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Featured What's more accurate, Early Church Father writings or modern scholarship?

Discussion in 'General Theology' started by Hmmm!, Oct 18, 2020.

  1. Hmmm!

    Hmmm! Active Member

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    One thing that surprised me when I first started reading on this forum were the frequent appeals to the Early Church Fathers to support an argument. I understand the point being made that the nearer the writer lived to NT times, the better their understanding must be. But is that true? Doesn't a modern theologian or Bible scholar have a better grasp of the language and times that scripture was written in than the early writers could possibly have had and doesn't that make them more accurate in what they tell us about what scripture means?

    Edited to add that I don't have an issue with the Early Church Fathers (or any fathers come to that hopefully!). I was really asking whether Biblical understanding increases over time instead of decreasing, much like science builds on what's gone on before even though it often rewrites it.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
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  2. HIM

    HIM Friend Supporter

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    They are commentaries nothing more. Most if not all preserved by the Catholic Church. Which by the way persecuted people for not believing as they. And was rather staunch on eliminating people and literature that disagreed with their theology.
     
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  3. Tony B

    Tony B Active Member

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    Christians are lead and taught by The Holy Spirit.

    There is scripture that says God is Spirit, and another that says spiritual truths can only be spiritually discerned.

    Jesus said we must be born twice...the second birth refers to our spiritual birth, ie our spirit is brought to life.

    There is a promise from God, that if we are born again then we will receive the indwelling of The Holy Spirit.

    Scripture implies in part that when we receive the indwelling of The Holy Spirit, That Spirit will counsel and comfort us, and lead us into all truth. Therefore He will be teaching each one of us directly, One on one as it were.

    So in my opinion the deduction would be....no, it would make no difference if we were born in Jesus' time or now...we are being taught the exact same truths by the exact same Spirit. He imparts understanding to us, and that understanding is timeless.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2020
  4. Hmmm!

    Hmmm! Active Member

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    Do you think though that sometimes God talks to us through other people? I'm a mathematician and I can't make a coherent argument about Christianity like you or others on here can because I just don't think that way. It consequently seems to me that it's a gift from God to be able to do that.
     
  5. HTacianas

    HTacianas Well-Known Member

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    The sub-apostolic Fathers lived in the times the new testament was written in and were native speakers of the language.
     
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  6. ABCthings

    ABCthings Light

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    Are you sure there are not divine revelations? :yawn:
     
  7. Anthony2019

    Anthony2019 Pax et bonum! CF Ambassadors Supporter

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    A lot of reformed theology has become a major departure from what the church has traditionally taught. A lot of doctrines have come up over the past five centuries, which although defended by using scripture, bear little resemblance to how the early church understood and applied the scriptures. Let's take for example the Eucharist. How can I ignore the very plain words of Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp when they were taught directly by the Apostle John?
     
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  8. public hermit

    public hermit social troglodyte Supporter

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    I think it depends on the issue under consideration, and the early church writer that one uses in support. For instance, I would never appeal to Augustine over an issue concerning the use of some Hebrew term used in the OT because Augustine didn't know Hebrew. But, I might appeal to him to support an argument that sin is a matter of disordered love because he developed the idea. So, it just depends.

    Also, the early church approached biblical interpretation very differently than modern scholars. If I wanted to make an argument that the scriptures are sacramental and reveal more than what is given prima facie, I'm going to use early church writers. If I'm trying to make a point about context and historical import, I'll use a modern scholar. So, again, it just depends.
     
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  9. Gregorikos

    Gregorikos Ordinary Mystic

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    I don't know why we would believe that. Where do you think modern theologians obtain their knowledge of ancient customs and language use? Is it not from the people that lived in that culture and spoke those languages?
     
  10. Hmmm!

    Hmmm! Active Member

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    Yes, but would that knowledge necessarily have been available even as early as one hundred years after the early church times? I'm thinking in particular of the New Perspective on Paul in which its protagonists believe that Christian understanding about Judaism (especially about how Jews did not really differentiate faith from works the way Christians did. For Jews, works followed naturally from faith as obedience would to someone you loved and trusted) up to that point was wrong. They came to this view from talking to and reading actual Jewish theolgians.
     
  11. com7fy8

    com7fy8 Well-Known Member Supporter

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    There are people who pick and choose who they claim to be church fathers. And they likely choose the ones who agree with what they dictate is true. And things they claim are very limited compared with all we have in God's word. Ones keep attention to what is very inferior.

    God's word gives us better. And God used Peter to write scripture, and Peter had been a fisherman who possibly did not know how to read and write. Not only does God make us able to understand Him, but He makes us able to speak and write His word.

    So, with God a person can come from being illiterate to reading God's word, plus to being able to write God's word.

    But many people, it seems to me, never become at home with God's word. But they spend their whole lives depending on commentators who parrot what their groups teach.

    If you consider 1 Thessalonians chapter one > I offer we see here how the Holy Spirit ministers. The Thessalonians became "examples", not just talkers; plus if the Thessalonians got to people before Paul and Silvanus and Timothy did, then Paul and Silvanus and Timothy did not need to say anything. Because God changed the Thessalonians to become able to minister His word, not only to understand it.
     
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  12. Tony B

    Tony B Active Member

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    Yes, that's true. The faith to believe in Jesus, in Who He Is and what He has done, and the understanding He imparts, is a gift from God. Man can't give that faith to another, nor can they materialise it for themselves. I was given the gift of faith from God because I doubted that my denominational or homelife upbringing helped me or my siblings be properly prepared for life. So I went seeking for what would have been a better form of upbringing. God saw that I was seeking, and led me to Jesus Who has taught me what kind of upbringing would have been better for me.

    Christians shouldn't need to teach each other, but if any are thick headed like me, they will need to rub shoulders will fellow believers to learn from their good example, and from their Christian words of advice and counsel.

    I'm pretty strong in maths, and applied logic...hence a career in IT.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2020
  13. fhansen

    fhansen Oldbie

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    I think the ECFs are better able, as a general rule, to give us an accurate understanding of the positions and practices of the early church. Knowing that the church believed and practiced a certain way can help resolve questions where Scripture may be vague or seem ambiguous or even contradictory on some points.
     
  14. Andrewn

    Andrewn Well-Known Member CF Ambassadors Supporter

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    There is a wide spectrum of modern Biblical commentators, eg NT Wright vs Bart Ehrman. And there is a wide spectrum of Reformation theology, eg Calvin vs Arminius. There is also a wide spectrum in early Christian writings, eg Apostolic Fathers vs Naga Hammadi library. It was ultimately the Church that decided on who to call Fathers and who to call heretics.

    Even among the writings of agreed upon Church Fathers, there is big difference in quality. John Chrysostom and Augustine of Hippo were contemporaries. Both are wonderful saints. But I trust the writings of one of them and do not trust the other.

    In everything we trust the Holy Spirit to lead us until the day when we know the whole truth.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
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  15. pescador

    pescador Newbie Supporter

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    No, it's not. Modern translators have vast resources to draw from, including thousands of pieces of writing, in order to translate and interpret ancient languages into modern English (or another receptor language).,

    "Church fathers" had resources available to them but nowhere near the quantity and quality that scholars have today.

    Medicine is an apt comparison. We have far greater knowledge of the human body and medical techniques and applications than ancient physicians had. The same can be applied to Christian wisdom and knowledge.
     
  16. fhansen

    fhansen Oldbie

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    And yet we can have two equally erudite biblical scholars totally at odds with each other on many given Christian truths, going by Scripture alone. One problem is that these most often involve supernatural truths, which are beyond science to begin with. Bible scholarship and theology are good and important disciplines, of course, but not necessarily at all conclusive in positions arrived at.
     
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  17. Norbert L

    Norbert L Well-Known Member Supporter

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    It's been my experience that on several occasions someone has said something that was relevant to an important concern that had been on my mind. Time and chance?

    When it comes to classifying people into a group, it's not as they all agree on everything. Whether it's the church fathers or modern scholars. I would say throwing either one out is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
     
  18. Albion

    Albion Facilitator

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    The Early Church Fathers shouldn't be taken as the only evidence of the original beliefs of the church, and especially not when they disagree among themselves (as often is the case).

    But I disagree with the comparison to scientific research. While there is a point to be made there, establishing the beliefs of the early church is more like taking testimony in court.

    For one thing, the importance of the ECFs, to the extent that they are turned to for answers, is not in them being translators or interpreters of Scripture. It's in their statements about the beliefs of the church and its members at some point in time, most importantly at the time they were personally observing it.

    First-hand witnesses are in a better position to know the actual facts than people who, despite their sincerely and intelligence, are dealing instead with something that has been passed through many hands and over a long period of time.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
  19. Hmmm!

    Hmmm! Active Member

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    What would the other evidences be? I guess there's the Scripture itself and other written evidence about how first century Jews thought about things which could give us an insight into what was in the mind of the writers when they wrote the scriptures. Is there anything else? Are there any Early Church Mothers by the way?
     
  20. Albion

    Albion Facilitator

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    That's it in the main. But I would add ordinary, secular historical evidence and the more official pronouncements of church councils.

    I cannot think of any offhand, but remember that when we speak of Early Church Fathers, we are referring to priests and bishops for the most part, and of course women were not admitted to those ranks. What laypersons of either sex reported does matter, and women did occupy positions of leadership, but when a reference is made to the Early Church Fathers it's to the notables whose words have survived the centuries.
     
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