Response to Dave Armstrong’s response to my article on his taking Irenaeus out of context

I begin with a link to an article by Anthony Lane, that David Waltz linked to at his blog.  (see at the very bottom of his side bar, right above the famous Newman quote)  This article by Anthony Lane is really good for understanding what tradition is and its relationship to Scripture and church history and church authority.   Lord willing, I will be doing more blog articles on this article in the future.  When arguing with Dave Armstrong on issues of historical theology and church tradition, one must bear in mind that early church fathers use “tradition” in different ways than the post -Council of Trent (1545-1563), and 1870 beyond Roman Catholic Church uses the term.  One could even argue that post Vatican 2 Romanism has redefined everything in history before it to make the Roman Catholic Church a different entity that what it was before Vatican 2, while at the same time, claiming to not change any doctrine or practice at all.  (as Jimmy Akin argues, “Vatican 2 just updates Trent’s language”, but it seems like a real contradiction to me. )   Lane begins with “The word ‘tradition’ is notoriously ambiguous”.  True, and it is precisely that ambiguity of the term that allows Roman Catholic apologists to use the term for their advantage, when arguing against Evangelical Protestantism.

Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey, by Anthony N. S. Lane

Click to access scripture_lane.pdf

The word ‘tradition’ is notoriously ambiguous. It often denotes the sum total of the Christian heritage passed down from previous ages. Scripture is just one item of tradition in this all embracing sense. The act of handing on this heritage is sometimes described as ‘active tradition’, the stress being on the process rather than the content. A third meaning is identical to the first save that the Scriptures are excluded. As this essay concerns Scripture and tradition the word tradition will normally have this meaning: those non-scriptural writings, liturgical practices, etc. inherited from the Christian past. In this sense tradition can be seen either as a collection of items (writings, practices, etc.) or as a body of doctrine (that taught by these items). This is a helpful ambiguity in the use of the term. Manifestly heretical writings and practices are not normally reckoned as part of tradition but it does not follow that the whole of tradition is orthodox, from any point of view. ‘Supplementary tradition’ will be used to denote that content of tradition which goes beyond Scripture (usually doctrine but sometimes also practices).1  (Anthony Lane, see above)

Lord willing, I will be writing more on this insightful article by Anthony Lane in the future.

My response is just to make the following 6 points:

Dave Armstrong responded to my article about him taking Irenaeus out of context.

My original article:  Taking Irenaeus out of context.

  1.  First, he calls me “an anti-Catholic”.  No, that is wrong, because being against Roman Catholic Doctrines, practices, and dogma is not “anti-Catholic” as to the people who are “Catholic” or even “Roman Catholic”; rather it is being against the Roman Church doctrines, practices, and traditions that contradict the Bible.  I am not against Catholics as people; only against certain doctrines and practices that contradict the truth of the Scriptures.  We argued over that issue many times in the past; but Dave stubbornly clings to it, because it poison’s the well (makes us  look bad), and it bolsters his case by making our argumentations that are against doctrine and principle as seemingly against people.

2. Secondly, I am glad that Dave found the old link, (on Web Archive), ( I corrected the link) and also that my comments in the com boxes are still there, because we debated more about the content of his article in his comboxes; and also, if one follows all of those comments of mine, one can see that I actually did interact and refute a lot of what Dave was claiming against Jason Engwer.  ( I think am going to put all of that together and comment further in a separate blog post, and also make it point number 6 here, see below, as it is too much for the main point at this point.  Dave did not respond to my extending the quotes he made from Philip Schaff.   I wonder why Dave did not re-post this article over at Patheos until now.  A lot of his reposting does not include the combox debates and discussions that we had.  I have noticed this.

In the combox, Dave wrote:

Dave Armstrong said…

I’ll await Jason’s and/or David’s reply.

And the spelling is “Schaff.”

Sat Jan 16, 07:08:00 PM EST  [ 2010, post was written on January 13, 2010]

3.  Thirdly, Dave claims I completely ignore relevant portions of Irenaeus to the Catholic-Protestant debate, but actually I did not.


“True to form, Ken completely ignores that. He blows off the relevant portion (i.e., to Catholic-Protestant debate) of the long quote he gives from Irenaeus: that refers to apostolic tradition and the Church’s guidance, and pretends as if all Irenaeus is talking about is Scripture Alone. ”

Actually, I did not completely ignore the part about church authority and “reading the Scriptures with the presbyters”.  I am amazed that you, Dave Armstrong, did not see what I wrote:

“Irenaeus shows at the beginning of his section here, that a presbyter learned the apostles doctrine that is in Scripture, that the OT is inspired Scripture and the God of the OT is the same God in the NT and so he is refuting the idea of the Gnostics of an evil god (a demiurge) in the OT who created matter (and the Gnostics claim that matter is evil); and refuting the Gnostic idea that the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is a different good God from the OT “god”. Protestants agree with this. We believe in church leaders/presbyters (elders)/pastor-teachers/overseers (Acts 14:23Titus 1:5ff; I Timothy 3; Acts 20:1728I Peter 5:1-5) Irenaeus is saying the same thing we do; one must read the Scriptures and read the Scriptures with the presbyters. But Irenaeus also says that the Presbyters follow the Scriptures as their final authority, because the apostles doctrine was written down, and he just quotes from the writings to prove his point.”  (see here at my article) Bold emphasis mine.

We believe every church should have a plurality of elders (presbyters) (elders who are able to teach – 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9), according to Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5.  (see also 1 Peter 5:1-4 and Acts 20:17, 28).  The issue here with Irenaeus, is that Dave and Roman Catholics are claiming whenever Irenaeus talks about passing down doctrine, the Romanists/ Papists claim that means that will keep going infallibly into the future and that the doctrine will always stay pure and that the Roman Church can add to doctrine later, and claim that it is development of doctrine of the Newman thesis.  Dave and other Papists also see whenever Irenaeus writes about church and church authority, they anachronistically imply that that means the Roman Church with an infallible quality of bishops and popes all throughout history.

So, I did not ignore those portions or principles and I did interact with the principle issue.

4.  Dave does some clever color coding that at first glance, gives the impression that all those things he colored are Roman Catholic doctrines / distinctives found in Irenaeus.  Let us see.

Dave Armstrong wrote:

Ken writes:

Every time Irenaeus spells out the content of the “rule of faith”, it is a doctrinal summary in simple form of the main doctrines of the ecumenical creeds of the first 5 centuries. (see Against Heresies1:10:1-2 and 3:4:2) Protestants agree with this.

I looked up the linked Against Heresies 1:10:1-2 and again and again it teaches things that are consistent with Catholic (and very unProtestant) notions of tradition (highlighted in purple below), apostolic succession (highlighted in green), and a refutation of faith alone (in red):

1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

2. As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.

The green portions are not what apostolic succession is, according to the Roman Catholic idea.  The Roman Catholic definition of apostolic succession certainly includes those concepts in the green phrases that Dave highlights, but by themselves, they are the kind of apostolic succession that a Protestant can agree with:  faithfully passing down sound doctrine and teaching to the next generation.  What Evangelical Protestant is against that?  What Irenaeus says does not include the idea of an infallible for all time into the future office / person of the episcopacy.   The Romanist / Papist reads the the idea of infallibility back into Irenaeus, and the Roman Church assumes the precluding of the possibility that a local church can go wrong and astray from the truth.  (like the Galatians in Galatians 1:6-9 or the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7  or the church of Sardis or Laodicea in Revelation 3)  and claims that only the Roman Church had the secret oral traditions (like Gnostics) that came out later, centuries and even millennia later.  What Irenaeus argues for, against the Gnostic heretics, Valentinius, Basiledes, Marcion, etc. is that up until his time, the tradition of the apostles was doctrine that was passed down orally and is the same content as what is in Scripture, and is proved in the Scriptures, that the God of the OT is the same as the NT and that Gnostic doctrines are wrong.

The purple sections do not demonstrate that Irenaeus is talking about oral traditions that their content is different than the Scriptures.  (What Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for in Mark 7 and Matthew 15, and what Paul warns the Colossians about in Colossians 2:8)  (like Dave mentions purgatory and the over-exalting of Mary.  Nor does Irenaeus mention other  Roman Catholic distinctives like the Papacy or indulgences or the treasury of merit, or praying to dead saints or having icons or statues in a worship context.)   Some of his labeling of purple is on statements that Ireneaus says it is “not” something, which actually argues against the impression of coloring a phrase and claiming Irenaeus is talking about oral traditions that are different than the traditions that were taught by the apostles and also written down in Scripture.

Please notice that “nor” and “neither” actually negate the implication that Dave is trying to make by seemingly implying that these purple phrases mean a Roman Catholic understanding of “oral tradition” that is different than the content of Scripture.  Although Dave does later use brown color later for another section in “oral traditions” separate from Scripture, the over-all impression of the purple in this section seems like “padding a bibliography” method.  Just adding a bunch of sources without having read them or used for research; in the same way, highlighting these phrases the way Dave does, gives an impression that is the opposite of what Irenaeus is actually communicating.  I add the bolding of the “nor” and “neither” that gives the balance.

Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.”

Basically, Irenaeus is saying that at the time of his writing, the church leaders in the churches did not teach Gnostic doctrines and that their traditions are the same teachings and doctrines of the apostles, and they are the same content as Scripture, and the church leaders at that time have not added new doctrines that are not part of the original deposit.

Yes; Irenaeus provides a Nicene Creed-like summary of the Catholic faith; just as Catholics and many Protestants cite every Sunday. It doesn’t follow, however, that both Catholics and Protestants don’t also believe many things that are not mentioned in the Nicene Creed: like original sin or TULIP (Calvinists) or absolute assurance of instant salvation, or purgatory, or Mary. And the Nicene Creed includes baptismal regeneration: a biblical and historic Christian doctrine that many Protestants including Ken, reject. We see the same in  3:4:2. I shall also cite 3:4:1 (references to oral tradition in brown):

Dave mentions the doctrines of original sin and TULIP and assurance of salvation ( a bias way of describing it)  as not being in the Nicene Creed and by implication of the argument, not in the description of the rule of faith by Irenaeus.  That’s true.  But, Original sin is clearly taught in Scripture (Romans 5:12; Psalm 51:4-5; Psalm 58:3; Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Ecclesiastes 9:3). and Roman Catholicism agrees with that anyway, which Augustine properly developed (the right kind of development of doctrine), and which the Eastern Orthodox Church rejects (original guilt in Adam).  Calvinists and Baptists like me, would argue that the 5 points of TULIP, are legitimate development of doctrine that comes out later, but is based on Scripture, whereas the Papal / Romanist doctrines are not even in Scripture at all.   Assurance of salvation is in the Scriptures, but without the caricature like way Dave describes it:  “absolute assurance of instant salvation”.   (it feels like Dave is mocking here)  The issue of tradition is why the article by Anthony Lane is so relevant.   Baptismal regeneration does seem to be affirmed in the Nicene Creed, but for a Protestant perspective, we can recognize that historical reality while questioning whether it is Biblical, and seeing it as one of the first mistakes that the early church made; (if they even meant that way in the earliest mentions of it, as in Justin Martyr.  But see here for a refutation of understanding baptismal regeneration in Justin Martyr, who writes just a few decades before Irenaeus.

And that one red section – well, there are verses like those in the Bible, but the meaning of those verses are the results of someone who was truly born again by God’s Spirit; someone who had true saving faith.  (The results of justification by faith alone are good works, fruit, obedience, sanctification, spiritual growth, etc. )  (Matthew 25:46; John 5:28-29; Hebrews 12:14; James 2:14-26; Romans 2:7-11)

So, Dave did not prove anything at all against Evangelical Protestantism – we are compatible with Irenaeus; properly understood.

5.  My not citing Against Heresies 3:4:1 –

What Ken also doesn’t notice (or chooses to ignore) is the fact that Irenaeus goes so far as to argue that had writing not been available, Christians still would possess the apostolic deposit:

“For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches? (Against Heresies, 3:4:1)”  (Dave Armstrong, see here)


Dave is right that I did not cite 3:4:1 in my original article, but not citing it is not the same thing as choosing to ignore or not noticing, because my focus was to show the content of those 2 sections and their similarity to a basic doctrinal type creed that are Scriptural doctrines, that eventually became the Nicene Creed.  This is what Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and others called “the rule of faith”.   At first glance, 3:4:1 seems to give credence to a kind of tradition that communicates different content than Scripture.  (what Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for in Mark 7 and Matthew 15) . . .  But wait . . . keep reading, . . . and low and behold, 3:5:1 tells us that those unwritten traditions that the churches would have had are in the Scriptures, and that the Scriptures are the proof of those doctrines that were taught by the apostles.  Looks like Dave is the one ignoring things.  (although Dave did cite this passage in the original article that I critiqued, he forgets it here, which would make his argument invalid.)

Against Heresies, 3:5:1

Chapter V.

1. Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth, and that no lie is in Him.

Against Heresies, 3:5:1

Basically, Irenaeus is saying that tradition is the same content as what is in Scripture, and Scripture proves what the tradition is.  So, Dave is wrong.  Dave took Irenaeus out of context; and Dave is the one who ignored my clear paragraph on the need for teaching in the churches with the elders; and Dave is the one who ignored Against Heresies 3:5:1 (in his lastest response), which emphasizes that the tradition persevered in the churches at the time of Irenaeus were proved as true by Scripture.

let us revert to the Scriptural proof” , Irenaeus  (around 180-200 AD)

6.   Again, the sections of what I wrote in the comboxes also vindicate the kind of argument I was making, as a whole.  Dave to his credit took out the “self-servingly molded”  and “hostile” comment.

Below are my comments in the comboxes.  My words are italicized.  One should click on the link to make sure.  My eyes may not have caught all the distinctions of who is writing what and clarity when someone is quoting.

Ken said…

Dave, you wrote:

“self-servingly molded” [describing Jason’s method of critique]

“self-servingly” is ascribing evil motives to his argumentation. You use words that are seeking to read motives, and that is bad form in argumentation.

In a nutshell, what he has done in his present argument that I shall critique, is define Catholic development according to hostile Protestant conceptions of it.

You seem to have immediately poisoned the well in your argumentation by calling it a “hostile” conception. You say he “defines” it according to his own understanding of it, rather than understanding the Roman Catholic view of the development of doctrine.

[addendum comment: Dave to his credit took out the “self-servingly molded”  and “hostile” comment.]


Jason understands quite well Newman’s development of doctrine theory. It is anachronistic by nature. Ideas and doctrines are not like seeds or organic material. They do not grow like seeds or eggs or embryos. Biblical Doctrine does develop in church history, but right doctrine (not just any claim to have right doctrine) must have Scriptural material and sound exegesis to back it up; the Roman Catholic claims of Pope and Mary and indulgences and relics and NT priests have no credible exegesis or Scriptural backing.

Everyone has some kind of Presuppositions; you do also; our human minds are not “tabula rosa” ( blank slates in our minds) (John Locke)

Sat Jan 16, 05:49:00 PM EST

Ken said…

Dave wrote:

“He seems to expect papal infallibility and the nature of the papal office to appear almost whole and entire in the early centuries (which is the Protestant tendency in approaching Church history), whereas in fact, development of doctrine (and particularly Venerable Cardinal Newman’s formulation of it) is precisely an explanation of organic development over time, meaning (by its very definition) that in many ways doctrines and doctrinal beliefs of large masses of people will look quite different in the year 300 than they would in, say 1870.”

Since it is such an important and all encompassing doctrine, and indeed the main doctrinal claim that makes the RCC claim to be the Church over all Christendom and all others are in rebellion, we would expect it to be there both in the Scriptures and in the early church history, but, alas, it not in either one. If it was true, we would expect Peter to at least mention some seed form of it in his second letter. 2 Peter does not mention it all; instead he says “this is the second letter I am writing to you” ( 3:1) Let that sink in, “writing to you”; he is emphasizing Scripture. He says his writing to them is “being diligent” and “reminding them of the truth” ( 3:1; 1:12-21) He knows he is going to die. (1:12-18) He says, essentially, “after I am gone, I am writing now, so I will be diligent by writing this, so that when I am gone you will have something written to refer to and build yourselves up and remind yourselves in the truth.” This is Sola Scriptura in a simple form, not any kind of Papal doctrine or dogma or even the existence of a Papal office, much less infallibility of the Pope. Peter does not even mention any presbyter / overseer who would be his successor. Why? Because the early church was a plurality of elders and there was no such thing as one man being the successor of one apostle or presbyter as an authoritative buck stops here kind of office. He called himself a “fellow-elder” (fellow presbyter) in I Peter 5:1. Not only is infallibility not there, the Papal office is not there, and successor to Peter is not there in I Peter, 2 Peter, nor Matthew 16:13-18. Nada, zilch. The mono-episcopate developed later; even the Didache (15:1 – deacons and episcopate) and I Clement only mention 2 offices (presbyters/episcopais as one office and deacons as the other office) and I Clement uses episcopais and presbuteros interchangeably.(I Clement 44 and 47) Both the Didache and I Clement are earlier history than Ignatius, and way earlier than any other juridicitional claims of Rome by Stephen (255 AD), Leo (401 AD) or Gregory (601 AD).

Sat Jan 16, 05:52:00 PM EST

Ken said…

Dave wrote:

“. . . is precisely an explanation of organic development over time, meaning (by its very definition) . . .

Jason and others of us understand Newman’s theory well enough. “organic development” means “seeds and acorns into oak trees”. We are saying the theory itself is wrong, unbiblical and unhistorical in the earliest centuries. [ I would add now:  Newman’s particular way of understanding “Development of Doctrine”, not a proper understanding of a kind of development of doctrine that has Scriptural warrant.]  We are not imposing our understanding of it on it, as you claim, rather we are refuting the idea itself, that doctrines/thoughts/ideas are parallel to organic material of seeds, acorns, embryos, eggs, DNA, etc. that grow naturally over time in history. Since the seeds of the Papacy are not there in the Bible, nor in Early Church history, it is non-existent. The mono-episcopate comes later, with Ignatius, later than Clement and the Didache, and even that is nothing compared to the audacity of the Bishop of Rome jurisdictional claims. Cyprian was right to oppose Stephen, bishop of Rome around 255 AD. 

There is such a thing as an authoritative Church, that has binding authority in matters of the faith.

Doctrinal Protestants believe in this idea in its basic form. We believe in the local church, and the local church is God’s instrument on the earth to be the body of Christ to minister to people, preach the gospel, teach sound doctrine, discipline the unrepentant, administer baptism and the Lord’s supper. The word “authoritative” would need more definition, as also does the word “binding”.

So, this statement is no better than Protestantism and we can affirm it in the bare statement as is and therefore, we are just as much a part of early church history as you are; we are small “c” catholics. History is history; whatever happened is whatever happened.

It is easy for the Roman Catholic Church to look back over history and claim it is the one infallible church, because its power and might forced it as the winners in the issue of the Papal doctrines. The Papacy and Infallibility developed slowly over the centuries from the beginning of jurisdictional claims, starting in 255 AD with Stephen, but he was wrong. Even then it did not really start developing until after Gregory and after Islam conquered the east and became more pronounced with the 1054 filoque clause schism with the Greek Orthodox church. The Eastern /Greek and Oriental churches knew it (Papacy, infallibility, jurisdictional claims over all Christians) was wrong also. Boniface VIII made one of the most arrogant statements in history in Unam Sanctum in 1303 AD. Basically, every one must submit to the Pope for salvation. Not only arrogant, but contradictory to Romans, Galatians, John, Acts, Philippians, Ephesians, the whole NT !!

The RCC anathematized the EO in 1054 and the Protestants in 1521; then 1545-1564 (bull and trial against Luther and then Trent).

They just claim Papal infallibility by raw power and an attitude of “whatever we say goes”

Sat Jan 16, 06:09:00 PM EST

Ken said…

Dave wrote:

That’s it, and the concept is already (I would contend) explicitly present in Scripture, in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), which not only claimed profoundly binding authority, but even the express sanction of the Holy Spirit, making it close to the concept of biblical inspiration: a thing that goes beyond all Catholic claims for infallibility: an essentially lesser gift than inspiration. The authoritative Church also includes apostolic succession. The true apostolic tradition or deposit is authoritatively passed down.

Since the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 is in Scripture, we are assured of its authority by the inspiration of the Scriptures. It is history recorded in Scripture. It does not say that the churches are to go out and copy that model of gathering all the leaders of other churches together (not a sin to do that; Nicea and Chalcedon were good; but they were not infallible or inspired by the Holy Spirit on the same level as Scripture) and that whatever they decide is infallible or 100% in all areas guided by the Holy Spirit. We know that the decision of Acts 15 was guided by the Holy Spirit because the text tells us this. They also quoted Scripture there, so they were acting in a Sola Scriptura kind of way. Peter’s statements in Acts 15:7-10 are consistent with Paul’s epistle to the Galatians; faith alone and grace alone. James quotes from Amos 9:12. There is nothing in the text that says extra-canonical meetings between leaders of church later in history will have the same level of binding authority or inspiration (as you seem to be claiming) or infallibility. The authority of Nicea against the Arians is authoritative because it was biblical; same for the doctrinal issues of Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. They were right on the issues of the nature of Christ and the Trinity because those doctrines are biblical; but only the Bible is infallible and inerrant.

Sat Jan 16, 06:12:00 PM EST

Ken said…

Dave wrote,
Quoting from Philip Schaaf,

“Irenaeus confronts the secret tradition of the Gnostics with the open and unadulterated tradition of the catholic church, and points to all churches, but particularly to Rome, as the visible centre of the unity of doctrine. All who would know the truth, says he, can see in the whole church the tradition of the apostles; and we can count the bishops ordained by the apostles, and their successors down to our time, who neither taught nor knew any such heresies. Then, by way of example, he cites the first twelve bishops of the Roman church from Linus to Eleutherus, as witnesses of the pure apostolic doctrine. He might conceive of a Christianity without scripture, but he could not imagine a Christianity without living tradition; ”

Dave stopped the quote here. (I don’t know why)

It goes on –
and for this opinion he refers to barbarian tribes, who have the gospel, “sine charta et atramento,” written in their hearts.

Obviously, if they could not read or write yet, and the Scriptures have not been translated yet into their language, they will have to rely on oral teaching and acceptance until that can be done. Oral cultures can be saved by hearing the gospel and repenting and trusting Christ and being able to memorize basic truths as a catechism. Ulfilas (ca 310-383 AD)was an Arian and he was the first to translate the Scriptures in Gothic German. Even Arians were not Gnostics. But Irenaeus is writing around 200 AD, so this is stronger for oral/living tradition to be used as the way of spreading the gospel until the Scriptures can be translated.

Sat Jan 16, 06:53:00 PM EST

Ken said…

“He might conceive of a Christianity without scripture, but he could not imagine a Christianity without living tradition; ”  (Schaff quote)

Irenaeus is not teaching RCC doctrine about development here nor Newman’s theory nor 1870. Irenaeus is not even saying what Schaaf says. In another place, which Dave also quoted, Irenaeus says, “Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, . . .
(Against Heresies, III, 5, 1)
This proves the Scriptures are the basis for the oral preaching and teaching to the barbarian tribes. Irenaeus is just saying the tradition orally went to the Barbarian tribes and even they agree against the Gnostics by their oral tradition or simple catechism, even without having written Scriptures.

Remember the context is about combating Gnosticism, which Protestants also disagree with. We are like Irenaeus because we also are against the heresies of Gnostism.

Schaaf again:
“Irenaeus confronts the secret tradition of the Gnostics with the open and unadulterated tradition of the catholic church, and points to all churches, but particularly to Rome, as the visible centre of the unity of doctrine.”

This is no problem for Protestants because the tradition is a basic proto-Apostles or proto-Nicean Creed and against Gnosticism. There is nothing in Irenaeus’ tradition that teaches Roman Catholic distinctives on the Pope and Mary and indulgences and relics and purgatory.

The Schaaf quotes are from – (History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970; reproduction of 5th revised edition of 1910, Chapter XII, section 139, “Catholic Tradition,” pp. 525-526)

Dave wrote:
“Conceiving of a Christianity without Scripture is hardly any sort of Protestantism or anything remotely like it. Jason’s contention falls flat in a heap of ashes. Yet Jason is still playing the game.”

Jason’s contention did not fall flat; rather it is your anachronistic reading of RCC definition of “living tradition” read back into Irenaeus that falls flat.

As I wrote above, Schaaf is not saying what Dave Armstrong is making him say; otherwise, how would Schaaf have consistently remained Protestant his whole life? (Same for J.N.D. Kelly, who Dave quotes later) He is not defining “living tradition” the way the RCC does today. He is only saying that even the Barbarian tribes were not Gnostic, believe in the God of the OT, have been taught the tradition without the Scriptures yet; because they were wild tribes that needed the gospel before the time it takes to translate. They can learn the tradition and basic doctrine orally and believe in their hearts without having the Bible.

Sat Jan 16, 06:58:00 PM EST

Ken said…

At the end of the section of Philip Schaaf, that Dave quotes from, Schaaf recovers from the statement (that Irenaeus can conceive of a Christianity without the Scriptures, but not without living tradition) that Dave took out of context:

“In the substance of its doctrine this apostolic tradition agrees with the holy scriptures, and though derived, as to its form, from the oral preaching of the apostles, is really, as to its contents, one and the same with there apostolic writings. In this view the apparent contradictions of the earlier fathers, in ascribing the highest authority to both scripture and tradition in matters of faith, resolve themselves. It is one and the same gospel which the apostles preached with their lips, and then laid down in their writings, and which the church faithfully hands down by word and writing from one generation to another.”

Sat Jan 16, 07:07:00 PM EST

Dave Armstrong said…

I’ll await Jason’s and/or David’s reply.

And the spelling is “Schaff.”

Sat Jan 16, 07:08:00 PM EST


Conclusion: So, when one gets a grasp of the whole thing, I believe sincerely that overall, I was right and Dave Armstrong was wrong.  He did take Irenaeus out of context by implying that the quote means a kind of infallible Roman Catholic doctrine of church and Papal authority with the Roman understanding of tradition and apostolic succession being read back into Irenaeus. 

Addendum 1:

For more info on Irenaeus and the famous passage about the church in Rome at the time of Irenaeus’ writing, see here.

Addendum # 2:

Dave blocked me totally from commenting; so I could not respond to this comment by Mark T.

(Note: I had to limit my own blog articles here to close after 14 days of commenting, because I had an annoying Muslim who was constantly making so many comments on my old blogs and so much I could not keep up with responding) 

I sure miss the days when Adomnem(?) made mince-meat out of Ken’s Greek translation attempts. LOL! When hate because the driving force of one’s life, then that person is truly blinded and can’t be reasoned with. You sure put up with a lot of dung, Mr. Armstrong. God Bless you for that work


Dear Mark T. – Adomnan did not make mince-meat out of my Greek translation attempts.  I translated the words correctly.  He corrected my incorrect typing of the Greek syntactical endings of the words for bishop (episkopos) and elder (presbuteros) – I got the syntactical endings wrong; which I admitted.  The words have different endings for different positions in a sentence.  (Nominative, Genitive, Accusative, Dative, and the endings are different when they are plurals.) 

Also, it is wrong to assign “hate” to my attempts at intellectually refuting Roman Catholic doctrines and practices as unBiblical.  

About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
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