The Church and The Apostles’ Creed

Icon of the Synaxis of All Saints

Synaxis of All Saints

The Apostles’ Creed (along with the 10 Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer) is the basis for the Catechisms of the Western Churches. The Apostles’ Creed belongs to the Western Church and has never been accepted as a Creed in the Eastern Church. There are a number of reasons for this, but most importantly it is because The Apostles’ Creed both contains theological errors and is the source of even more.[1]

The primary theological problem with the Apostles’ Creed is that it is divided into only three articles: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[2] In The Apostles’ Creed, the person and work of the Holy Spirit are combined with that of the Church, leading to confusion.[3]

On the other hand, The Nicene Creed has four articles, representing the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the Church. The third article on the Holy Spirit is more extensive, describing the person and work of the Holy Spirit apart from His work in and through the Church.[4] The lack of a similar emphasis in The Apostles’ Creed, along with the conflation of the Holy Spirit and the Church, is the basis upon which the Reformers and their Confessions rejected the authority of the Church and replaced it with the idea that the Holy Spirit works individually instead of corporately. On the other hand, the Nicene Creed separates the Church into its own article, making Nicene Christianity distinct from that of the Western Church.[5]

Luther used the Apostles’ Creed as the structure for both his Small and Large Catechisms. In Luther’s Small Catechism, there is no discussion of the Church. However, his Large Catechism contains the following:

“I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms. I am also a part and member of the same, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it. For formerly, before we had attained to this, we were altogether of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ. Thus, until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He fetches us to Christ and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing it [this community] daily to grow and become strong in the faith and its fruits which He produces.”

It might be difficult to recognize, but Luther’s definition of the Church is based upon his distinction between the visible and invisible Church. The visible Church is the Eucharistic assembly and contains a “mixed multitude” (Ex 12:38; Ne 13:3). The invisible Church is what Luther has in mind, which is his “little holy group and congregation of pure saints”. Luther’s visible Church is without authority while the authority of the invisible Church is the Holy Spirit.

Lutherans recite the Apostle’s Creed in their Divine Service, reserving The Nicene Creed for limited occasions. The lack of familiarity with The Nicene Creed prevents Lutherans (and perhaps others) from recognizing that what they have theologically combined into a single article is divided into two separate articles in The Nicene Creed. Consequently they (along with other Protestants) feel comfortable in rejecting the Church as a source of authority.

The Reformed Churches follow the Heidelberg Catechism which contains the text of The Apostles’ Creed and organizes its questions and answers around the same. Like the Lutheran Creeds, the Heidelberg Confession subsumes the Church into the work of the Holy Spirit.[6]

The Anglican Catechism of 1662 contains the text of The Apostles’ Creed. Moreover, it divides its questions and answers around the Creed’s three articles. The Catechism continuously mentions the Church as an authority, but never defines it – not even in the context of the Holy Spirit.

I find it interesting that the Protestants of the Magisterial Reformation all organize their confessions of faith in the same manner as does the Roman Catholic Church. Part I of the Catechism of the [Roman] Catholic Church is organized around the three articles of The Apostles’ Creed. Because Rome’s Catechism runs to 904 pages (including indices and glossary), it can spend a great deal of time on the single clause concerning the Church, treating this single clause as though it bears the same weight as the fourth article of The Nicene Creed. The more succinct Protestant Catechisms do not take The Nicene Creed into account and thus are easily able to reject the Church as a visible, corporate, and authoritative entity through which the Holy Spirit works.

  1. A subtle theological problem with The Apostles’ Creed has to do with when Jesus descended into Hell. The Apostles’ Creed would insist you believe this happened prior to the resurrection, leading to the belief among some that the Christ suffered the pangs of Hell. The problem does not have to with the timing as such (since the Orthodox Church’s liturgy for Holy Saturday is explicitly about Christ’s descent into Hell), but with the inclusion of this without a proper theological explanation. The lack of a reference to Christ’s “leading captivity captive” has led to a variety of speculative theologies about what Christ was doing during His time in Hell, leading some to infer that Christ suffered there for our sins, and leading others to infer that the “spirits in prison” were the demons, to whom Christ proclaimed His victory.
  2. The Heidelberg Catechism makes this clear: “Q. How are these articles divided? A. Into three parts: God the Father and our creation; God the Son and our deliverance; and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. Luther’s Small Catechism uses the same division.
  3. The Apostles’ Creed, Article III: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen
  4. The Nicene Creed, Article III: And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spoke by the prophets.
  5. The Nicene Creed, Article IV: In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come. Amen.
  6. I do not imply the Holy Spirit does not work in the Church; far from it. Instead, it is clear that the Holy Spirit works corporately, in and through the Church. This in no way indicates that the Holy Spirit does not deal with individual people, but rather that such work is always in the context of the Church of Christ.

This is My Body: Hermeneutics and the Eucharist

The Eucharist - Priest communing a young child.

The Eucharist

The first written account of The Last Supper is found in 1 Cor 11: 20-34. The Synoptic Gospels also contain an accounting (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20). In all these accounts we find the words “This is my body.” The meaning of this phrase was settled for more than 1500 years — Jesus was referring to his actual flesh and blood. Then came the Reformation; its hostility towards the Roman Catholic Church formed the basis for scriptural interpretation.

In general, Protestants claim a certain scientific basis for their individual interpretations of scripture. They claim to have principles of interpretation which, when applied correctly, provide the correct interpretation.[1] Even the Lutherans, who accept the literal interpretation of Christ’s words, adopted explanatory wording which is problematic. In rejecting the ideas of Impanation (that Christ is imparted to the bread and wine), Consubstantiation (that Christ is next to the elements), and Transubstantiation (that the bread and wine are changed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood, while maintaining the appearance of bread and wine), the Lutherans adopted the position that Christ was present “in, with and under” the bread and wine.[2] In attempting to reject rationalistic explanations for Christ’s Real Presence, Lutherans nonetheless created a dogmatic formulation that suffices for an explanation — the very thing they were trying to avoid.

At the Marburg Colloquy (1529), Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli attempted to resolve their theological differences. They came to an agreement on 14 of 15 articles, but the one point that divided them was the phrase hoc est corpus meum (this is my body). Luther accepted Christ’s words as written, while Zwingli could not accept that Christ could be locally present at the right hand of God the Father, and also be present at the Eucharist. Vincent Medina notes this argument is fundamentally about a difference in Christology.[3] The problem is what happened at the Incarnation: did the Son divest Himself of certain attributes in order to be contained within a human body, or did the Son take humanity into Himself? How can the Son be always present and filling all things if He is circumscribed by human form?[4]

Modern Protestants take their cue from Zwingli in rejecting the idea that the phrase “This is my body is anything other than a symbol. They apply their supposedly scientific methods of interpretation to the text, trying to determine exactly what type of figure of speech Jesus was using, and which word is the symbolic portion of the statement. In this they cannot agree.

Hal Schee and E.W. Bullinger are two people who agree that the phrase “This is my body” is symbolic and that the important word is “is”. Yet they give very different explanations for why this is so. Hal Schee writes: “In Aramaic (as in Hebrew), the verb ‘to be’ in the present tense is implied, not explicitly stated; as such, when Jesus says ‘this is my body’ or ‘this is my blood’, his meaning should be taken as symbolic.”[5] E. W. Bullinger’s explanation is more detailed, and seemingly more scientific. Bullinger acknowledges that Hebrew “has no verb substantive or copula answering to the Greek and English verb “to be”. …In the Greek, as we shall see below, whenever a Metaphor is intended, the verb substantive must be used; otherwise it is often omitted according to the Hebrew usage.”[6] The preceding passage comes in the middle of the first four pages about the use of Metaphor in the bible. But when Bullinger gets to a discussion of the phrase “This is my body” his discussion takes on an entirely different and hostile tone.

“Few passages have been more perverted than these simple words. Rome has insisted on the literal or the figurative sense of words just as it suits her own purpose, and not at all according the laws of philology and the true science of language. …So the Metaphor, ‘This is my body,’ has been forced to teach false doctrine by being translated literally. …Luther himself was misled, through his ignorance of this simple law of figurative language. In his controversy with Zwingle, he obstinately persisted in maintaining the literal sense of the figure, and thus forced it to have a meaning which it never has. He thus led the whole of Germany into his error!”[7]

It is only after this verbal onslaught that Bullinger adds to his description of Metaphor. “The whole figure, in a metaphor, lies, as we have said, in the verb substantive ‘IS’; and not in either of the two nouns;[8] and it is a remarkable fact that, when a pronoun is used instead of one of the nouns (as it is here), and the two nouns are of different genders, the pronoun is always made to agree in gender with that noun to which the meaning is carried across, and not with the noun from which it is carried, and to which it properly belongs. This at once shows us that a figure is being employed; when a pronoun, which ought, according to the laws of language, to agree in gender with its own noun, is changed, and made to agree with the noun which, by metaphor, represents it. Here, for example, the pronoun, ‘this’ (τοϋτο, touto), is neuter, and is thus made to agree with ‘body’ (σώμά, soma), which is neuter, and not with bread (άρτος, artos), which is feminine.”[9] Bullinger goes on for six pages building his case that the phrase “This is my body” is a Metaphor or Representation — “A Declaration that one Thing is (or represents) another; or, Comparison by Representation.”[10]

I find Bullinger’s hubris astounding. He claims to have finally discovered the truth in 1898, a truth that had been hidden for nearly 1,900 years. All biblical scholarship throughout history was dismissed out of hand, to be replaced by Bullinger’s ideology. I also find it interesting that instead of defining the undergirding philology at the beginning of his nine page article on metaphors, he buries this until he comes to the passage “This is my body”. Now it is true the preceding three pages mostly covered Old Testament metaphors, and only now are we dealing with Greek texts.[11] However, the proper place for this discussion would have been immediately upon beginning with the New Testament, not waiting until a specific passage was in view. Moreover, once Bullinger begins dealing with the phrase “This is my body”, he abandons all pretense of working his way through the New Testament metaphors, but devotes the rest of his article to proving that “This is my body” is a metaphor.

Bullinger, like many Protestants, abandons the principles of Protestant Hermeneutics when it comes to this passage. There are many different formulations[12] of these, but here are a few.

  • Interpret scripture in harmony with other scripture. (Protestants usually fail to deal with John’s gospel, which does not contain an account of the Lord’s Supper, but instead provides its theological rationale. For example: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (Jo 6:53-56.)
  • Interpret the unclear in light of the clear. (Once again, Jesus’s meaning is clear when taken in context with His other discourses.)
  • Derive normative theological doctrine from didactic passages that deal with a particular doctrine explicitly. (This expands upon the previous two principles. It is not enough that a passage be clear, but that it be didactic. The discourses of Jesus are exceedingly clear, while the parables are intentionally obscure.)

Using the Protestant’s own principles of biblical interpretation, it should be clear that Jesus’ meaning was not symbolic — that Jesus was not using figurative language. The Jesus repeated references to himself as the bread of life, and to the eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood make this abundantly clear. Instead, Protestants impose their own prejudices and preconceived notions upon this passage, rejecting its literal interpretation in harmony with other passages of scripture. In the case of Bullinger, his hostility towards Roman Catholicism colors not only his treatment of the passage, but his treatment of those Reformers with whom he disagrees.

  1. Why then are there so many different denominations, each claiming to rightly interpret scripture?
  2. Luther’s Small Catechism uses the phrase “in and under” the bread and wine. Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s friend and theological confidant, preferred “in and with” the bread and wine. The Formula of Concord, written after both Luther and Melanchthon died, uses the phrase “in, with and under”.
  3. Note that Zwingli’s position assumes that God the Father exists in a locality; that the Father is in a place, that place has a throne, and that God is has a spatial presence in such a manner as to have a right and a left, a front and a back, a top and a bottom.
  4. The problem is that the New Testament texts are in Greek, not Hebrew, so his argument does not apply.
  5. J. Edwin Hartill defines Metaphor as follows: “Words are taken from their literal meaning and given a new and striking use. The figure is a distinct affirmation that one thing is another which it resembles. The two nouns must always be mentioned. The figure lies in the verb. ‘IS’ is equivalent to ‘REPRESENTS’.” Hartill’s examples are from the Old Testament: “flesh is grass” (Isa 40:6) and “sheep of his pasture” (Ps100:3b). J. Edwin Hartill says the metaphor must have two proper nouns, and does not allow for the use of pronouns.
  6. E. W. Bullinger does not use the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
  7. A simple Google Search for “Principles of Hermeneutics” returns almost 500,000 results. I looked at a number of them, and while they often have something in common, there are significant differences. Thus the supposed rationality of their systems is exposed as nothing more than personal preference.

Kangaroo Court

Creation Icon

Creation Icon

When I was younger I was indoctrinated into the Creationist myth. We had an answer for everything. We were thoroughly convinced, although not convincing to others. I now know the arguments once so convincing were (and still are) based upon old data, bad science, and faulty theology. Yet I still hear the same old nonsense over and over again. The echo chamber never learns.

We had our own definition of terms which we applied to everything. Our understanding of a scientific theory was akin to the scientist’s definition of a hypothesis. “It’s just a theory,” we would say, ignoring the scientific definition of theory — which has its basis in evidence. This is similar to the atheist’s definition of faith. To the atheist, faith is always blind, devoid of any evidentiary basis; yet for Christians, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Faith is both substantial and based on evidence, much like a scientific theory.

The creationist runs a Kangaroo Court. The decision has already been rendered before the evidence has been heard; the quality of the argument is of no consequence. The creationist has run afoul of the existential fallacy, in that the argument begins with a universal premise and affirms a particular conclusion. In the beginning, God created; therefore, evolution is false. But the universal premise does not preclude the particular conclusion. Moreover, the creationist fails to deal with scripture as the author intended, and as the audience would have understood it. The Genesis accounts are an exercise in demythologizing. No matter what the pagans affirmed, the Genesis accounts contradicted them. No matter which God they worshipped, the God of Genesis was greater still.

The apostles warned us to be on guard against the Judaizers. The early church fathers warned us against the literalistic interpretation of scripture as used by the Jews. It should be obvious that the bible is written in poetry, not prose; yet the evangelical Christian has an entirely prosaic view of the bible.

So go ahead and bang that gong. Clang that symbol. Just be aware that intransigence is contrary to the Gospel.

The Stain of Sin

Wine spilled on a carpet

The Stain of Sin

I have a nice Brooks Brothers shirt. The patter is subtle enough to work with a suit, yet looks good with a pair of jeans. It’s one of my favorite shirts. Except it has a couple stains that bother me. It’s been through the wash a couple times, but comes out with the same stains. The shirt is remains a great shirt, yet the stains ruin if for me. Everyone can see the stains; the shirt no longer looks good. It’s been ruined.

In the Orthodox Trisagion hymn is a prayer known as “O Heavenly King”, which goes like this:

O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth,
Who are in all places and fill all things;
The Treasury of good things and the Giver of life:
Come and abide in us, cleanse us from every stain,
And save our souls, O Good One.

We pray for the Holy Spirit to cleanse us from every stain. This has its roots in a different conception of sin than we in the West are used to. The western concept of sin is in two parts. While we normally are concerned with the sins we commit (as we should be), the concept of Original Sin is that the guilt of Adam’s sin has been passed on to all of humanity. In other words, human nature itself was not simply corrupted, but actually changed. Thus, even if we had never committed any personal sin, we would still bear the guilt of Adam’s sin.

Think for a moment about my shirt. It is still made of the same fabric. The fit and finish are still the same. It has the same no wrinkle finish, and never needs ironing. It has those nasty stains, which affect the appearance of the shirt. Yet the stains are not part of the shirt, and do not change the essence of what it means to be a Brooks Brothers shirt. The stains are something extra, something that has corrupted the shirt, yet without affecting its essential nature.

For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD. (Jer 2:22)

Here Jeremiah clearly references the idea of sin as a stain that cannot be removed with a simple washing. The stain remains, despite our best efforts. We need something more. And yet, even so, the idea of sin as a stain implies that while sin may injure us, damage us, make us less than we were meant to be, yet sin is something foreign, something other, something that comes from outside us. It adheres to us without becoming part of us.

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isa 1:18)

No matter how much I try, I cannot get rid of the stain of sin. And yet the Lord says that He can make them whiter, “as no fuller on earth can white them.” (Mar 9:3) In other words, our Lord can remove the stain of sin, leaving our essential human nature intact. Our Lord can return us to the Edenic state, a state of purity, a state of innocence, a state where we can commune with God “face to face”, as it were.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Ps 51:1-7)

This is a fascinating psalm, a psalm of repentance, written after David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Take a look at how David refers to his sin, and what he is asking of God. First, David asks God to “blot out my transgressions.” The best way to combat stains is to blot them up. Basically you apply a towel over the spill to absorb it. This works better than rubbing the stain, which has a tendency to spread the stain and push it further into the surface. Second, Daniel asks God to wash and cleanse him. David asks God to “purge him with hyssop”, which is part of the ceremonial cleansing made for people who had been cured of leprosy, and buildings that had been healed of a “plague of leprosy” (Lev 14). This purging with hyssop also has reference to the ashes of the red heifer (which had burned with cedar and hyssop), and was offered for “purification for sin”, as well as for cleansing from ceremonial uncleanness (Num 19). Finally, David asks God to wash him and make him whiter than snow, which reminds us of the passage from Isaiah, and also the transfiguration account in Mark.

The description of sin and its affect upon the human person is not done in one way. The idea of Original Sin fails to account for all the ways sin is discussed in the bible. In particular, the idea of sin as a stain upon the human person brings with it the idea of sin as something extrinsic to the human person, rather than being something essential to human nature.

The Truth of Orthodoxy

The Martyrdom of St Polycarp

The Martyrdom of St Polycarp

My father is a fundamentalist, a dispensationalist, and an ordained minister. For many years he taught courses on a variety of subjects and has recently collected his lecture notes into a series of books. In one entitled The Kingdom of the Frauds, he describes a number of Christian and non-Christian religions. In the section on Eastern Orthodoxy he writes:

The Orthodox Church traces its development back through the Byzantine or Roman empire, to the earliest church established by St. Paul and the Apostles. It practices what it understands to be the original ancient traditions, believing in growth without change.[1]

Now if what Orthodoxy claims is actually true — if the Eastern Orthodox Church indeed descends from and continues in the teachings of the Holy Apostles — then its truth claims have to be taken seriously. It is not enough to dismiss them out of hand, as the historical evidence is all there. Nor is it enough to claim some great apostasy took place without pointing to evidence of the early church apostatizing.[2]

My sister recently encountered this all-too-easy dismissal of Orthodoxy. Not long ago she attended her class reunion at Colorado Springs Christian School (CSCS). She was sitting with some of her friends when a former classmate approached. When the subject of my sister’s recent conversion to Orthodoxy came up, her classmate snidely commented: “Oh, they’re the ones who think they are descended from the original Church.” After making this comment, her classmate turned and walked away. My sister’s friends then asked: “So why did you become Orthodox?” My sister replied: “Because I became convinced they are descended from the original Church.” [Cue rim shot.]

The historical evidence is all there. For me, there were perhaps three works that had the greatest impact upon me. The first was the Didache, aka the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.[3] This is an ancient church order, one which scholars now think could date between 50 – 120 AD, although it seems likely to have been written before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.[4] There is a clear continuity of thought and practice between the Didache and other ancient church orders such as the Didascalia Apostolorum, (c. 200-250 AD)[5], the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome (c. 215A.D., and written by Hippolytus)[6], and the Apostolic Constitutions (c. early 3rd century, with interpolations dating out to 400 A.D.)[7] A comparison of these documents shows a certain creative elaboration, or as my father put it, “growth without change.”

The second major influence was the Commonitorium of St. Vincent of Lerins (c. 434 A.D.) St. Vincent wrote following his participation in the third Ecumenical Council in 431 A.D.; his Commonitorium was written to capture the methods used by the Ecumenical Council to define Orthodox doctrine over against error.[8] The famous rule of Vincent of Lerins is summed up on three words: catholicity, antiquity, and consent. St. Vincent writes:

This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.[9]

While the protestant translator chose to use the word “universality”, the actual word is “catholicity.” The term “catholicity” has to do with a faith which is whole, complete, and entirely sufficient.[10] This meaning is clearly different than the term “universal”, which term is generally used as a replacement for “catholic” or “catholicity.” The term “universal” has reference to the Protestant doctrine of the invisible church, that which is made up of all saints, whether dead or alive. This hidden or invisible church is by extension the “universal” church, as opposed to the sectarianism of the visible church. But the idea of catholicity is a rebuke to all schisms, sects, and denominations.

Following the rule of St. Vincent of Lerins, we must search out that which is whole, entire, and sufficient (catholicity); we must search out that which is from antiquity; and we must search out that which is of common consent (not new or innovative.) Thus a new doctrine — such as the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, or the Dispensational Protestant doctrine of the secret return of Christ and the subsequent Rapture of the Church — is automatically excluded. By common consent we refer to the consensus fidelium — the widespread agreement, or the general consensus of the faithful.

The third major influence is The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp,[11] which is a rather obscure reference. St. Irenaeus, in his book Against Heresies, writes concerning St. Polycarp:

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true.[12]

What I find most interesting is St. Polycarp’s response to the Roman proconsul who had asked him to recant his Christian faith. Polycarp replied: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”[13] St. Polycarp, at that time an 86 year old man, proclaims himself to have been a Christian for 86 years. In other words, this man who was the companion and disciple of the apostles was baptized as an infant. By extension, then, the apostles practiced infant baptism.

In the Didache we see an ancient church order of the apostolic church, one untainted by the supposed “Great Apostasy.” This church order is liturgical, hierarchical, and sacramental, all of which are anathema to the Protestant church of my youth. In the Rule of St. Vincent we see the manner in which the ancient church determined and maintained the apostolic faith over and against all manner of theological errors and heresies. When applying these principles to the Protestant church of my youth, or the Lutheran church of my adulthood, I was forced to acknowledge them to be weighed in the balance and found wanting. And then the witness of St. Polycarp, while not conclusive in itself, was nevertheless the final straw.

The evidence was all there, right in front of me. I could no longer deny that the Orthodox Church was indeed the lineal descendant of the church of the apostles. The only question was whether I was going to accept the historical evidence and adapt myself to the church, or whether I was going to continue to try and get the church to adapt itself to me and my desires. Despite become Orthodox, this is a struggle that will be with me until the day I die.



Ancient Christian Writings. n.d. “Didache.” Ancient Christian Writings. Accessed May 25, 2015.

Carlson, Norman. n.d. “The Kingdoms of the Frauds: The Major Religions And Cults Of The World.” The Colorado Free Bible College. Edited by Norman Carlson. Accessed May 25, 2015.

Chapman, Henry Palmer. 1913. “Didascalia Apostolorum.” Catholic Encyclopedia. Accessed June 9th, 2013.

Hippolytus. 1997. “The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome.” Kevin P. Edgecomb. July 8. Accessed May 25, 2009.

Martini, Gabe. 2015. “Vincent of Lérins and the Catholicity of the Church.” On Behalf of All. May 24. Accessed May 25, 2015.

Schaff, Philip. 1884. ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Vol. 1. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

—. 2004. ANF07. Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies. Edited by Philip Schaff. Vol. 7. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

—. 2004. NPNF2-11 Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian. Edited by Phillip Schaff and Henry Wace. Vol. 11. 14 vols. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.



[1] (Carlson n.d., 167)

[2] When I was a young man, I remember being taught that the “Great Apostasy” took place immediately after the death of the last apostle. The evidence for this was taken from Revelation chapter two, in the letter to the church of Ephesus, where it is stated: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” (Rev 2:4) Additional evidence is from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, where he says there will be “a falling away” before the “day of the Lord.”(2 Thes 2:1-3) No historical evidence was ever provided to back up this claim, even though those making the argument claimed to be using the “grammatical-historical method” of exegesis. As it turns out, the greatest proponent of the “Great Apostasy” occurring immediately after the apostolic era is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormons.

[3] (Schaff 2004, 552)

[4] (Ancient Christian Writings n.d.)

[5] (Chapman 1913)

[6] (Hippolytus 1997)

[7] (Schaff 2004, 573)

[8] (Schaff, NPNF2-11 2004, 207)

[9] (Schaff, NPNF2-11 2004, 214)

[10] (Martini 2015)

[11] (Schaff, ANF01 1884, 65)

[12] (Schaff, ANF01 1884, 688)

[13] (Schaff, ANF01 1884, 69)

The False Theology of Theologia Crucis

The Crucifixion of Christ

The Crucifixion of Christ

Martin Luther was a lover of binary alternatives in theology. One set of binary alternatives is set forth in his Heidelberg Disputations, in which he drew the distinction between the Theology of the Cross (Theologia Crucis) and the Theology of Glory (Theologia Gloriae). In Martin Luther’s mind, you could be either one or the other. However, he failed to recognize the existence of other dimensions to theology and, in his failure, pointed the Protestant Reformation in the wrong direction.

The Heidelberg Disputations are a set of 28 theological theses and 12 philosophical theses defended before the Augustinian Brotherhood, of which he was a member. While the nailing of Luther’s 95 theses to the Wittenburg door is thought to be the event that sparked the Protestant Reformation, a case could be made that Luther’s Heidelberg Disputations had the more far-reaching theological implications. The key to understanding Luther’s theology is found in theses 19 – 22.

19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [Rom. 1.20]. 
20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. 
22. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.

 Luther begins by arguing that we cannot know God in His essence through the created order. The theologian who claims to perceive and know the mind of God is what Luther calls the theologian of glory and is making a god for himself in his own image. This is most certainly true. However, Luther then states that God can only be known through suffering and the cross, totally ignoring Christ’s bodily resurrection as the first fruits of the general resurrection.

Luther’s faulty argument for Thesis 20 is unconvincing.

He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

The “back” and visible things of God are placed in opposition to the invisible, namely, his human nature, weakness, foolishness. The Apostle in 1 Cor. 1[:25] calls them the weakness and folly of God. Because men misused the knowledge of God through works, God wished again to be recognized in suffering, and to condemn wisdom concerning invisible things by means of wisdom concerning visible things, so that those who did not honor God as manifested in his works should honor him as he is hidden in his suffering. As the Apostle says in 1 Cor. 1 [:21], “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise, as Isa. [45:15] says, “Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself.”

So, also, in John 14[:8], where Philip spoke according to the theology of glory: “Show us the Father.” Christ forthwith set aside his flighty thought about seeing God elsewhere and led him to himself, saying, “Philip, he who has seen me has seen the Father” [John 14:9]. For this reason true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ, as it is also stated in John [14:6 and] 10[:9] “No one comes to the Father, but by me.” “I am the door,” and so forth.

Do you see what Luther did there? He uses passages of Scripture to proof-text his point, although the passages in question don’t say what he implies. Let us look at 1 Cor 1:21. “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” Luther then argues that this passage teaches we can only know God “in the humility and shame of the cross.” But this passage says nothing of the kind. Perhaps Luther presumed his hearers would automatically consider the immediate context, in which Paul states: “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23a). Or shortly thereafter, when Paul states: “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2) But the cross is not the highest good (summum bonum) in Paul’s theology, as he makes clear later in this epistle.

12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. 20 ¶ But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. (1 Cor 15:12-23)

The point of the Cross was not the death of Christ, but rather that the Christ was united to our humanity in everything, including death, but because the Christ was also God Almighty, His humanity could not be held by the grave. Through His rising from the dead, Jesus Christ opened the doors to Hades, led captivity captive, and is become the proof of our bodily resurrection. The Cross was not the highest good, but merely a means to an end — not the salvation of our souls, but the resurrection of our fleshly and ensouled bodies.

The Recent Invention of Verbal Inerrancy

The Holy Bible

The Holy Bible

The current enthusiasm for the idea of verbal inerrancy—as indeed the word itself—is relatively recent. Author Carl Piepkorn points out that while the word bears superficial resemblance to the ancient Latin word inerrantia, it is in fact “a kind of do-it-yourself [or manufactured] term, …with in- meaning ‘not’ and errantia meaning ‘the act of wandering about.” Piepkorn cites the Oxford English Dictionary as pointing out that the first use of the English word inerrant was in 1834, and its first use in a religious context was in 1865 when describing the manner in which the Pope was preserved from error.[1]

Michael Horton, professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California, describes the “Princeton Formulation of Inerrancy” as the “best formulation of inerrancy” because “it anticipates and challenges caricatures.”[2] The Princeton Formulation is contained in the book by B.B. Warfield and A.A. Hodge entitled Inspiration (1881), and is cited as the first work stating that only the autographs were inerrant, and that the inerrancy of the extant text had not been supernaturally maintained.[3]

While Michael Horton likes to read modern formulations of inerrancy back into the early church fathers, this cannot be done even with the so-called “Princeton Formulation of Inerrancy.” For one thing, the word never occurs in Warfield and Hodge’s book. This should not be surprising, given that the word was newly minted when Warfield and Hodge wrote their book. For another, the supposed “inerrancy” described by Warfield and Hodge is nothing like that of the modern Fundamentalist and Evangelical.

Warfield and Hodge write: “[I]n all the affirmations of Scripture of every kind, there is no more error in the words of the original autographs than in the thoughts they were chosen to express.”[4] If they stopped there, the modern evangelical would be happy. But then they gradually expose a more nuanced position. Instead of speaking of “all the affirmations of Scripture of every kind”, they later refer to “all their real affirmations.”

In view of all the facts known to us, we affirm that a candid inspection of all the ascertained phenomena of the original text of Scripture will leave unmodified the ancient faith of the Church. In all their real affirmations these books are without error.[5]

So what is the content of these “real affirmations” anyway? Does it in any way conform to the modern understanding of inerrancy? Warfield and Hodge write:

It must be remembered that it is not claimed that the Scriptures any more than their authors are omniscient. The information they convey is in the forms of human thought, and limited on all sides. They were not designed to teach philosophy, science, or human history as such. They were not designed to furnish an infallible system of speculative theology. They are written in human languages, whose words, inflections, constructions, and idioms bear everywhere indelible traces of human error. The record itself furnishes evidence that the writers were in large measure dependent for their knowledge upon sources and methods in themselves fallible; and that their personal knowledge and judgments were in many matters hesitating and defective, or even wrong. [emphasis added][6]

While Warfield and Hodge go on to state that in all matters of historical fact the scriptural affirmations are without error, they have already mentioned this is not a reference to human history. Thus, what is in view is the history of the relationship between God and man, and in particular the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a long way from the modern concept of inerrancy as encompassing any subject mentioned within Sacred Scripture. Warfield and Hodge summarize their position as follows:

There is a vast difference between exactness of statement, which includes an exhaustive rendering of details, an absolute literalness, which the Scriptures never profess, and accuracy, on the other hand, which secures a correct statement of facts or principles intended to be affirmed. It is this accuracy and this alone, as distinct from exactness, which the Church doctrine maintains of every affirmation in the original text of Scripture without exception. Every statement accurately corresponds to truth just as far forth as affirmed.[7]

There is a vast gulf fixed between the accuracy of the Scriptures as affirmed by Warfield and Hodge, and the “absolute literalness” approach of the modern Fundamentalist and Evangelical.  It may well be that the work entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth (1910-15) is the first major work to formally equate inspiration with verbal inerrancy, although this assertion is made in only two of the seven essays on the Sacred Scriptures.[8] If so, the idea of verbal inerrancy is an American invention, made by those who came to be known as Fundamentalists.[9] Despite the feeble attempt by L. W. Munhall to find support for this position from the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine, it is clear that their understanding of inerrancy concerned the forma (doctrine), and not the materia (text).[10]

Lutheran theologians of the twentieth century quickly adopted the Fundamentalist definition of inerrancy. In his book Luther and the Scriptures, J. Michael Reu developed his thesis that Luther provides support for the recently developed Fundamentalist definitions of inerrancy. Despite his valiant effort, he is unable to provide a single instance of Luther’s use of the word inerrant (or its Latin or German equivalent) in the manner with which the word is used by the Fundamentalists. Despite this failure, no less a luminary than John Warwick Montgomery approvingly cites Reu as concluding that Luther “did indeed hold to the inerrancy of the Bible.”[11] Reu and Montgomery’s arguments are cast in 20th century terms, not in terms used by Luther and the Lutheran Confessors. The claim that Luther supports a dogma that was developed over 400 years after his death is at best an appeal to authority. At worst, it puts words in his mouth and besmirches his reputation.

John Calvin himself would have affirmed the accuracy of Sacred Scripture, while rejecting the modern formulations of “verbal inspiration” as well as inerrancy. This is easily demonstrated through his commentaries. Take for example, the following passage of Scripture:

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value. (Matt 27:9)

In his commentary on this passage, John Calvin notes that the attribution of the quoted passage is in error.

How the name of Jeremiah crept in, I confess that I do not know nor do I give myself much trouble to inquire. The passage itself plainly shows that the name of Jeremiah has been put down by mistake, instead of Zechariah, (11:13;) for in Jeremiah we find nothing of this sort, nor any thing that even approaches to it.[12]

Having announced the attribution to Jeremiah instead of Zechariah as a mistake, Calvin promptly ignores it. The error is immaterial, irrelevant, and the inspiration of the text suffers not one whit.


[1] (Piepkorn 2007, 29)

[2] (Horton 2010)

[3] (Houtz 2014)

[4] (Warfield and Hodge 2013, Kindle Locations 130-131)

[5] (Warfield and Hodge 2013, Kindle Locations 200-202)

[6] (Warfield and Hodge 2013, Kindle Locations 202-207)

[7] (Warfield and Hodge 2013, Kindle Locations 210-213)

[8] See “The Inspiration of the Bible — Definition, Extent and Proof” by Rev. James M. Gray (Gray 2005), and “Inspiration” by Evangelist L. W. Munhall. (Munhall 2005)

[9] (Portier 1994, 130)

[10] (Munhall 2005)

[11] (Montgomery n.d.)

[12] (Calvin 1999, 188)


Calvin, John. 1999. Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke – Volume 3. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Gray, James M. 2005. “The Inspiration of the Bible — Definition, Extent and Proof.” The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. December 22. Accessed November 20, 2008.

Horton, Michael. 2010. “The Truthfulness of Scripture.” Modern Reformation, March/April, Inspiration and Inerrancy ed.: 26-29. Accessed March 7, 2015.

Houtz, Wyatt. 2014. “John Calvin rejected Inerrancy.” PostBarthian. May 26. Accessed March 7, 2015.

Montgomery, John Warwick. n.d. “Lessons from Luther on the Inerrancy of Holy Writ.” Issues, Etc. Article Archive. Accessed December 28, 2008.

Munhall, L. W. 2005. “Inspiration.” The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. December 23. Accessed November 20, 2008.

Piepkorn, Arthur Carl. 2007. What Does “Innerancy” Mean? Vol. 2, in The Sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions: Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn, Volume Two, by Arthur Carl Piepkorn, edited by Phillip J Secke, 25-55. Mansfield: CEC Press.

Portier, William L. 1994. Tradition and Incarnation: Foundations of Christian Theology. New York: Paulist Press.

Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge, and Archibald Alexander Hodge. 2013. Inspiration. Kindle Edition. Amazon Digital Services, Inc.


Justifying God

Theodicy is commonly thought to concern itself with the problem of evil. The most banal expression of this is the phrase: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But it is more than that. So much more. In fact, theodicy has to do with the justification of God. It is a defense of God’s goodness and greatness in the face of evil, of suffering, and of death.

One of the best descriptions of the problem was recently expressed by Stephen Fry, who when asked what he would say to God:

I’d say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ That’s what I would say.

There are creatures who use humans as hosts for part of their life cycle, creatures responsible for a great deal of pain, suffering, and death. Take for example, the protozoan known as Plasmodium, which is responsible for Malaria. The five species of Plasmodium are all spread from human to human using mosquitoes, and all five species mature and reproduce in the human liver. The World Health Organization says that in 2013, around 584,000 people died of malaria, most of them children under the age of five. You could say that the existence of Malaria has as its primary purpose the killing of children.

Dracunculiasis is the formal name for the infection by the Guinea worm. The Guinea worm primarily infects humans (and possibly dogs) by drinking water containing guinea worm larvae. Once a human is infected, the worm matures, mates, and slowly travels through the body to the lower leg, often causing intense pain. Eventually the worm causes an allergic reaction. Blisters form, eventually burst, and the worm begins to protrude from the body. Slowly, over a period of weeks, the guinea worm exits the body. As it slowly makes its way out of the, the burning sensation causes people to seek relief by soaking their leg in water, allowing the worm to release larvae which are eaten by water fleas, continuing the life cycle. The sole purpose of the Guinea worm’s existence seems to be to cause great pain and suffering; it does this indiscriminately, and for the sole purpose of furthering its own reproduction.

If you are a creationist, you have to believe that God created these (and other) creatures whose sole purpose is to cause pain and suffering. Thus we must assume that God desires to see his creation suffer. It is not enough that some humans will suffer in the afterlife, but quite a number of the sufferings of this life are caused by creatures God created for this express purpose. We humans have a name for this type of personality disorder; if we are indeed created in the image of God, than this name would necessarily apply to a God who seems to enjoy the sufferings of his creation.

If you are an evolutionist who believes in God, you have other difficulties. The evolutionary process which led to the existence of humans has been the result of a great deal of suffering and death. There have been five great extinction events, known colloquially as the “Big Five.”

  • Ordovician-Silurian mass extinction: 443 million years ago; 85% of sea life went extinct
  • Late Devonian mass extinction: 359 million years ago; 75% of all life went extinct
  • Permian mass extinction: 248 million years ago; 96% of all life went extinct
  • Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction: 200 million years ago: 50% of all animals went extinct
  • Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction: 65 million years ago; extinction of the dinosaurs, allowing for the rise of mammalian life

So much death and destruction, leading the way to the development of human beings. How do we account for this? What was the purpose of death on such a large scale, occurring multiple times? If we accept the biblical creation accounts, death is the result of sin. Yet how could there have been sin before humanity existed? And if suffering and death existed prior to the fall, how then is God a good God? How can we love a God who seems to enjoy the suffering of His creation?

I have no answers, only questions. One day, I hope to ask God what was the point of it all. As Stephen Fry recently noted when asked if after death he found himself in front of the pearly gates: “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?”

Seriously, what’s the point of it? In the book of Job, the answer given seems to have been: “Who do you think you are to be asking me that question?” But, if the Bible is true, humans were created in the image and likeness of God; I therefore presume upon that likeness to ask the impertinent, impolitic, and possibly blasphemous question: “Why?”

And yet, I know that God exists. I have experienced his providential care. Yes, what I call providence could be chalked up to chance, but I’ve also experienced miracles in my life — at least one of which was witnessed by others. My life (and those with me) has been saved twice in miraculous ways, at least one of which has no rational explanation. I have therefore personally experienced the hand of God working in my life.

When I begin to doubt the goodness of God, I am also forced to remember the goodness of God towards me. The God who seems to delight in suffering, also seems to delight in being good towards his creation. I cannot reconcile the two. One day, I hope to ask God the same question Stephen Fry asks: “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?”

Clothed in Glory

The Annunciation. Oldest surviving icon of the Annunciation, Rome, Via Salaria, Catacomb of Priscilla, mid-2nd century.

The Annunciation. Oldest surviving icon of the Annunciation, Rome, Via Salaria, Catacomb of Priscilla, mid-2nd century.

Clothed with the Glory of God

When we discuss the communion of persons, which is a sign[1] and symbol of the communion the trinity has with itself, we can then understand what the scriptures mean when they speak of Adam and Eve being naked, and not ashamed (Ge 2:25).[2] By nature the man and the woman were in full communion with each other, and full communion with God (Ge 2:8). The fathers of the church believed Adam and Eve were thereby clothed with the glory of God.

The obvious question is whether the idea of the original and prototypical humanity being clothed with the glory of God has any scriptural foundation. In the introduction to Robert Alter’s translation of Psalms, he notes the way the language of Psalms presents the idea of light’s being a mythological property of deity, of God wearing light as a garment, and of God stretching out the heavens as a garment.

God, as we note in Psalm 27[3], is associated with light — in that instance, because light, archetypically, means safety and rescue to those plunged in fearful darkness, but also because radiance is a mythological property of deities and monarchs. Psalm 104 is a magnificent celebration of God as king of the vast panorama of creation. It begins by imagining God in the act of putting on royal raiment: “Grandeur and glory you don” (hod wehadar lavashta). The psalmist then goes on: “Wrapped in light like a cloak, / stretching out the heavens like a tentcloth” (verse 2). What makes the familiar figure of light for the divinity so effective is its fusion with the metaphor of clothing. The poet, having represented God donning regalia, envisages Him wrapping Himself in a garment of pure light (the Hebrew verb used here is actually in the active mode, “wrapping”). Then, associatively continuing the metaphor of fabrics, he has God “stretching out the heavens like a tent-cloth,” the bright sky above becoming an extension of the radiance that envelopes God.[4]

The association of God with light is the source for the phrase describing Jesus Christ as “light from light” in the Nicene Creed. Since Sacred Scripture speaks of God being clothed in light, and of spreading out the heavens like a tentcloth, it is only natural to extend that idea to original and prototypical humanity. St. Ephrem the Syrian writes: “God clothed Adam in glory”; and again: “It was because of the glory with which they were clothed that they were not ashamed. It was when this glory was stripped from them after they had transgressed the commandment that they were ashamed because they were naked”[5] In like manner, St John Chrysostom writes: “[W]hile sin and disobedience had not yet come on the scene, they were clad in that glory from above which caused them no shame. But after the breaking of the law, then entered the scene both shame and awareness of their nakedness.”[6]

The 17th century mystic Jacom Böhme remarks:

Man should have walked naked upon the earth, for the heavenly [part] penetrated the outward, and was his clothing. He stood in great beauty, glory, joy and delight, in a child­like mind; he should have eaten and drunk in a magical manner; not into the body, as now, but in the mouth there was the separation; for so likewise was the fruit of Paradise.[7]

Such was the state of humanity in Paradise. Yet once Adam had sinned and the glory of God had departed from him, it was immediately clear to him that he no longer belonged in Paradise. St. Ephrem the Syrian, explains this in the seventh verse of his second Hymn on Paradise:

At its boundary I saw
figs, growing in a sheltered place,
from which crowns were made that adorned
the brows of the guilty pair,
while there leaves blushed, as it were,
for him who was stripped naked:
there leaves were required for those two
who had lost their garments;
although they covered Adam,
still they made him blush with shame and repent,
because, in a place of such splendor,
a man who is naked is filled with shame.[8]

There are striking parallels between this hymn and the account of the Philistines capturing the Ark — how the pregnant wife of Phineas, upon hearing this, gave birth. “And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel” (I Sam 4:21). It is only after the fall, after the glory has departed, and after full communion of persons has been lost, that the man and the woman objectified each other as individuals rather than persons partaking of the same nature; in their fallen state they saw themselves as naked before each other and before God.[9]

The reader will no doubt be reminded of how the Ark of the covenant was shrouded in the “thick darkness” of the Holy of Holies (I Kings 8:12); and of how in Ezekiel chapters 8-10, the prophet is given a vision of the glory of God, the defilement of the temple, and how the glory of God departed from the temple as a consequence for Israel’s sin. In this manner we come to the understanding that the glory with which Adam and Eve were clothed, or overshadowed, is natural to mankind in the state of original righteousness, a state of communion with God. We also understand that the glory of God, with which they were clothed, would quite rightly depart as a consequence of Adam’s sin. In this context, we note that after the Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra makes no mention of the glory of God returning, filling the temple, and overshadowing the Ark. Instead, the return of the Shekinah glory came at the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel informed the blessed virgin that the Holy Ghost would come upon her and the power of the highest would overshadow her. What we see at the annunciation (and in Revelation 12), is the blessed virgin clothed with the glory of God, as was Eve in the garden — which points to the Incarnation as the inauguration of God’s plan for reconciliation and recreation, for the reestablishment of that perfect communion between God and man, and between each human person.



[1] On the nature of the sign and the thing signified, Karl Barth notes: “Sign and thing signified, the outward and the inward, are, as a rule, strictly distinguished in the Bible, and certainly in other connexions we cannot lay sufficient stress upon the distinction. But they are never separated in such a (“liberal”) way that according to preference the one may be easily retained without the other.” (Barth, Church Dogmatics The Doctrine of the Word of God, Volume 1, Part 2 1956, 179) In other words, the sign always points to the thing signified. However, if we believe in the thing signified, we have to accept the sign as well—as, for example, with the virgin birth being the sign of the Incarnation (Isa 7:14).

[2] (John Paul II 2006, 163)

[3] The Lord is my light and my rescue.

Whom should I fear?

The Lord is my life’s stronghold.

Of whom should I be afraid?

Ps 27:1, Robert Alter’s translation (Alter 2007, xxv-xxvi; 91)

[4] (Alter 2007, xxviii)

[5] (St Ephrem the Syrian n.d., 99, 106)

[6] (Louth, Conti and Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament I, Genesis 1-11 2001, 72)

[7] (Böhme 2009)

[8] (St Ephrem the Syrian 1989, 87)

[9] (Lossky, The Creation 1989, 77)



Alter, Robert. 2007. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Barth, Karl. 1956. Church Dogmatics The Doctrine of the Word of God, Volume 1, Part 2: The Revelation of God; Holy Scripture: The Proclamation of the Church. New York: T&T Clark Ltd.

Böhme, Jacom. 2009. “Mysterium Magnum (part one).” Gnosis research. October 9. Accessed November 15, 2010.

John Paul II. 2006. Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. Boston: Pauline Books & Media.

Lossky, Vladimir. 1989. “The Creation.” In Orthodox Theology: An Introduction, by Vladimir Lossky, edited by Ian Kesarcodi-Watson and Ihita Kesarcodi-Watson, 51-78. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Louth, Andrew, Marco Conti, and Thomas C. Oden. 2001. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament I, Genesis 1-11. Vol. 1. 28 vols. Westmont: InterVarsity Press.

St Ephrem the Syrian. n.d. “Commentary on Genesis.” Accessed June 9, 2013.

—. 1989. Hymns on Paradise. Translated by Sebastion Brock. Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.


Creation, Sola Scriptura, and the Church

Ex Nihilo by Frederick Hart

Ex Nihilo by Frederick Hart

Creatio ex Nihilo

The doctrine that everything that exists was created out of nothing cannot be proven from Scripture alone. It is a product of over 500 years of theological development beginning around 200 BCE, and prior to that time was of little to no concern to the Jewish people.

This might be hard for biblical literalists to take, but nothing in the Genesis creation accounts support the idea of creation ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. This is an interpretation passed on by tradition rather than a position derived from exegesis — the critical explanation of the text.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) This is a summary statement, one that sets the stage for everything that is to follow. And what follows does not support creation out of nothing. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2) This verse is a description of the typical near-eastern concept of the primordial state which existed before creation. The Greeks called this chaos (χάος), a word that means formless, void, darkness. The Greek philosopher Pherecydes of Syros describes chaos as being like water — formless, yet capable of differentiation. John H. Walton says this was a feature of near-eastern cosmology, that the act of creation involved not the creation of matter, but the differentiation and ordering of matter. In this view, creation is functional rather than ontological; creation is an act of separation, of differentiation, of the initiation of an “operational system”.[1]

Jewish Development

Justin Taylor says Genesis 1:1 is not a summary statement, but rather a background statement describing the initial act of creation of matter out of nothing.[2] There are multiple problems with this interpretation. First, this interpretation is foreign to the ancient cosmologies. Paul Copan notes that “Jewish thought was preoccupied with the God of the cosmos rather than with the cosmos itself.”[3] Second, the creation accounts are about God and God’s relationship with the created order; and about humanity, about God’s relationship with humanity, and about humanity’s relationship with the created order. In other words, the creation accounts are theological and anthropological first, and only distantly related to the question of “how” God created. Third, Philip Jenkins notes that for early Jewish thought, “Adam’s story made little impact.”[4] It wasn’t until around the 2nd century B.C. that the creation accounts became an issue in theology. Prior to that time, the focus was Torah and Temple, on what Jacob Neusner refers to as “eternal Israel.”[5]

Beginning in the 2nd century BCE, there was a difference of opinion on the matter. Philo of Alexandria, the great Jewish theologian (c. 20 BCE – 40CE), appears to be of two minds on this issue. In his work On the Eternity of the World, he writes: “For it is impossible that anything should be generated of that which has no existence anywhere.”[6] Yet in his work On Dreams he writes: “And besides all this, as the sun, when he arises, discovers hidden things, so also does God, who created all things, not only bring them all to light, but he has even created what before had no existence, not being their only maker, but also their founder.”[7]

There are differences of opinion on this issue presented in the Apocrypha (a.k.a. the Deuterocanonical books), most of which were written in the 200 years before Christ. In 2 Maccabees we have the story of a woman encouraging her son to accept martyrdom rather than recant. She says: “I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise.” (2 Macc 7:28) Contrast this with the Wisdom of Solomon, which states: “For Your all-powerful hand, Which created the world out of unformed matter…” (Wis 11:17a, OSB)[8]

New Testamental Support

Unlike what many people think, the New Testament does nothing to resolve this issue, as the passages used to support creation out of nothing do not say this explicitly. In many cases they could be interpreted as supporting either position; in other cases, their support for creation out of nothing is tenuous at best. Let us examine first the passage from the book of Romans.

(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. (Rom 4:17)

If we examine this passage out of context, the phrase “calleth those things which be not as though they were” seems to support creation out of nothing. But the context suggest otherwise. First, this refers to Abraham’s being the father of nations when as yet he not only had no children, but that his body and that of his wife were as good as dead (Rom 4:19; Heb 11:12). It is their bodies, which were as good as dead (incapable of childbearing) which were touched by God, “who quickeneth the dead.” The passage is not speaking of the creation accounts, but of God’s granting a child to Abraham and Sarah by quickening their dead bodies, by calling those things which be not (fertility) as though they were.

Another passage often used to support creation out of nothing is found in the book of Colossians.

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:  And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Col 1: 16-17)

The primary context of this passage is Christological. The Son of God is “the firstborn of every creature” (Col 1:15), just as He is “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18) The creation of all things “visible and invisible” is a reference to the entirety of the created order, both spiritual and material. This creation is then recapitulated in the reconciliation of all things (Col 1:20). While creation out of nothing can be supported by this passage, it is an improper hermeneutic to derive a normative theology from a passage that is not explicitly addressing that subject.

The book of Hebrews is often used to support creation out of nothing, and at first glance this seems to be the case.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Heb 11:3)

The verb “were framed” (καταρτιζω, katartizo, kat-ar-tid’-zo) has to do with an object’s function rather than its ontology. The idea is to mend, to complete, to arrange, to prepare. This is in line with the ancient cosmological ideas that the primordial stage was formless, void, and undifferentiated, and that the “things which are seen” were made of this primordial chaos, which we do not see. One can certainly read into this passage the idea of creation out of nothing, but the passage can readily be interpreted otherwise.

Ante-Nicene Development

The issue of whether the world was created out of nothing remained unsettled in the ante-Nicene era. Some early church fathers such as Justin Martyr held that creation has to do with God’s ordering or fashioning the world out of the preexisting chaos (Origen also supported this position.)

We have been taught that He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man’s sake, create all things out of unformed matter. (Justin Martyr, First Apology, X)[9]

Other church fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130 –c.  202 AD), Tatian the Assyrian (c. 120 – c. 180 AD), and Theophilus of Antioch (c. 181) argued against the both Greek philosophy and the Gnostics using the concept of creation out of nothing. Irenaeus of Lyon is quite explicit when he writes:

While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point pre-eminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Book II, X)[10]

In describing the content of the Christian faith, Irenaeus used some language from the Psalms, which itself is derived from Genesis:

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever. (Ps 146:5-6)

The idea that God “made heaven and earth” was used in the proto-creedal formulations of Irenaeus, which inaugurated the language which was later folded into the Nicene Creed. In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus wrote:

The Church, though dispersed through out the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Book I, X)[11]

These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Book III, I)[12]

Tatian the Assyrian makes the argument that even if the world was formed out of unformed, undifferentiated chaos, it was God that brought that chaos into existence.

The case stands thus: we can see that the whole structure of the world, and the whole creation, has been produced from matter, and the matter itself brought into existence by God; so that on the one hand it may be regarded as rude and unformed before it was separated into parts, and on the other as arranged in beauty and order after the separation was made. (Tatian, Address to the Greeks, XII)[13]

Theophilus  of Antioch ridicules the Greek philosophers and their concept of the eternity of matter. He writes:

God, because He is uncreated, is also unalterable; so if matter, too, were uncreated, it also would be unalterable, and equal to God; for that which is created is mutable and alterable, but that which is uncreated is immutable and unalterable. And what great thing is it if God made the world out of existent materials? For even a human artist, when he gets material from some one, makes of it what he pleases. But the power of God is manifested in this, that out of things that are not He makes whatever He pleases. (Theophilus, Theophilus to Autolycus, Book II, IV)[14]

The Nicene Creed

This issue was not settled until the First Ecumenical Council, which laid forth the idea of creation out of nothing as follows:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten (γεννηθέντα), not made, being of one substance (ὁμοούσιον, consubstantialem) with the Father.  By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. (The First Ecumenical Council, The Creed)[15]

By claiming God to be the maker of all things visible and invisible, both in heaven and in earth, the council settled the issue, using the terminology found in Scripture as filtered through Irenaeus. By using the language of Irenaeus, they were implicitly endorsing the theology of Irenaeus over against those who believed that creation was a mere ordering of unformed, undifferentiated chaos.


The theological dogma of creation ex nihilo, of creation out of nothing, developed over time, in opposition to near-eastern cosmologies, to Greek philosophy, and to the Gnostics. The argument predates Christianity, and was not settled until the First Council of Nice in 325 A.D. The doctrine is nowhere explicit the Scriptures, and can barely be said to be implicit. It can be read into the Sacred Scriptures only insofar as one has this thought already in mind.

The fact that Christianity accepts the idea of creation out of nothing cannot be attributed to Scripture Alone, for those who through otherwise could also support their position from scripture. This position developed in opposition to heresy — specifically, the Gnostic heresy, which derived its cosmology from Greek philosophy and various near-eastern cosmologies. The idea of creation ex nihilo, of creation out of nothing, is therefore a product of the Church, and is part of Holy Tradition.



Copan, Paul. 1996. “Is Creatio Ex Nihilo A Post-Biblical Invention? An Examination Of Gerhard May’s Proposal.” Accessed January 29, 2015.

Jenkins, Philip. 2015. “Enter Adam.” January 23. Accessed January 29, 2015.

Neusner, Jacob. 1993. A Rabbi talks with Jesus: an intermillennial, interfaith exchange. New York: Doubleday.

Philo of Alexandria. n.d. “On Dreams.” Early Jewish Writings. Accessed January 29, 2015.

—. n.d. “On the Eternity of the World.” Early Jewish Writings. Accessed January 29, 2015.

Schaff, Philip. 1884. ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Vol. 1. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

—. 2004. ANF02 Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire). Edited by Phillip Schaff. Vol. 2. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

—. 2005. NPNF2-14 The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Vol. 14. 14 vols. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Taylor, Justin. 2015. “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods.” The Gospel Coalition. January 28. Accessed January 29, 2015.

Walton, John H. 2009. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.




[1] (Walton 2009, 29)

[2] (Taylor 2015)

[3] (Copan 1996)

[4] (Jenkins 2015)

[5] (Neusner 1993, passim)

[6] (Philo of Alexandria n.d., II.5)

[7] (Philo of Alexandria n.d., I.76)

[8] The King James Version translation of this verse is less clear, translating the phrase “out of formless matter” as “of matter without form”. “For thy Almighty hand, that made the world of matter without form …” (Wis 11:17)

[9] (Schaff 1884, 252)

[10] (Schaff 1884, 609)

[11] (Schaff, ANF01 1884, 541)

[12] (Schaff, ANF01 1884, 684)

[13] (Schaff, ANF02 2004, 108)

[14] (Schaff, ANF02 2004, 146)

[15] (Schaff, NPNF2-14 2005, 39)