Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Early Church: How did they interpret the Scriptures?

What were the early Christians like? What were the first churches like? What were the churches like that the Apostles founded? What did those early Christians believe? Did they just baptize adults or did they also baptize infants? Did they pour, immerse or both? Did they believe in Jesus's real presence in the Eucharist?

Yes I can go to the Bible, but I need to interpret and understand the things written in the Bible the way Jesus and the Apostles understood and taught them.

I can't ask Jesus directly. For instance, I can't say "Hey Jesus what did you mean when you said this?" or "Apostles what did Jesus really mean?

One way to get the answers to these questions is to see how the early Christians understood what Jesus and the Apostles taught. What did they believe? These early Christians were taught by the Apostles who were in turn taught directly by Jesus. How did they Interpret Scripture. An Infallible Bible can be interpreted fallibly- so it is indeed important to ask how the Apostles and early church interpreted Scripture. The Bible was not completely written or canonized at this time. The early Church had to rely on the Apostles teaching who in turn taught their successors. Amazingly the early Church looks a lot closer to the Catholic Church today than the reinvented Church of the Reformers or modern fundamentalism.

The Christians that lived in the first Century all have very Catholic views. Not a Baptist among them.

JustAServant (From a forum I read) has put together this timeline (you can compare it to others) This timeline is within a 100 year period between the Resurrection of Christ to Justin Martyr (roughly 130 AD.) Think of it from World War 2 on. There are people still alive to remember the events.

JustAServant does not claim this timeline to be exact, but it's pretty close: He has given me permission to use his thread on my blog.

This list includes the books of the New Testament that were eventually canonized and also many early documents, that have been preserved, that were written at the time of Apostles. They show what these early Christians believed and how they interpreted Jesus's words.

Of course not all these documents became scripture. Some of them are more like finding ancient Church bulletins, ancient Church service outlines, the Pastor's notes, or music hymnals. These things aren't scripture, but you can learn what the early Christians believed and how they interpreted Scripture from them. Just like you can understand how modern fundamentalists understand and interpret the Bible by looking at Scofield and Moody's notes.

c. 30-33 - The death and resurrection of Jesus
c. 35 - The conversion of Paul
40s or 50s - James
c. 45-49 - Paul's first missionary journey
Sometime between 48 and 58 - Paul writes Galatians
c. 50-53 - Paul's second missionary journey
50s - Paul writes Titus
50s or 60s - Mark written (based on oral tradition set down by Peter).
50s or 60s - Matthew written
51 - Paul writes 1 and 2 Thessalonians
c. 53-57 - Paul's third missionary journey
Spring of 55 - Paul writes 1 Corinthians
56 - Paul writes 2 Corinthians
c. 57 - Paul writes Romans
c. 60 - Paul writes Colossians, probably while in prison in Rome
c. 60 - Paul writes Philemon, probably while in prison in Rome
c. 60 - Paul writes Ephesians, probably while in prison in Rome
c. 61 - Paul writes Philippians, while in prison in Rome
Early 60s - Luke written
c. 60-70 - The Didache is written.
c. 62 - Paul is free
c. 62-64 - Luke writes Acts
c. 62-64 - Paul writes 1 Timothy
July 18-19, 64 - The Great Fire of Rome. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians, and a great persecution ensued.
Mid 60s - 1 Peter written
c. 64-68 - Paul writes 2 Timothy from prison
c. 67-68 - 2 Peter
c. 68 - Hebrews is written
June 9, 68 - The death of Nero. Sometime between the Great Fire of Rome and the death of Nero, both Peter and Paul were martyred.
c. 69 - Jude
70 - The Seige of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple
c. 70-80- The Epistle of Barnabus is written.
c. 85 - John written
Late First Century - 1, 2, and 3 John
95- The Epistle of Clement is written..
c. 95-96 - John writes Revelation
c. 60-120- The writings of Papias (only fragments remain).
c. 105- The Epistles of Ignatius are written as he heads for Rome for execution.
c. 105-125- The Epistle of Polycarp is written.
c. 125-130- The Letter to Diognetus is written.
c. 125-130- The Epistle of Aristides is written.
c. 130- The Martyrdom of Polycarp is written.
c. 130-150- The Shepherd of Hermas is written.
c.100-165- The writings of Justin Martyr, much of it written in the 130s.

So, lets see.
The Resurrection is now 70 years old, and here is what Ignatuis says about the Eucharist:

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes
Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2-7:1.

. . . and are now ready to obey your bishop and clergy with undivided minds and to share in the one common breaking of bread – the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Jesus Christ for evermore
Letter to the Ephesians 20.


And, oh dear...look at what the Didache says about Baptism:

After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water, and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Before baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days
Didache 7:1.

And, oh, look what Clement of Rome has to say about Saved by Faith and Works, and Not Faith Alone:

"Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride. 'For God,' saith [the Scripture], 'resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.' Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words."
Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, 30.

"For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith?"
Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, 31.

"All these, therefore, were highly honored, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, 32.


Oh, and compare what Ignatius says about the Eucharist:

...the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.....
Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2-7:1.
to what John wrote in his Gospel just twenty years before:

John 6 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.


Compare this verse Luke wrote in Acts:

Acts 22:16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'
to this statement by Barnabus probably only a decade or so later:

"Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water...we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit." (The Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 11

How did these early first generation Christians describe themselves?

Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as, wherever Jesus Christ is present, there is the Catholic Church
Letter to the Smyrneans 8:2.

When finally he concluded his prayer, after remembering all who had at any time come his way – small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world – the time for departure came. So they placed him on an ***, and brought him into the city on a great Sabbath
The Martyrdom of Polycarp 8.

Father Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham, in ‘Beginning Apologetics 1 (www.catholicapologetics.com) say;

“Please note that the Early Church always accepted the Bishop of Rome as the head of the Church. Around AD 80, the Church of Corinth deposed it’s lawful leaders. The fourth bishop of Rome, Pope Clement I, was called to settle the matter even though St. John the Apostle was still alive and much closer to Corinth than was Rome.

St Irenaus, who was taught by St. Polycarp (a disciple of St. John the Apostle), stresses that Christians must be united to the Church of Rome in order to maintain the Apostolic Tradition. He then lists all the bishops of Rome up to his time.

For 250 years the Roman Emperors tried to destroy Christianity through persecution. In the first 200 years of Christianity, every Pope but one was martyred-the Romans certainly knew who the head of the Church was!”

St. Ignatius of Antioch (AD 110) appointed by St. Peter also recognizes Rome’s Primacy.

Also the books by William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, (Collegeville, MN; Liturgical Press 1970) go into much more detail.
It is a matter of recorded history who the successors of the Apostles were.


"Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry" (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]).

“We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ, in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. (ibid.)


"When I had come to Rome, I [visited] Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And after Anicetus [died], Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In each succession and in each city there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the law, the prophets, and the Lord" (Memoirs, cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4:22 [A.D. 180]).


"1It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about.

"2But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.

"3The blessed apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the church [of Rome], they handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus. Paul makes mention of this Linus in the epistle to Timothy [2 Tim. 4:21]. To him succeeded Anencletus, and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was chosen for the episcopate. He had seen the blessed apostles and was acquainted with them. It might be said that he still heard the echoes of the preaching of the apostles and had their traditions before his eyes. And not only he, for there were many still remaining who had been instructed by the apostles. In the time of Clement, no small dissension having arisen among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome sent a very strong letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace and renewing their faith. . . To this Clement, Evaristus succeeded. . . and now, in the twelfth place after the apostles, the lot of the episcopate [of Rome] has fallen to Eleutherus. In this order, and by the teaching of the apostles handed down in the Church, the preaching of the truth has come down to us.

"4Polycarp 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. To these things all the Asiatic churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time" (Against Heresies 3:3:1-4 [A.D. 189])..
Regarding Clement's Letter to the Corinthians, the point of mentioning this is that it illustrates the authority of the Bishop of Rome exercised over another diocese (Corinth). IOW, the Corinthians accepted Clement's letter and NO ONE questioned Clement's authority to intervene. Why? Precisely because Clement was the successor of Peter, the head of the universal Church.

Also, within a generation we have Justin Martyr's description of the Mass:

St. Justin Martyr - circa 155

On the day we call the day of the sun [Sunday], all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place [the church].

The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits. [The Liturgy of the Word]

When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. [The homily]

Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves . . .and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation. [Prayers of the Faithful]

When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss. [Sign of Peace]

Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. [The Offeratory]

He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts. [The Eucharistic Prayer]

When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.' [The Great Amen]

When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" [this is something special... not just bread] bread [Communion], wine and water and take them to those who are absent.


Robin said...

This is excellent! Great job!

Deeny said...

Thanks - You made my day. I know people come by blog but very few ever comment.