trying to get back on topic :-)) But the developing Tradition clarifies (and explains in a contemporary way) but never contradicts earlier versions of the Tradition or Scripture.

  9. “The main point of this post is not to show how an articulated 21 st century form of all our beliefs is not necessary to find”

    –true. Necessary,or possible, to find.

    “and we all rightly go to some theology of development.”

    –ok

    ” The next step is to explain and justify our understanding.”

    –you mentioned in your comment that “it is the consistent theology behind the quotes to which I am bound”.
    Is this theology which you consistently find [across the fathers, I assume] also consistent chronologically? Need it be?

    “And we ALL need to have a basic united front (which we can) about this issue to the outside Christianity as they will use it to dismantle our faith in Christ.”

    –yes, we need to maintain and fight for unity wherever we can. I don’t know quite how to phrase this: I think the unity we fight for should be forward and higher looking, looking for more of a reconvergence? than a backward and downward ‘what is our absolute least common denominator’?
    I suppose that is one reason to clarify development of doctrine. 🙂

  10. Dante,

    I think I can give quick answers to your questions.

    If we cannot find justification in the Scriptures, how are we to know if some “tradition” is or isn’t actually from the tradition of the Apostles?

    –justification in the Scriptures is not necessary. Do the Scriptures themselves say so?

    Or worse, the fact that some “traditions” are in fact contrary to Scripture? What about the dogmas that have been mentioned? Those find absolutely no support in either Scripture or tradition.

    –according to your interpretation of Scripture and Tradition. There are other interpretations. Why is yours better?

    “What other “seeds” does Sola Scriptura contradict?”

    –apostolic succession; the practice of filling/holding offices in the Church, as an example

    Sola Scriptura is a prime example of a Protestant doctrine that contradicts the theological history of the Church up to that time. Many good and exemplary Christians believe it, but it could not have “developed”. At best, it was “grafted”.

    • Irene,

      If it isn’t in Scripture, I believe then that it is not an essential belief as the Popes have dogmatized. The Protestant interpretation of Scripture is more consistent with church history and Scripture, especially where it concerns the five points already mentioned in the article by Mr. Patton that Catholics need to explain.
      Now, when it comes to the issue of apostolic succession, I do know that the early church has indeed believed in it, but what they taught, up until the time of Augustine, is that the apostolic succession is in the transmission of the apostles’ authentic teaching, i.e. the Gospel, not in terms of the filling/holding of offices in the church.

      • “If it isn’t in Scripture, I believe then that it is not an essential belief as the Popes have dogmatized.”

        Where is that belief in scripture?

        • I do not believe this belief of mine is essential, but logically speaking, if the dogmas were essential, then the Christians of the previous centuries before the institution of such dogmas weren’t saved since they did not believe in such dogmas. Therefore it is fine if you want to dispute this argument of mine, but there remains absolutely no sound justification for the institution of such dogmas, apart from a presumed infallibility of the Popes, which is evidently untrue, given the Saeculum obscurum, otherwise known as the Pornocracy.

          • “I do not believe this belief of mine is essential”

            Then it is just your personal preference. You can stop pontificating dogmatically now.

          • Greg M., it may not be essential, but it is not a matter of preference either. How am I “pontificating dogmatically” (that is a redundancy; to pontificate is to speak dogmatically or pompously) by pointing out the fact that such dogmas are virtually unknown in the centuries of early church history as well as Jewish theology (with regards to purgatory and the deuterocanon)?

      • “If it isn’t in Scripture, I believe then that it is not an essential belief as the Popes have dogmatized.”

        Where are the rules in scripture for determining the canon?

        • “it may not be essential, but it is not a matter of preference either.”

          Then what is it? You’re acting like its essential, yet you can’t find it in scripture. At the same time you’re denouncing those who supposedly believe doctrines that aren’t in scripture.

          There’s a not so nice name for people who hold others to higher standards then they hold themselves to. I’ll just call you logically inconsistent.

          You say its not a matter of personal preference, and yet you say its not essential. Well what is it then, and what makes this non-essential, non-scriptural, and non-personal preference binding on groups you disagree with and not binding upon yourself?

          Let me remind you of your own criteria: “If it isn’t in Scripture, I believe then that it is not an essential belief as the Popes have dogmatized.”

          Once again, where is that belief in scripture?

          It seems to me you’re just holding people to higher standards then you hold yourself to.

          • What do you mean I’m acting like it’s essential? You’re committing the either/or fallacy here; something that isn’t an essential isn’t necessarily a preference either. It’s called a fact. Allow me to tell you how it works: because this is not essential, whether or not you believe it or understand it does not affect your salvation, but nevertheless since it remains true regardless of whether you believe it or understand it, it’s not a preference.

        • Dante,

          You actually haven’t answered my original question:

          You said “If it isn’t in Scripture, I believe then that it is not an essential belief as the Popes have dogmatized.”

          Where is that belief in scripture? Where does it say in Scripture that dogma/essential beliefs can only come from scripture?

          • Greg,

            In the first place, I’ve never stated my position as an essential belief, therefore it needs no justification from Scripture. I’m very sure that you do not need Scripture in order to have critical thinking, the very opposite of dogma.

          • Danta,

            “In the first place, I’ve never stated my position as an essential belief, therefore it needs no justification from Scripture.”

            If it isn’t in scripture, then where do your essential beliefs come from? Who can decide but an authority? (See, this is the problem I have with Protestantism. You’re all anti-pope, then you turn around and act like your own pope to decide how others should believe and act. At least be consistent.)

            If all essential beliefs have to come from scripture, and that belief isn’t found in scripture, then that belief only exists due to the authority of the person speaking it. And some guy named Dante on the internet decided he’s the authority to decide what is and isn’t essential and that dogma isn’t part of the faith.

            Well, all I have to say is, thank God for Pope Dante!

            Since we both know your claim has no real authority, its easily dismissed. Your standard isn’t found in scripture, so the only way it could have any authority would be if it were found in authoritative Tradition, but it isn’t, and even if it were, you’d probably reject that anyway. If it was from an authoritative person, like a pope, you’d reject that as well (unless he’s a super-duper popular preacher/professor/blog writer. Then you’re all over that like a beard on a barista named dante.)

            So it doesn’t seem like you have much to base your claim on. Except yourself.

            Do you claim that authority to promulgate correct doctrine and beliefs?

          • Greg,

            My essential beliefs come from Scripture, of course. The authority is Scripture alone. How can a fallible human authority decide? We Protestants allow Scripture to be the ultimate authority, not that we decide what it means on our own, as we discuss and debate among one another with regards to doctrines that are not essential to the faith. The Pope has no real authority. We cannot and may not thank God for the errors of the Roman Catholic Church.

          • Damien Woods 2014-07-29 at 10:48 am

            Dante – an inanimate object cannot be your guide. When you say your beliefs come from scripture, you necessarily mean that they come from your understanding of scripture, so you’re back to a fallible human authority – yourself. When your understanding of scripture doesn’t match the teaching of the Church, you choose your own understanding. The scriptures clearly indicate that the Pope (starting with Peter) and the Church do have authority – yet your understanding of scripture fails to agree. You’re stuck having no authority but yourself.

          • Dante,

            What Damien said is correct. You can’t really claim the Bible as your fully sufficient and final authority simply because the Bible has to be interpreted. Then that sole and final authority jumps onto the person doing the interpreting. Suddenly its not the Bible that’s the authority, but that person. Which is exactly what happened after the reformation. Suddenly you had essentials according to Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Henry VIII, Wesley, etc etc etc.

            All those men claimed scripture as their authority, yet all ended up in very different camps. This is perfect evidence that the Bible does not provide any clear and obvious criteria for deciding the things your trying to use it to decide.

            As I pointed out several posts ago, you have a very big problem in using the Bible as your final authority simply because the Bible doesn’t claim itself as the final authority. Nor does it provide you with the criteria for determining essential and non essential beliefs. It doesn’t even tell you what the canon is. The Church gave you that, thank you very much.

            What it does do is tell you where the authority to do all those things lies, and that is in the Church. The Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), it is the community of leaders set up for those in conflict to go to to decide the resolution (Matthew 18:17). All that and more is found in scripture. If you wish to learn more, browse the blog called Called To Communion. It is run by previously Reformed now Catholic believers that are some of the sharpest on the internet right now. I’m sure you will learn a lot.

            What you are talking about and building your faith off of isn’t found in scripture. The simple fact that you actually haven’t made any sort of Biblical argument here speaks volumes to that fact. You’ve only based your claims on the exact same things the men I listed above have done: Their own authority.

          • Damien,

            You’re right that human interpretation of Scripture is, ultimately, human authority, and human authority is indeed fallible. However, there is nothing to support the infallibility of the Pope, especially with regards the introduction of dogmas that are nowhere supported by Scripture.

  11. Great gospel quotes (faith alone)…from the Church Fathers…one before Luther and Calvin:

    http://theoldadam.com/2011/06/24/long-before-luther/

    Enjoy. Send it to a Catholic friend.

  12. “long before Luther…”

    not “one before Luther…”

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

    (there are about 20 more quotes like that one, at that link)

  14. Acts 2:38 is the sermon the church was founded on after the Apostles received the power promised by Jesus. No reason to change or “mature” that doctrine! Also I don’t understand how there is no mention that the doctrine of the trinity was not fully settled or “matured” for over 400 years after? Deut 6:4 Eph 4:5-6

  15. Damian: thanks it was a good read. Perhaps the differences between catholics and protestants are mere “inches instead of miles”. I like to think that many Catholics and Protestants get the grace concept with the “proof” of grace in our lives demonstrated by the overflowing of good works responding to the Good God that is at work in us. And yet I think we have some in each of our camps that don’t get it and end up trusting in their works first, not realizing how impure and imperfect even are best attempts are compared to the purity and perfection of God’s nature. God initiating justification makes the following process of sanctification truly a freeing journey without fear.

  16. First of all, as an EO, I appreciate that Orthodoxy was part of this discussion at all, considering that EOs represent a measly 1% of the US population. Kudos to CMP.

    Some clarifications: “Protestants greatly appreciate that the Eastern Orthodox reject:
    •The assumption of Mary
    •The equality of the Protocanonical works (Protestants 66-book canon) with the Deuterocanonical works (the Apocrypha).”

    The Assumption: Orthodoxy does not teach that Mary was assumed ALIVE. However, the Tradition of the church is that her body was assumed into heaven after her death (“Dormition”). RC teaching is now flexible on this point, from what I have read.

    The Canon: the Orthodox church still uses the same canon that the Christian Church has ALWAYS used: the Greek Septuagint as the Old Testament, along with the New Testament (we all agree on the NT canon…although it took the Antiochian diocese until almost the 5th century to accept Revelation!). The Septuagint is by far the oldest translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and was used in the MAJORITY of New Testament references to the Old Testament:

    http://www.scripturecatholic.com/septuagint.html

    The canon of the Bible has never been a problem that the RC and EO churches have had to smooth over.

    CMP also wrote, tongue firmly in cheek: “Just insert the word “mystery”, and you’ll be fine.”

    Oh those silly Orthodox and their mysteries!

    1 Corinthians 4: “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” Amen!

    1 Timothy 3:16: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.” Amen!

    We have a saying: if you can figure out God, then he wouldn’t be God.

    In other words, salvation and the Incarnation are infinite mysteries. Trust not in your own understanding.

  17. To Michael: Where did you get the idea that the Eastern Orthodox reject the Assumption of Mary? In fact, as “pete again” mentioned, it is a doctrine accepted by the Eastern Orthodox (and the Oriental Orthodox).

    Michael wrote: “In fact, the first mention of the Assumption of Mary we find in church history isn’t until the fifth-century.”

    This is actually a little generous. The first mention of the Assumption of Mary by any Church Father was in the sixth century. [See, for instance, Elizabeth A. Johnson, “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary” in Richard P. McBrien (ed.), The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 104.] Theodosius, Coptic Pope of Alexandria, wrote a homily on the Dormition and Assumption in AD 566 or 567. The first person in the West to mention the Assumption was Gregory of Tours (AD 590).

    In the early seventh century, “John [of Thessalonica] was faced with the problem of explaining to his congregation why their ancestors had failed to observe this austere feast [the Dormition of Mary] and, more generally, why this tradition had suddenly appeared only at such a late date. … Almost another century later, Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740), in his homilies for the Dormition, still must apologize for the fact that the feast of the ‘mystery’ of the Dormition ‘has not, in the past, been celebrated by many people.’” [Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption (Oxford University Press, 2002), 210.]

    “pete again” wrote: “the Orthodox church still uses the same canon that the Christian Church has ALWAYS used … The canon of the Bible has never been a problem that the RC and EO churches have had to smooth over.”

    That is not true. Consider the following statements:

    Raymond F. Collins (RC) writes: “Since the 19th cent., however, Russian Orthodox theologians generally have not accepted the deuterocanonical books. … A draft statement for the proposed Great Council of the Orthodox Church … opts for the shorter canon, as does the negotiation between the Orthodox and the Old Catholics (Beckwith, OT Canon 14).” [Raymond F. Collins, “Canonicity” in Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer & Roland E. Murphy (eds.), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 1043.]

    J.C. Turro (RC) writes: “In Russia, throughout the 18th century, opinion was fluid regarding the deuterocanonical works. Finally, in the 19th century Russian Orthodox theologians universally excluded them from the canon.” [J.C. Turro, “Canon, Biblical: History of Old Testament Canon” in New Catholic Encyclopedia (2nd ed.; Detroit, MI: Gale, 2003), 3:27.]

    Timothy Ware (EO) writes: “These [1 Esdras; Tobit; Judith; 1-3 Maccabees; Wisdom of Solomon; Sirach; Baruch] were declared by the Councils of Jassy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672) to be ‘genuine parts of Scripture’; most Orthodox scholars at the present day, however, following the opinion of Athanasius and Jerome, consider that the Deutero-Canonical Books, although part of the Bible, stand on a lower footing than the rest of the Old Testament.” [Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (2nd ed.; Toronto, ON: Penguin, 1993), 200.]

    John Meyendorff (EO) writes: “in spite of the fact that Byzantine patristic and ecclesiastical tradition almost exclusively uses the Septuagint as the standard biblical text, and that parts of the ‘longer’ canon—especially Wisdom—are of frequent liturgical use, Byzantine theologians remain faithful to a ‘Hebrew’ criterion for Old Testament literature, which excludes texts originally composed in Greek. Modern Orthodox theology is consistent with this unresolved polarity when it distinguishes between ‘canonical’ and ‘deuterocanonical’ literature of the Old Testament, applying the first term only to the books of the ‘shorter’ canon.” [John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (2nd ed.; New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 1983), 7.]

    Bradley Nassif (EO) writes: “The Orthodox Church still needs to clarify its position on the text and boundaries of the Old Testament canon for doctrinal use (the Hebrew text versus the Greek Septuagint). Without making a rigid separation between the two, we might view the Hebrew text as the final court of appeal for doctrine, while retaining the primary role of the Septuagint for worship and devotion. The late Father John Meyendorff … seemed to take this approach. If it is so adopted, evangelical and Orthodox theologians will derive their doctrines from the same biblical sources.” [Bradley Nassif, “A Response to Edward Rommen” in James J. Stamoolis (ed.), Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 251.]

    Even if these scholars had not informed us that the EO are currently doubting the extra books in the OT, informed EO laypeople should show less confidence in these books. After all, the extra books that are accepted in the RC Church were rejected by such Church Fathers as Melito of Sardis, Cyril of Jerusalem, Hilary of Poitiers, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Jerome, and John of Damascus. [On Melito, see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.26.13-14; Cyril, Lectures 4.35; Hilary, Tractate on Psalms Prologue.15; Athanasius, Letters 39.4; Gregory, Carmina Dogmatica 1.1.12; Jerome, Preface to the Books of Samuel and Kings; Preface to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; Preface to Jeremiah; Preface to Daniel; John, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 4.17.]

  18. Phil W,

    Opinions are like belly buttons: everyone’s got one.

    Orthodoxy is not a philosophy or a denomination that someone can build.

    My suggestion to you:

    1) Go into any Orthodox church in the world
    2) Ask to see a Bible
    3) You will see the exact same Canon of books, which includes all of the books of the Greek Septuagint Old Testament

    An added bonus is that you can go back 1000 years and perform the same search with the same results

    A double added bonus is that you can back 2000 years to the only specifically recorded time in the Gospels when Jesus read from the Old Testament, and according to Luke 4, He read from the Greek Septuagint

    • “Pete again” wrote: “Opinions are like belly buttons: everyone’s got one.”

      Your opinion is the most ill-informed one that I have ever encountered (or could imagine existing).

      How can you be so sure that the Church Fathers were wrong? How can you be so sure that today’s top Eastern Orthodox scholars are wrong?

      Athanasius says of Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Judith, and Tobit (and Esther!), that they are “not received as canonical but having been appointed by our fathers to be read to those just approaching and wishing to be instructed in the word of godliness.”

      Jerome refers to Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Judith, Tobit, and Maccabees as “apocryphal writings.” He also writes: “As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it read these two volumes [Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach] for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church.”

      John of Damascus says of Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach, that they are “virtuous and noble, but are not counted nor were they placed in the ark.”

      Each of the above Church Fathers, and many others, listed the books of the Old Testament but omitted the Deuterocanonical (or Apocryphal) books. This tradition continued through the Middle Ages.

      For instance, Hugh of St. Victor (12th century) writes: “There are also in the Old Testament certain other books which are indeed read but are not inscribed in the body of the text or in the canon of authority: such are the books of Tobit, Judith and the Maccabees, the so-called Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus.” [On the Sacraments 1.Prologue.7]

      “Pete again” wrote: “Jesus read from the Old Testament, and according to Luke 4, He read from the Greek Septuagint”

      There are several problems with your assertion. Luke 4:18-19 does not match the Septuagint of Isaiah 61:1-2. First, Luke uses keryxai instead of the LXX’s kalesai. Second, Isaiah 58:6 is inserted into Isaiah 61:1. Therefore, Luke 4:18-19 cannot be an exact quote of what Jesus read. Furthermore, it is extremely unlikely that Jesus read Greek Scripture to an Aramaic-speaking audience whose sacred language is Hebrew.

      A bigger problem is that we don’t know which books were in the LXX at the time of Jesus. The oldest extant manuscripts of the LXX are Codex Vaticanus (fourth century AD), Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century AD), and Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century AD). These three codices differ as to which books they include in the OT. For example, Vaticanus contains no book of the Maccabees, Sinaiticus contains 1 and 4 Maccabees, and Alexandrinus contains 1-4 Maccabees.

      So, which books of the Maccabees should be in the LXX? None? Just 1 and 4? 1, 2, 3, and 4?

      There is no evidence from the first century that suggests that the Deuterocanonical (or Apocryphal) OT books were part of the Bible in the first century. On the Jewish side, none of these books were quoted by Philo or Josephus as Scripture. On the Christian side, none of these books were quoted in any book of the New Testament.

  19. I am posting a question from another post for which I am searching the answer..please do reply me with the answer..
    How did developments in post-Vatican II Roman Catholic theology and post-Holocaust liberal Protestant NT scholarship challenge, in different ways, evangelicals to clarify and defend the doctrine of justification by faith? Concisely cite three ways respecting each group’s development in a total of two paragraphs (i.e., one for RC and one for liberal Protestantism).

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