Frank Houston on being Pentecostal

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We hold the main tenets of faith in God and believe speaking in tongues is a supernatural gift of God. Charismatics are taking the church back to real raw Christianity like it was in the first century AD. Some mainstream churches like us and others despise us. Some are jealous of our growth while others disagree with us theologically. They think we are deceived about speaking in tongues and are over-emotional in our services. We answer that we are emotional beings and we simply carry that into our services.

Frank Houston, Sydney Christian Life Centre. The Sun-Herald, 21 February 1988.

What he said in defending his church was commendable. As noted in one of the articles below, Frank Houston was disgraced when he admitted to being a pedophile. How important a figure he is, is I think questionable, knowing what he confessed to.

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Vetting the New Living Translation (NLT)

As many of my readers know, I come from a King James Only background (KJVO). It took me several years to build up the courage to actually read another version, much less actually buy one. Now, I have many different translations – print and electronic – and enjoy nearly everyone of them and from time to time will read one just to read it.

Continue reading “Vetting the New Living Translation (NLT)”

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A Common Dialog: Is God a substance?

The ‘divine riddle’ of classic Trinitarians is ‘three substances; one essence’ to which many Modalists (many not knowing exactly what that particular name implies) rebut that God is not a substance, as substance is an element, and God is a Spirit.

God is a substance, but not the human-minded elemental substance of material. Is this blasphemy for an Economist to state such things? Let us briefly examine the issue with reason.

Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; (Hebrews 1:3 KJV)

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJVA)

In the Greek, both of these words read υποστασις, hupostasis. In the Latin, it is translated as substantiae from which we derive our English word, substance. In no meaning of this word can we derive something ‘elemental’ as many would have us believe that the Trinitarians intend.

First, it would be erroneous for us to say that God is not a substance – as we would argue with the writer of Hebrews. What first must be learned is what is mean by ’substance’.

From TDNT (Kittel) –

The noun occurs some 20 times in the LXX (Septuagint) for 12 Hebrew terms, and the verb hyphístēmi occurs somewhat more often in the sense “to endure.” The meaning of hypóstasis seems to be “movable property” in Dt. 11:6, “immovable property” in Job 22:20, “basis of power” in Ezek. 26:11, “reality” that gives a firm guarantee in Ruth 1:12; Ps. 39:7, “life plan” in Ps. 139:15, “plan” in Jer. 23:22, and “counsel” in Ezek. 19:5; Dt. 1:12. LXX usage thus conforms to Greek. hypóstasis is the underlying reality behind things, often as a plan or purpose, or as that which, enclosed in God, endures.

It is primarily a word which means ‘foundation’, and it is this sense what we must understand the substance of God – not in that it can be divided to create ‘one-third’ Gods, but in that the substance of God is the very being of God. (Can you really divide faith?)

It is a matter of historical fact that the translators of the King James Version of the Scriptures were, to the last man, Trinitarian. This theological presence permeated every inch of their translation abilities. The use of ‘person’ in Hebrews 1.3 is not a statement of pure translation, but a theological statement aimed at directing readers, at least in subconscious thought, to the Trinity in which all members are ascribed Personhood. Note, however, that the only ‘Person’ in the ‘Godhead’ that is given a substance (hupostasis) is indeed God, and just as Paul told us in Colossians 1.15, Christ is the image of God.

At no time in Scripture is the Substance of God divided, or made distinct within itself, except during the Incarnation, when Christ entered Time, leaving Eternity behind. The issue with the Trinitarians is that they, a general concept, see this as ontological instead of economic. It was not until Tertullian in the 3rd century that the idea of the Son being ‘begotten from eternity’ arose in the Church – and it was not until the fourth century that they idea of hypostaseis (multiple persons) was applied to the Godhead by the Arians (This view was fought to the dying breath by Marcellus of Ancrya who considered it a heresy to have a ‘plural number’ in the Godhead.). Before Tertullian, as a whole, men such as Ignatius and Theophilus, both of Antioch, and Irenaeus (It is thought that Tertullian’s unnamed opponent in his theological works was Irenaeus) consistently referred to God as the One Person, and saw no lasting distinction in the ‘Godhead.’ For them, as Ignatius the Bishop of Antioch, disciple of Peter and John, and friend of Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna, there was only ‘our God, Jesus Christ.’ (Ignatius, Ephesians 18.2)

But God is a spirit

In the King James Version, we read that God is a spirit (John 4.24), but in the Greek, it is πνευμα ο θεος, which literally reads, ‘God is spirit.’ Compare this with 1st John 1.5 and 4.8 in which God is light (ο θεος φως εστιν) and God is love (ο θεος αγαπη εστιν). The grammar is the same – God is (subject). Indeed, God is spirit, the pneuma, which denotes His non-corporeality, and in itself, spirit is the substance of God.

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Gregory Nazianzen on Doctrinal Development

Many of the readers of this blog know that I disagree with the idea that Doctrine has developed over time. My basis for this belief is that idea that many times the New Testament writers spoke about the Faith that was once for all delivered unto the Saints. In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, we read that the new Christians continued steadfastly in the doctrine of the Apostles. If the Church is to continue in the Doctrine of the Apostles then that Doctrine must not change. You might call it Doctrinal Procession or Development, but I do not see a scriptural basis for it.

This week, while reading Early Christian Doctrines I came across a que to a thought by Gregory of Nazianzus. So, I went searching for it, in hopes of finding something biblical about it. This is the quote:

XXVI.  To this I may compare the case of Theology3733 except that it proceeds the reverse way.  For in the case by which I have illustrated it the change is made by successive subtractions; whereas here perfection is reached by additions.  For the matter stands thus.  The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely.  The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit.  Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself.  For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun’s light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory,3734 the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated.  For this reason it was, I think, that He gradually came to dwell in the Disciples, measuring Himself out to them according to their capacity to receive Him, at the beginning of the Gospel, after the Passion, after the Ascension, making perfect their powers, being breathed upon them, and appearing in fiery tongues.  And indeed it is by little and little that He is declared by Jesus, as you will learn for yourself if you will read more carefully.  I will ask the Father, He says, and He will send you another Comforter, even the spirit of Truth.3735 This He said that He might not seem to be a rival God, or to make His discourses to them by another authority.  Again, He shall send Him, but it is in My Name.  He leaves out the I will ask, but He keeps the Shall send,3736 then again, I will send,—His own dignity.  Then shall come,3737the authority of the Spirit.

Theology, the translator tells us, is restrict to the Doctrine of the Deity of the Son. We can accept that. Gregory’s use of Father does not equal the use by the Jews, the Apostles, the Apostolic or the early Church Fathers. For them, Father was the principle, the source of Creation. The Son is proclaimed not as Son, but as Messiah, as the Hope of Israel.

The problem with Gregory’s analysis of the Old and the New and the Now (Father, Son, Spirit) is that it only provides Inspiration for the two. We are the base our doctrine on the Scriptures. If this is the case, then we have no real scriptures pointing to the deity of the Spirit and thus, no justification of the third person of the Trinity.

There is of course problem with the ‘gradual’ indwelling of the Apostles by the Spirit. There is no scriptural evidence for that. Christ did not give the Spirit measured in John 20.

Well, I don’t want to dissect him too much, but I would rather stick with Chrysostom

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Acts 20.28 from the Economic Perspective: Whose blood is it?

I have not had the chance to write about one of the topics that has interested me, the Godhead, but since there is a current discussion concerning this verse, I feel that it might a time to interject a bit.

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  (Acts 20:28 NKJV)

Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.  (Acts 20:28 NET)

προσεχετε ουν εαυτοις και παντι τω ποιμνιω εν ω υμας το πνευμα το αγιον εθετο επισκοπους ποιμαινειν την εκκλησιαν του θεου ην περιεποιησατο δια του ιδιου αιματος Act 20:28

I was not happy to find the NET had added the word ‘Son’ (RSV, NRSV, CEV, NJB), however, it impressed me that the NLT read,

“And now beware! Be sure that you feed and shepherd God’s flock–his church, purchased with his blood–over whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.” (Acts 20:28 NLT)

The ASV, using the Westcott-Hort text (which does NOT underlie the current translations) says ‘Church of the Lord’. On this textual variant, the Student’s Guide to New Testament Textual Criticism, says,

While it is possible that the phrase “the church of the Lord” (found nowhere else in the New Testament) was replaced with the more familiar “the church of God” (found eleven times in the writings of Paul), it is more likely that “church of God” is original but copyists took offense at ” own blood” and changed “God” to “the Lord.” When the two are abbreviated, as they often were in manuscripts, there is only one letter’s difference between them. The reading “the church of the Lord and God” is a combination of the two readings, as is “the church of the Lord God” which is read by many of the Byzantine manuscripts.

There are some problems with taking this passage as a definite reference to Christ as the one God, not the least of which is the fact that there are several variant readings in the extant manuscripts (MSS) and we have demonstrated with the RV/ASV which used the manuscripts of Westcott and Hort. Some MSS read “the church of the Lord” (ekklesia kuriou) as opposed to “the church of God,” while other, later MSS combine both readings together so that we have “the church of the Lord and God.” It should be noted that the textual variant, like most textual variants, pose no threat to the Deity of Christ. The Ekklesia of the Lord (ekklesia kuriou) is used seven times in the Septuagint. (Deuteronomy 23.2-4, 8 LXX, which is usually translated as ‘assembly of the Lord’ in the NETS; 1st Chronicles 28.8; Micah 2.5)

Whether is the ‘Church of God’ or ‘Church of the Lord’ plays into the discussion concerning the Blood, which Tertullian tells us in chapter 3, book 2 of his book, ‘To His Wife’, is the blood of God,

So far as I know, “we are not our own, but bought with a price and what kind of price?  The blood of God.

Robertson says,

With his own blood (dia tou haimatos tou idiou). Through the agency of (dia) his own blood. Whose blood? If tou theou (Aleph B Vulg.) is correct, as it is, then Jesus is here called “God” who shed his own blood for the flock. It will not do to say that Paul did not call Jesus God, for we have Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13 where he does that very thing, besides Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:5-11.

This is an important Christological passage and clearly points to Christ being God, without the idea of a distinction of person. The Father, who is Spirit, had no blood, but according the Economy of God, God became Incarnate (literally, in the Flesh) and due to this nature, had blood flowing through His veins.

There is also a debate whether to translate dia tou haimatos tou idiou as “which he obtained with his own blood” or “which he obtained with the blood of his own.” The translation “the blood of his own” can imply that it wasn’t the blood of God that purchased the Church, but the blood of one dear to God, such as a child or more specifically his beloved Son. To note, nowhere in Scripture is Christ called ‘His own’. As noted by the NET translators:

114tn Or “with his own blood”; Grk “with the blood of his own.” The genitive construction could be taken in two ways: (1) as an attributive genitive (second attributive position) meaning “his own blood”; or (2) as a possessive genitive, “with the blood of his own.” In this case the referent is the Son, and the referent has been specified in the translation for clarity. See further C. F. DeVine, “The Blood of God,” CBQ 9 (1947): 381-408.

This method is used by several modern translations and supplemented with the words ‘of the Son’ which is to add Doctrine to the Scriptures when none exist. As a matter of fact, apologist Robert Bowman notes “that  it was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century that anyone proposed that the words here in question did not mean ‘his own blood.'” Elsewhere, the New Testament speaks of Christ purchasing the Church either with His blood or through a reference to His death on the Cross,

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7 NKJV)

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14 NKJV)

Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.
(Hebrews 13:12 NKJV)

knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.  (1 Peter 1:18-19 NKJV)

And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 NKJV)

In discussing the NWT’s translation (the Jehovah Witnesses’ translation made by unknown translator’s using unknown principles) addition of the word ‘his own son’ , Robert M. Bowman Jr, explains,

To get around the reading “which he purchased with his own blood,” some scholars in the past century or so have argued that the clause should be translated, “which he purchased with the blood of his own.” What is at dispute here, in technical terms, is whether to take TOU IDIOU adjectivally (“his own”) or substantivally (“of his own”). The simplest reading in terms of the grammar is the adjectival reading, “through his own blood.” (Greek often places the adjective after the noun in this construction, article-noun-article-adjective, called the second attributive position.) The NWT Reference Bible, in an appendix on Acts 20:28, admits that this would be “the usual translation” (p. 1580). However, Harris and some other scholars favor the substantival reading. On this reading, “his own” is a kind of description or title of Christ. They admit that Christ is nowhere else in the NT called “his own,” but they compare this way of construing the words to other titles of Christ using adjectives, such as “the Righteous One” or “the Beloved.”

The NWT reflects a similar approach; it translates the text, “the blood of his own.” The NWT Reference Bible appendix does not state whether this translation is based on the text-critical view of Hort that “Son” was originally in the text or on the grammatical view that TOU IDIOU is to be construed substantivally. The appendix presents both explanations and leaves it at that.

I don’t find the arguments for these views persuasive. There is zero manuscript evidence to support Hort’s speculation, despite the fact that there are several other textual variants in the manuscripts for this verse. So I think that view may be safely set aside as both unsubstantiated and improbable.

The view that TOU IDIOU is a substantive is at least plausible, but I think it is also unlikely. Against it I would make the following six arguments.

1. The other titles of Christ based on adjectives (e.g., “the Beloved”) all have multiple attestations in the NT and continued to be recognized as Christological titles and used by the early church. This is not the case with the hypothetical title “His Own.” Moreover, in the case of these other titles there is no grammatical ambiguity about their usage as there is here.

2. The smoothest and simplest reading is the adjectival reading, “his own blood.” I don’t know of anyone who disputes this fact. Again, as noted above, the NWT Reference Bible appendix acknowledges that this would be “the usual translation.”

3. It is prejudice against the text speaking of God’s “blood” that drives the substantival reading, as Harris himself candidly states. The NWT Reference Bible appendix makes this clear as well, observing, “That has been a difficult thought for many.” But ultimately this begs the question.

4. The early church clearly did not even entertain the substantival reading. Copyists who were bothered by the text altered “God” to “Lord” (as noted above) or made other changes, attesting to their understanding TOU IDIOU adjectivally. As best I can determine, the substantival reading is only about a hundred years old. This doesn’t make it certainly false, but it does place a heavy burden of proof on the substantival reading.1

5. As Harris himself points out, as quickly as the early second century Ignatius could write about “God’s blood” (Ignatius’s Epistle to the Ephesians, 1:1). Where did Ignatius get such language? Is it best explained as an Ignatian innovation or as reflecting Paul’s words in Acts, originally spoken to the Ephesian Christians (Acts 20:17, 28)? The Ephesian connection gives weight to the latter view.

6. The Bible elsewhere speaks in similar language of Christ’s blood, e.g., “through his blood” (DIA TOU hAIMATOS AUTOU, Eph. 1:7), “through his own blood” (DIA TOU IDIOU hAIMATOS, Heb. 13:12). (Again, the position of TOU IDIOU cannot be said to make any difference in the absence of some evidence for that claim.) Admittedly, the Bible can also use a substantival expression in the final position, as in “through the blood of his cross” (DIA TOU hAIMATOS TOU STAUROU AUTOU, Col. 1:20), but again, here the adjective AUTOU functions adjectivally to mean “Christ’s,” not “the Father’s.”

It is interesting to note that the very idea that God had shed blood is sited as the reason that scribes replaced ‘God’ with ‘Lord’ and would later conflate the text to read ‘God and Lord’. During the Christological debates, it was often cited that God was impassible and thus could not have blood. Raymond E. Brown, an Catholic New Testament Scholar, admits,

“The Holy Spirit has made you overseers to feed the church of God which he obtained with his own blood.” There are two problems about the italicized words: One concerns a variant reading (“the church of the Lord”); the other concerns grammatical understanding. As for the variant, “the church of God” is slightly better attested than “the church of the Lord.” Moreover, the reasoning why later copyists might have changed an original “the church of God” to “the church of the Lord” is somewhat stronger than for a change in the opposite direction. Overall, then, the weight of the argument favors “the church of God” as more original.

251. Although “the church of the Lord” occurs seven times in the Greek OT, it does not occur elsewhere in the NT, while “the church of God” occurs eleven times in the epistles attributed to Paul; thus here copyists of the NT might have changed an original but highly unusual “the church of the Lord” to the more customary expression. On the other hand “the church of God” could have struck copyists of the NT as objectionable because the sequence would then seem to be speaking of God’s blood; accordingly they might have changed the phrase to refer to “the Lord (Jesus).” (Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament , pp. 177-178; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Our beloved Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, writes,

I have become acquainted with your name, much-beloved in God, which you have acquired by the habit of righteousness, according to the faith and love in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, you have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you. For, on hearing that I came bound from Syria for the common name and hope, trusting through your prayers to be permitted to fight with beasts at Rome, that so by martyrdom I may indeed become the disciple of Him “who gave Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God,” Ephesians 5:2 . I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him. And blessed be He who has granted unto you, being worthy, to obtain such an excellent bishop. (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 1)

I can find no objection to understanding that ‘God’ in this verse is fully meant to refer to Christ, as it has been demonstrated elsewhere in the New Testament, as well as the Church Fathers (Ignatius and in some part, Melito of Sardis), that it was Christ, not God’s own, Who shed His blood for the redemption of the Church. No mention of the Godhead as understood by the Trinity can be seen unless it is stretched and developed; what can be seen is the Incarnation and the humanity of that Incarnation which bleed for the the lost. We can hear Paul’s call to remember the Cross of Calvary and to remember the Son for He is our God, Jesus Christ and according to the economy of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the holy Spirit of God. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.

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The Church is Apostolic, pt 3

This is the first part in a series dealing with the word ‘apostolic’. This is a rough draft, as many of my personal writings on this blog are, but I intend to put them out there in order strengthen my arguments as well as to correct them. Invite criticism and opinion, negative and positive, as always. Warning: This is not complete in information, but complete in thought. It should be clear that I would oppose calling myself ‘Apostolic’.

Determining the correct meaning

Bob Scudieri serves as a mission executive with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The book, The Apostolic church: One, holy, catholic and missionary, is the result of research conducted at Yale University between 1990 and 1991. The purpose of Scudieri’s research was to conduct a historical study of the word “Apostolic,” to determine whether Apostolic meant “sent” (like an ambassador, sent on a specific mission with specific authority) or whether it meant “proclaiming the doctrines handed down by Jesus’ Apostles” (Peter, John, Paul, etc.). His conclusion is that Apostolic has carried both meanings, although, in modern theology, correct doctrine is emphasized over missions.

Scudieri’s argument is built on a foundation as he begins his analysis of the history of the word ‘apostolic’ from the period immediately preceding the birth of Christ when it was secular term, through the period of the early church, during the pre-Constantine persecutions such as the Decian Persecution which brought about Cyrpian’s use, and up through the Constantinian and post-Constantinian Arian controversy when the pressure to appeal to a more historic Tradition greatly increased. Before Constantine, apostolic primarily carried the meaning, “missionary;” however, it was the Tradition from North Africa (Cyprian, Athanasius) which introduced the ‘name’ aspect to the word, and thus the right of the Church to appeal to the Apostles. Note, this was not an instantaneous action, but a Tradition that developed and quickly spread as Alexandria gained in authority.


The Church is indeed apostolic, but not in the way that Cyprian formulated or the greater Catholic Church holds today or even in the vernacular of many ‘oneness’ believers. Too often, ‘oneness’ believers assume the mantle ‘Apostolic’ referring to the Apostles’ Doctrine. This name is a misnomer, as only after the strains of Catholicism started to appear in the third century did that word take on the meaning of the ‘Apostle’s Doctrine’. The first meaning of ‘apostolic’ was not doctrine or authority, but missional, and to attach another meaning to a word not found in the Holy Scriptures to create a paradox of intentions. Do you, my Apostolic friends, assume the authority of the Apostles as Rome has done? Do you assume their Doctrine which you would point to as being found only in Scripture and yet use a word unscriptural to describe yourself? Do you not know that having the correct Doctrine is more than having ‘it’ right on the Godhead?

The Church of Jesus Christ is indeed apostolic in her mission – to be sent to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world in the form and manner of the Apostles and nothing more. The adjective ‘apostolic’ derived a generation after the Apostles means not their doctrine and Tradition but their form and mission, which Ignatius – who first created the word – upheld vigorously. It become a name, a mark of four of the Church Catholic around the time of Cyprian who pressed for an equal brotherhood of bishops who seemingly followed in the footsteps of the Apostles, and now had the power to ‘confirm’ salvation by the laying of hands. He pointed to the Apostolic Tradition, to the Apostolic Doctrine, and to the Apostolic Church for his support, thus turning the character, mission and form of the Apostles into a name, a power, an authority, and a birthright, something that the Apostles would not have recognized.

The Church of Jesus Christ is not Apostolic but apostolic.

The question remains, my dear Apostolics, why do you call yourself after a Catholic title when you yourself abhor all things Catholic?

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The Church is Apostolic, pt 2

This is the first part in a series dealing with the word ‘apostolic’. This is a rough draft, as many of my personal writings on this blog are, but I intend to put them out there in order strengthen my arguments as well as to correct them. Invite criticism and opinion, negative and positive, as always. Warning: This is not complete in information, but complete in thought.

The Aftermath of the Decian Percecution

As the Church began to confront what it considered heretical teachers and sects as well as issues over the returning of apostates and the lapsed, the meaning of ‘apostolic’ slowly shifted to emphasize the doctrine and the authority of the Apostles as opposed to those of the heterodox and heretical teachings. For many of the early Christian writers, the Scriptures were the sole basis for Doctrine to prevent such encroachments against the Church; however, Tertullian, like he was so apt to do, began to place a greater emphasis on the Tradition which was handed down than which had been previously found in the Church. It is arguable that Irenaeus placed a significant amount of attention on Tradition, but generally it seems that he focused on the Tradition of interpretation of Scripture which the Church had held when he battled the Gnostics. It was not until after the Decian Persecution (250ad) that Bishops like Cyprian changed the unchangeable Doctrine for the Apostles and by doing this, the Bishops were allowed to become sources for doctrine and, as we well see, salvation. The singular event that brought about the idea that the Bishops carried some special authority due to their ‘succession’ from the apostles was the Decian Persecution.

The Decian Persecution, unlike the others, required citizens to sacrifice to pagan gods in public, usually in the middle of the town. It was immediately after this persecution that the issue of the readmission of apostates arose in the Church, especially northern Africa and the town of Carthage, which was also the hometown of Tertullian who was fondly remembered by Cyprian as ‘the master’. The persecution was especially severe at Carthage, according to Church sources – the official Roman sources are silent on the severity of the Decian persecution. Many Christians fell away, succumbing to the pressures of the persecution, and were thereafter referred to as lapsi, but after the worse of the persecution had passed, they would often ask to be received again into the Church. Their requests were granted early with no regard being paid to the demand of Cyprian and his faithful among the Carthaginian clergy, who insisted upon earnest repentance. The confessors among the more liberal group intervened to allow hundreds of the lapsed to return to the Church.

Cyprian had secluded himself from the persecution for a period of fourteen months due to a ‘vision’ and for ‘the good of all the community’. He now censured all laxity toward the lapsed, refused absolution to them except in case of mortal sickness, and desired to postpone the question of their readmission to the Church to more quiet times. The Schism which broke out was began by a Felicissimus who had been ordained deacon by the presbyter Novatus during the Bishop’s absence. The schism party would be excommunicated which forced an organized opposition.

Upon Cyprian’s return, he defended leaving his post in letters to the other North African bishops, and a tract De lapsis (“On those who fall away”), and called a council of North African bishops at Carthage, to consider the treatment of the lapsed and the apparent schism of Felicissimus (251). Though no Acts of this council survive, we know the majority of the council sided with Cyprian. The libellatici, i.e., Christians who had made or signed the written statements (libelli)of obedience, were to be restored at once upon repentance; but such as had taken part in the required sacrifices to pagan gods could be received back into the Church only on there death bed. Later, even this regulation rescinded, allowing all to be restored if they repented immediately after a sudden fall and eagerly sought absolution; however, members of the clergy who had fallen were to be deposed and could not be restored to their functions.

The aftermath of the persecution strengthened the firm but moderating influence exhibited in Cyprian’s writings, and the following of his opponents grew less and less. He rose still higher in the favor of the people when they witnessed his self-denying devotion during the time of a great plague and famine. He defended Christianity and the Christians in the apologia Ad Demetrianum which directed against a certain Demetrius which charged that Christians were the cause of the public calamities. His most important work is his treastise De Unitate Ecclesiae (On the Unity of the Church). In it, it states: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother; . . . he who gathereth elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ” (vi.); “nor is there any other home to believers but the one Church” (ix.). It was in this work that he replaced the Church as the sole source of Doctrine and Tradition with the Apostles of whom the Bishops were the direct decedents. For Cyprian, acceptance into the Church no longer meant following the Doctrines of the Church, but submitting to the various Bishops.

In section 4 of De Unitate Ecclesiae, Cyprian associated the authority of salvation to the Apostles, quoting John 20.21. In the next section he associates the bishops with the same authority. “And this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also prove the episcopate itself to be one and undivided.” In his epistle to the Lapsed, he writes, “Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers… when the Church is established in the bishop and the clergy, and all who stand fast in the faith.”

It was this turning from the Doctrine of the Apostles to the Apostles (whose authority survived in the Bishops) themselves and the ‘apostolic succession’ that created the idea that the Church was ‘Apostolic’ in name as opposed to adjective. During the first few centuries, the church was referred to as ‘one’, ‘holy’, and ‘catholic’ (catholic meaning universal as opposed to the local congregation), but after Cyprian, the term ‘apostolic’ was firmly added. The name ‘catholic’ preceded the name ‘apostolic’ by a few centuries.

The Ascendancy of the Episcopate

Cyprian replaced Christ with the Apostles and by doing so, he allowed the Bishops, which he claimed stood in the succession from the Apostles, to modify, or develop, doctrine and to bestow salvation, and with this, it became more important to establish a link to the Apostles which for Cyprian would bring unity in the Church – if a unified episcopate, then a unified Church.

“But that they who are at Rome do not observe those things in all cases which are handed down from the beginning, and vainly pretend the authority of the apostles…” (emphasis mine) -Cyprian, The Epistles of Cyprian, Letter LXXIV.6

It is important to note that Cyprian did not associate Peter with the Roman Papacy that has emerged, and in fact believed that all Bishops were equal. Cyprian saw all bishops as sharing in the one episcopate, yet sharing it in such a way that each possesses not a part but the whole. ‘The episcopate,’ he wrote, ‘is a single whole, in which each bishop enjoys full possession.’ Cyprian did not stress apostolic succession as a test of the validity of the episcopal office, but he emphasized the idea that the bishop was the successor of the Apostles and the legitimate interpreter of the apostolic tradition. Cyprian further says,

“Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honour of a bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: ‘I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers.” Cyprian, To the Lapsed, 1 (A.D. 250)

Cyprian’s friend during this time was a man by the name of Firmilian, who once wrote his master,

“Therefore the power of remitting sins was given to the apostles, and to the churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the bishops who succeeded to them by vicarious ordination.” Firmilian, To Cyprian, Epistle 75:16 (A.D. 256).

I note the deliberations of the Council of Carthage where Clarus of Mascula rehearsed Cyprian’s theory of the episcopate, when he said,

The sentence of our Lord Jesus Christ is plain, when He sent His apostles, and accorded to them alone the power given to Him by His Father; and to them we have succeeded, governing the Lord’s Church with the same power, and baptizing the faith of believers. And therefore heretics, who neither have power without, nor have the Church of Christ, are able to baptize no one with His baptism.

Tertullian is the first author for whom a collegiate body of Bishops who set above and beyond that of the presbytery is suggested, and even he does not make a true doctrinal matter of it. It is evident with him that it nothing more than a passing thought, as opposed to laying a firm foundation for the practice to continue in the future. In several places he asserts emphatically the universal priesthood of believers but we can also infer from Tertullian’s writings that before 200 the term priest was not in use to designate the bishop and presbyters of Carthage, or indeed any other congregation, and the idea that the clergy was somewhat infallible or somehow invested with great authority was foreign to the Church universal. The prerogatives of the episcopal office were gradually acquired, generally by force or do to apathy of the local congregation. In the ordination of bishops and presbyters it is probable that bishops and presbyters acted together. It is probable that the bishop might, in certain cases, act alone when there was a necessity, such as a persecution. The question whether presbyters could act alone, is still a subject of controversy. There are instances on record where such ordination was disallowed, but earlier it may have been permitted.

In the Western Church, confirmation by the imposition of hands, i.e., salvation, became separated from baptism sometime after 200. As early as the middle of the third century, with the advance of the sacerdotal (or that of a high priestly order) theory, confirmation became an exclusive prerogative of the bishop. In the East, this change did not take place. Infant baptism, infant confirmation, and infant communion were associated together. The right to confirm remained with the presbyters. Clement of Rome tells us that the apostles set over the churches presbyters and deacons, and provided that their places should be filled by other worthy men to be appointed by them with the concurrence of the Church. The design is represented to prevent disorder by keeping up an unbroken succession of officers. This idea of succession was familiar in municipal administration and in private corporations. To Irenaeus and Tertullian, the chain of Bishops — link within link— had come to be the guarantee of the transmission of genuine apostolic teaching in the churches. There is even a gift of truth qualifying them for the service. Earlier, we find in the Epistles of Ignatius that it is not the bishops, but the presbyters, who are the successors of the apostles; and later, in the school of Cyprian, when the sacerdotal idea has taken root, this new element modifies the theory of succession.

The Apostolic Churches

The epithet apostolic (apostolikos) occurs as far back as the beginning of the second century; first, as far as known, in the superscription of Ignatius’s Epistle to the Trallians (about 110), where the bishop of Antioch greets the Trallian Church (en apostoliko charakteri): “in apostolic character”, viz., after the manner of the Apostles, but not with their authority. The word Apostolic becomes frequent enough from the end of this century on, in such expressions as an “Apostolic man”, an “Apostolic writing”, “Apostolic Churches.” Note that it is not a name, but merely a reference held by those who knew the Apostles themselves of in the case of certain congregations, those that were ‘founded’ buy the Apostles. Of these, Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria hold the most significant historical presence.

Tertullian sometimes uses the expression Apostolic Churches (De Praescriptionibus c. xx; Adversus Marceonem, IV, v). All the individual churches could, he believed, be called Apostolic Churches, because they were in some more or less mediate connection with the Apostles. Usually, however, especially among the Western writers, from the second to the fourth century, the term is meant to signify the ancient particular Churches which were founded, or at least governed, by an Apostle and which, on that account, enjoyed a special dignity and acquired a great apologetic importance. To designate these Churches, Irenaeus has often recourse to a paraphrase (Adv. Haer., III, iv, 1), or he calls them the “oldest Churches” (see above for Irenaeus’ phrasology). In the writings of Tertullian we find the expressions “mother-Churches” (ecclesiae matrices, originales), frequently “Apostolic Churches” (De Praescriptionibus, c. xxi). By the time of Tertullian, of the four great ‘sees’ (Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, and Alexandria) only Antioch and Rome’s bishops could be traced back to an Apostle by direct succession. Alexandria fell in 90 while Jerusalem fell in 135. Rome would fall around 250 and Antioch would fall near that time as well. Each congregation would see interruptions and have others either declare for themselves Bishops or have another elect the bishops for them as was the case for Alexandria.

At the time of the Christological controversies in the fourth and fifth centuries some of these Apostolic Churches rejected the faith that would lead to the Nicene Councils. Thus it happened that the title “Apostolic Churches” was no longer used in apologetic treatises, to denote the particular Churches founded by the Apostles. For instance, Vincent of Lérins, in the first half of the fifth century, makes no special mention in his “Commonitorium” of Apostolic Churches. But, towards the same time period, the expression “the Apostolic Church” came into use in the singular, as an appellation for the whole Church, and that frequently in connection with the older diction “Catholic Church”; while the most famous of the particular Apostolic Churches, the Roman Church, took as a convenient designation the title “Apostolic See” (Vincent of Lérins’s Commonitorium, c. ix). This last title was also given, though not quite so often, to the Antiochian and to the Alexandrian Church.

Interestingly, however, it is not until the fourth century that the idealization of apostles becomes explicitly articulated in terms of a periodization of history that elevates the apostolic age to a status akin to the biblical or classical past. Peter van Deun, for instance, points to Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (II 14.3; III 31.6) as the earliest known Christian text to apply the Greek adjective apostolikos to a time period. Eusebius here delineates the “apostolic period” (apostolikôn chronôn) as encompassing the years from Christ’s ascension to the reign of Trajan (III 31.6). Writing from a self-consciously post-apostolic perspective, he describes this era as a bygone age of miracles and wonders (V 7.6) in which the light of truth shone so brightly that even “heresy” posed no real threat (II 14.3). Eusebius also presents the apostolic age as determinative for all that came after: it was then, in his view, that Christianity spread throughout the known world (III 4.1), while Judaism fell to deserved decline (III 5.3).

It might be rightly said that those that chose to employ the term ‘Apostolic Church’ in the century leading up to Nicaea (and subsequently, the centuries there after) sought to replace Christ as head of the Church with the Apostles, and thuse the Tradition of the Church with the Tradition of the Bishops.

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The Church is Apostolic, pt 1

This is the first part in a series dealing with the word ‘apostolic’. This is a rough draft, as many of my personal writings on this blog are, but I intend to put them out there in order strengthen my arguments as well as to correct them. Invite criticism and opinion, negative and positive, as always. Warning: This is not complete in information, but complete in thought.

Justin, in his ‘Dialogue with Trypho the Jew’ (63.5) speaks of the Church,

Moreover, that the word of God speaks to those who believe in Him as being one soul, and one synagogue, and one church, as to a daughter; that it thus addresses the church which has sprung from His name and partakes of His name (for we are all called Christians)

This will do doubt shock some of my readers, however, in doing some recent studying, it has become apparent that indeed the Church of Jesus Christ is meant to be apostolic. But, just what does ‘apostolic’ mean? It is a name or is it an adjective, and if so, what does it mean and when did it acquire that meaning?

The first known use of the word ‘apostolic’ is found in Ignatius’ letter to the Trallians, around 110a.d.

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the holy Church which is at Tralles, in Asia, beloved of God, the Father of Jesus Christ, elect, and worthy of God, possessing peace through the flesh, and blood, and passion of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, through our rising again to Him, which also I salute in its fulness, and in the apostolical (ποστολικ – apostolikos) character, and wish abundance of happiness.

Ignatius uses it not in identifying some mystical age or as some base of authority (as were the later uses of the word), but in identifying himself as using the style and form of the Apostles, who he immediately followed as opposed to the Gnostics who continuously claimed new revelations and later Bishops who claimed the same authority as the Apostles. To clear this up, Ignatius is thought to have used it to say that he stood after the Apostles and used their form – not their authority which is something that Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, would later claim. We must also note that Ignatius truly carried out the form and character of the Apostles who wrote letters to several different congregations, as opposed to even Polycarp who wrote to only one congregation. Ignatius was also known as a traveler to those congregations.

Irenaeus, in a ‘recently discovered’ work (1904) entitled ‘On Apostolic Preaching’, no where uses the adjective. What Irenaeus meant by the Apostolic Preaching can be seen from his larger work. Although the exact expression does not seem to occur there, we have its equivalent, “the Preaching of the Apostles” (III, iii. 2), and also the parallel phrases, “the Tradition of the Apostles” (III, iii. 4) and “the Preaching of the Truth” (I, iii. I; III, iii. 4). Moreover, in I, i. 20 we read that “he who holds the canon (or rule) of the truth without deviation, which he received through his baptism,” will be able to escape all the snares of heresy: and in the Demonstration (c. 3.) we have closely parallel words which also refer to the baptismal faith. Although it was not until much later that the baptismal confession came to be called the Apostles’ Creed, it was already regarded as a summary of the essential elements of the message from the Apostles, as opposed to their authority. Its form varied in some details in different Churches, but its structure was everywhere the same, for it had grown up on the basis of the baptismal formula.

Since the work is existent only in the Armenian it is difficult at best to determine the original title, but taking the title as historically true, it does not lend credence to any idea that the early Church Fathers used ‘apostolic’ in any way as relating to an official name. Here it is used solely as relating to more how than what the Apostles preached – the Gospel, and in the manner of which they preached – as evangelists. One has to remember that Irenaeus’ doctrine was written squarely against the Gnostics who often times ignored the manner and mission of the Apostles. During the time of Irenaeus, greater attention was applied to the Church as holder of the Doctrine and Tradition as well as Salvation. This would like be countermanded by Cyprian who focused on the Bishops.

Irenaeus, in his writings (Against Heresies 3.3.2), says,

Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those who exist everywhere.

The subject of this particular translation is an interesting one. One commentator suggests that the importance of Rome made by the translator misses the point. Irenaeus was simply aligning the congregations one with another, based on the one that founded by the Apostles who continued in the Faith of the Church. Later we will discuss that as some ‘Apostolic Church’ left the ‘orthodox faith’ (meaning that they refused to become Trinitarian) the idea of lining up with the ‘apostolic church’ lost its flavor. It should be noted that for many years Alexandria was the key church of the Trinitarians, with many believing that Rome and the West was too ‘Modalistic’ or ‘oneness’ (Often the claim of Sabellianism was tossed around).

It should be noted that while the Apostles were universally recognized as the foundation of the Church by the Apostolic (an adjective later applied) and Church Fathers (Ignatius, Irenaeus respectively) they were never seen as the sole arbiters of either Tradition or Doctrine and most certainly not salvation. Although Irenaeus used their ‘sees’ to measure others by – in truth this was a somewhat fair practice – he did this based on the fact that the pastors of these congregations could be traced back to the Apostles. (An example would be Rome for a while, where Peter taught Linus and Clement and Clement taught his successor and his successor taught his successor, etc…)


ἀπόστολος, or apostolos, is a secular term first and foremost applied to messengers, or missionaries, indicating that the person who is an apostolos, is one who is ‘sent forth with orders.’ (Thayers’) It is first found in Matthew 10.2 as the official name of the Twelve. Later it would be applied to the collegiate body that set above the Presbytery. Cremer in his Biblico-Theological Lexicon suggests that it was the rare occurrence of the word in koine Greek that made it all the more appropriate as the distinctive appellation of the twelve. Compare Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2. Also, John 17:18, I have sent. The word is once used of Christ (Hebrews 3:1), one sent (2nd Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25). The Greek translation of the Hebrew word shelichim advances this argument, as does the early church’s emphasis on the Apostles extensive missionary activity.

Chrysostom says here, “He makes them confident not only by calling their ministry a sending forth to the harvest, but by giving them strength for the ministry; whence it follows, “He gave them power over all unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal every sickness and every disease.”” So we see that even to a certain point in history, the idea of ‘apostolos’ as one who was sent forth was recognized as a facet of the meaning.

Further, in Acts 1.8, we read

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

It was to the Apostles that our Lord said, “Go!” There mission then became apostolic, because they were sent forth, but they did not do under their own authority nor in their own name, even the collegiate name.

Another word is ἀποστολή, or apostole, which is essentially apostleship. It is used on Judas’ vacated office in Acts 1.25 and then of Paul’s office in Romans 1.5 and 1st Corinthians 9.2 as well as Peter’s in Galatians 2.8. Paul used it to describe his relationship with the Gentiles while it was the Jews for Peter, yet not as Lords over them, but as messengers of the word, to whom the apostles were assigned. This two explains why others, except for the Twelve and Paul, were called apostles, because they too were sent to carry the gospel message.

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