EHans: I think creeds have their value and by us reading and studying them we acknowledge the truth of Romans 12:6-7 where it specifically talks of the gift of teaching, and other verses that more generally speak of gifts. If we say that creeds, books, etc. have no value and we are only to look at scripture, then we actually deny the teaching of scripture!
However, scripture is the final word, and while I respect teachers, I also acknowledge that many with the gift of teaching teach different interpretations. Age of the earth, how God’s foreknowledge works, the nature of the trinity, etc. are just a few examples.
So in this, I’ll quote the great teacher Augustine; “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
RON: Creeds, by their very nature, are restrictive and divisive. The so-called creedal statements by the apostles, Moses (others) are divinely inspired and, thus, have their origin in God. That does not warrant man-made creeds. Though I understand the rational for such things, I am not one to promote or support. I live by 1 Peter 4:11 and 1 John 4:1, 6. It seems to me one can’t go wrong with that approach.
IAN: You can go wrong with that approach- easily. Historically, most heretics espouse biblicist rhetoric, i.e. Arius claiming his Christology is the plain reading of biblical texts. The apostolic testimony is key to understanding Scripture rightly, and the rule of faith is the grid through which we must read the Bible. Your position is anachronistic, because how do you cling to orthodoxy in the first century when there is no 1 Peter or 1 John? You cling to the apostolic testimony and read the OT along the contours of the rule of faith. The creeds preserve the apostolic deposit by answering new biblicist challenges according to the ruled reading of the canon the apostolic testimony demands. Furthermore, you are incorrect in saying the creeds in the Bible all find their origin in God: the “faithful sayings” of the Pastoral Epistles, for instance, were devised by men of the first century church which Paul cites with approval, same with the hymn or creed of Philippians 2. God saw fit to enscripturate man made credal statements in his Word, so we shouldn’t despise formulae devised creatures in an effort to be pious.
RON: this is why oral debates in public are crucial. What one asserts is one thing, but sustaining the assertion is entirely a different matter. No, my position is NOT anachronistic; it is in accordance with Jude 3 (which is either true or false), coupled with 2 Peter 1:3. No, I am not incorrect. Did Paul writing [write] by the authority of God? If he did (and he did), then that which he wrote gave divine authority to his words.
IAN: Yes, your position is anachronistic [referring to RT]. You are reaching conclusions about the non-normativity of creeds using biblical texts that chronologically follow the existence of those creeds which were absolutely not inspired by God. God gave his approval to them in the act of inspiring the New Testament documents, but don’t forget that those documents weren’t dictated by God- Paul and the others were composing arguments using the logic and grammar of the faith they and the churches shared and had been baptized into and had been formalized as “the faith that is believed” precisely through creedal statements that systematized that faith as a coherent portrait of the implications of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, bringing YHWH’s promises to Israel to fulfillment, etc. Again, it is decades before all of the NT documents are all collected and available to all of the churches: that is why it’s anachronistic to argue as though your situation, in which you have your complete Bible of 66 books sitting on your end table, is the same scenario the first century church found itself within. For the first two centuries of its existence the one set of texts the Christian churches were guaranteed to have was the OT, and coupled with it the rule of faith as hermeneutical key to properly understanding the OT as witness to Christ. The faith of the first and second century church was consistent with the apostolic writings because the apostolic writings emerged from the apostolic testimony which was codified in the slogans and creedal statements that contributed to the eventual development of the Apostles Creed and subsequent to that the Nicene Creed, etc. These creeds are essential to defining the faith because the fullness of Christian faith is found not only in the explicit statements of Scripture but just as much in the implications of the Scriptural witness. The creeds investigated those implications and pronounced decisively what was consistent with the faith (the biblical witness and the apostolic testimony) and what was not. Arius, Valentin, etc. all based their heretical views upon exegesis of biblical texts and defied the constraint of these creedal pronouncements by saying, “This is the plain reading of these texts”, hence the warning about biblicist defiance of creeds. You cannot be biblical without being critical. To suppose otherwise is ahistorical misunderstanding that puts too much credence in individual interpretation of Scripture.
RON: This is a lot like arguing for “Q” – you know, that source material that no one seems to know anything about with regard to its actual existence, but that many academics are certain exists! That Paul used the educated style of writing that was prevalent during his day has only limited use in the authority/origin of creedal statements. It appears to me you misread what it was that I said. It is either true or false that which Jude wrote in what we know as “Jude 3.” If it is true, then the faith (spoken orally and/or written) was already revealed to those who lived during the first century. Now, will you argue that it is false what Jude said? If it is true, then either God revealed it, or He did not. Paul wrote, expressly, that what he wrote (said) was directly from God, and that he received it from no man (1 Corinthians 14:37; Galatians 1:11-12). That which Paul wrote is either true or false. For which one will you argue? The interpretation of a biblical text will stand or fall on its own merit. There are some who like the historical theological approach to Scripture; whatever value there might be in that, a historical-grammatical-contextual approach will do justice to the text. For me, the presupposition in place is that God authored the text, giving His inspired writers that which He wanted them to say (in their own individual stylistic ways).
IAN: It’s nothing like arguing for Q: we know these baptismal and creedal formulae exist, we know they were used in conjunction with the OT canon as the church’s Scripture while the NT was being composed/circulated. What you are not recognizing is anachronistic is that yes, Jude 3 is absolutely true. What Jude says there is inspired by God and true. But it in no way means that the doctrine of the Trinity was revealed once for all in that historical moment to the church, or the hypostatic union, or any number of other doctrinal developments that were codified through the church examining the Scriptures and explicitly formulating what was implicit within the canon as concrete historical circumstances necessitated tighter dogmatic definitions.
ALEX GEORGE: I don’t agree with Ron’s point that “Creeds, by their very nature, are restrictive and divisive.” It can indeed be true, but one could just as easily say that every sermon ever preached is restrictive and divisive! Creeds, like teaching in general, can be *used* in a divisive way, but that is the fault of us sinful men, not of the creed or the teaching.
But I don’t understand your question: “how do you cling to orthodoxy in the first century when there is no 1 Peter or 1 John?”
Jesus gave his Apostles absolute authority to rule his church and to convey his Word to it (Eph 3:5; 2 Peter 3:2). Both 1 Peter and 1 John were written while the Apostles were still on this earth, and were accepted by the church as authoritative. The entire scripture was written and complete before the last Apostle left this earth, so where is any gap in authority?
“The apostolic testimony is key to understanding Scripture rightly” Sure, but Scripture IS the apostolic testimony. It is true that no part of Scripture should be interpreted so as to conflict with another part.
“the rule of faith is the grid through which we must read the Bible”
The “rule of faith” actually is the Bible. Tertullian used the expression at the end of the second century, but he means by it the rule which Scripture exercises over our lives: “Let us see what milk the Corinthians drank from Paul; to what rule of faith the Galatians were brought for correction; what the Philippians, the Thessalonians, the Ephesians read by it; ….” [Tert. Contra Marcion, Bk IV, Chap 5] Yet in any case, the thing of primary importance is what the Apostles taught on this – after all, they were the ones commissioned by Christ to deliver His words to the church, not Tertullian. And they do ot suggest any grid through which their scripture must be read.
The creeds are great summaries of Christian doctrine, which are still useful today to remind us how to fight off certain old heresies that still lurk around, waiting their chance to contaminate the Church again. But the Creeds aren’t Scripture; rather. they are useful summaries of doctrinal points found in Scripture.
The scriptures tell us that New Testament documents were being circulated as scripture long before the last Apostle left the earth (1 Tim 5:18, 2 Peter 3:16) which meant that the Church was always under the authority of the apostles or their writings.
The testimony of the church fathers tells the same story: the scriptures in their entirety were known to the early Church, and the Church moved seamlessly from being under the authority of the Apostles to being under the authority of the Apostles’ written teaching:
“We have known the method of our salvation by no other means than those by whom the gospel came to us; which gospel they truly preached; but afterward; by the will of God, they delivered to us in the Scriptures, to be for the future the foundation and pillar of our faith” (Irenaeus, Adv. H. 3:1)
“Well, then, Marcion ought to be called to a strict account concerning these (other three Gospels) also, for having omitted them, and insisted in preference on Luke; as if they, too, had not had free course in the churches, as well as Luke’s Gospel, from the beginning. Nay, it is even more credible that they existed from the very beginning; for, being the work of apostles, they were prior, and coeval in origin with the churches themselves.” (Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 4.5)
IAN: [referring to Alex]: “The scriptures tell us that New Testament documents were being circulated as scripture long before the last Apostle left the earth (1 Tim 5:18, 2 Peter 3:16) which meant that the Church was always under the authority of the apostles or their writings.”
No debate, I’m only reminding everyone that the apostles’ teaching authority predate the enscripturation of that teaching authority, and even then I’m no in way trying to denigrate the later arrival of Scripture, only emphasizing how the early creedal formulae and rule of faith represent the apostolic teaching in the same way, such that we can’t interpret Scripture rightly if we say, “These formulae and hermeneutical programs are manmade and therefore to be rejected in favor of Scripture exclusively.” That is the all too prevalent evangelical contention I am denying as forcefully as possible.
“The testimony of the church fathers tells the same story: the scriptures in their entirety were known to the early Church, and the Church moved seamlessly from being under the authority of the Apostles to being under the authority of the Apostles’ written teaching.”
ALEX GEORGE: I agree that we are in agreement on most things.
But I don’t think you can say “the early creedal formulae and rule of faith represent the apostolic teaching in the same way”. It’s the last four words that are the problem. There is no evidence that the Apostles creed or the Nicene Creed are of apostolic authorship, nor that they derive from any oral apostolic tradition. Rather, they are formulae that sum up scriptural teaching on critical points, created by godly church leaders centuries after the passing of the apostles.
Scripture is actual apostolic teaching, whereas the creeds derive from Scripture. As Article 8 reminds us (sorry, I’m Anglican!) the Creeds “ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.”
In relation to the phrase “the rule of faith”, neither the Apostles themselves nor the early church fathers used it to refer to an oral tradition preserved in the churches. The “rule of faith” simply meant “the essential things that we learn from scripture”, as per the passage from Tertullian above. Irenaeus uses a different phrase, “the rule of truth”, in the same way. I’m happy to look at any teaching of the church
I agree that there is teaching which rejects anything but the bible, and I don’t agree with it. But I think we have to be equally vigilant not to fall into another error, of treating instruments that derive from apostolic scripture (such as the creeds) as though they have apostolic authority in themselves. We should follow Sola Scriptura in the original sense taught by Grosseteste and after him by Aquinas, that “only scripture” has that special divine quality which all other documents lack.
“because early heretics made the assertions they did by 1) claiming a formal adherence to the biblical texts but 2) setting aside the parameters of the rule of faith precisely as the apostolic hermeneutical rid for rightly understanding Scripture.”
I am just wondering what your source for this is? It is not what I read in the church fathers, e.g. in Irenaeus. Rather, his point is that the fundamental error of such heretics is to take Scripture out of context with itself, and to use outside means to interpret it. For example:
“They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as them lies, dismember and destroy the truth.” [Adv Haer; Bk 1; Chap 8.1]
Irenaeus speaks at one point of a tradition of the apostles preserved in the churches (although this may be no more than what Tertullian refers to, i.e. that each ruling bishop ensured that the scriptures were handed down accurately to his successor), but at no point does he suggest that there is an oral tradition which acts as a grid through which scripture must be read. He exhorts obedience to elders who are part of the established churches, so long as they are of godly speech and conduct, but again, no indication of a special hermeneutic.
And this is borne out by his own arguments against the heretics – here if anywhere we should expect to find the idea of the grid or special hermeneutic, but it is completely absent. Time and again, chapter after chapter, he uses two methods – citation of scripture, and rational argument. The only outside source that he uses in order to elucidate the meaning of a scriptural verse is another verse of scripture.
A classic case is Book V, Chapter 9.1 where he considers the scripture verse that all heretics misinterpret (according to him) i.e. 1 Cor 15:50. Yet his refutation of their arguments says nothing about a special hermeneutic or authoritative church tradition – rather, he uses other scripture passages to show the meaning of this one, as well as logical argument. It’s the same method that most bible preachers would use today.
RON – Creeds are after the time of God’s revelation of His will to man. It is asserted the apostles adopted creedal statements of man and made them part of God’s revelation, but it is not demonstrated. This has been the asserted argument for “Q” through the years as well. The “creed” that sets forth a doctrinal statement affirming the trinity came after the New Testament. Though the New Testament affirms what is called the “trinity,” it is not stated in a “creed” proposition, such as one might think of in 1 Timothy 3:16, also affirmed as a “creed” statement. Whether it is or not, does it have its origin in man or God? Corresponding to what I previously wrote, if it is a creed (or hymn), it has its origin in God, not in man, then affirmed by God.
If the apostles set forth “creeds,” then what they set forth as doctrine is for us to adhere to (1 John 4:6; 1:1-3). On the other hand, if man sets forth “creeds,” then what he sets forth is not simply a believed affirmation of Scripture, but a doctrinal statement wherein if one did not subscribe to it, the outside the fellowship of those who have is the norm. does this apply to sermons? It can. That depends on, however, the what is said.