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Lutheran convert from Orthodoxy Christopher Jones on scripture and tradition

22 May
“I am always encouraging you to pay attention not only to what is said here in church, but also, when you are at home, to continue constantly in the practice of reading the divine Scriptures. . . For it is not possible, not possible for anyone to be saved who does not constantly have the benefit of spiritual reading.” (from here ; see also here)

“I am always encouraging you to pay attention not only to what is said here in church, but also, when you are at home, to continue constantly in the practice of reading the divine Scriptures. . . For it is not possible, not possible for anyone to be saved who does not constantly have the benefit of spiritual reading.” (from here ; see also here)

I have been a bit disappointed that my recent post responding to Father Freeman’s piece did not provoke any discussion here or there.*  I really would like to hear what some informed and intelligent Christian people think about what I wrote, but perhaps there are a good number of folks who do not think much of it.

Moving on, here is something else that might be of interest to some in the confessional Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox worlds:  comments made by Christopher Jones on the fine Lutheran blog Pastoral Meanderings, in response to Pastor Peter’s post about “The Sources of Sola Scriptura”.  Christopher Jones is a convert from Eastern Orthodoxy to confessional Lutheranism:

“The Lutheran insistence on the supreme authority of Scripture does not mean that the other witnesses to the Church’s Tradition are of no authority whatsoever, nor does it mean that it is necessary, desirable, or even possible to read and understand the Holy Scriptures apart from those other witnesses to the Tradition, or outside the context of the ongoing liturgical life of the Church. The Lutheran understanding of the authority of Scripture is that, within the context of the ongoing life of the Church, and among all of the various witnesses to the Church’s Tradition, the Holy Scriptures are of supreme authority.….

As to the [tendency of Catholics and Orthodox to minimize the authority of Scripture that is witnessed to by the Fathers], I yield to no man in my insistence that the Holy Tradition of the Apostolic Church is the reliable means by which we receive saving truth. But that very Tradition itself witnesses to the centrality of Holy Scriptures among the various witnesses to the Tradition. The testimony of the Fathers to the supreme authority of Scripture (so often cited by Lutherans) is authentic and cannot be gainsaid. The Fathers’ testimony to the authority of Tradition cannot be pitted against their testimony to the authority of Scripture. Instead their testimony to the authority of Tradition must be understood as defining the context within which Scripture is supreme — but within which Scripture must be read.

When I was Orthodox, Dr Golitzin (now Bishop Alexander of Toledo) taught us that the Holy Scriptures are “the pre-eminent and normative witness to the Apostolic Tradition.” I have no qualms about affirming that statement as a Lutheran. And I fear that some of my Catholic and Orthodox friends tend to minimize the word “normative” in that quotation.”

I would argue with Christopher about one of his points a bit – we had a brief discussion here (in the comments) about the word “possible” in the first paragraph above. I would be welcome to that conversation continuing if Mr. Jones has the time.

That said, I want to point out where Christopher and myself are in firm agreement.  Yes, sometimes confessional Lutherans might seem to talk as if faithful tradition does not matter (the useful shorthand of “Scripture alone” for example).  But who are the clergy – the “office of the ministry” – if not the captains of the faithful “traditioners”?  Faithful persons have always been necessary – to record the Scriptures, to faithfully pass them down, and to explain as we are able – as we have been given to do – the mysteries of the faith.  

But one might object: Is it not most certainly true that God has warned us against trust in man?  And is it also not most certainly true that He never exhorts us to trust in another fallen human being?

Yes – it is indeed.  And yet, as I recently noted in the comments section of another blog:

*unavoidably*, we really do trust the men *who urge us not to trust in men* (for example, Exodus 15:31 says, “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant”), but to stay with the divinely revealed faith once delivered to all the saints – which means perpetually fleeing back to the Scriptures to test all things, particularly those things that seem wrong or unfamiliar (Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11)!

So, in Luther and others like him, we really do hear the Shepherd’s voice.  I urge you to give him your ear.

In other Lutheran/Eastern Orthodox news… people can check out the fine podcast by Lutheran pastor Jordan Cooper (convert from Calvinism), where he intelligently discusses and critiques former Lutheran pastor John Genig’s First Things article about his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.

FIN

*UPDATE: On Father Freeman’s blog he wrote to me: “I posted a reply to your article but it seems to have not appeared.”

“The Lutheran insistence on the supreme authority of Scripture does not mean that the other witnesses to the Church’s Tradition are of no authority whatsoever, nor does it mean that it is necessary, desirable, or even possible to read and understand the Holy Scriptures apart from those other witnesses to the Tradition, or outside the context of the ongoing liturgical life of the Church. The Lutheran understanding of the authority of Scripture is that, within the context of the ongoing life of the Church, and among all of the various witnesses to the Church’s Tradition, the Holy Scriptures are of supreme authority…..As to the second point, I yield to no man in my insistence that the Holy Tradition of the Apostolic Church is the reliable means by which we receive saving truth. But that very Tradition itself witnesses to the centrality of Holy Scriptures among the various witnesses to the Tradition. The testimony of the Fathers to the supreme authority of Scripture (so often cited by Lutherans) is authentic and cannot be gainsaid. The Fathers’ testimony to the authority of Tradition cannot be pitted against their testimony to the authority of Scripture. Instead their testimony to the authority of Tradition must be understood as defining the context within which Scripture is supreme — but within which Scripture must be read.When I was Orthodox, Dr Golitzin (now Bishop Alexander of Toledo) taught us that the Holy Scriptures are “the pre-eminent and normative witness to the Apostolic Tradition.” I have no qualms about affirming that statement as a Lutheran. And I fear that some of my Catholic and Orthodox friends tend to minimize the word “normative” in that quotation.” – See more at: http://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-sources-of-sola-scriptura.html#sthash.ZBw6YR3E.dpuf
“The Lutheran insistence on the supreme authority of Scripture does not mean that the other witnesses to the Church’s Tradition are of no authority whatsoever, nor does it mean that it is necessary, desirable, or even possible to read and understand the Holy Scriptures apart from those other witnesses to the Tradition, or outside the context of the ongoing liturgical life of the Church. The Lutheran understanding of the authority of Scripture is that, within the context of the ongoing life of the Church, and among all of the various witnesses to the Church’s Tradition, the Holy Scriptures are of supreme authority…..As to the second point, I yield to no man in my insistence that the Holy Tradition of the Apostolic Church is the reliable means by which we receive saving truth. But that very Tradition itself witnesses to the centrality of Holy Scriptures among the various witnesses to the Tradition. The testimony of the Fathers to the supreme authority of Scripture (so often cited by Lutherans) is authentic and cannot be gainsaid. The Fathers’ testimony to the authority of Tradition cannot be pitted against their testimony to the authority of Scripture. Instead their testimony to the authority of Tradition must be understood as defining the context within which Scripture is supreme — but within which Scripture must be read.When I was Orthodox, Dr Golitzin (now Bishop Alexander of Toledo) taught us that the Holy Scriptures are “the pre-eminent and normative witness to the Apostolic Tradition.” I have no qualms about affirming that statement as a Lutheran. And I fear that some of my Catholic and Orthodox friends tend to minimize the word “normative” in that quotation.” – See more at: http://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-sources-of-sola-scriptura.html#sthash.ZBw6YR3E.dpuf
“The Lutheran insistence on the supreme authority of Scripture does not mean that the other witnesses to the Church’s Tradition are of no authority whatsoever, nor does it mean that it is necessary, desirable, or even possible to read and understand the Holy Scriptures apart from those other witnesses to the Tradition, or outside the context of the ongoing liturgical life of the Church. The Lutheran understanding of the authority of Scripture is that, within the context of the ongoing life of the Church, and among all of the various witnesses to the Church’s Tradition, the Holy Scriptures are of supreme authority…..As to the second point, I yield to no man in my insistence that the Holy Tradition of the Apostolic Church is the reliable means by which we receive saving truth. But that very Tradition itself witnesses to the centrality of Holy Scriptures among the various witnesses to the Tradition. The testimony of the Fathers to the supreme authority of Scripture (so often cited by Lutherans) is authentic and cannot be gainsaid. The Fathers’ testimony to the authority of Tradition cannot be pitted against their testimony to the authority of Scripture. Instead their testimony to the authority of Tradition must be understood as defining the context within which Scripture is supreme — but within which Scripture must be read.When I was Orthodox, Dr Golitzin (now Bishop Alexander of Toledo) taught us that the Holy Scriptures are “the pre-eminent and normative witness to the Apostolic Tradition.” I have no qualms about affirming that statement as a Lutheran. And I fear that some of my Catholic and Orthodox friends tend to minimize the word “normative” in that quotation.” – See more at: http://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-sources-of-sola-scriptura.html#sthash.ZBw6YR3E.dpuf
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17 Comments

Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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17 responses to “Lutheran convert from Orthodoxy Christopher Jones on scripture and tradition

  1. Chris Jones

    May 22, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    I would be welcome to that conversation continuing if Mr. Jones has the time.

    I had to remind myself of that earlier conversation. The point at issue there was whether the Scriptures are clear enough that a curious and educated atheist could discern their primary message.

    It occurs to me on further reflection that we may be talking past one another: what you are affirming and what I am denying may be two different things. It is possible, I suppose (though I think it quite unlikely), that our curious atheist could understand what the message of the Bible is, apart from the public ministry of the Church; but I do not believe that he could come to faith in Jesus Christ apart from the public ministry of the Church — no matter how clearly he might understand the message of the Bible in the abstract.

    What matters is not understanding, but faith, which does not come from private reading. The Apostle tells us that faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (διὰ ῥήματος Χριστοῦ). And ῥήματος refers not to the written word, but to the public, spoken announcement of the Good News. That is what Augustana V is referring to when it declares that the Holy Ghost, who works faith, is given through the public ministry of the Church.

     
  2. infanttheology

    May 22, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Chris,

    Thanks for commenting – very interesting comments. It would be interesting to know if there are any solid Christians out there who would say that they really and truly know they came to faith simply by reading the Scriptures. My guess would be that it is rather hard to disentangle private reading from the public proclamation and the individual Christians one meets and knows. Of course before Augustine heard the command to tolle lege, we know that he was familiar with many Christians.

    Hmm… hearing – now you have me wondering about the hypothetical atheist with no Christian friends or family who gets an audio version of the Scriptures… In any case, I think we would agree once again that our ideal is to have Christians everywhere speaking the oracles of God whenever they get the opportunity (like in this post I did: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/there-is-nothing-better-than-boasting-christians/)

    Anyone with relevant personal experiences please do share.

    +Nathan

     
  3. Trent

    May 25, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Heyo, sirs.

    Very glad to have stumbled upon the blog. Fine essay, this.

    I wonder if I might put a fly in the ointment:

    In the Confessions there is a spot where the young Augustine comes upon a man who is reading Scripture (I think) silently to himself. He finds this incredibly odd, as it was usually not customary to read silently, almost unheard of (pun intended) — much in the same way that nowadays it is not customary to read aloud to oneself. I wonder if we might be making too much of the distinction between the written and spoken word in this context. Typically, people make too little of this distinction, going so far as to say that oral “Sacred Tradition” is just as valid and sure as the written word. But in the Graeco-Hebrew culture in which St. Paul wrote, one who read the Scriptures was likely hearing them, too, for he read them to himself.

    Even if one isn’t reading the Scriptures out loud, I’m not comfortable with making the physiological dimension of hearing (sound-waves striking the eardrum, etc.) the narrow gate through which the Holy Spirit is able to create faith and regenerate hearts, and outside of which He is powerless. I don’t know what basis we would have for saying that. I’m not convinced that this is what St. Paul is saying when he says that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”; rather, I think we should pay more mind to the second half of the verse: hearing comes through the pneustos of Christ, which works through means, yes (it is not an inner light, as enthusiasts ancient and modern imagine). But it seems to be going a bridge too far to say that because pneustos most literally means spirated “voiced” speech, that it is not operative through written text. This is the pneustos of Christ the God-Man, after all.

    Oh, and this is a long quote from Chemnitz on the divine precedent for written revelation, but it’s a good one:

    This consideration needs to be repeated in somewhat greater depth, that we are able to observe in sacred history from the beginning of the world, how often and in how many ways the purity of the Word of God was adulterated and corrupted by the cunning of the devil, the offenses of the world, and the willfulness of reason, and on the other hand, with what fatherly concern for His church God looked out for the restoration and preservation of the purity of His Word against the corruptions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

    I have summed up the history of 2,454 years from the beginning of the world more briefly than the magnitude of the material deserves, during which time the heavenly doctrine, revealed in the divine Word, was propagated and handed down without a divinely inspired Scripture, only by the living voice, by those who had divinely called and confirmed for this by heavenly revelations and other testimonies. We have, however, shown, with how little faithfulness that tradition, which had been received from the patriarchs, was retained and preserved by their descendants. For Scripture shows that it was repeatedly corrupted, adulterated, and perverted by those whose duty it was to preserve, propagate, and deliver to others the traditions received from the fathers. The examples show what kind of guardianship and preservation of the heavenly doctrine is exercised by later generations […]. But this is worthy of consideration, when the purity of the doctrine was not being preserved through the traditions and God no longer wanted to use this way, namely, that when corruptions arose, He would subsequently repeat, restore, and preserve through new and special revelations the purity of that doctrine which from the beginning of the world had been revealed and transmitted to the patriarchs — it is worthy of observation, I say, what other way He Himself instituted and showed at the time of Moses, namely that by means of writings, approved and confirmed by divine authority and testimony, the purity of the heavenly doctrine should be propagated and preserved, in order that, when questions or controversies would arise about the old, genuine, and pure teaching of the patriarchs, new and special revelations might not always have to be sought and looked for.

    It does much to shed light on the dignity and authority of Holy Scripture that God Himself not only instituted and commanded the plan of comprehending the heavenly doctrine in writing but that He also initiated, dedicated, and consecrated it by writing the words of the Decalog with His own fingers […]. Therefore God Himself with His own fingers made a beginning of writing in order that He might show how much importance is to be attached to this method, according to which the purity of the doctrine is to be preserved to posterity by writings (Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Vol. I).

     
  4. infanttheology

    May 27, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Trent,

    Thanks for your contribution here. I think you are basically on target with your comments here. I know Luther himself (don’t have the quotes handy) explicitly talked about how we should not make too much of the distinction between hearing and reading. Re: the stuff about how persons in the ancient world read out loud when reading to themselves, there is an good article by Thomas Winger that goes into more depth about that: http://www.csl.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/April-2003.pdf (“The Spoken word: what’s up with orality?)

    Winger’s whole dissertation on which the article is based can be found here: http://www.brocku.ca/concordiaseminary/winger/Winger_Epistles,_Apostles,_and_Orality_%28ThD%29.pdf

    In any case, we would be remiss to point out that in spite of the points that we are making, the Lutheran church from the very beginning emphasized the oral and preached word. Hence Luther with his “the church is a mouth house” comments.

    Yes, great Chemnitz quote. That is terrific stuff from the Examen.

    +Nathan

     
  5. White

    June 10, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    “The Fathers’ testimony to the authority of Tradition cannot be pitted against their testimony to the authority of Scripture. Instead their testimony to the authority of Tradition must be understood as defining the context within which Scripture is supreme — but within which Scripture must be read.”

    I’m sorry, but what does this mean???

     
    • Christopher Jones

      June 12, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      Dear White,

      Thanks for your question about a comment that I wrote over three years ago. My writing style can sometimes be overly compact and rely too much on context that not all readers share. I think this comment had those faults, and I will try to unpack it for you.

      The question that I was addressing is whether the Fathers of the Church — the prominent Christian writers of the first Christian millennium who were the champions of orthodoxy, and heroes of the faith — believed in and taught the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The record in the writings of the Fathers is mixed. Sometimes they spoke about the authority of Scripture in terms that seem very close to what the Protestant Reformers taught; other times they spoke very highly of the authority of Tradition, in a way that seems very close to what Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox believe.

      If you want to understand what the Church Fathers believed and taught about Scripture and Tradition, you have to take into account everything that they wrote on the subject. If (to take one example) Basil of Caesarea writes one thing that sounds like Sola Scriptura, but in another place he writes something that sounds like “Tradition is authoritative” (which, of course, he does), you can’t just take the one that you agree with and say “this one is Basil’s real teaching.” If you are going to be intellectually honest, you have to take both writings and realize that both of them are aspects of what Basil of Caesarea taught. The same goes, of course, for other Church Fathers (such as John Chrysostom and Cyril of Jerusalem) who commented on the authority of Scripture and of Tradition).

      That is what I meant when I wrote The Fathers’ testimony to the authority of Tradition cannot be pitted against their testimony to the authority of Scripture — you can’t just take the one you agree with and reject the other; you have to see how the two views are integrated in the overall thought and teaching of the Fathers.

      My answer to how these two views are integrated in the thought of the Fathers is that, for the Fathers, Scripture is indeed the supreme authority, but the Apostolic Tradition is the context within which the Scriptures must be understood and interpreted. You can’t just make up your own interpretation of Scripture; the way that faithful, orthodox Christians have interpreted Scripture through the centuries has considerable weight. It is my opinion that the Church Fathers had this approach to the relationship between Tradition and Scripture.

      That is what I meant when I wrote Instead their testimony to the authority of Tradition must be understood as defining the context within which Scripture is supreme — but within which Scripture must be read.

      Back to the original question: did the Fathers believe and teach the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura? It depends. If Sola Scriptura means reading and interpreting the Scriptures as an individual, without meaningful reference to the way the historic Church as understood Scripture from the beginning, then the answer is No — the Church Fathers certainly did not teach Sola Scriptura in that sense. If, on the other hand, Sola Scriptura means that the Scriptures are the supreme authority, but are to be read as the historic Church has always understood them (which I take to be the confessional Lutheran view), then the answer Yes — that is exactly what the Church Fathers taught.

      I hope that this longer comment is helpful in explaining what I meant by that terse and perhaps cryptic comment. I hope this comment is not just longer, but no clearer.

       
      • White

        June 12, 2017 at 5:05 pm

        thank you for the in depth reply on this! It is clear you are more knowledged in this regard than I am, and it seems like the only way for me to verify what you’re saying would be to read the Church Fathers in all its context. Sigh… the joy and the pain of being a Sola Scriptura adherent!

         
  6. Nathan A. Rinne

    June 11, 2017 at 10:48 am

    White,

    First of all – who is that quote above from? Me? Jones? Trent? (sorry – I don’t have time to read the whole post and correspondence at the moment, but I’d like to look at it in some context).

    Offhand, what I wrote here comes to mind:

    The unique theological situation in the 16th century church, where Rome used not only the Vulgate but these books (apocrypha) in particular against the Lutheran Reformers, resulted in them being excluded from Lutheran Bibles in the future. Again, the fact is that the church had never given these books pride of place, and had not, until Rome countered Luther, ever used these books to argue for doctrines. Insofar as Rome persists in doing this, I think it is reasonable for us to insist on keeping the Apocrypha out of the Canon altogether (note that if it were in our Bibles, it would not necessarily need to be “Scripture” – Jesus Himself, after all, only says to accept what the Pharisees teach in Matthew 23:2, and there is no indication that this would have included the Apocrypha, as seen, for instance, from the decision made at the council of Jamnia in 90 A.D.).

    How did the Pharisees teach Scripture even if they didn’t do so rightly? That is what was read in the Synagogues. They acknowledged the supreme authority of certain books even as they mitigated it by what they said elsewhere and in their lives.

    +Nathan

     
    • M. Carver

      June 11, 2017 at 7:25 pm

      Nathan, at what point in time were the apocrypha excluded? I see the 1545 edition of Luther’s Bible has 9 apocryphal writings in their own section between the Testaments. They seem to be included at least till the 19th c. revisions.

       
      • White

        June 13, 2017 at 8:07 am

        hi m.carver

        Literally when the Bible was first translated into the English version

        The Apocrypha was excluded to save printing costs. Not even kidding

         
      • M. Carver

        June 13, 2017 at 1:27 pm

        . . . “resulted in them being excluded from Lutheran Bibles in the future.”
        English Bibles ≠ Lutheran Bibles

         
  7. Nathan A. Rinne

    June 11, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Offhand, what I wrote here comes to mind – that’s from this post on the Byzantine text: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/?s=byzantine+text+barth+strawn

     
  8. White

    June 11, 2017 at 11:39 am

    It is a quote from a gentleman named Christopher Jones. In response to the Catholic/Orthodox claim that the Church Fathers gave authority to both Scriptures and Tradition, to which he replied:

    “The Fathers’ testimony to the authority of Tradition cannot be pitted against their testimony to the authority of Scripture. Instead their testimony to the authority of Tradition must be understood as defining the context within which Scripture is supreme — but within which Scripture must be read.”

     
  9. TDD

    June 11, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Wow. Three year necropost. Nice work, White.

    Nathan, the 1545 Luther Bibel contains the Deuterocanon/Apocrypha, albeit in a section at the end. Lutheran Bibles actually continued to contain the Apocrypha up until the transition to English, i.e., the AV/KJV. Pastor Weedon makes this point here in CPH’s promo video for their edition of the Apocrypha. Martin Chemnitz, in his Enchiridion suggests that the OT deuterocanon carries the same authoritative weight as the NT antilegomena, to wit: doctrine cannot be established solely on the basis of such books; more to the point, it wasn’t and thus isn’t (which is why, ultimately, purgatory doesn’t pass a scriptural smell-test).

    How do we know that the deuterocanonical books are not inspired? Or, rather, do we know that these books are not inspired, i.e., “not Scripture”? One wonders why Luther himself preached on pericopes taken from deuterocanonical books if they were not Scripture— take, for example, his sermon for St. John’s Day. One also wonders whether his opinion on this matter was uniform throughout his life, or if a certain edginess was present during early Reformation-era polemics which was later tempered.

     
    • White

      June 12, 2017 at 5:11 pm

      well considering there will always be people interested in Orthodox theology, plus the fact that Lutherans are one of the few Protestant denominations left not to kiss goodbye to their brains (lol) I won’t be surprised if there are people who necro this post 10 years from now. Lol.

       
  10. Nathan A. Rinne

    June 12, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Trent,

    Thanks. Really interesting.

    White,

    I get the first part of the quote – its the “but” I’m not sure about. Is that what you are wondering about also?

    +Nathan

     
    • White

      June 12, 2017 at 5:09 pm

      indeed. i was wondering how he saw the Fathers’ statements on Tradition as actually supporting the authority of Scripture. The “but” part was confusing too, yes

       

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