A series of articles exploring what God says is the ultimate Truth. Once established, all other truths are subject to it... including yours, mine, everyone's.
Early Church Fathers
The writings of the early Church Fathers.
So many people rely on the writings of the early church fathers to formulate their belief system or at least try and validate it by reading them. This seemed like a pretty convincing argument to me at one time. But then I remembered that early church writings are NOT the Word of God and therefore are not as reliable as the Word of God. If they are of any value, they are of historical value, and perhaps some doctrinal assistance, but certainly they are not of authoritative value. They can have (and do have) both correct and incorrect teachings in them. Even back in the days of the early church before most of the writings of the church fathers, John said that the spirit of antichrist was already in the world 1John2:18. Jesus and Paul warned about wolves entering into the flock (Matthew 7:15, Acts 20:29). But how could wolves have entered into the church and into places of authority so quickly after the Apostles were gone? In Revelation 2 and 3, God points out good things about some of the churches and things that are not so good (false doctrine based on Balaam (Rev2:14), the Nicolaitans (Rev2:15), as well as other bad doctrines and practices). This occurred while the Apostle John was still living! The church at Galatia had people stirring up all kinds of trouble and false doctrine there even while Paul was alive. Paul, himself, was fooled by the two wolves Hymenaeus and Alexander who looked like they had faith, but ended up being servants of their master, Satan (Timothy I 1:19-20). Even among Jesus’s own disciples, there existed a wolf (Judas). This wolf certainly did not fool Jesus, but he fooled the rest of the Apostles (Matthew 26:22). Judas seemed to be so highly trusted by the Apostles that they allowed him to keep the group’s moneybag.
I’m not saying that all early church writings are wrong, they do contain things that are both correct and incorrect. They are the writings of men. They may even be the writings of wolves that had crept into the early church. By His grace, God has preserved His Word for us to measure whether or not writings are true or not (John 17:17):
1Jo 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Act 17:10 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.
Act 17:11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
1Th 5:21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
Rev 2:1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
Rev 2:2 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;
How were the writings preserved?
Another possible problem with early writings is that we have to consider who kept these writings, where they were kept, and are they really authentic? I don't know for sure myself, but I suspect that most of the early writings we have available nowadays were kept by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church probably had to copy these manuscripts from the originals any number of times. Is it possible that the writings were filtered or became biased over time? Did the Medieval Church tweak the writings to make them conform to the teachings of that age? I have no idea. Praise God that we have His Word preserved for us by Him so that we can actually compare these, and other writings (even mine) to the Scriptures.
How was the Bible preserved?
The next logical question was asked of me after I explained the previous paragraph to someone:
1.) "How do we know that the Bible has been preserved faithfully and has not been tampered with by the Church or others?" And,
2.) if the Bible doesn't agree with Church doctrine, then why wasn't the Bible edited by the Church?
Very good questions. To the first, one of the confidences we have that the Bible has not undergone serious editing is based upon the sheer number of whole and partial manuscripts available nowadays from sources both inside and outside of the Church. I have read that it is in the area of 25,000 or so. To the first and second questions above, it can be stated that more important than having 25,000 manuscripts is the fact that God has personally written, assembled, and preserved His Word against destruction or editing (please see my article on Who wrote the Bible). He may have chosen to use the tool of the Church to preserve it or He could have preserved it through other tools if He wanted to. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that He preserved it for us. He has not necessarily preserved writings outside of Scripture (like those of the early fathers or Homer or Socrates). All of these writings outside of Scripture must be tested against Scripture.
Test, test, test.
John I 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God: because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
All theological ideas (including ancient and modern writings) need to be tested against God's Word When tested, my guess is that all extra-Biblical writings will fail in some point. Some will fail more than others. Not surprisingly, even mine I am sure. My writings are not inspired, and therefore, are not perfect. Some of my pages (hopefully most) will stand up to the test of Scripture, but some will invariably have error in them. I am simply a sinful human who is prone to err. It is only by the grace of God that I understand any of His Truth. And I am trying to be a witness of this Truth to the best of my ability. His Word is the standard. His word is Truth (John 17:17).