Category: Early Church

Like most, I find the Bible to be a difficult book. I don’t merely mean that it is a lengthy collection of writings, and therefore a task for which I have trouble finding time. Nor do I mean that it is riddled with sometimes arcane or obscure terminology. Nor that it is full of challenging passages. Nor that original meanings sometimes get lost in translation.

More than this, it is tempting to approach the texts with 21st century assumptions. We tend to presume a naturalistic view of life that excludes the miraculous. We tend to fall into a fallacious and prideful assumption of moral and intellectual progress–that recent thinkers are smarter than those from antiquity, and our current values are superior to theirs. In short, we tend to look down our noses at our predecessors and their writings. We judge them from within our own parochial biases.

Within liberal Protestantism exists a large “fifth column”, a herd of skeptical critics who are currently inhabiting influential seats of power on church councils and in seminaries. These lend a veneer of authority to support a dismissive approach to understanding the Bible.

As one who reads widely, who has been through the rigors of higher education, who values scholarship, and whose work bastes me in scientific data on an ongoing basis, I am also particularly vulnerable. Doubt is my main demon–doubt, and perhaps pride. There are times when my own skepticism rises up against me. For me, I must retreat to my “touchstones” of faith, the greatest of which is the Resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection is the claim that splits Christian believers from all other people examining these mysteries. I’m convinced that this miracle is no fable but actually true.

That a historical Jesus, a teacher, existed in 1st century Palestine and died on a cross is not controversial–this is not a point for which lengthy arguments are needed. But how do we know he didn’t stay dead?

  1. There is the mystery of the empty tomb. Much more could be said about this.
  2. We have eyewitness testimony, in the form of the 4 Gospels, and furthermore Paul the Apostle lists some of those who encountered the post-resurrection Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8.
  3. From this same passage, written probably in the year 55 (merely 22 years after Jesus’ death), Paul refers to an older tradition. Taking this idea of an older tradition, along with the great song to Christ (the “kenosis hymn”) of Philippians 2:5-11, we have evidence that before Paul was writing his letters, within a few short years after the crucifixion, Jesus was being revered as God in human form by a sizable number of people.
  4. These people were Jews, who by their history and religious faith would have been almost the last people on earth in any era of history, to have embraced such an idea.
  5. We have the evidence of changed lives: Jesus’ disciples were transformed from cowering in fear after the crucifixion, to boldly proclaiming the Gospel, even to their own gruesome martyrdoms.
  6. For me, one of the more persuasive arguments is that Jesus’ own earthly brother, James, came to believe in him after seeing him in his resurrected body. If I made a claim to my own divinity, the last person who would probably believe me is my own brother, because we grew up together.

Other arguments can be made, but I will defer for now.

If the resurrection is really true, then we can handle other parts of the Bible that are difficult. Once we grasp the miracle of miracles, then the other recorded miraculous events are not a significant intellectual problem, including the parting of the Red Sea by Moses, and the fish story of Jonah. We can handle the purity codes of the ancient Hebrews. We can draw meaning from the story of the Garden of Eden. We can handle all the parts of the Bible that are difficult for us to grasp in a post-enlightenment era. If the resurrection is true then we can have faith that those narratives were collected for us for a good reason.

If Jesus really came back from death, then we must transform how we look at the ancient texts he held sacred. We no longer judge the Bible by our standards but rather let the Bible judge us by its standards.

I have discovered a website that offers an intellectual discipline for those interested in early church writings.  They have put together a plan of readings, which they describe as follows:

By reading seven pages a day for seven years, you can study a vast library of theology, history, liturgy, apologetics, biblical commentary, and devotion written in the first seven centuries of the Christian church. We provide a schedule of readings, the texts in English translation, and—most important—a community to discuss what you’re learning. Laypeople, clergy, seminarians, students, and Christians of all denominations will benefit from joining our community to read the church fathers.

They are in year 3 of this project, and have covered works written by such luminaries as Origen, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr.

You can find more at