This short phrase, “in accordance with the Scriptures,” occurs rather politely in the course of the Nicene Creed. It does not mean that what is described is described “according to the Scriptures,” that is, in a literal sense, but rather that these matters – on the third day rose again from the dead in accordance with the Scriptures, are matters that happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures themselves. It is, first off, a reference to the Old Testament, and an affirmation that the ministry of Christ and His Passion and Resurrection are indeed the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Thus, this is a hermeneutical statement, a claim about how the Scriptures are to be interpreted.
It is interesting that the phrase is found within the New Testament itself, particularly in St. Paul’s recitation of Christian tradition in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. There we are told:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures (vs. 3-4).
I would argue (and be far from alone) that what we have here is St. Paul’s recitation of Tradition (parodosis in the Greek, which is the word he uses), and that the Traditional statement of Christ’s death and resurrection are themselves part of an early “Apostolic Creed,” or the “Apostolic Hypothesis,” as St. Irenaeus would later describe it. This “Hypothesis” is a general framework of understanding of Christ’s ministry and meaning by which and through which the Scriptures (Old Testament) are to be read.
Thus from the beginning the early Christian community was making a particular claim concerning the interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures (as we would now refer to them). This, of course, is no different than the statement Christ makes in St. John’s gospel, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me” (John 5:39). Christ is not only asserting His messiahship, but also His peculiar relationship with the Scriptures: “they bear witness to me.”
Now on a literal level this can be somewhat problematic. For instance, the resurrection “on the third day” is no where referenced other than in the oblique imagery of the prophet Jonah’s deliverance from the belly of the whale. But it would appear that this is precisely the reference Christ had in mind (“the sign of the prophet Jonah” in Matthew 12:40).
I had a recent internet conversation about the “historical” claims of the Church. I have asserted here and elsewhere that the Orthodox Church is indeed the Church founded by Christ (there are early schisms, such as the non-Chalcedonians, that I do not necessarily mean to exclude from this historic claim.) What I was confronted with in that conversation was the question of just how uniform the early Church might have been. Is it correct to speak of the Orthodox Church in the first century and not rather to speak of various local churches, some more like one another and some less like others?
Of course history is always problematic. There are no time machines that allow us to go back and make surveys and the like. We are always left speaking about what is most likely or what we believe to be true based on the evidence, etc.
Interestingly, for me, the overwhelming historical evidence of the Orthodox Church’s identity with the first century Church is to be found precisely in that phrase, “In accordance with the Scriptures.”
Gnostics certainly produced Scriptures, but in no way do those Scriptures have any affinity with the “Apostolic Hypothesis” described by St. Irenaeus, which I think can easily be argued to be itself Apostolic in origin and content. Indeed, St. Paul’s citing “paradosis” argues that the Apostolic Hypothesis (Creed, if you will) is older than the New Testament. I can think of nothing that presents earlier evidence of a common faith within the Christian community than such a “Hypothesis.”
Beyond that, stretching out from the New Testament forward, this framework of the Gospel continues to interpret the Scriptures. Within a very short span of time very mature interpretive frameworks can be found in St. Paul and St. John which will continue to be augmented though not changed as centuries go forward. There are no other candidates in the historical mix of the first century or so that have such a full Scriptural life. Heaven knows the Gnostics have all kinds of ideas, but nothing that seriously engages the material of the Old Testament, and certainly nothing that represents an alternative hypothesis of interpretation.
I believe that early statements, such as St. Paul’s simple declaration, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,” are so deeply rooted in the Apostolic matrix that you cannot simply leap from some “Christ Event” we are not sure about to such a full-blown interpretive statement except that you accept that such interpretation goes back to Christ Himself and the Church instructed during the time of His resurrection appearances.
Many statements (such as Christ being the Passover Lamb) are all too easily glanced over without stopping to realize how utterly profound they are as interpretations. This same kind of thing happens repeatedly in the New Testament in Gospels and Epistles. The New Testament is an interpretive event itself that is utterly Orthodox in its conception and teaching. And it is in the Orthodox Catholic Church that this same interpretation continues as the centuries move forward – and there alone.
The rich hymnographic material that comprises the bulk of Orthodox services is itself part of a continuing interpretive life. The Church thus worships in accordance with the Scriptures. I can think of no other candidate with which to compare the interpretive community of the primitive Orthodox Church.
I may be somewhat conservative in my reading of Church history, but I have yet to see anything that would make me read it otherwise. The Orthodox Catholic Church was founded by Christ as witnessed in its unique interpretive life. For this, there was no early competition.