I cannot tell you how many times I have been called a heretic. It simply comes with the territory of teaching theology. I have been called a heretic by anti-dispensationalists, Catholics, egalitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and, of course, my anti-Calvinistic friends. The word “heretic” seems to be well worn these days. With so many different beliefs out there, people automatically assume that those who fall outside their belief system are heretics.

We need to be careful about how we use this word.

The Theological word of the day (which I write) says this about heresy:

“An opinion, belief, or doctrine that is in variance to an established belief of a particular tradition. In Christianity, a heresy can have a historic value (more serious) or traditional value. In other words, a belief can be considered heretical to Baptists (e.g. paedeobaptism), when it is not heretical in the historic sense. To be a historic heresy, it must be in variance to that which has been believed by the majority of Christians of all time (e.g. the deity of Christ).”

Because many of us use the word heresy in such a cavalier or domineering way, it has begun to lose its value. At least once a day, it seems, I hear someone calling someone else a heretic for something that is not really deserving of the term. Some will say someone is a heretic for being too strong of a Calvinist, for being too nice to Catholics, for believing in theistic evolution, for saying that drinking alcohol is not a sin, for denying inerrancy, or for denying their version of free will.

Calling a person the “h” word should be done with great fear, qualification, and thoughtfulness. I don’t think we should call a moratorium on the word since it carries with it an important rebuke with the implications of grave consequences. Here are some qualifications:

Historic heretic: Those who depart from the faith with regard to a belief that has been held by Christianity from the beginning. There can be two different types of historic heretics:
1) One who departs from an essential belief  (heresy)
2) One who departs from a non-essential belief (heterodoxy)

Traditional heretic: those who depart from the faith of a particular tradition (e.g. Catholic, Protestant, Reformed, Dispensationalist, etc.) or denomination (Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, etc.).

If one is a historic heretic who departs from a non-essential, this belief does not mean that it is not serious. For example, I believe that Open Theists have departed from a historic Christian belief about the nature of God and I believe that it is a serious departure. Even when I don’t believe that a departure necessarily undermines the very essence of Christianity, I do believe that many departures necessitate a strong rebuke.

There are also three different reasons for heresy:

1) Minor departures: Some may just deny some minor historic detail of expression. For example, I know many, including myself, who do not agree with the historic articulations of the “eternal generation of the Son” for reasons that are not connected to the essence of the doctrine (Christ’s deity).
2) Heresies held in ignorance: Many times people hold to heresies simply because they have never been taught orthodoxy. For example, some, in ignorance, deny Christ an equal place in power with the Father while believing that Christ is God (a subordinationalist view which amounts to bitheism or tritheism). More common, many hold to a modalist view of the Trinity (i.e. that there is one God who shows himself in three ways instead of one God who eternally exists in three different persons).
3) Defiant heresy. This is the type where people are well familiar with the orthodox understanding of a doctrine, yet deny it anyway. For example, many are familiar with orthodox view of the Trinity yet deny Christ is eternal or that the Holy Spirit is personal. The defiance can be both willful and/or intellectual.

I think that these are all different in view of their centrality.

Those in category one have to do with language and concepts that have defined orthodoxy by means of a particular articulation which is more negotiable, but, nevertheless, has been held by the historic faith. So, by definition, it is a heretical departure from the faith, but I would not call someone who denies the eternal generation of the Son as a formal/historic heretic.

Two is more serious, but normally comes from ignorance. Those who are not discipled in the faith can easy find themselves here. It needs correction, but it is also somewhat innocent. In other words, it is not a sinful departure from the faith in the same way as number three.

Three is the most serious as it represents a willful and informed departure from that which provides the essence of an historic confession.

Putting this into perspective, I think we should also understand how God uses heresy to advance his kingdom. This is not to say that heresy is good, but it may be a necessary evil on the path to truth and revival. When the church is immature, doctrinally lazy, or simply apathetic toward truth, often heresy serves to help people take up arms in defense of the beliefs that provide the foundation for our faith. In this, heresy is good.

Heresy is a rich term that can be very constructive and very destructive. It is important to know what it really means before we use it. Sometimes people call others heretics when they only disagree with a minor traditional bent. Sometimes people call others heretics when, at worst, it is heterodoxy. And sometimes people lack the courage to identify when others have departed from a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. All of these are wrong.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    41 replies to "Heretics"

    • wm tanksley

      I think it’s VERY important what you’re doing with a heresy, as well as how innocently you stumbled into it. A teacher must be held strongly accountable for heresies (you CALVINIST! ;-), while someone who’s chatting with you in a coffee shop is merely in error, not heresy. Someone who’s splitting a church over a heresy is a full-blown … heretic.

    • Scotti

      Michael, could you define “the eternal generation of the Son” for me?

    • Ned

      CMP: Don’t you think that calling a non-eternal view of final punishment “heresy” (per your last article) would be an example of not being careful with the word?

    • aaron

      Once again, you demonstrate such grace, restraint, and moderation, Michael. Why can’t you just be more angry, belligerent, and divisive for once?! 🙂 Blessings on you, man.

    • rayner markley

      Since heresies are defined by the theologies of particular denominations or groups, they may lead to splitting of a church organization but do not necessarily mean splitting from Christ. There is the loss of fellowship with certain believers, but the fellowship with Christ remains. It is still a lamentable situation brought on in no small part by an overemphasis on theology. Fortunately, God isn’t concerned much about our theology or what people may consider to be a heresy.

    • cherylu

      rayner,

      I always wonder how people can make statements like you just did that God is not concerned much about our theology when the NT is full of commands to be careful to follow correct doctrine! It seems to me that God is extremely concerned about our theology.

    • Dave Z

      Cheryl, I do think doctrine is important, but not sure that “the NT is full of commands” about it. Perhaps you’d list a half dozen or so?

      I find more about obedience and love. And to quickly step back to the OT, we find Micah 6:8 and 1 Samuel 15:22. In fact, I once did a study on Jesus’ “greatest commandments,” which of course, are “Love God, love your neighbor.” In digging into the “love God” part, I found over and over again, throughout the entire Bible, that it comes down to obedience, as summed up in 1 John 5:3.

      We make a big deal about the Trinity (which I fully affirm) but I find it interesting that the Bible does not. It is not specifically taught anywhere in scripture. IOW, while scripture contains the truth of a Triune God, it does not present it as such, meaning no one writes “God is one God comprised of three eternal persons while remaining one God.” So, sometimes I wonder if our emphasis on doctrinal issues is in balance with the emphasis actually found in scripture.

    • Hodge

      Dave,

      The entire OT is concerned about the nature of God and His distinction from other concepts of deity. Are you suggesting that the NT forgoes this concern? Why does John seem to be so concerned about it? Why is Paul concerned about which Jesus one follows? Our emphasis on doctrine should be equaled, no doubt, to an emphasis on praxis, but Yikes, let’s not make it less.

    • Lynda O

      Well, I would say that even though the word “Trinity” is not specifically contained in the scripture, the concept of the Trinity is clearly taught in scripture — such as several places in John’s gospel. The Bible also never uses words such as “Covenant of Redemption” even though such concepts are clearly there.

      I tend to agree with S. Lewis Johnson, who observed that it is not surprising that, down through the centuries, our understanding of biblical doctrines has become clearer and more defined — because such was predicted in the NT itself, as in John 16:13, that the Spirit of truth will come and will guide us in all truth, into all areas of truth.

      Many scriptures in OT and NT emphasize the importance of studying and understanding God’s word, such as 2 Timothy 2:15, also 3:15-16. In the OT, Psalm 119 is an obvious one, but we also see it in examples such as Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 7:10, Nehemiah 8:13), the importance they placed in knowing and studying God’s word / God’s law. Part of obedience is to diligently apply oneself, to study, to know God more and more — and understanding doctrine is that which informs how we live, how we obey.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Egalitarianism – aberrant doctrine.
      Errancy in the Bible – aberrant doctrine.
      Evolution, theistic – aberrant doctrine.

    • rayner markley

      People who hold that doctrine is important usually have in mind their own version of ‘correct doctrine.’ I am trying to look at doctrine from God’s point of view. He sees the defects in our doctrines and has no need for a distinction between orthodox and heretical as long as all are believers trusting in and following after Christ.

    • Hodge

      “People who hold that doctrine is important usually have in mind their own version of ‘correct doctrine.’ ”

      Of course they do. Who would think that doctrine is important and then hold false theology in their own mind?

      “I am trying to look at doctrine from God’s point of view. He sees the defects in our doctrines and has no need for a distinction between orthodox and heretical as long as all are believers trusting in and following after Christ.”

      Is that your correct doctrine, and is it important?

    • cherylu

      Dave Z,

      How about these? They are all from the NASB.

      Romans 16:17 “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”

      I Timothy 1:3 “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,”

      I Timothy 4:16 “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will [fn] ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

      II TImothy 4:1-4 “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with [fn] great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

      Titus 1:9 “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”

      Titus 2:7 “in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified,”

    • Yohan Perera

      I agree with you though it seems from the comments that many are disagreeing with your view. By the way I think “Cult” is another word which is used incorrectly….

    • […] have been trying to write an intro for the following cross-post by Michael over at the Parchment and Pen blog, however, this is such a timely and complete message that I’d only spoil it, so here it […]

    • rayner markley

      Hodge, yes it’s what I believe, and no it’s not important—other people may see things differently and they may think that what they believe is important. It’s not important to God either, who doesn’t base membership in the body of Christ on particulars of one’s doctrine. Both Calvinists and Arminians belong to the faith, for example. Most of theology deals with nonessential categories in Michael’s outline.

    • Carl D'Agostino

      Read Eusebius. The History of the Church, 4th century. His first hand account on the dismissal of heresies by thinkers who erected foundations of Roman Catholic Church gives us first hand perspective on these things.

      Before I read him (as a Presbyterian and typical Protestant who thinks Christianity begins in 1520’s with Luther and Calvin), I had little use or understanding of the early church martyrs. This persecution was not just a gladiator show in Rome. Thousands of common people and very important bishops and leaders were put to death in the most horrible manners. Eusebius describes this quite graphically. This spans three centuries and the intensity of the persecution varied with the nature of particular emperors. I now have a profound appreciation for the bravery, suffering, and indomitable faith of these early Christians.

    • Dave Basford

      The early church was also where Christianity started to turn on itself as new members strove to establish their views (sometimes even pagan ones) onto the church.
      To think that anything historical is true is to forget that, after the death of John (the last Apostle alive), nothing else that was written or decided is sure to be inspired. It is therefore apocryphal and should be treated with suspicion.
      The early Christians were quite good at killing other Christians as soon as the Roman church had the authority to do so. ‘Heresy’ at that time was any minority opinion, even if the majority opinion was pagan in origin. It was a sad and troubling time for Christianity, especially having gone through persecution from outside for so many years before that.

      So the introduction of non-Scriptural ideas and doctrines that happened for a few centuries thereafter (in councils and then as directives from Rome) can have no more weight than any other non-Canon work. I don’t think adherance to a doctrine just because it is old means that doctrine is correct.

      If a person’s belief is based upon the Bible then it is not heresy. If a person’s belief is based upon the traditions man added to the church (either 1800 years ago or 80 years ago) then it is, by definition heretical. What is right should not be determined by men, and certainly shouldn’t be based upon the popularity or age of the doctrine.

    • Carl D'Agostino

      Agree with #19 Basford that paganism introduced into Christian theology to have a vaster appeal dynamic throughout the Empire. Probable no early post Crucifixion Christians believe in a virgin birth. The notion is redacted into the Gospel. And certainly would not know of such because books came later than Christs contemporaries. And even after they came out they would still be unavailable to most printing press not until 1498 I think. Not available to Paul ( 4 BC – 65 AD ) either. Books of apocrypha in use widespread. Paul’s theology not based so much on Gospel but on Resurrection.
      But disagree with #19 statements… “if belief based on man’s traditions added – heretical.” “What is right should not be determined by men” Isn’t that exactly what occurred by the opinions of the proto- orthodox first several centuries to bring Bible to present form? Men decided what was canonical and edited Gospel in addition. The entire NT is based on determinations of men. Today’s scripture not congruent with 1850 years ago scripture.

      I guess I am a heretic Marcionite, because I dismiss entire OT. The God of OT is incongruent with God of NT. And why are Paul’s letters considered scripture? It’s his theology and his opinion. Why are others who have different perspectives on Christ dismissed as heretics. I present the only scripture are Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. And the last parts of NT seem to me not divinely inspired but written by fellows that ate too many LSD mushrooms. The entire NT was determined by men as well as dozens of alternative translations beyond Septuagint, Vulgate and King James in modern times. NT edited 1,2,3,4 centuries to make canon congruent with doctrine proto- orthodox = Roman Church.

      Lost Christianities – Ehrman, The Missing Gospels – Bock and Elaine Pagels and and Eusebius too.

    • cherylu

      Carl,

      I can’t help but wonder how you came to the conclusion that the Gospels are genuine? If you have dismissed all of the rest of the Bible as not being Scripture, why do you think those four books are truly Scripture?

    • wm tanksley

      Carl, your determinations are based on wishful thinking. There’s no evidence for your claims.

      Probable no early post Crucifixion Christians believe in a virgin birth. The notion is redacted into the Gospel.

      It’s conceivable, yes. But there’s no actual evidence of that. A claim of redaction should be accompanied by some evidence; all we have here (and elsewhere) is the mere claim.

      Sometimes I’ve seen this claim supported by carefully twisted versions of pagan myths which purport to be virgin birth stories from other religions. Unfortunately, the documentation for these stories either postdate the clear manuscript evidence for Christian belief in the virgin birth, or are simply not evidence of pagan belief in virgin birth.

      And certainly would not know of such because books came later than Christs contemporaries.

      I’m not certain what you mean by this. Our earliest evidence, the fragment P52, indicates that the Gospel of John had reached into Egypt by 120 AD, and was written as part of a book (not a scroll; it was written on both sides of a page). This makes it almost certain that John itself was composed by 100 AD, and that gospel is commonly considered to be one of the latest.

      And even after they came out they would still be unavailable to most printing press not until 1498 I think.

      This shows a profound ignorance of history. The printing press was vital, but prior to it the text was available as manuscripts stored in churches, copied in bulk by professionals and piecewise by amateurs as a labor of devotion.

      Not available to Paul ( 4 BC – 65 AD ) either.

      This is true, of course. But Paul didn’t need to read (John) Mark’s alleged transcription of Peter’s recollections; he talked to Peter, com and got into arguments with him. He claims to have talked to Jesus.

      (cont’d)

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Carl: “I guess I am a heretic Marcionite, because I dismiss entire OT.”

      At least you’re an honest heretic Marcionite for recognizing that you’re a heretic.

    • wm tanksley

      (cont’d)

      Books of apocrypha in use widespread.

      This is pure fantasy — unlike the Gospels and Epistles, the apocryphal gospels aren’t attested until very late.

      Paul’s theology not based so much on Gospel but on Resurrection.

      Paul used the term ‘gospel’ (euaggelion) to describe the story of the resurrection, so what could you possibly mean by that?

      I guess I am a heretic Marcionite, because I dismiss entire OT. The God of OT is incongruent with God of NT.

      True — that fits the basic heresy. I suppose you might have different reasons than Marcion, but I’ll let you explain that, if you want.

      It seems to me that there’s a basic leap of faith in how one reads the scriptures… Either you assume that they have the same inspiration and CAN be read as a unit, or one assumes that they do not have a common inspiration, and must be read in isolation. The latter assumption results in treating apparent contradictions as being essential to the intent of the author; the former results in treating apparent contradictions as being accidental.

      And why are Paul’s letters considered scripture? It’s his theology and his opinion.

      Because he was accepted as a companion by the other apostles, in spite of the strength of his claims.

      Why are others who have different perspectives on Christ dismissed as heretics.

      Because their “perspectives” are not based on fact.

      I present the only scripture are Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.

      Luke also wrote Acts. Do you reject that?

      And the last parts of NT seem to me not divinely inspired but written by fellows that ate too many LSD mushrooms.

      I understand you :-). Don’t agree, but understand.

      -Wm

    • wm tanksley

      The entire NT was determined by men as well as dozens of alternative translations beyond Septuagint, Vulgate and King James in modern times. NT edited 1,2,3,4 centuries to make canon congruent with doctrine proto- orthodox = Roman Church.

      The entire NT — as well as the entire OT — was indeed discerned by men. That doesn’t make their discernment _wrong_ and yours right. The “alternative translations” (Peshitta, Vulgate) survive to this day to show that the canon was largely consistent though all of them; and that they were not the source for the later Greek manuscripts, which were (by evidence) copies of the Greek autographs, not retranslations of translations.

      Another clear conclusion is that unlike the process by which the Koran reaches us, there was no central control of the Bible; the intermittent persecution in the early years seems to have dispersed the people and the texts, nicely prevented centralization of textual authority, while making things calm enough to allow texts to survive in general. The lack of central control — and the fact that there was no initial standard starting point collection, but rather a set of epistles and gospels in circulation — inevitably means that the texts will contain disputed differences; yet these differences are almost all trivial glitches. (The non-trivial problems are the book of Revelations, the ending of Mark, and the story of the woman caught in adultery — the comma iohanneum I don’t count, since it’s clearly not ancient at all. Revelations clearly is ancient, but its textual support used to be very fragmentary; the other two are problems for other reasons.)

      Whew. Enough for now.

      -Wm

    • Carl D'Agostino

      #21 Cherylu There are so many denominations with different understandings I have become uncertain (not in faith) by all these opinions and think Paul offers opinions too. So in my effort to determine unadulterated purity my thinking leans to accepting the red letter print (the alleged words of Jesus), as the only true scripture. From the horse’s mouth so to speak Jesus only true literal primary source. Then I can develop an understanding of Jesus just as Paul developed his understandings. Didn’t Paul travel church to church advocating his opinions suggesting theirs was inferior and indicators of misunderstanding in his opinion? He wins in the end, however, because his writings are canonized. They are still his determinations, however.

      #22-25 wm tanksly I am so very grateful that you took the time to dispute some of my thinking with your most respectable and scholarly discussion. Of course Luke wrote Acts. It is a valuable history book. But scripture as word of God? Valuable to understanding, certainly yes. Why do we think OT word of God and not merely history? I find it ironic that Reformation thinkers found more comfortability in OT than thinking of Catholic Christians. Even after 1500 years of Jewish denial of Christ as Messiah. OT God a pretty scary fellow. Not so in NT.

    • wm tanksley

      Carl, I’m not disputing your thinking, I’m explaining why your premises are invalid.

      It is a valuable history book. But scripture as word of God?

      I think I can answer that… But why should I? Doesn’t your position invalidate itself? You want to accept as Scripture only the red letters, but they are contained within the same sort of document as Acts. Why take one and reject the other? Isn’t the Holy Spirit (quoted in Acts) as much God as Jesus?

      Why do we think OT word of God and not merely history?

      When you say “merely history”, do you mean you accept the OT as a faithful and unembellished record of events?

      I find it ironic that Reformation thinkers found more comfortability in OT than thinking of Catholic Christians.

      This is a difficult sentence to parse. I think you’re trying to imply that the Reformers (Hus, Luther, Calvin) enjoyed thinking about the OT as true but disliked thinking about Catholics as Christians.

      This is also false. The Reformed thinkers all accepted Catholic baptisms as valid (in this they were opposed by the anabaptists); thus, they believed that Catholics were, in general, Christians, to the same extent that the people who followed them were. They condemned Catholicism not for producing non-Christians, but rather for adding false doctrines to Christianity and obligating people to follow those false doctrines.

      To be continued…

      -Wm

    • wm tanksley

      OT God a pretty scary fellow. Not so in NT.

      Have you ever read either? I’m suspecting not.

      -Wm

    • wm tanksley

      Then I can develop an understanding of Jesus just as Paul developed his understandings.

      Out of curiosity… How do you think Paul did that? Do you suppose it had anything to do with meeting Jesus personally, or being taught by the Holy Spirit, or talking to the other apostles?

      One thing’s for sure — the means you’ve chosen to develop your opinions, reading the Red Letters, isn’t what Paul or any of the other Apostles used. They all — in the writings that have survived — recommended the Scriptures of the Old Testament, as did Jesus.

      -Wm

    • Carl D'Agostino

      #28 wm tanksly “Have you ever read either. I’m suspecting not.” Oh, Mr. Tanksly, ooouch! I now know Caesar’s pain on March 15th. A funny story about me: Over 40 years ago, my lead professor Dr. Cook, admonished me with similar words. In no uncertain terms he related that he knew Luther and that I was no Luther or Calvin and not the least bit qualified to start another Reformation. And in addition I was not even worthy of shining Paul’s shoes! In my impertinence I reminded him that Paul wore sandals, which didn’t win points there. Yes, had to do Biblical exegesis. Verse by verse with that Jerome Biblical Commentary which I remember cost me almost two weeks salary to purchase at the time. 150 people signed up, but the rigorousness required, decimated the group and by third week only 4 of us remained and finished the course: an about to be ordained Franciscan, an about to be ordained Russian Orthodox, and a women lay teacher religion Catholic high school. It was kind of them to accept this radical heretical Presbyterian. Professor a Jesuit of course. This is how I passed the course. I told them I found a joke in NT and they were angry at the suggestion at first. II Timothy 4:14 “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works.” Has no one ever found this sarcasm which brought me howling to the floor with laughter? Got a smile, a wink and a nod from all. For penance and discipline I am now handwriting the first 4 books of NT. A little each day. Finished Mathew, starting Mark. I will comment on #29 this afternoon as I must leave for my lay ministry of helping another alcoholic. My sponsee and friend Steve R tried to kill himself last week. In Christ, I remain…

    • wm tanksley

      Carl, I don’t see why your story is funny… But I do see your point, that you’ve actually read the Scriptures. But you testify that the God of the Old Testament isn’t the God of the New; and that means the the God of the New is an upstart.

      I hope your friend, and the alcoholics you both help, do well.

      I hope someone can share with them the Gospel of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the saving power of the One who testified: before Abraham was, I AM… The One who told us (in red letters) of the judgement to come. No, the God of the New Testament is no pushover.

      -Wm

    • Carl D'Agostino

      #29#31 wm. God of OT is vindictive, temperamental,demanding, allegedly assists Israelites in murder surrounding tribes, angry and jealous. Also restorative, gentle, loving, forgiving and available. But He is a pretty anthropomorphic God, in that sense similar to gods Greeks ,Egyptians, Mesopotamians . I don’t see any of these negatives in NT God. Jesus and Paul would have us embrace God of New Covenant, a greatly revised Old Covenant. Cannot dispute Jewishness of Jesus and cannot dispute OT is dynamic emerging in NT. Yes, Paul is OT driven too, so can’t dispute that. But Paul breaks with Judaism and Christian movement within: 1. Law irrelevant,2)Law not path to salvation only through Christ, 3 )do not need to be Jew first to be Christian, 4) Messiah comes for gentiles too, 5) elitist hierarchy Jewish inappropriate. 6)no circumc. For them Paul is beyond heretic but down right blasphemous. So OT – NT is two way street for Christians as you point out but not reflexive. Well of course it cannot be because OT done, written, codified. Maybe my resentment and dismissal of OT lies in that post OT Jewish thinking rejects Paul and our Christ. Perhaps my dismissal OT is based upon fact that all but one of Disciples and Paul were executed instigated by Jewish leadership. I am going to have to rethink and consider that resentment here may be clouding understanding. Yes early Christians had access to red letters in oral tradition and later writing. But in 2010 we have the red letters too. Are today’s theologies invalid based on same red letters? This is not to suggest that we can reinterpret and design interpretation based on current social, political, and moral values .Does revelation stop with Paul? Looks like Reformation opened Pandora’s box leading to multiple understandings of same red letters in conflict with orthodoxy of traditional religions. So my point is that red letters are scripture and everything else commentary on application from Paul to today’s time.

    • wm tanksley

      Craig, it appears that you accept that the books of both Testaments are reasonably accurate history (is that right)? I’m thinking that although you accept the red letters as Scripture in a way that the rest aren’t, you probably don’t think they were perfectly transmitted (right?). Otherwise, of course, you’d have to admit that Christ praises the Law of Moses, and claims that the prophets the OT God sent were speaking about Jesus. (Do you admit this, or would you rather claim that those specific alleged quotes are fabrications?)

      I don’t mind discussing the dissimilarity of YHWH to the surrounding gods, both contemporary (Egyptian, Sumerian) and later (Greek, Roman, including philosophical elaborations), if you’d like. The truth is not as you’ve described it; “anthropomorphism” isn’t an OT concept, except as idiom and as origination (the OT God is the creator and stamped His image on mankind). As for God’s vindictiveness and jealousy: this is undeniable, but Jesus amplified this, rather than toning it down. The Jewish tradition Jesus lived through had made the Law into a measure of cultural identity through dietary abstention, costume, and holy days; Jesus looked back at the Law and explained that it gave an unbearable penalty for things every man does. And Jesus praised the Law for that!

      Still worse for your theory is that Jesus, in addition to preaching a life of perfection in the Law, didn’t preach to us Gentiles; on the contrary, He told them they’d have to wait and then hid from them (John 12:36). An explanation of how Jesus’ promise was fulfilled had to wait until his Apostles proclaimed it (although He clearly taught how it was going to work elsewhere, He didn’t preach to gentiles). So although Jesus was reasonably kind to Gentiles, He was like the OT God in being centered on the Jews as a special people.

    • wm tanksley

      You have a good point that the Jews instigated the execution and persecution of the very early Christians; but this hardly indicts the Old Testament, since it tells the story (as retold by Jesus) of many prophets being killed because they preached the words of God. It seems to be a common thing, not an exception; and it was repeated many times in Christian history as well (and, minus the flames of the stake, it’s repeated many times in modern history as well — look at the condemnations visited on any criticism of the Leader’s Casting of Vision or what happens to people who criticize the pastor in a Baptist church).

    • wm tanksley

      But Paul breaks with Judaism and Christian movement within: 1. Law irrelevant,2)Law not path to salvation only through Christ, 3 )do not need to be Jew first to be Christian, 4) Messiah comes for gentiles too, 5) elitist hierarchy Jewish inappropriate. 6)no circumc. For them Paul is beyond heretic but down right blasphemous.

      Yes, Paul is deliberately blasphemous when he refers to the careful study and observance of all the Jewish traditions he used to take pride in as skubalon (a harsh word meaning something like excrement or refuse). And yes, Paul rejects in Galatians the attempt to identify Christianity with the observance of the traditions of the Jews; but he doesn’t reject the law, but rather rejects that trying hard to follow it can save you. He says that trying hard to follow the Law can only prove to you that you’re incapable of following the Law. He claims that Abraham knew this — and that Abraham was saved the same way he is and we should be, by trusting in God to provide the propitiating sacrifice.

    • wm tanksley

      Does revelation stop with Paul?

      Why do you ask that question? Most scholars believe that the Gospels were written after Paul’s epistles were.

      Looks like Reformation opened Pandora’s box leading to multiple understandings of same red letters in conflict with orthodoxy of traditional religions.

      I’m not sure what your basis is for saying that. The Church as a whole has always tolerated and accepted multiple interpretations as plausible. The Reformation occasioned a split, but by and large it wasn’t because of a new interpretation, but rather because the Reformers took the old books so seriously that they couldn’t accept the authority of a “church” that demanded the right to continue writing/fabricating authoritative doctrines without scriptural basis (particularly the selling of authoritative indulgences). This isn’t about red letters.

      So my point is that red letters are scripture and everything else commentary on application from Paul to today’s time.

      Why? What you’ve said doesn’t support this conclusion.

      -Wm

    • Carl D'Agostino

      #36 wm tanksley Greetings

      Where I am struggling in my understanding is that although Paul’s epistles are canonized as scripture , should they be? I mean, it’s his theology and understanding. The stuff, the red letters, are scripture (in my mind)and although not written until after Paul’s work he has the red letters in the sense of being there within the yet to be written primary source oral tradition. “Should his commentary be scripture on the same level as the red letters?” I THINK THAT IS THE CRUX OF MY QUESTION Should my discernment be based on red letters or based on Paul’s teaching on red letters? Do I accept Paul as absolute authority? Calvin on red letters is not scripture neither is Luther. I want to use Paul as a guide but is his work scripture because it’s the first commentary and therefore more eminent than later commentary of C and L or Thomas or Augustine et. al. , all of whom seeming to be full of the Holy Spirit as is Paul? Should I redefine the word scripture in my thinking?Do we consider his letters scripture because they are the foundations of what would become Christianity? None of these questions are in any way to diminish my respect and the awe in which I hold him and his inexhaustible energy in foundation of faith. I rate him in the top 10 of people who ever lived. [email protected]

    • wm tanksley

      Carl, this seems like a well-placed question.

      But why do we pay attention to the red letters themselves? They’re merely a group of people remembering Christ’s words; and they’re very much _selected_ words, since He said a lot more than is recorded. Furthermore, a lot of what He promised didn’t come about until Acts, once He was already gone (and in fact He said that the Holy Spirit wouldn’t come until He was gone). According to Luke, the Holy Spirit spoke directly to some people and said things — are those not red letters? If the words of the HS are red, then how do we know that they were reasonably accurately recorded and not simply (for example) Peter’s fabrication?

      And then there’s the problem of how Christ cited the Old Testament. He seemed to cite it extensively; and He took from very many different parts of it to cite it as one teaching. He even spoke as though the things he was citing were true — even when he offered corrections and clarifications which weren’t explicit in the original (for example, the law of divorce) they didn’t contradict it, and in fact they’re quite evidently a basic assumption of the author of the passage.

      -Wm

    • Carl D'Agostino

      #38 wmT You have helped me let this red letter thing evaporate in my thinking and to take the Gospel as a whole. Yes, I see red letters questionable too. You have helped me understand that Paul’s epistles are scripture because without Him and his theology and his missionary work we would probably have no Christianity. I must respect and accept that.

      Have we created a new concept in theology i.e. our “red letter” discussion? If so – pretty cool!

    • wm tanksley

      Carl, you’re right that it’s as reasonable to question the red letters as it is to question the surrounding black ones. I hope you’ll also see that there are answers to those questions! 🙂

      And yes, without Paul (and Peter, who also served the Gentiles) there would have been no Christianity; but this isn’t merely “as we know it”, but “as Christ Himself predicted it”. Christ’s personal ministry was to the Jews, explaining the Law; but He promised that after He was slain (“lifted up”) He would draw “all people”, not just the Jews to whom He directly ministered but also the Gentiles who had attempted to speak to Him in John 12.

      And of course, although Paul and Peter ministered to the Gentiles, the fruit of their work was credited to God; without the work of the Holy Spirit neither would have succeeded in anything, and without the direct commission of Christ neither one would have any authority.

      I doubt we have new concepts; after all, we’re not the first ones to discuss this… But I’ve realized some things while discussing this that are new to me. So thank you!

      Have you ever read O.J. Brown’s text, Heresies? (Here it is at Amazon.) It’s a well-written, engrossing book that teaches both history and doctrine at the same time. Brown’s thesis — not new to him — is that heresy is necessary to orthodoxy; not because heresy is good, but because its presence draws out the need to carefully explain orthodoxy.

      (By the way, I hope I’m not being offensive — you identified your position as “heretic Marcionite” earlier.)

      -Wm

    • David Barnhart

      Query: Can some definitions of heresy resist application to one’s approach and handling of the Bible? Could there be an opinion held that “approaches” heresy? Can one hold an opinion privately and not be scrutinized or is heresy an opinion that is expressed publicly and, consequently, influences/impresses others to follow along or ‘believe’ accordingly? Is ‘calling attention to’ aberrant thought a good thing or an evil thing? Maybe…just maybe, a principle was recognized in early church history that “not many should become teachers (those who would speak in an authoritative manner to ‘learners’) since this person can easily ‘make a slip’ in his words and cause others to stumble; [James 3:1-12]. Could there be a reason for an earlier admonition here of being “swift to hear, slow to speak…”? [1:19]. This ‘double-edged’ sword might cut across the position of the one who “teaches” publicly (spoken or written) and the reactor.

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