The Self-Authenticating Scriptures

The Gospel of John

The Gospel of John

Protestants are told the scriptures are self-authenticating; because the scriptures are God’s word, they have the power to convince us of their truth. Johann Gerhard writes: “Because it is God-breathed, published, and spread by divine inspiration, therefore it is credible in itself, having credibility from itself.”[1] David Scaer simplifies this thought: “Because the biblical writers were recipients of immediate illumination, the Bible possesses a self-authenticating authority.”[2] Thus the Bible is “credible in itself, having credibility from itself”; thus the Sacred Scriptures are “self-authenticating”, whole unto themselves, needing nothing external to themselves as witness to their inspiration. While this makes sense in terms of the Protestant antipathy to Rome, they fail to realize the concept of self-authentication makes the Scriptures into a demiurge, a created god. Not God in essence, not a fourth person of the Trinity, but much more than an ordinary created being. The Gnostics (and others) described this type of lesser god as a demiurge. The idea that the Sacred Scriptures are “self-authenticating”, that their credibility is intrinsic, elevates the Scriptures above all other creation, and effectively denies the person and the extrinsic witness of the Holy Spirit. The author of Hebrews says “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) However, we are to understand this passage as a description of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, in the Church, and in the heart of each human person. We know this directly from the words of Jesus Christ, when He spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (Jo 14:26) And again: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” (Jo 15:26) Either the Holy Spirit is our guide to understanding the Sacred Scriptures, or the Sacred Scriptures are a witness unto themselves, with no God necessary. You can’t have it both ways.


Gerhard, Johann. On the Nature of Theology and Scripture. Translated by Richard J. Dinda. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.

Scaer, David. “Baptism as Church Foundation.” Concordia Theological Quarterly 67, no. 2 (April 2003): 109-129.




[1] (Gerhard 2006, 68)

[2] (Scaer 2003, 118)

John Calvin, the Church, and the Canon

John Calvin

John Calvin

John Calvin, in his argument against the role of the Church in the canonical process, does discuss the role of the Holy Spirit. However, he seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit works in the individual, but not in and through the Church.

A most pernicious error has very generally prevailed—viz. that Scripture is of importance only in so far as conceded to it by the suffrage of the Church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men. With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be admitted into the canon. (Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 2005, 74-75)

Calvin then argues that since the apostles and prophets existed prior to the Church, that the inspiration of the Scriptures is intrinsic apart from the Church.

These ravings are admirably refuted by a single expression of an apostle. Paul testifies that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” (Eph. 2:20). If the doctrine of the apostles and prophets is the foundation of the Church, the former must have had its certainty before the latter began to exist. Nor is there any room for the cavil, that though the Church derives her first beginning from thence, it still remains doubtful what writings are to be attributed to the apostles and prophets, until her Judgment is interposed. For if the Christian Church was founded at first on the writings of the prophets, and the preaching of the apostles, that doctrine, wheresoever it may be found, was certainly ascertained and sanctioned antecedently to the Church, since, but for this, the Church herself never could have existed. Nothings therefore can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends. (Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 2005, 75)

John Calvin is correct that the inspiration of the Scriptures precedes its recognition by the Church. But if the Church’s determination of the canon is invalid, what does John Calvin offer in its place? Why, the Holy Spirit who enlightens the individual believer’s heart.

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own Judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human Judgment, feel perfectly assured—as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it—that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our Judgment, but we subject our intellect and Judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate.

Such, then, is a conviction which asks not for reasons; such, a knowledge which accords with the highest reason, namely knowledge in which the mind rests more firmly and securely than in any reasons; such in fine, the conviction which revelation from heaven alone can produce. I say nothing more than every believer experiences in himself, though my words fall far short of the reality. I do not dwell on this subject at present, because we will return to it again: only let us now understand that the only true faith is that which the Spirit of God seals on our hearts. (Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 2005, 78-79)

It is curious that John Calvin reason’s his way to a dismissal of human reason, but instead posits some ephemeral, mystical revelation of inspiration to the individual believer. Of course, John Calvin then modifies this by reference to the “children of the renovated Church” made up of the “elect only”, who “shall be taught of the Lord” (Isaiah 54:13). So Calvin’s argument isn’t so much against the Church bearing witness to the canon of Scripture, but to the Roman Catholic Church bearing said witness.

In essence, John Calvin’s predisposition against the Roman Catholic Church colors his view of canonicity. We can break down his argument like this: 1) The Holy Spirit works within His true church. 2) The Roman Catholics do not constitute a true Church. 3) Therefore, the Holy Spirit does not work within the Roman Catholic Church. Calvin makes another argument: 1) The Holy Spirit works upon the hearts of the elect. 2) The Roman Catholic Church contains none of the elect. 3) Therefore, the Holy Spirit does not work within the Roman Catholic Church. And finally, with regard to the canon of Scripture: 1) The Holy Spirit works to reveal the canon of Scripture to His Church. 2) The Roman Catholic Church is not a true Church. 3) Therefore, the Roman Catholic canon of Scripture was not revealed by the Holy Spirit.[1]


Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2005.




[1] I may not have constructed these syllogisms correctly, but you get the point.

Humanity and the Incarnation (part two)

Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise

Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise

The western Christian churches, following the example of Augustine of Hippo, generally begin their understanding of humanity with the fall. If humanity is defined by the fall, then we end up with the concept of original sin, and the guilt of Adam’s sin which is inherited by all of humanity. However, what if humanity is not defined by the fall, but by the creation? What then of Adam’s sin and it’s impact upon humanity?

Humanity was created in the image and likeness of God and, after the creation of humanity (both man and woman together), God announces that the entire creation is now “very good”. Humanity is the capstone of God’s creation. The relationship between the husband and wife, who become “one flesh”, is a similitude of the inner life of the Trinity. We are made for communion with each other, and with God. Moreover, like the animals, man is material; like the angels, man is immaterial. In this manner humanity was meant to be the bridge between the corporeal and the incorporeal. Humanity is the priest of creation, uniting the whole of creation and offering it back to God.

St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes:

For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God (Against Heresies, Book 4, 20:7). 

Mankind fell: the great deceiver tricked Eve, but Adam sinned willfully — which is why after the fall we are all “in Adam”, and in Adam all die. Both Adam and Eve turned from beholding God, the giver of life, and chose the material world instead, along with all that the material world, apart from the life of God, affords. Lacking the wisdom of God, they chose sin, death, and the devil.

And yet that is not the whole of the story. We must examine the account of the creation and fall very carefully, for it is not true that God cursed humanity. Examining the accounts closely, we see God curse the serpent, yet we merely see God describing the effects of the fall upon humanity and the material world.  Thus it is untrue that God decreed that the woman be subservient to the man; that is merely a side effect of the fall. And we see no mention in the Genesis accounts of original sin, or of the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity. We see nothing of God’s wrath against Adam and Eve, but instead his providential care for them — both in His clothing them in the skins of animals, and in his promise of a redeemer who will wound the serpent’s head.

The first promise of the redeemer (which in theological terms is called the Protoevangelium, or first Gospel), contains no hint of any substitutionary atonement, no hint of an infinitely offended God defending His honor, or Hisdivine law. Instead, we see the overturning of the curse, and the victory over sin, death, and the devil. And how was this accomplished? Through the birth of the Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, through whom He became man.

Our Lord was like us in every way. He is consanguineous with us, just as we are consanguineous with each other. Since He is of one blood with us, if we bear the guilt of Adam’s sin, so too did He. And yet He was free from the guilt of Original Sin, for Adam’s guilt is his own. We all bear the guilt of our own sins, and not the sins of another. We bear the burden of Ancestral Sin; our common humanity is infected by sin. As the author of Hebrews says, He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

The point of the Incarnation is not that that the Son of God came to suffer and die the infinite penalty for our sins, but that He came to suffer with us, and die like us, so that He could win the victory over sin, death, and the devil, restoring humanity to its original purpose. The Christ put us back on our original path; once again we are called to be priests of creation, offering the entirety of God’s creation back to Him.


The Overshadowing of the Holy Spirit

Icon of the Mother of God “the Unburnt Bush”

Icon of the Mother of God “the Unburnt Bush”

At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel said to the Virgin Mary: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women”; and again: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God”; and yet again: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee” (Luke 1:28, 30, 35). We may well ask how can these things be? In what manner was she prepared for the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, and can we prepare ourselves in like manner?

St. Innocent of Alaska (August 26, 1797 – March 31, 1879) writes of how we too can receive the Holy Spirit.

The true and recognized means of receiving the Holy Spirit, according to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the experiences of great saints, are the following: (1) purity of heart and chastity, (2) humility, (3) listening to the voice of God, (4) prayer, (5) daily self-denial, (6) reading and listening to Holy Scripture, and (7) the sacraments of the Church, and especially Holy Communion.

Every faithful soul is filled with the Holy Spirit, if she is cleansed of her sins and not encumbered or closed by self-love and pride. For the Holy Spirit always surrounds us and wishes to fill us, but our evil deeds that surround us like a hard stone wall are like evil guards that do not allow Him to come near us and keep Him away from us. Every sin can keep the Holy Spirit away from us, but bodily impurity and spiritual pride are especially repellent to Him. The Holy Spirit, Who is the most perfect purity, cannot possibly be in a man defiled by sins. How can He be in our heart when it is filled and encumbered by different cares, desires, and passions? (St. Innocent of Alaska (2013-02-01). Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven: An Introduction to Christian Life (Kindle Locations 624-631). Holy Trinity Publications. Kindle Edition.)


The Trisagion Hymn

The Trisagion Prayers are a set of ancient prayers that begin each service of the Daily Cycle of divine services. They are also commonly used to begin one’s private prayers.

The Trisagion Thrice Holy by Angelboy


+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Glory be to Thee, our God; glory be to Thee.

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things; Treasury of blessings, and Giver of life:  Come and abide in us, and cleanse us of every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

+ Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.  (with bow)
+ Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.  (with bow)
+ Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.  (with bow)

+ Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

Most-holy Trinity, have mercy on us:  Lord, cleanse us of our sins; Master, pardon our transgressions; Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

+ Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

+ Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

Meet it is in truth to bless thee, O Theotokos,
ever-blessèd and all-pure, and the Mother of our God.

More honourable than the Cherubim,
and more glorious incomparably than the Seraphim,
thou who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word,
the very Theotokos:  we thee magnify.

+ Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, + O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us.  Amen.

From John Damascene’s book “An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”

Depiction of the Cherubim

The Cherubim

For we hold the words “Holy God” to refer to the Father, without limiting the title of divinity to Him alone, but acknowledging also as God the Son and the Holy Spirit: and the words “Holy and Mighty” we ascribe to the Son, without stripping the Father and the Holy Spirit of might: and the words “Holy and Immortal” we attribute to the Holy Spirit, without depriving the Father and the Son of immortality. For, indeed, we apply all the divine names simply and unconditionally to each of the subsistences in imitation of the divine Apostle’s words. “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we in Him: and one Lord Jesus Christ by Whom are all things, and we by Him.” And, nevertheless, we follow Gregory the Theologian when he says, “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things, and one Holy Spirit, in Whom are all things:” for the words “of Whom” and “through Whom” and “in Whom” do not divide the natures (for neither the prepositions nor the order of the names could ever be changed), but they characterize the properties of one unconfused nature. And this becomes clear from the fact that they are once more gathered into one, if only one reads with care these words of the same Apostle, Of Him and through Him and in Him are all things: to Him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen(4). For that the “Trisagium” refers not to the Son alone, but to the Holy Trinity, the divine and saintly Athanasius and Basil and Gregory, and all the band of the divinely-inspired Fathers bear witness: because, as a matter of fact, by the threefold holiness the Holy Seraphim suggest to us the three subsistences of the superessential Godhead.

Depiction of the Seraphim

The Seraphim

But by the one Lordship they denote the one essence and dominion of the supremely-divine Trinity. Gregory the Theologian of a truth says, “Thus, then, the Holy of Holies, which is completely veiled by the Seraphim, and is glorified with three consecrations, meet together in one lordship and one divinity.” This was the most beautiful and sublime philosophy of still another of our predecessors.

Ecclesiastical historians, then, say that once when the people of Constantinople were offering prayers to God to avert a threatened calamity, during Proclus’ tenure of the office of Archbishop, it happened that a boy was snatched up from among the people, and was taught by angelic teachers the “Thrice Holy” Hymn, “Thou Holy God, Holy and Mighty One, Holy and Immortal One, have mercy upon us:” and when once more he was restored to earth, he told what he had learned, and all the people sang the Hymn, and so the threatened calamity was averted. And in the fourth holy and great Ecumenical Council (I mean the one at Chalcedon), we are told that it was in this form that the Hymn was sung; for the minutes of this holy assembly so record it.

Damascene, St. John (2010-08-08). An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (Kindle Locations 1955-1981).  Kindle Edition.

For more information, See John Sanidopoulos’s blog: The Miracle of the Trisagion (“Thrice-Holy Hymn”)

Theotokians for July 4th

You contained the uncontainable God in your womb,
and gave birth to the savior and redeemer of our souls:
Do not despise me, O pure one, for I am in travail;
have mercy on me,
and guard me from all enmity and the snares of the Evil One.

Those who were worthy to behold God in the flesh
proclaimed you, O Maiden, to be a Bride and a Virgin,
worthy of the Father and His divinity.
They proclaimed you to be the Mother of God the Word,
and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit,
for the whole of divinity,
the full and perfect Essence of grace bodily dwelt in you!

The Great Panagia

The Great Panagia









The icon known as The Great Panagia, or the Virgin Orans (orans being the praying position with the arms outstretched, palms up) is an abstract pictorial representation of the Christ child in Mary’s womb. The Christ child is shown against a medallion, and within the confines of Mary’s body. Note too that Christ is not represented as an embryo — this is a physical representation of a spiritual reality — the person of the Christ is both God and man.

The Virgin Mary and the Creeds

The three Ecumenical Christian Creeds are a witness to the universal faith of all Christians. The three Ecumenical Christian Creeds serve to define content and boundaries of the Christian faith. Therefore any teaching that is at variance with the three Ecumenical Creeds is by definition outside the boundaries of Orthodox Christianity.

The Nicene and the Apostles Creed

The Apostles Creed

The Apostles Creed

It is common liturgical practice to confess the Creeds in the Divine Service. It is both curious and little noticed that only two persons besides Jesus himself are mentioned in the Creed: the Virgin Mary and Pontius Pilate. Both the Nicene and the Apostles Creed place these two persons back to back, in opposition as it were:

Nicene Creed

I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, …
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.

Apostles Creed

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.


The creeds clearly place the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit and the birth of our Lord of the Virgin Mary over against the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, at the hands of the fifth Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. The only woman mentioned is honored in her obedience; the only man mentioned is dishonored for rejecting the truth and putting to death the Son of God. Thus we see the fulfillment of the Protoevangelium: for of the seed of the woman our Lord was born for the purpose of being delivered for our offenses, but raised for our justification. Thus Pilate was Satan’s instrument by which Christ’s heel was bruised; the Virgin Mary’s was God’s instrument through whose obedience the serpent’s head was crushed beneath Christ’s heel.

The creedal title “Virgin Mary” is quite interesting. In Part II we discussed the prophecy of Isaiah that a virgin would conceive, and a virgin would bear a son. The Son of God was became incarnate of the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary, without impacting her virginity. In like fashion the incarnate Word was born of the virgin Mary without affecting her virginity. Thus in using the title of Virgin Mary, we confess Mary to be virgin still. Every time we use the title Virgin Mary we are making a statement about the perpetual virginity of Mary, for no one is called a virgin once they cease to be a virgin.

The Athanasian Creed

The Athanasian Creed expresses the seriousness with which the church fathers treated doctrinal matters. The Athanasian Creed begins by stating: “Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all else, hold the true catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish for eternity.” The Trinitarian half of the Athanasian Creed ends with this statement: “Whoever whishes to be saved must think thus about the Trinity.” Then the Christological half of the Athanasian Creed begins as follows: “It is also necessary for eternal salvation that one faithfully believe that our Lord Jesus Christ became man.” The Athanasian Creed ends as it began: “This is the true Christian [in the Latin, “catholic”] faith. Unless a man believe this firmly and faithfully, he cannot be saved.” With these words, known as the “damnatory clauses”, the error of those who believe doctrine does not matter is laid bare.

The Athanasian Creed stands firmly over and against those who would separate the Word from doctrine; those who make experience the arbiter of faith; and those for whom faith is a matter of good works instead of an orthodox doctrinal confession. The Athanasian Creed clearly states that one’s salvation depends upon holding to the Christian faith, whole and undefiled. Those who fail to hold firmly and faithfully to the Christian faith, as confessed in the Creed, cannot be saved and will without doubt perish for eternity. Therefore the stakes are high. Eternal destiny is at stake, and it is therefore imperative for us to understand what the Creeds have to say.

The Athanasian Creed stands firmly over and against those who would separate the Word from doctrine; those who make experience the arbiter of faith; and those for whom faith is a matter of good works instead of an orthodox doctrinal confession. The Athanasian Creed clearly states that one’s salvation depends upon holding to the Christian faith, whole and undefiled. Those who fail to hold firmly and faithfully to the Christian faith, as confessed in the Creed, cannot be saved and will without doubt perish for eternity. Therefore the stakes are high. Our eternal destiny is at stake, and it is imperative for us to understand what exactly is confessed in the Creeds.

The Athanasian Creed was not written by Athanasius, but was instead composed around 500 AD. It seems reasonable that the use of Athanasius’ name was to honor the man who saved Christianity from the Arian heresy and maintained the faith against Julian the Apostate. The Athanasian Creed is a confession of the orthodox faith over and against Arianism[ii], Nestorianism[iii], Monophysitism[iv], and Macedonianism[v]. As previously discussed, the opening and closing lines of the Athanasian Creed proclaim its purpose: to proclaim the true Christian faith, without which a man cannot be saved. As the Athanasian Creed is primarily concerned with the proper definition of the triune God, it’s description of Christian doctrine is not as well rounded as that of the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds.


[i] The texts of the Three Ecumenical Christian Creeds are included at the end of this article.

[ii] Arianism: Jesus was a created being, and not God from God — a demigod, if you will.

[iii] Nestorianism: Jesus exists as two persons: the Son of God, and the Son of Man.

[iv] Monophysitism: The belief that Christ had only one nature, as opposed to the Chalcedonian position that Christ has both a divine and a human nature.

[v] Macedonianism: the denial of the full divinity and personhood of the Holy Spirit.