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Category: David Roxas (Page 2 of 2)

Sola Scriptura’s Epistemological Problems (2 of 4)

Early Christian Worship

A Response to David Roxas (2 of 4)  (1 of 4)

Can Christianity Exist Apart From Oral Tradition?

David Roxas asked:

1. Absent a body of oral tradition and the corpus of the church Fathers, which both developed over centuries and which the Fathers themselves did not have (Irenaus [sic] was not reading the Cappadocian Fathers nor was he celebrating the liturgy of Chrysostom) what is the source of Christian knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? From whence did the later developed corpus of the Fathers and the oral tradition receive it’s knowledge of the Gospel? (Emphasis added.)

Answer: To assume the absence of an identifiable Tradition for the first hundreds of years – that the Church Fathers presumably had no access to – betrays a woeful ignorance of Scripture and church history. In light of what the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about safeguarding the deposit of oral Tradition (see my prior article), it is impossible for the Church to have existed apart from oral Tradition.  As a matter of fact, it is contrary to Scripture!  The issue is not whether there was an oral Apostolic Tradition.  Rather, the question should be: What evidence is there of oral Apostolic Tradition closer to the time of the Apostles than a fourth century witness like Basil the Great?

Ignatius of Antioch (c. 98/117)

One important source is the Didache which dates to A.D. 100.  We learn from the Didache: (1) the threefold baptism (7.1), (2) only the baptized may be allowed to partake of the Eucharist (9.5), and (3) Christians were expected to keep the Wednesday/Friday fasts (8.1).

Another important witness to oral Tradition is Ignatius, the third bishop of Antioch, whose death has been dated to either A.D. 98/117.  From Ignatius we learn: (1) a baptism or celebration of the Lord’s Supper needed the bishop’s approval to be valid (Smyrnaeans 8.2), (2) the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper (Smyrnaeans 7.1), and (3) the threefold order of bishop, presbyters, and deacons (To Polycarp 6.1).  It is important to keep in mind that Ignatius was bishop over Antioch, Apostle Paul’s home church! (Acts 13:1-3)  Ignatius’ connection to the New Testament can be seen in the tradition that he was the child on Jesus’ lap when he said: “Let the children come to me.” (Matthew 19:14-15)



Justin Martyr (c. 100-165)

Then there is Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) who in his First Apology (Chapters 65-67) described early second century worship as taking place on Sunday instead of the Jewish Sabbath (Ch. 67), being liturgical (see “the prayers” in Ch. 65), and affirming the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist (Ch. 66).

. . . so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. (First Apology Ch. 66)

What we have here is oral tradition that describe the application of New Testament teachings.  What we do not see here is biblical exegesis like that favored by Protestants.  The Didache, Ignatius’ letters, and Justin’s apologia all touch upon practices which are quite unfamiliar to modern day Protestants but familiar to Orthodox Christians.  For example, as a Protestant I did not know of the Wednesday/Friday fasts observed by Orthodox Christians.  After I learned about the Orthodox fasts, I was pleasantly surprised to find Orthodoxy’s ascetic disciplines supported by the first century Didache.  So likewise, I was pleasantly surprised that Irenaeus’ belief in the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist (Against Heresies 4.18.5; ANF p. 486) agreed with that of Ignatius of Antioch.

Father John Whiteford – a former Protestant, now an Orthodox priest – describes how reading Ignatius made a profound impact on his theology.

I also began reading the Fathers themselves, not just reading about them, with the occasional quotation one might encounter. Coming from Protestant assumptions, the earlier the Father was, the more trustworthy he was likely to be. One of the earliest Fathers to be found outside of the New Testament is St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was a disciple of the Apostle John, was consecrated Bishop of Antioch by St. John himself, and martyred in the arena of Rome in 112 A.D. So I read his seven epistles with great interest, and was again and again struck by the fact that he was not a protestant [sic]. (Source)

Another important early witness to the Scripture-in-Tradition paradigm is the early Latin apologist Tertullian (c. 155-c. 240).  In De Corona, chapter 3, Tertullian describes some of the Christian practices not mentioned in Scripture, e.g., triple immersion baptism, receiving Holy Communion from the hands of the priest, memorial services for the dead, and making the sign of the Cross.  Apparently back then, there were some who insisted in a very Protestant manner that there be biblical justification for these Christian practices.  Tertullian refutes them by posing the question:

For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down?  Even in pleading tradition, written authority, you say, must be demanded.  Let us inquire, therefore, whether tradition, unless it be written, should be admitted.  Certainly we shall say that it ought not to be admitted, if no cases of other practices which, without any written instrument, we maintain on the ground of tradition alone, and the countenance thereafter of custom affords us any precedent.  (De Corona Ch. 3, ANF p. 94; emphasis added)

Here Tertullian admits outright that there is no explicit biblical warrant for these practices because these are grounded in unwritten Tradition.  For Tertullian the lack of biblical proofs is no obstacle for following these customs.

If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none.  Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom, as their strengthener, and faith as their observer.  That reason will support tradition, and custom, and faith, you will either yourself perceive, or learn from some one who has. (De Corona Ch. IV, ANF p. 95; emphasis added)

Where Irenaeus refutes sola scriptura implicitly, Tertullian refutes it explicitly on the grounds that Christianity follows tradition along with Scripture.  It would not be until the idea of oral Apostolic Tradition came under direct attack in the fourth century that Basil the Great (330-379) felt obliged to list them in his classic On the Holy Spirit (see Ch. 27 §66).

To sum up, oral Apostolic Tradition does not comprise a corpus parallel to Scripture.  Rather, early Christianity comprised a totality: Scripture, a received way of worship, a received moral code, a received set of spiritual disciplines, and a received church structure.  All these informed the early Church’s understanding of Scripture.  This ancient Christian way of doing things continues on today in Orthodoxy.

As a religion, Orthodoxy is centered around the Liturgy and the Eucharist.  A strong similarity can be seen between Orthodoxy and first-century Judaism which likewise was almost entirely centered around the sacrificial worship of the temple in Jerusalem.  The text-centered religion that Protestants favor would be alien to the first century Judaism, Jesus and Paul were acquainted with.  Protestantism’s text-centered religion more strongly resembles rabbinical Judaism which emerged in the wake of the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.  Where Orthodoxy represents a continuation of the Judaism of the Bible, Protestantism is rooted in post-biblical rabbinical Judaism.  See Gabe Martini’s article: “The Temple Cult and Early Christian Worship.”


Who Made this List?

Is the Biblical Canon Holy Spirit Inspired?

Many Protestants who assert sola scriptura are unaware of the multiple debts they owe to the early Christians.  One debt is the physical Bible.  The clergy of the early Church were responsible for the preservation of the physical copies of the Bible.  During the early persecutions, the Roman authorities knew that to destroy Christianity they needed to destroy the copies of the Bible.  Early Christian clergy hid the sacred Scriptures during the week and brought them to the liturgical gatherings on Sunday.  For a cleric in the early Church to hand over Scripture to Roman authorities was a grave sin.  The early Christians also faced the challenge of discerning which writings were to be read as Scripture during the Sunday worship and which writings were to be left out.  This spurred the making of a list of writings recognized as divinely inspired and authoritative Scriptures which would in the biblical canon we have today.

Another debt Protestants owe the early Church is the biblical canon. Many Protestants stress that the writings of the New Testament were all written by the end of the first century, but what they fail to note is that there were many other writings (including some so-called Gospels) that were in circulation at the same time.  Thus, one of the challenges facing the early Church was discerning which writings were apostolic and which were not.  Irenaeus of Lyons faced this challenge when the Gnostics circulated their heretical version of the Gospel.  To combat this Irenaeus fell back on oral Tradition to discern right doctrine.  He writes:

For if what they [the Gnostics] have published is the Gospel of truth, and yet is totally unlike those which have been handed down to us from the apostles, any who please may learn, as is shown from the Scriptures themselves, that that which has been handed down from the apostles can no longer be reckoned the Gospel of truth. (Against Heresies 3.11.9; ANF p. 429; emphasis added)

At this early period when there was no definitive listing of apostolic writings (canon) — no Bible book with a table of contents in the front.  Irenaeus fell back on what he had received from his predecessor, Polycarp, the disciple of Apostle John.  Because the “Gospel” the Gnostics propagated was unlike anything he had received, Irenaeus was obliged to reject them outright.  Here we see how the biblical canon emerged out of a traditioning process.

By the end of the second century, a consensus emerged around the four Gospels and Paul’s letters, but it took much longer for a consensus to be formed around Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, the letters by John, and Revelation.  A consensus emerged gradually with respect to the exclusion of the Shepherd of Hermas and 1 and 2 Clement from the New Testament.  It was not until the late fourth century that the biblical canon was formally closed by the Church.  Athanasius’ listing dates to A.D. 367 about the same time as the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, and between the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea I in A.D. 325) and the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople I in A.D. 381).  In the Latin West, similar lists were disseminated by Augustine of Hippo (On Christian Doctrine, Chapter 8 §12-13) and Saint Jerome (Prologue to the Book of Kings).

With respect to the biblical canon, Protestants must ask themselves whether the early Church was guided by the Holy Spirit in the determination of the biblical canon? Or was the biblical canon the result of church politics?  A divinely inspired Bible requires a divinely inspired listing (canon) but then this assumes that there was a spiritually vibrant Church led by the Holy Spirit in the first four centuries. The Church of the fourth century that finalized the biblical canon is the same Church that held the First and Second Ecumenical Councils that formulated the Nicene Creed.  The fourth century was also a time when Church Fathers like Athanasius had to defend the Gospel against the heresy of Arianism.  The fourth century was also the time of great Church Fathers like Athanasius the Great, Ambrose of Milan, John Cassian, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus.  Can we not say that the Church Fathers were guided by the Holy Spirit in defending the Faith against heresies? Protestants may want to ignore or even deny that there was a vibrant Holy Spirit inspired Church during the first four centuries, but if we assume a compromised Church riddled with heresies then how can we have confidence in the biblical canon? Such an understanding of the early Church does not reflect the historical evidence, nor does it respect Christ’s promise of a continuing Pentecost in the Church.

Robert Arakaki



Sola Scriptura’s Epistemological Problems (1 of 4)


Response to David Roxas (1 of 4)


Re your statement “The fact is, imposing sola scriptura on the early Church Fathers IS a highly disputed matter, and does not hold up under scrutiny. Where is the supporting evidence?” I have a question or two.

1. Absent a body of oral tradition and the corpus of the church Fathers, which both developed over centuries and which the Fathers themselves did not have (Irenaus was not reading the Cappadocian Fathers nor was he celebrating the liturgy of Chrysostom) what is the source of Christian knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? From whence did the later developed corpus of the Fathers and the oral tradition receive it’s knowledge of the Gospel?

2. Irenaus writes: “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.” Adv. Her. 3.1.1

Are you contradicting the above statement of Irenaus which says the Scriptures are “the ground and pillar of our faith” or do you equate the later corpus of the Fathers and the body of oral (and mostly liturgical) tradition with Scripture? Are the writings of the Fathers and the liturgy of the church “theopneustos?” How does the Confession of Dosiethus agree with Irenaus when said confession is adamant that Christians should not read the Scriptures because they are obscure and require initiation into the secrets of theology?

3. Do you affirm or deny that the Scriptures are the revelation of God to man? If you affirm then what exactly is it you are rejecting when you reject and claim the Fathers rejected the principle of Sola Scriptura as being the source of our knowledge of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did the Fathers derive their knowledge of God and Christ from some other source than scripture and if so what was it? 

David Roxas

[Note: This comment has been published as it was received.  The only modifications are the emphasis in bold font.]


My Response (1 of 4)

Thank you for engaging Orthodoxy with an open mind and a sincere heart.  What struck me as I read your comment was how your questions about sola scriptura and Tradition are so inescapably connected to epistemology.  How we know what we know about God, Christ, Scripture, and the Church, touch on issues relating to the philosophy of knowledge.  Rather than address your concerns in the comment section, I decided that many readers would benefit from a more extensive response in a separate article subdivided into several postings.

I will be addressing your questions in reverse order because the issue of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture is foundational to our understanding of the Church Fathers and Apostolic Tradition.  This past feast day of Pentecost offers us a salient context for your questions. This is because Christian epistemology cannot be separated from Christ’s promise that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all Truth (John 14:26, 16:13). While Pentecost provides the context for reflecting on Orthodoxy’s understanding of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, it also raises questions about Protestantism’s tenet of sola scriptura.


Does Orthodoxy Believe Scripture to Be Divinely Inspired?

You asked: 3. Do you affirm or deny that the Scriptures are the revelation of God to man?

Answer: Yes. The Orthodox Church affirms the Bible to be God’s revelation to man.  Furthermore, the Orthodox Church affirms Scripture to be divinely inspired.  I do not reject Scriptures as God’s revelation to man when I reject sola scriptura. That is not the central issue here.  What is central here is that nowhere do the Holy Scriptures attest that they alone are God’s revelation to man.  Christ assured the Apostles that they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all Truth (John 16:13). Nowhere do we read of Christ’s promising that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles in writing the divinely inspired New Testament which would be the exclusive source of doctrine and practice for the Church. Thus, Scripture never stood alone. It derives from a prior Holy Tradition which is inspired revelation of God. Scripture and Tradition always go together. This is not unique to the New Testament, but also true of the Old Testament. Moses, in writing the Pentateuch, drew on an ancient Tradition received from the Patriarchs and even Adam.


Oral Tradition – Apostle Paul preaching at Berea

The Biblical Witness to Oral Tradition

You asked: 3. Did the Fathers derive their knowledge of God and Christ from some other source than scripture and if so what was it? (Emphasis added.)

Answer: Yes. That other source is oral Apostolic Tradition.  The reason why I no longer hold to sola scriptura is that the Bible teaches the authority of oral Apostolic Tradition.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:13, we read that Apostle Paul considered his oral teachings to be the “word of God,” not mere human tradition.

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who also believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13; NIV; emphasis added)

The phrase “which you heard from us” indicates oral Tradition.  I have used the capitalized form “Tradition” in light of Paul’s description of his oral teachings being “the word of God.” Twice!  Here we have Scripture bearing witness to oral Tradition.

For Apostle Paul, oral Tradition was not an optional add-on, but essential to being a Christian.  He exhorted the Christians in Thessalonica:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.  (2 Thessalonians 2:15; NIV: emphasis added)

The phrase “word of mouth” indicates oral Tradition and “letter” refers to Scripture.  By his use of the word “whether,” Paul assigns equal authority to oral and written Tradition.  Here we see Paul making an explicit reference to Tradition.  The original Greek “παραδόσεις” means “tradition.”  The popular New International Version Bible attempts to avoid this embarrassing fact by rendering the word as “teachings” and relegating “traditions” to the footnote.

We learn from 1 and 2 Thessalonians two important facts: (1) what the Thessalonian Christians heard from Paul (oral Tradition) is just as much the word of God as what Paul wrote to them (written Tradition), and (2) both oral and written Tradition were to be held onto steadfastly by Christians.  This obligation to adhere to Tradition applies to laity, e.g., the Thessalonian Christians.  This obligation applies to church leaders as well.  Paul admonished Bishop Timothy:

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.  Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1:13-14; NIV; emphasis added)

Here we see the origins of oral Tradition and its subsequent transmission via the ordained bishops. In 1 Timothy, we learn that what Timothy had heard from Paul – oral Tradition, he was to safeguard.  In 2 Timothy 2:2, we learn that Paul intended for this oral Tradition to be passed on via the bishops to future generations.  Where the priest’s responsibility pertains to the local congregation, the bishop’s scope of responsibility is broader, often encompassing a network of local churches.  The job of the bishop was not to “theologize” (create new doctrine) but to safeguard the “good deposit” he had received from his predecessors.  It should be noted that in 1 and 2 Timothy there is no suggestion Paul ordering Timothy to write down what he had heard from Paul.

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2; NIV; emphasis added)

We learn from 1 and 2 Timothy four critical exegetical facts: (1) that the “pattern of sound teaching” and the “good deposit” that Timothy had heard from Paul comprised oral Tradition; (2) this oral Tradition was not a secret teaching, but one that was heard by “many witnesses”; (3) Timothy was commanded by Paul – no mere suggestion – to pass on this oral Tradition to “reliable men” laying the foundation for apostolic succession via the office of the bishop; and (4) Timothy was to do all this with the help of the Holy Spirit. Thus, oral Tradition is not mere “tradition of man,” but rather apostolic instructions inspired by the Holy Spirit, which the Apostles committed to their disciples, the bishops. Orthodoxy has a succession of bishops whose lineage can be traced back to the Apostles; Protestantism cannot make this claim.

If we examine 1 and 2 Timothy carefully, we find not a single verse that teaches sola scriptura.  The two verses, 2 Timothy 3:15-16, that many Protestants like to quote pertain not to the New Testament, but to the Old Testament.  That is not the Bible as we know it today.

. . . and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness . . . . (2 Timothy 3:15-16; NIV; emphasis added)

The fact that Timothy was half-Jewish helped prepare him to receive Jesus as the Messiah.  He grew up exposed to the God-breathed Jewish Torah – mostly likely having heard it read out loud in the local synagogue.  Protestants need to beware of assuming that Timothy as a little boy grew up reading the King James Bible.  What many Protestants have done with respect to 2 Timothy 3:15-16 is eisegesis – reading Protestantism’s sola scriptura into Paul’s letters.  If Protestants wish to prove sola scriptura from 2 Timothy 3:15-16, they must be able to exegete the following conclusions from the passage: (1) that Scripture stands apart from the Church, (2) that Scripture is the highest authority for Christian doctrine and practice, and (3) that Scripture is the standard for correcting the Church when it falls into error.

Another favorite bible passage of Evangelicals is the Great Commission.  This passage also provides important support for the traditioning process.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20; NIV; emphasis added)

What is important to note about the Great Commission is that nowhere does Christ say anything about putting his teachings into written form.  This omission makes sense in light of Jesus’ ministry as a first-century Jewish rabbi. When we look at church history we see that early on the Apostles relied on the oral proclamation of the Gospel and oral instruction on the Christian way of living. Then, in due course, the Apostles would instruct their followers through letters and other writings. Nowhere do we find the Apostles saying anything like: “This written letter has greater authority than the verbal instructions that I gave earlier.” Indeed, as seen above, we find just the opposite to be true.

Regrettably, the way in which Mr. Roxas set up his questions in effect divorces both Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition from Pentecost, that is, from the Holy Spirit’s pedagogical presence in the early Church.  It is a fact that for the first several centuries, the Church functioned successfully and grew phenomenally without a formalized biblical canon.  The Holy Spirit – over several decades – inspired the Apostles as they wrote what would be the New Testament, then the Holy Spirit – over the next several centuries – guided the disciples of the Apostles, i.e., the bishops, in discerning which of all the writings circulating were indeed inspired Scripture. Protestantism promotes a naive and implicitly ahistorical attitude toward what was a long process that spanned several centuries and deeply involved the Church Catholic.

One of the assumptions underlying sola scriptura seems to be that the Bible alone is divinely inspired and everything else is human, flawed, and to be viewed with distrust.  This separation of Scripture from Tradition creates for Protestantism a black-and-white dichotomy in the way it does theology and views church history.  Yet, the Apostles did not insist on separating Scripture from Holy Tradition, then denigrating Tradition to a subordinate position.  Neither did the Apostles elevate Scripture over the Church.  What we find in the New Testament and the writings of the Church Fathers is Scripture and Holy Tradition in complementary juxtaposition to each other.

Robert Arakaki



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