Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Church, Tradition, and the Bible

Sola Scriptura is the belief that the Bible is the only necessary source of God’s Word and Salvation. The problem is, where did the Bible come from? The Church was founded in 33 AD when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. Before he left, He gave His authority on Earth, guided by the Holy Spirit, to the Apostles to maintain His word and bring people to God.

With this authority, the Apostles spread to the world setting up jurisdictions of churches. A paper from the Coptic Orthodox Church (Oriental Orthodox) helps give perspective to that early spread of Christianity:

       (Dividing the) Apostles into three groups in addition to St. Paul regarding their field of preaching. The first group includes St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. Matthew and St. Bartholomew. St. Peter preached in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1). St. Andrew preached in Scythia (Russia and so he is the intercessor of the Russian Church), Besporan Kingdom and the Barbarian Lands to the east of the Black Sea (Now within Russia), Turkey and Sebastpolis, Colchis, Apsaros, Trebizond, Amasia, Nicea, Nikomidea to the south of the Black Sea and finally he attained the crown of martyrdom in Greece.   St. Bartholomew preached in the Besporan Kingdom, India, Yemen, and Armenia. St. Matthew preached in Persia and Ethiopia.

       The second group includes St. Thomas, St. Thaddeus, and St. Simon the Patriot. St Thomas preached in Odessa, and India. St. Thaddeus preached in Bakr Lands (Iraq) and Odessa where he healed her king Abgr. St. Simon preached in Babylonia, and Syria. The third group includes St. John and St. Philip where they preached in Asia Minor.  St. Paul preached in Damascus, Syria, Tarsus, Antioch, Cyprus, Asia Minor in Antioch of  Pasadena, Derba, Galatia, Ephesus, Greece in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Peria, and in Western Europe in Italy and Spain and finally attained his crown of martyrdom  in Rome (Romans 15:19-24, 1 Corinthians 15:10 and 2 Corinthians 11:32). 

The Twelve Apostles

Matthew 16:16-20
[16] Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. [17] And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. [18] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [19] And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. [20] Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.

John 21:14-17
[14] This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to his disciples, after he was risen from the dead. [15] When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs.
[16] He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs.
[17] He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep.

Matthew 18:18-20
[18] Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven. [19] Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven. [20] For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Orthodox Priest reading the Gospel

God’s Church is not just anyone gathered together speaking the name of God. God left a Church on the Earth, lead and spread by his Apostles, and succeeded by the institution they created. This institution is the hierarchy of Bishops (the successors of the Apostles), the Priests/Presbyter (the Bishop’s assistance in administering Graces), and the Deacons (the Priest’s assistant in maintaining the community).

Matthew 7:21 
[21] Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

What did the early Church look like? Before the fourth century, the early Church consisted of groups of followers, lead by a priest. In their gatherings, they preached the Gospel read from Scripture, heard confessions and celebrated the Eucharist.

But, the New Testament hadn’t been written, yet! Their scripture was the Old Testament in the form of the Septuagint (sometimes abbreviated LXX). The Septuagint was written in the 3rd Century BC as a 39 book Greek translation of the Jewish faith from various disputed Hebrew texts. The tradition says, the twelve tribes of Israel sent six scholars each to separately translate the Hebrew text and keep only the books that contained the Word of God. When they emerged, all the individual translations matched, birthing the collective Jewish Bible. The Septuagint, which was quoted in the New Testament by the Apostles, was replaced in the 2nd century AD by Jewish Scholars who wanted their scripture written in Hebrew, and also to remove or modify some ‘ambiguous’ text that prophesied Jesus as the Messiah. One of the more prominent of these translations is called the Masoretic Texts.

It is from these translations that the ‘Apocryphal’ texts were removed. These same translations confused St Jerome, in 382 AD, when he translate the Greek New Testament into the Latin Vulgate for the West, and Martin Luther, in 1522,  when he translated his own version of the New Testament. In both cases, they mistakenly left out the extra books, however in St Jerome’s case, the error was identified by the Church, while with Martin Luther’s, his New Testament was created to support his differing views, in which case he also inadvertently used the Masoretic Text as its basis.

It wasn’t for centuries after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, until the undivided Church determined which books were divinely inspired. This moment is recognized as the Council of Carthage in 419 AD (after the Latin Vulgate created by St. Jerome in 382). Over at Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries, an eye-chart of councils and Church Fathers can be found, showing a consensus of the accepted New Testament books of the Early Church over a period of centuries.

The "Cave Church of St Peter" believe to have been dug by St Peter himself.

From here we can see that the Church wasn’t created from the Bible, but instead, the Bible arose out of the Church and its Traditions.

This is also how we can determine the proper exegesis of the Bible. The Church’s Traditions and the consensus of the Early Church Fathers show us the true interpretation of its contained Word. Also, it is the Traditions of the Church that, never contradictory to the Bible, give us those things which provide Grace as instituted by Jesus Christ, as well as fulfill our faith. These things include the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Confession, and Baptism, as well as the Communion of Saints and the belief in the Theotokos (God-bearer) the Ever-Virgin Mary.

2 Thessalonians 2:14
[14] Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.
1 Timothy 3:15
[15] But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

To believe in Sola Scriptura, is to find a man's love letters to his wife long after they have both passed from this world. And having read them, believe to understand the full relationship between the two without knowing anything about the actual individuals. The Scriptures are literally the God’s ‘love letters’ to his bride ‘the Church'.

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