Testimonies of Early Church Fathers In Favor of Sola Scriptura

The early church fathers express a wide range of views on many topics. Issues of authority and how doctrine was to be determined valid, and the role of scripture, like other topics, saw a variety of views. While not necessarily ubiquitous throughout the early church fathers, several fathers ranging from the ante-nicene through post-nicene eras spoke in favor of what is basically ‘sola scriptura’.

They did not, of course, speak of it by that name. In short, for them, it was the principle that in order for doctrines to be established as true, they must be demonstrated from the scriptures. This idea of demonstration is simply that a given doctrinal proposition must be proven from the scriptures, either by way of an explicit testimony, or else as a necessary deduction from them, in order to be accepted by Christians as true. That it come from an esteemed person or an ecclesiastical authority is not enough- it must be demonstrated from the scriptures, these fathers argued.

Church History

Demonstration From Scripture that the One God is the Father in Particular

It is important to see every point of doctrine proven from scripture in order to know with certainty that it is true; conversely we endanger ourselves if we rashly accept what merely seems plausible without a true demonstration from the scriptures. For scripture commands that we “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21)

For those who think this idea is merely a peculiarity of the protestant tradition, we may learn that this idea is in fact a patristic doctrine held by the early church fathers:

“Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.” (Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 4)

We see the same idea expressed by Clement of Alexandria:

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves… He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things. What is subjected to criticism is not believed till it is so subjected; so that what needs criticism cannot be a first principle. Therefore, as is reasonable, grasping by faith the indemonstrable first principle, and receiving in abundance, from the first principle itself, demonstrations in reference to the first principle, we are by the voice of the Lord trained up to the knowledge of the truth.
For we may not give our adhesion to men on a bare statement by them, who might equally state the opposite. But if it is not enough merely to state the opinion, but if what is stated must be confirmed, we do not wait for the testimony of men, but we establish the matter that is in question by the voice of the Lord, which is the surest of all demonstrations, or rather is the only demonstration; in which knowledge those who have merely tasted the Scriptures are believers; while those who, having advanced further, and become correct expounders of the truth, are Gnostics. Since also, in what pertains to life, craftsmen are superior to ordinary people, and model what is beyond common notions; so, consequently, we also, giving a complete exhibition of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, from faith persuade by demonstration.” (Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 16)

And Irenaeus of Lyons considered it so important to see even the most basic tenets of the Christian faith demonstrated from the scriptures, and not believed on the authority of mere human opinion, that he authored his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, in which he admirably shows the agreement of the holy tradition of the church with the holy and infallible scriptures, and proves each point of the traditional faith from the same.

And the teaching of these ancient Christians is itself well supported from the scriptures, which commend the Jews of Berea as “noble-minded”(Act 17:11) because they did not accept or reject what the Apostle Paul himself taught except upon seeing it proven from the scriptures, the Holy Spirit through the apostle in another place commanding every Christian to “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21).

Having then, demonstrated the need for demonstration from the scriptures itself from the scriptures, and having provided a few testimonies to the same effect from the holy fathers of the church, let us move on to our main subject, concerned with the identity of the one God.

The opinion of many, led astray by false teachers, is that the one God is a person who is the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The greater part who have been deceived have no idea of their own peril, but having uncritically accept what some teachers have told them, have been carried away by lies contrary to the teaching of scripture.

But the teaching of scripture stands, and the truth in unchanged by the false opinions of the multitude. And as Justin Martyr says “Neither shall light ever be darkness as long as light exists, nor shall the truth of the things pertaining to us be controverted. For truth is that than which nothing is more powerful. Every one who might speak the truth, and speaks it not, shall be judged by God.” I must then, although I would rather avoid the controversy entailed, do my best to speak the truth, although I am the least of all Christians.

The points of doctrine then, which I undertake to prove from the scriptures, that you may have a true knowledge of them, not founded on human opinion or plausible arguments, but upon proof from very voice of God speaking in the holy scriptures, are these:

  1. That the “one God” of scripture is a person.
  2. That the person of the one God is the Father in particular.

Firstly, let us fix in our minds what a “person” is: a person is commonly acknowledged to be an individual of a rational nature. For instance, we may speak of human persons, since individual men are individual and possess a rational nature. We may also regard angelic creatures as persons, since they also exist as individuals and possess a rational nature. God, His Son, and His Spirit are also persons, since each of them is an individual of a rational nature. Persons, since they are by definition rational and individual, possess their own distinct consciousness, will, and mind. As rational individuals, they act, think, and speak.

That the “one God” scripture reveals is a person is demonstrated from;

  • That it is self-evident that the “one God” is individual.
  • His actions demonstrate that He is rational.
  • That He is God proves He is rational, since rationality is necessary to exercise dominion and rule as God does.
  • Scripture’s use of singular personal pronouns for Him demonstrates that He is an individual.

Thus, once we see all these points proven, we will have it proven that the one God is both rational and individual; thus, by definition, a person.

We see that the one God acts in these passages of scripture:

“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another By profaning the covenant of the fathers?” (Malachi 2:10)

“since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:30)

We see that God is rational from these passages of scripture:

““Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28)

“For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;” (Proverbs 2:6)

Having it proven then from the holy scriptures that the one God is rational, and from the very term “one God” itself having it self-evident that He is individual, we have proven that He is a person. But scripture gives us further proof of this by using singular personal pronouns for Him; since by definition a singular personal pronoun indicates a single person.

We have already quoted above:

“since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:30)

The “one God” then is not an “it” and so impersonal, but is rather called by scripture “who”, thus teaching us that the one God is a person.

“So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”” (Mark 12:32-34)

Here the scribe says that there is one God, and calls Him “He”. If then, the one God were not a person, then the scribe did not indeed answer wisely, since he speaks of Him as one. But Christ, the Wisdom of God, acknowledges that “he answered wisely”.

Again the Spirit through Paul teaches

“yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)

We see then the one God spoken of with the singular personal pronouns “whom” and “Him”.

Lastly we will cite Ephesians 4:6:

“one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Here again we see the one God is proven to be a person by the use of the personal pronoun “who”.

So we see it proven again that the one God is a person, having proved it first from the fact that scripture shows the one God to be an individual of a rational nature, and thus a person by definition, so also we have now shown that scripture declares that the one God is a person by using personal pronouns for Him. We have then, demonstrated from infallible scripture this first point of doctrine, that the one God is a person.

On then, to the second point of doctrine of our demonstration, that is, having established that the one God is a person, proving now from the scriptures that He is the person of the Father in particular.

This is made clear from the following passages:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-5 NAS

Here the one God is explicitly shown to be the same person as the Father.

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NAS

Here the Lord teaches us to call the Father the “only true God” by His own example when He prayed to the Father on the night He was betrayed.

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

Here the Holy Spirit expressly declares through the apostle that the one God is the Father.

From these explicit testimonies is clearly demonstrated the fact that the one God is the Father. And He cannot be, as some have though, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit if He is a person; for a person, as we have said, is an individual, and thus singular. And we also noted the use of singular, not plural, personal pronouns used for the one God, thus proving that the one God is not a company of persons but a single person, and that this person is none other than the Father, the one Whom the Lord Jesus Christ called “the only true God”.

Here then both points of doctrine have been clearly and thoroughly proven from the scriptures; let he who has ears hear. What you may once have safely regarded as mere opinion is now declared to you by the voice of God to be sure and certain truth, which cannot be safely disregarded.

But someone will perhaps not regard the testimony of scripture alone as sufficient, but will require an official ruling from the church. Such foolishness deserves no answer; but that they may through the truth be drawn to repentance, let them read only the first line of the Creed composed by the Council of Nicea, the first ecumenical council, when it says “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things..” and they will know that what I have already demonstrated from the scriptures is indeed true.

 

Above scripture quotations taken from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.

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Highlights from Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril of Jerusalem is a notable fourth century theologian and church father, best known today for his Catachetical Lectures. This nicene-era archbishop of Jerusalem’s lectures provide us with a clear elucidation of classical trinitarianism, in which we also find strong apolegetics against both Arianism and modalism, both of which threatened the church of his day.

Like the Nicene Creed, Cyril very explcitly taught that the “one God” of the Christian faith is the person of the Father in particular. We see that doctrine greatly emphaized by him in the following quotes:

“Further, do thou neither separate the Son from the Father, nor by making a confusion believe in a Son-Fatherhood; but believe that of One God there is One Only-begotten Son, who is before all ages God the Word; not the uttered word diffused into the air, nor to be likened to impersonal words; but the Word the Son, Maker of all who partake of reason, the Word who heareth the Father, and Himself speaketh.” On the Ten Points of Doctrine (Lecture IV)

“For there is One God, the Father of Christ; and One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of the Only God; and One Holy Ghost…” On the Ten Points of Doctrine (Lecture IV)

“Of God as the sole Principle we have said enough to you yesterday:  by “enough” I mean, not what is worthy of the subject, (for to reach that is utterly impossible to mortal nature), but as much as was granted to our infirmity.  I traversed also the bye-paths of the manifold error of the godless heretics:  but now let us shake off their foul and soul-poisoning doctrine, and remembering what relates to them, not to our own hurt, but to our greater detestation of them, let us come back to ourselves, and receive the saving doctrines of the true Faith, connecting the dignity of Fatherhood with that of the Unity, and believing In One God the Father:  for we must not only believe in one God; but this also let us devoutly receive, that He is the Father of the Only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Father (Lecture VII)

“But let us adopt the godly doctrine of our Faith, worshipping one God the Father of the Christ…” The Father (Lecture VII)

“There is One God, the Father, Lord of the Old and of the New Testament:  and One Lord, Jesus Christ, who was prophesied of in the Old Testament, and came in the New; and One Holy Ghost, who through the Prophets preached of Christ, and when Christ was come, descended, and manifested Him.” On the Article, And In One Holy Ghost, the Comforter, Which Spake In the Prophets (Lecture XVI)

“The Father through the Son, with the Holy Ghost, is the giver of all grace; the gifts of the Father are none other than those of the Son, and those of the Holy Ghost; for there is one Salvation, one Power, one Faith; One God, the Father; One Lord, His only-begotten Son; One Holy Ghost, the Comforter. ” On the Article, And In One Holy Ghost, the Comforter, Which Spake In the Prophets (Lecture XVI)

There is much we could say about these quotes. It is firstly noteworthy that these all come from lectures given to new believers preparing to be baptised; they were intended to be doctrinal milk for spiritual children. The inclusion of this doctrine in these lectures then shows us the elementary nature of this doctrine in the eyes of Cyril. For Cyril, the truth that the one God of the Christian faith is the Father of Christ was not something esoteric, only to be discussed by theologians in ivory towers. Rather, it was regarded by him as among the most fundamental teachings of the Christian faith, a truth to be understood by every believer, from the advanced scholar to the illiterate farmer.

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We Believe in One God, the Father Almighty…

Most ancient creeds, including the Nicene, begin by declaring faith in one God, the Father Almighty. This belief that God is one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (that is, Unitarianism) is given as the first article of the Christian faith in these ancient creeds and confessions. The identification of the one God with the person of the Father in particular is not only easily proved from the scriptures, but is also extensively witnessed to by the ante-nicene and nicene church fathers. A non-comprehensive list of quotes showing this is given below.

Scriptural Proof:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6 NAS

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NAS

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

Ancient Patristic Witness:

Clement of Rome:

“Why are there strifes, and tumults, and divisions, and schisms, and wars  among you? Have we not [all] one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us?” 1 Clement, Chapter XLVI.

“We beseech Thee, Lord and Master, to be our help and succor. Save
those among us who are in tribulation; have mercy on the lowly; lift
up the fallen; show Thyself unto the needy; heal the ungodly; convert
the wanderers of Thy people; feed the hungry; release our prisoners;
raise up the weak; comfort the fainthearted. Let all the Gentiles
know that Thou art the God alone, and Jesus Christ is Thy Son, and
we are Thy people and the sheep of Thy pasture.” 1 Clement, Ch 59

“For concerning faith and repentance and genuine love and temperance
and sobriety and patience we have handled every argument, putting you
in remembrance, that ye ought to please Almighty God in righteousness
and truth and long suffering with holiness, laying aside malice and
pursuing concord in love and peace, being instant in gentleness; even
as our fathers, of whom we spake before, pleased Him, being lowly
minded toward their Father and God and Creator and towards all men.” 1 Clement, Ch 62

Ignatius of Antioch:

“On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by His grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased Him that sent Him.” Epistle to the Magnesians (shorter version), Chapter VIII.

Arguments For Unitarianism Church History