In a previous post I was reflecting on what it means to early Christian writers to say that Scripture is a criterion of truth. In that post I quoted George Karamanolis, but it wasn’t really the quote I was looking for since I didn’t have the book on hand and had to rely on Amazon’s free preview which stopped a page short of the quote I had in mind. Here is the quote:

I would argue that the case of the Christians is not much different from that of Hellenic philosophers. Adherents of these schools tried to show how exactly their school authorities should be understood so that they can be philosophically most plausible. This is also the case with Christians. Their statement that Scripture is the measure and the authority did not amount to much in substance ultimately, because the Scriptures alone did not help them settle the crucial philosophical issues they were concerned with; nor did it help them in addressing the objections from non-Christians or fellow Christians, such as the Gnostics. The former would not be convinved by the mere reference to Scripture, while the latter would continue makign different sense of the text. No matter, then, what they say about the Scriptures as a source of truth, early Christian thinkers hardly ever rely on it alone, since they know that this practice cannot establish any case; only some kind of argument would do.

(Karamanolis, 53)

This analysis seems thin. First, it doesn’t seem to take into account the role of their belief that Christ is the true Logos and so the fount of all truth, whether of rational arguments or of the words of Scripture, which is odd since he discusses this very thing just prior to the quote above (pp. 38–48). Secondly, Karamanolis shifts from saying that Scripture is the “measure and authority” to saying that Christians hardly every rely on it alone. These seem to me to be two different things. The point of my previous post was that Porphyry used knowledge of the Forms inherent in the Soul at the end of a process of drawing out concepts from sense perception. This would be analgous to the first statement of Karamanolis (that Scripture is the measure or authority). I take the latter statement to mean that for Karamanolis, to say Scripture is the measure and authority is to begin from and use Scripture alone for theological/philsophical reasoning (which isn’t necessarily the only way to understand “Scripture alone”).

All of this isn’t to say that early Christian writers held to a kind of sola Scriptura, but only that I don’t think their comments about scriptural authority are as meaningless as Karamanolis’s statements seem to imply.

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One thought on “Addendum to Scripture as the Criterion of Truth

  1. Greetings from Greece,

    I would like to state the following: when we are still during the fourh century AD, philosophy and it’s methods are still strongly in use a lot. So under these circumstances, i think, you can understand the point of Karamanolis’ argument. Scripture alone can not convince anyone, of course i mean someone out of any christian environment, these years by itself. You need to have the right reasoning needed to convince the philosophers of that time. Philosophy was the path for someone to clarify his ideas and his religious beliefs. This does not happen in our days. Today, we say that religion is a matter of choice ore even someone is an atheist because that’s what he decides to follow. There is not necesserily reasoning for that.

    Now, after the fifth century this fact slowly starts fading, because actually the way philosophy functions is changing. The old philosophical schools of the Platonists for example, are gradually shifting their thought to theurgy. We see that in their writings. The christian writers after the fifth century do not have so many philosophical reasoning in their thought, but they base their word almost only in the Scriptures. So after fifth century, in my opinion, we could claim that scriptures are authoritative.

    But to be honest, the absolute thought of Scriptures alone did never exist in ancient Christianity. Even after the fifth century, next to the Scriptures every christian had the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and the Creeds of the Councils. This is a clear modern innovation that appeared during the era of Enlightment by some protestant circles.

    Thank you,
    John Sarigiannidis

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