An Ancient Theologian explains Tradition

“The heretics did not just offer a different worldview. They were using Scriptures to uphold their ideas…”

Interesting!

We don’t often re-blog other posts, but this was such a thought provoking and stimulating article that we just had to! Mike discusses the framework we should use to interpret opposing views of what Scripture says and how we should use the early church Fathers to aid us in that. Be challenged!

We also wanted to introduce you to Mikes blog, so take a few minutes to check it out. You will probably hit the “Follow” button like we did.

Dead Heroes Don't Save

Irenaeus, a 2nd century theologian, defended Christianity from the Gnostic philosophies that were popular at the time. His 5 volume work, Against Heresies, dedicates the first two volumes to describing the Gnostic views and then precedes to dismantle them in the remaining volumes.

saint_irenaeus_oflyonsThroughout the work we are invited to explore the fundamental beliefs of the early church as they are contrasted with the opposing system.

Underlying Irenaeus’ defense lies the questions: how do we know what the truth is? and how do we decide between different interpretations of Scripture?

The heretics did not just offer a different worldview. They were using Scriptures to uphold their ideas – which centered on two gods – a good one and an evil one. It was the evil god who created the physical world that we must rid ourselves of.

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on January 31, 2015, in Christianity and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Hi Jim,
    There is the scriptures, tradition and I believe what is missing in this article by Ireneaus is the point that we have the Spirit of God to interpret scripture, to judge tradition, and really to judge whatever else we may have in our day to know what the ‘Truth’ is.
    Jesus says that ‘ his sheep know his voice’ and that they will not follow another.

    The apostle Paul says that he spent much time after his conversion and received revelation from God through the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures in order to confirm that Jesus was the Messiah. He did not use tradition to do this interpretation because tradition was saying in his time that Jesus was not the Christ. Paul also interpreted and taught what has become a large part of our New Testament scriptures today. We all know this as Christians.

    If we use tradition alone to interpret scripture we would have to say that Paul got it wrong. Paul was not able to discover truth until ‘he had an experience with God that moved him off the trusting of tradition’, ‘he became saved’, and ‘he was baptized in the Holy Spirit’. Paul already had an extremely strong knowledge of scripture as a whole. He had been a devoted student of scripture and tradition.

    I think what we have today is correct scripture. Interpretation of scripture is varied in our day. Tradition is not reliable after the death of the apostles. Even during their lifetime there were those going around to the same churches as the apostles teaching a different interpretation or understanding of scripture. Paul calls them ‘accursed’.

    We are going to have to judge what we hear today by the Spirit of God that resides in us. For me, I limit what I expose myself to on Christian teaching. This is the marvel of the Holy Spirit. He has no restrictions of location, time, space, etc. He can teach anytime, anywhere. Even in the most remote places on earth can be up to date with God through the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And he teaches the ‘Truth’.

    Like

    • “There is the scriptures, tradition and I believe what is missing in this article by Ireneaus is the point that we have the Spirit of God to interpret scripture, to judge tradition, and really to judge whatever else we may have in our day to know what the ‘Truth’ is.”

      Nobody denies that. The challenge for you and I is that the Gospel was not invented by us, was not given in our time, nor are we the first people to attempt to understand it. Should we negate what other followers of Christ have heard the Spirit of God say down through the ages, as if we are the first ones? Surely you are not saying that. That would be the one of the highest forms of arrogance one could have. “God talks to me and explains everything to me and nobody else ever has gotten it right.”

      “He did not use tradition to do this interpretation because tradition was saying in his time that Jesus was not the Christ.”

      Paul used the Old Testament, not tradition. Those who rejected that Jesus was the Messiah were contemporaries of Paul. So tradition in the sense the Fathers use it, doesn’t really come into play here.

      “If we use tradition alone to interpret scripture we would have to say that Paul got it wrong”

      In what way?

      “Tradition is not reliable after the death of the apostles”

      Be careful here. If the writings of those who were disciples of the Apostles themselves is not reliable, your own interpretations would have much less to stand on. You can’t have it both ways. Why would we think that your interpretation is more reliable than all of Sacred Tradition? Simply because the Spirit of God speaks to you? Why must we assume that He did not speak to them?

      “For me, I limit what I expose myself to on Christian teaching.”

      I am surprised that you expose yourself to any Christian teaching. Why would you, since the Spirit of God resides in you? The truth of the matter is that even you turn to others to help you understand what the Scriptures teach.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Surely you are not saying that.”
        No, I am not saying that.

        “I am surprised that you expose yourself to any Christian teaching. Why would you, since the Spirit of God resides in you? The truth of the matter is that even you turn to others to help you understand what the Scriptures teach.”

        This is true. However, supposedly (according to scripture) all believers have the Spirit of God residing in them. The Bible does also talk about not needing teachers but that all know God. I am not saying that we do not need teachers in our day. But we have so many in our day saying different things and interpreting God’s word differently. Many teachings in our day (I believe) are cunning and very deceptive slippery slides to venture out on.

        Can we not read God’s word today and make sense of it? God says do not sin. That’s pretty straight forward. God says love one another (love other believers). Is this hard to understand and interpret? The problems in our day are the believers or perhaps (impostors) who want to negate God’s word and explain it away. Most of scripture is forthcoming and understandable. There are some parts of scripture that are difficult to interpret and understand in our day and time. But generally, if we take these scriptures at face value they are not so difficult to read, but they are difficult to apply in our culture. For example, the question of divorce for a believer.

        But perhaps even the question of divorce is not that hard to understand. Don’t divorce unless you are being physically, mentally, emotionally abused, or your partner has broken the marriage covenant by adultery. Even in these cases it is the conscience of the believer to guide him or her as to whether they should ever remarry. A believer may want to take that chance and remarry but there may be consequences later for them. No teacher or pastor would be able to say with certainty that a believer who is divorced is free to remarry. Unless their mate is dead. This decision is between the believer and the Spirit of God.

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        • I understand what you are saying. Isn’t the challenge for all of us this: How do we come to know, for certain, what the scriptures teach?

          We must not rely on only ourselves and what we think the Spirit of God has said or is saying, because we can be easily misled, or be wrong. There is a lot of heretical and false doctrine coming out of the Charismatic / Pentecostal camp. The “Baptism in the Spirit”, as understood and taught by our generation of leaders, in no way guarantees purity of doctrinal truth. I think that is obvious.

          If the faith was once for all delivered to the saints as Jude so eloquently wrote, why would we think that those believers, in that day, did not understand what that faith was? Why would we assume that when they wrote it down and explained it, that the Holy Spirit did not speak to them?

          The beauty of the early church writings is that Godly men who knew and loved Jesus, have written about our faith. Many of them gave their lives and were brutally executed for this faith. They lived for Christ and they died for him. I want to know what they learned about Jesus and what it meant to follow him. I think we all would do well to learn how the Spirit of God spoke and guided them. I don’t want to be left to my own to figure it all out. Thankfully, God doesn’t think I should be left alone to figure it out either.

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    • I don’t have much to add to Jim’s reply. But allow me to share a few observations.

      I think what we have today is correct scripture.

      I would agree. When we open our Bibles we have the correct books. And textual criticism has shown that we have the correct words. I don’t think anyone is suggesting anything different.

      Interpretation of scripture is varied in our day.

      And that is our challenge. Even with the Spirit to guide us, we still have many conflicting interpretations of the Scriptures. I think the early church writings can be part of the solution to help us discern which interpretation is the most probable when we apply the “that which was believed everywhere, always, and by all” principle.

      This is the marvel of the Holy Spirit. He has no restrictions of location, time, space, etc. He can teach anytime, anywhere. Even in the most remote places on earth can be up to date with God through the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And he teaches the ‘Truth’.

      Praise God this is true. However, I would say that the primary ministry of the Holy Spirit is convicting (John 16:7-11) and enabling us to respond to the Gospel (ie prevenient grace) not correcting us on the finer points of doctrine. We are responsible for the task of preserving and passing on doctrine. That is why we are told to contend for the faith (Jude 3), and why God gave some but not all to be teachers (1 Cor 12:27-29; Rom 12:7), and why we are exhorted to pass on what we have learned to the faithful who will teach others (Matt 28:19-20; 2 Tim 2:2).

      However if the Spirit is correctly giving us the correct interpretations of Scripture (what I assume you mean by teaching the truth) then why do you think there are varied interpretations in our day? And how do we go about discerning which of the varied interpretations are correct?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Mike B,

        “However if the Spirit is correctly giving us the correct interpretations of Scripture (what I assume you mean by teaching the truth) then why do you think there are varied interpretations in our day? And how do we go about discerning which of the varied interpretations are correct?”

        I am thinking that the problem is a lack of the baptism in the Holy Spirit among believers. The earnest of the Spirit of God given at our salvation is not enough to get us to the end of days (so to speak). We need something more, and God has provided this in the Holy Spirit. As mature believers we need to ask God for this power, for this baptism.

        Maturity should allow the believer to humble themselves and request from God what he has provided. No matter what is required. Naaman had to dip in the dirty Jordan river for his healing from leprosy. He was offended. That I think is the believers’ problem today. They will not accept what God provides because of pride.

        We can also use the Old Testament to interpret scripture. Which is what Paul did. We can get principles from the Old Testament. Believers today do not want to accept or believe these principles set out for us in scripture. Teachers and pastors in our day accommodate their congregations’ desires and wishes. Because if they don’t believers can find the teaching they want elsewhere and they will leave. To me, this is not a problem. Let them leave. So much the better for those who stay. But, church leadership is scared and will do anything to keep as many people as possible attending ‘their’ church.

        For theologians, I think too much education, and too much reliance on their ‘higher thinking’ abilities leads them to falsehood or distortion of scripture. Everyone wants to find the new great thing in interpretation of what the Bible says, right down to every single word being dissected and experimented with. Wars start, opposition occurs, people believe different things about what a word is saying, what a portion of scripture is saying. It’s the arm of flesh trying to interpret spiritual things.

        I’m not against education, but when education trumps all, when the power of man supersedes all, this is a very serious problem for God’s people. We can be educated and godly. We can be educated and humble. We can be educated and down to earth, so to speak. In fact, this is what Paul was. He let go of all his prominent past. He counted it as dung. Even believers testified that Paul had weaknesses that were unbecoming to many. He sweated and cried and wept. He entreated and begged believers to do as God said to do. He shook with fear when he presented the gospel.

        Sorry for such a long comment.

        Liked by 1 person

        • If two Christians offer different interpretations of a passage of Scripture in the NT, both cite OT passages, both claim to have been baptized in the Spirit, and both claim to be mature then how do I discern who is correct?

          In your view what is the difference between the “earnest of the Spirit of God given at our salvation” and the “baptism of the Spirit”?

          Liked by 1 person

        • If two Christians offer different interpretations of a passage of Scripture in the NT, both cite OT passages, both claim to have been baptized in the Spirit, and both claim to be mature then how do I discern who is correct?

          Bring in a third person who believes the way I do and it is settled! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim:

    Thanks for the shout out. Appreciate it. And thanks to everyone that stopped by this weekend.

    Mike

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Jim,

    I believe the way that you do.

    On marriage I recently found out that no one even infidels and new believers are permitted to remarry even under grace unless the other partner dies. Adultery is a serious sin. It is stricter in NT than OT. Many who divorce and remarry will be condemned of adultery by God in HIS day of judgement.
    Even if a wife default in adultery and her husband divorce her. Both are not permitted to remarry. For many, this is very hard to accept and obey.

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  1. Pingback: Were Gnostics the original Christians? | Stepping Toes

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