Confession: I read a lot.
I read books I agree with.... books I don't agree with....books that are a bit over my head....books on subjects I'm interested in....books on subjects I'm not particularly interested in....and books that are just mindlessly entertaining. I read books about philosophy, science (remember those books that are a bit over my head?) and history. I devour theology like it's the latest teen fiction craze to take over Barnes and Noble.
But one of my favorite things to do just before I go to bed is read the Church Fathers. Oh, how I love the Fathers. Whenever I read something a bit "heady" or confusing, I head over to consult with Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, and Augustine. These guys were dead serious about Jesus and were not messing around when it came to their faith. They were flawed like the rest of us and were certainly fallible—but they help us understand Christianity as it was expressed in their times and cultures.
In fact, hop on over to Amazon and pick up The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection and read them for yourself. It's only $2.99 on Kindle, which is an amazing value. Where else can you get 1,000 books containing sixteen million words for less than three bucks? (Seriously...click the link and buy it and then come back and read the rest of this article.)
Ok, you're back now. Hi.
One thing I regularly encounter on social media is the idea that the early Church Fathers didn't see the Bible as inerrant, authoritative, and inspired by God—that somehow these concepts are modern inventions of the evangelical world. As an avid reader of the Fathers, I find this notion perplexing. What did the Fathers think about the Bible? There isn't enough space in one blog post to contain it all, so I'll just let some of them speak for themselves.
Clement of Rome
Clement was a first-century Christian who became the leader of the church in Rome. We know from Irenaeus and Tertullian (we'll get to them in a minute), that Clement personally knew the apostles and was ordained by Peter himself. (1) In fact, it is possible that he is the very "Clement" mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3. (Church Father Origen and historian Eusebius thought so!) Here's what he said about the Bible:
Clement equated the words of Scripture with the very words of God.
Justin was a philosopher who lived in the early second century. He came to faith in Christ and became one of the first apologists for Christianity, even writing a letter to the Roman Emperor defending Christianity after persecution broke out against it. He was ultimately arrested for his faith and beheaded—thus earning him the name "Martyr." Here's what he said about the Bible:
Justin understood that the Bible was written by men, but it was God speaking through them.
Irenaeus was a late second-century theologian and apologist who learned from Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John. (4) He is most famous for his seminal work, Against Heresies, in which he refuted one of the earliest heresies to invade Christianity—Gnosticism. To do this, he used a lot of Scripture. Here's what he said about the Bible:
Even though the doctrine of inerrancy hadn't been hammered out, Irenaeus knew that the Scriptures were without falsehood.
Like Irenaeus, Tertullian was another late second-century theologian and apologist who refuted Gnosticism. A prolific writer, he was known as the father of Latin Christianity. Here's what he said about the Bible:
Tertullian believed that the Bible had authority over him....that the truths of God's Word were not suggestions, but commands.
I've saved the best for last. Anyone who knows me knows I'm quite partial to Augustine. When I read his Confessions, I felt as though I had time-warped into the heart of fourth century Christianity and found a kindred soul. Almost no one in the history of the Church has had a more profound influence on the way Christians think. So much so, that you'll often find two people on opposite sides of a theological debate both using Augustine to make their point! Augustine loved Christ and he loved the Bible. In fact, he wrote so much on the subject that it was very difficult to narrow it down for this blog post:
Augustine also wrote:
A lot can be said of Augustine's view of Scripture. I highly recommend reading Confessions to see for yourself. But here he expresses his belief that Scripture was like reading something written by the very hand of God—incapable of containing anything false or contradictory.
Clearly, these Church Fathers had a deep love, reverence, and respect for Scripture. They believed that it was inspired by God, fully authoritative, and truthful. This is the legacy that has been passed down to us, and we would be wise to embrace it.
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(1) Ireneaus, Against Heresies, 3.3.3; Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, XXXII
(2) Clement, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, XIII
(3) Justin Martyr, First Apology, XXXVI
(4) Ireneaus, Against Heresies, 3.3.3
(5) Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.28.2
(6) Tertullian, On Exhortation to Chastity, 4
(7) Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels, 1.35.54; Letters, 23.3.3
(8) Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaeans, Book XI, 5.
(9) Augustine, Confessions, Book 7.14