Scripture and the Church

codexsinaiticusI have written several posts lately on Holy Scripture – reading comments tells me that there is a point that needs to be underlined that I have neglected to some extent – the relationship between Scripture and Church. Much of the modern world is today the product of Protestant cultures – or cultures in which the view of the Bible has been largely shaped by the Protestant project.

The most critical part of that intellectual project was the decoupling of Scripture and Church. For Martin Luther or the early Reformers (particularly the successors of Luther, Calvin and Swingli), the Bible became the only authority (sola Scriptura) and it was through the Bible that the Church was to be judged, corrected and reformed. Thus the Scriptures took on a new form – one in which they became an independent book with authority over everything else. Problems of interpretation were often met with theories of “soul competency” in which it was postulated that each individual soul was competent to interpret the Scriptures for themselves. Of course, these were all novel doctrines, unknown to the Fathers of the Church.

One of the results was to create something of a Christian parallel to the Koran. Christianity, at the hands of well-intentioned reformers became a “people of the book.” A single Christian, with a copy of the Scriptures, somehow became a sufficient example of Christianity. Of course this phenomenon was itself a contradiction of the Scriptures. Today we see the embodiment of this sea-change. Crowds of young and old, carrying Bibles under their arms, dutifully make their way into buildings, euphemistically called “Churches,” although in America they are increasingly called something more attractive than “Church.”

The separation of Bible and Church was not an accident – it was an intentional political move. The goal was to establish the Scriptures as an authority independent of the Church. Nor was this independence purely for the sake of the spiritual “freedom” of the individual. The great competitor for the authority of the Church in the 16th century was not the individual, but the State. More than the work of reformers, the Reformation was a work of the State. Ask the many murdered monks of England. The 16th century is not the great century of democracy in Western Europe, but the great century in which were born the nation states. The authority of the Church was diminished while the authority of the state was expanded. Far easier to offer the spiritual comfort of a private Bible and a private God than the inherently dangerous political entity of a spiritual community.

Of course history has moved on and these original intentions have morphed into present-day realities. Of course, the individualized Christian with his individualized Bible continues to live at the mercy of the nation state, oftentimes endowing those entities (especially in America) with an authority that does not properly belong to them.

But of course, the radical mistake of removing the Holy Scriptures from the interpretive context of the living Orthodox Church, is to kill the Scripture as Scripture. Scripture apart from the Church makes no more sense than Holy Communion apart from the Church. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Scripture is written for the Church, to the Church, and is read by the Church. Apart from the Church it can have no particular meaning – for within the Church it has a most peculiar meaning that can only be traditioned within the Church.

This is made clear in several incidents within the New Testament. To the Sadducees who rejected most of the Old Testament, Christ said: “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 20:29).

And yet more bodly, to the Pharisees He said, “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). It is a radical claim in which Christ points to Himself as the meaning of the entire Old Testament. I can think of no bolder claim from His lips to His messiahship.

But we also see evidence of the proper place for reading and understanding the Scripture. The Sadducees did not understand, nor did the Pharisees. To a great extent, even the disciples of Christ did not understand until after the resurrection. On the road to Emmaus, we hear this encounter between the Risen Lord and His yet to be enlightened disciples:

And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:25-32).

After this encounter, Christ appears to His disciples by the Sea of Galilee. He greets them from the shore:

And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:41-47).

It is clear that the entire interpretive scheme of the Old Testament – as a revelation of the suffering and resurrected God – is not at all understood by the disciples until it is given to them by Christ after the resurrection. This same “scheme” (in the sense of “schema” in the Greek – meaning “framework”) is precisely the scheme of the liturgies, hymns and prayers of the Church. They are the most abundant witness to this primitive proclamation of the Church in which the Old Testament, rightly sung in its proper context, yields up its meaning in bearing witness to Christ and His resurrection. This rich interpretive scheme is completely lost to those who have detached the Bible from the fullness of the Orthodox Church and placed it in various forms of history – either fundamentalist literalism – or historical critical schemes of blasphemy.

The Scriptures do not stand apart from the Church. They are the “Scriptures of the Church.” To refer to them as Scripture apart from the Church is simply an absurd statement that ignores the very meaning of the word “Scripture.” They are Scripture, or “Holy Writing,” precisely because the Church sees and hears in them what it was taught to see and hear in them. Removed from that context they will always be read incorrectly. It is equally absurd to claim that the Scriptures have some “objective” meaning, as though they were written for nobody – like a rock exists in the desert. They are not objective, but are “ecclesial,” that is, existing for the life and as part of the life of the Church.

If a man would know the word of God, then he should stand in the midst of the assembly of the Church and listen to the hymns and prayers of the saints. There he will hear the rich treasures of the Word of God offered as praise, as doctrine, as worship, as a verbal icon of Christ Himself. In so doing He can come to know the word of God.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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190 responses to “Scripture and the Church”

  1. Cuthbert Avatar


    One question: how do you reconcile your statement that the scriptures can be interpreted incorrectly with your assertion that they are not objective? Does correct and incorrect interpretation imply at least some level of objectivity?


  2. Cheryl Avatar

    Thank you, Father.

  3. Philippa Avatar

    This post has helped me understand the unity of Scripture and the Church. I’ve never had it explained so simply and clearly so I could grasp it. Thanks be to God, Father Stephen.

  4. Aaron Harrell Avatar

    I agree that church and scripture are connected, but exclusivity was never a tenet of Jesus. How do these two ideas reconcile? It is not for the church to hoard scripture. I realize that there is tension in most of scripture that requires constant study and meditation, maybe this is just one more example of that tension?

  5. […] Scripture and the Church by Fr. Stephen Freeman at Glory to God for All Things. This is a very important post as we near Lent. This will be especially interesting to those who take the Protestant view of Sacred Scripture. Very interesting…It may show up on his podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. […]

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    I am contrasting “objectively” with “ecclesially.” Objective would mean that anyone could arrive at the same conclusion. I am saying that only the Church will arrive at the ecclesial interpretation and as far as the Church goes, that is the authoritative interpretation. The passages from Luke make this clear.

  7. Aaron Harrell Avatar

    I guess I take issue with that because it sounds like you are saying that the Orthodox Church has it right and most other forms of witness have it wrong, even to the point of blaspheming. The passage in Luke indeed says that Jesus had to interpret the Old Testament for his disciples, but in context this seems to me to simply say that he was explaining this to Jews who, in large part were expecting a conquering king. I am not sure that I follow how this means that the church is the only authority on scripture. It feels an awful lot like God is being placed in an Orthodox box, which is as good a box as any, but is still a box. Is it not possible that a Protestant and a follower of Orthodoxy Christianity such as yourself could draw the same conclusion from scripture?

  8. jmgregory Avatar

    I was raised in a tradition which said that we should all read the bible as if we had never seen it before, as if the book had simply dropped out of the sky in front of us. It was firmly believed that if we could simply get rid of polluting creeds and traditions, we could all read the bible objectively, and on the basis of rationality would come to the same conclusions about God and the life of the Church. This proved to be impossible, and our churches continue to splinter, often painfully. (Indeed, if you do not see the scriptures the “objective” way, as I see them, you must be mentally deficient, or perhaps something worse.) The fracturing of the Protestant movement at large is a direct result of Sola Scriptura. As time goes on, I am becoming more and more aware of the need for an authoritative interpretation. Thank you, Father Stephen, for providing such a concise summary of the issue.

    This is not to say that any particular interpretation of scripture could fully describe God – to “put Him in a box”. Please correct me if I have misapprehended this, but as I understand it the Word of God is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, and the Church is Christ’s Body. Therefore it is in the name of Christ himself that the Church continues to interpret the scriptures as he taught his disciples and has been passed down in Tradition.

  9. […] Scripture and the Church […]

  10. luciasclay Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    An excellent post. The relation of the Church and Scripture is lost on most protestants. Officially I am still in that fold right now. Primarily because I’m still getting up the courage of my convictions. And am still rattling around with east or west in my mind.

    For me it comes down to this. The Church defined scripture and that is undeniable. But for tradition and authority of the church we’d have no scripture. And if I cannot trust the Church I by extension cannot trust Scripture. Jewish authority defined their scripture and Christian defined the canon we inherited from them and also what the Church decided was scripture and what was not. Tradition preserved that going forward. The Church rejected many books that were not authentic, or taught things contrary to the faith handed down. In many cases the heresies condemned in councils also held to different canons. That is something that continues to the present day.

    The idea that scripture is defined because its recongized as the word of God (self authenticating) is an idea that Luther started. Most protestants do not know that Luther not only threw out the dueteroncanonical works but also Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation. He left them in the translation but prefaced them saying they were not to be considered canonical. Now of course there was some historical basis to his stance in that the NT books were held in dispute to varying degrees. But the Church over time agreed they were canonical. And to this day protestants accept the determination of the Church. They just refuse to admit it.

    You mention the realities of the reformation as being state more than personal. That is something I’ve been reading a lot of lately and its really important history. Both in Germany and in England the motives were largely by the rulers and largely centered on raiding the Church and actively suppressing it using the excuse of various abuses. Charles Butler’s 1824 work Book of the Roman Catholic Church does a great job detailing the same cruelty invoked upon Catholics by Protestants as Protestants complained about when the roles were reversed. The view of the reformation we grow up with as protestants is very much one sided propaganda.

    The modern protestant views are essentially impossible. The Church started w/o any writing. All churches were setup by oral tradition. 2 Thess 2:15 lays it out clearly.

    I realize I spoke in Roman -vs- Protestant terms above ( not Orthodox ) but most protestants approach from this view. As you read most of the protestant arguments about why they are right it becomes clear they don’t know Orthodox even exists. The realization of Orthodoxy is so refreshing and reassuring. Thank you for preserving the faith!

    Forgive my rambling. This is something I am so passionate about. I don’t know why its not more forcefully presented in the US. There is no way to defend Sola Scriptura. The rejection of tradition results in chaos.

  11. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    I am still quite protestant in my convictions that the Holy Scriptures should serve as an anchor for the traditions of the Church – calling her back to her core tradition and vocation she had from the beginning. Thus, I don’t think the Reformers were wrong in principle to appeal to them against some of the strange developments in the Western Church. But I completely agree that they are the Church’s book, and that we should not consider ourselves first and foremost a “people of the book” but rather members of the “body of Christ”. The Holy Scriptures are given for our nourishment in this context.

  12. Aaron Harrell Avatar

    Great comments, I am learning much history that I was unaware of. I think that anytime there is any one group who claims a monopoly on interpretation of scripture, indeed even to use the bible to interpret how the bible should be interpreted, there is a danger of arrogance because when we claim to know the mind of God more than others there is still an imperfect human element to it all. I don’t think that the protestant church has it all right. I know I don’t have it even close to right. I guess that’s why anyone who claims to have it right is suspect in my mind.

    It feels like the argument here is that scripture is incomplete without the church. The problem with that is that the church is based on scripture. It is like a dog chasing its tail. Forgive me if I am rambling, but I am simply not as sure as everyone else here about where the ultimate authority is. Obviously God is the authority, but how is that manifest on earth?

  13. Bill M Avatar
    Bill M

    Many of the Protestant splinters are traceable to sola scriptura, and the resulting differing translations or interpretations. But many as well can be traced to cultural matters – dress, lifestyle, income sources, music. While nowhere near as splintered, the Orthodox have their divisions as well – calendar, music, country of origin, beards – none of which have been easily settled by the assertion that Scripture is to be rightly (and only) interpreted within the Church.

    This is not to argue with what Fr. Stephen has posted in this article. It’s only to point out that people are very creative about finding ways to separate from one another. Protestant mishandling of Scripture is certainly one of those ways, but were it not a problem, we would have found other means… 🙂

  14. Aaron Harrell Avatar

    Well said Bill.

    On another note, where is a good place to learn about Orthodoxy? I am very uneducated and would like to remedy that, time allowing. Thank you all for some great comments, I enjoyed them all. Thank you Father Stephen for granting us this space to have a conversation.

  15. William Avatar

    Aaron, I think it’s less about competing claims to rightness in interpreting scripture, as though the truth were merely a matter of dialectic and the Church were merely a particular group with a particular interpretation, just like all the other groups and all their interpretations. Instead, the Church is the living and continuous presence of Christ in our midst and the communion in his life. As such, its witness stands firm and its interpretation of Scripture does not contradict itself over the course of time. It is not putting God in a box to acknowledge that there are right ways and wrong ways to read scripture, and it is perfectly reasonable to expect that the Church, which Paul called “the pillar and ground of truth,” would read scripture today in harmony with the way it did 1,000 years ago, 1,500 years ago and nearly 2,000 years ago. Yes, there is a human element that can err, including within the Orthodox Church, but it is not the Church that errs when her members stray from what she has handed down. The Church, rather, calls all erring ones, inside and outside of her, back to her constant witness to the truth of Christ.

    To say that the Bible is only properly read by the Church is not to say that this one group of people is the only one who could arrive at a true conclusion about any given scriptural passage. It is to say that without the Holy Spirit, there is no understanding of the Holy Scriptures. The Spirit blows where he wills, but the Church has always been his sure habitation.

  16. William Avatar

    Aaron, please forgive me if my comment came across as too pedantic.

  17. mic Avatar


    The Orthodox Church, by Bishop Kallistos Ware.

    That is a great introduction to Orthodoxy!


  18. Aaron Harrell Avatar

    Well said William, your wording is the clearest so far, without sounding pedantic. Your comment seems the most systemic in nature, which is really where I was driving at. It satisfies my original questions very well. It brings up another. The first is in regards to your comment:

    “…it is perfectly reasonable to expect that the Church, which Paul called “the pillar and ground of truth,” would read scripture today in harmony with the way it did 1,000 years ago, 1,500 years ago and nearly 2,000 years ago.”

    Since there are a multitude of translations of scripture, is the Orthodox Church still using the same translation as before…you see where I am going here. Everything changes to some degree. If Orthodoxy is not changing its traditions, etc, what is changing?

  19. […] Stephen offers up another excellent post on Scripture & the Church. No […]

  20. Theodora Elizabeth Avatar
    Theodora Elizabeth

    Fr. Stephen, thank you so much for this post! The timing was quite interesting. A woman raised in the Episcopal Church (although I’m not sure if she’s currently practicing) asked two days ago on a discussion forum about the Orthodox view of the Bible. She had seen posts by converts noting that they saw the Bible much different once they become Orthodox. I’ve linked to this post in the discussion – it’s a great help and says so much better than the words I could find.

    Happy Meatfare Week!

  21. William Avatar

    Aaron, I assume your question about translations of scripture is particularly referring to English, French, etc. translations, in which case, translations have differed. Liturgically, the King James is widespread, the Orthodox Study Bible’s New Testament is the New King James version (I think these two are popular in Orthodoxy because they follow the received Greek text rather than text cobbled by scholars looking to recreate as best they can the “originals”) There is the new Eastern Orthodox Bible that is an independent translation done by Orthodox translators.

    So translations change, and likewise other things change. Liturgical practice and customs have changed in various ways over time. Practices have changed and some matters of discipline look different today than they might have at another time in the Church’s history. Doctrinal articulations certainly gained greater precision over time during the patristic period, which is not the same as saying that doctrine itself changed. Even today, a person can make a fresh restatement in his or her own words of a perennial truth. The key, really, is that the Church on earth today is in harmony with the Church in heaven today. My own words and readings of scripture can be fresh and new, but must be in harmony with that of the great saints in whom the Church has acknowledged as holy and God-bearing upholders of truth.

    I hope this gets at your question. You ask some good things. I’d second the recommendation that you read Kallistos Ware’s “The Orthodox Church.” I’d also recommend Ware’s book, “The Orthodox Way,” which I like even better.

  22. Robert Avatar

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

    “the scheme of the liturgies, hymns and prayers of the Church. They are the most abundant witness to this primitive proclamation of the Church in which the Old Testament, rightly sung in its proper context”

    As a protestant I boasted about “being scriptural”. However, in contrast, I have never experienced an abundance of scripture since becoming Orthodox.

    “If a man would know the word of God, then he should stand in the midst of the assembly of the Church and listen to the hymns and prayers of the saints. There he will hear the rich treasures of the Word of God offered as praise, as doctrine, as worship, as a verbal icon of Christ Himself. In so doing He can come to know the word of God.”

    OK I am sitting down. 😀

  23. Robert Avatar

    correction: As a protestant I boasted about “being scriptural”. However, in contrast, I have never experienced an abundance of scripture [b]UNTIL[/b] becoming Orthodox.

  24. Darla Avatar

    Aaron, I’ve been reading about Orthodoxy recently, being drawn to the reality of the Orthodox church because of the shortcomings I see in the Protestant church, and here are some resources I’ve appreciated:

    Becoming Orthodox by Peter Gillquist
    Evangelical is Not Enough by Thomas Howard
    Facing East by Frederica Mathewes-Green
    At the Corner of East and Now by Frederica Mathewes-Green.


  25. Robert Avatar


    “where is a good place to learn about Orthodoxy?”

    You can’t read yourself into Orthodoxy as they say. I recommend attending Divine Liturgy at your local Orthodox church.

  26. Darla Avatar

    Robert, I agree! (“You can’t read yourself into Orthodoxy.”) At the same time, I wouldn’t have known about the Orthodox church when I did were it not for a book I’d discovered at a thrift store and the subsequent reading I did after that. If I’d just gone to an Orthodox church, I would have thought it weird and unBiblical. The reading gave me a better context for understanding the what and why. I’d never even been exposed to the idea of early church history before and how that might still be relevant today.

    Another thought is that just getting to an Orthodox church isn’t always as easy as that, KWIM? Our nearest Orthodox church is a good 45 minute drive to another county and town. I know some would find that enviable, but not all would esp. one of a Protestant background who has a “good” church where they live.

  27. fatherstephen Avatar

    Occasionally we would draw similar conclusions, but you’d be surprised at how messed up much Protestant interpretation sounds to the Orthodox. Orthodoxy is not a box, it’s the Church Christ founded. There was no Protestant Church then, only Orthodoxy. The Church has faithfully kept the what was taught them, much of which is ignored or twisted by others. What I mean by blasphemy is the teaching of the angry God who punishes for legal infractions, and the whole dispensationalist nonsense. We do differ. Orthodoxy, however is not a box, it is the Church, which Scripture describes as “the pillar and ground of truth.” Scripture said it, not me.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, but if the Church is the Body of Christ, how is it possible to make such distinctions? Everything the Church does is in the name of Christ. The Church, described in Scripture as “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”

  29. fatherstephen Avatar

    But they did not call people back to the core tradition. They were called to be servants of the newly created nation states. The Peace of Augsburg, that the “religion of the prince should be the religion of the people” makes clear that it was politics ultimately and not religion that gave us the religious wars of Europe. The Orthodox had already condemned the Roman Church for having turned itself into an earthly state. The Protestants did not greatly improve that situation. The separation of Church and state has made some improvement, though it is very often abused and misinterpreted.

  30. fatherstephen Avatar

    Read what the Scripture actually says about the Church. Orthodoxy is not making any claims for its relationship to Scripture and Scripture’s relationship to the Church that it did not make for the first 1000 years of Christianity, when there were no other Christians than the Orthodox. Now that men have invented new groups and called them Churches, are the Orthodox to abandon the faith for which they died and bore witness for a 1000 years?

    I have respect for many, many Protestants, and quickly admit that I am by far the greater sinner. But I will not abandon the Church founded by Christ, nor surrender the Scriptures to the madhouse of multiple interpretations. Everybody is not right. Some people and some groups are just wrong. Having more than one Church so we can have different points of view is interesting, but is not Scriptural. Orthodoxy doesn’t lead to arrogance – my experience has been that it leads in quite the opposite direction. But it sounds arrogant in the modern world to say that Christ actually founded a Church, and that Church still exists, and it is not invisible and doesn’t go by a thousand different names.

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    The things you mention, while problematic in Orthodoxy, is not a cause for breaking communion, except on the part of very extreme splinter groups. We recognize differences, but teach only one and the same faith. I recall my daughter when she was living in Siberia saying to me, “Papa. It’s so interesting. The priest here says the same things you do.” It reassured me about what I was teaching. 🙂

  32. fatherstephen Avatar

    Probably, a good link is Hopko’s “Rainbow” Series. Also, in print, Ware’s The Orthodox Church. I’m sure there are abundant used copies for quite cheap on Amazon. It’s probably the most complete book in English on the topic.

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    We generally use the original languages, at least for interpretation. Everything does change to some degree. Very subtle things change. We pray for people who travel “by air” where once we did not. Americans tend to seem more American in Church, even though it’s the same service, while Russians seem more Russian, and we think that is perfectly fine.

    Orthodoxy, believes that Tradition, is nothing other than the living presence of the Spirit in the Church. It is expressed in many outward forms, which, like using a different language, do not change the meaning. But the inner meaning does not change. If this happens, we confront it as heresy. Including in modern times.

  34. Heather Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    you don’t know me; I’m reading your blog from Vancouver, BC, Canada; I just became a catechumen a couple weeks ago.

    I was initially troubled by your posts about Scripture since the Protestant view on these thing is something I’d held faithfully for many years. However, I make sense of it something like this: Having studied botany for many years, I’ve seen a fair bit of the biochemistry and genetics that underly the life of a plant. Some of my colleagues would say that these molecular aspects wholly sum up the being of the plant. I find that idea worrying; it’s true that there is a genetic and biochemical basis to the plant’s existance, but what the plant really is is not genes or metabolites, but a being that by its very being gives glory to God and communicates something from God to us. I can know that about a plant without having any idea of genetics; genetics may give me an interesting additional appreciation of the plant, but at the same time I do need to guard against the very tempting possibility of eclipsing the truth of the plant with this knowledge of its genes.

    In the same way, the Scriptures, the Old Testament, really is a revelation of Christ. Just as we can study the genetics of the plant, we can study something of the history, comment on the literary structure, and so on, of the Scriptures. This may yield some valuable insights; I know that in the time when I was most obviously in danger of rejecting the Christian faith, a teacher who is VERY sola scriptura and VERY devoted to those historical and literary studies of Scripture helped me return by showing me how much wealth of wisdom is offered in the Bible, just as my first course in biochemistry miraculously awoke in me a new awe of God. At the same time, we still need to be careful this sort of study doesn’t eclipse what the Scriptures ultimately are.

    What do you think?

    (I don’t have internet at home, so I’m posting this from work and didn’t have time to properly read all the comments that followed, so sorry if this is repeating/ignoring something already said!)

  35. Heather Avatar

    Oops, I didn’t mean to conflate Scripture and Old Testament, but just to highlight the OT as part of this discussion.

  36. Gene B Avatar
    Gene B

    A great post. Yes, there is truth, and a correct view of the Bible. It takes great courage for those to let go of whatever they have learned to embrace a truth they might not fully understand yet. The Orthodox faith is an inexhaustible well. For those on the fence, let go … taste and see how good the Lord is, and submit yourselves. May God Bless You All.

  37. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Hi Father Stephen,

    It was a bit confusing, reading the long string of comments of yours and trying to discern which was addressed to me. Would you mind responding by name, or else quoting the bit in italics like this below so I know who you are responding to? It would help – forgive.

    But they did not call people back to the core tradition. They were called to be servants of the newly created nation states. The Peace of Augsburg, that the “religion of the prince should be the religion of the people” makes clear that it was politics ultimately and not religion that gave us the religious wars of Europe. The Orthodox had already condemned the Roman Church for having turned itself into an earthly state. The Protestants did not greatly improve that situation. The separation of Church and state has made some improvement, though it is very often abused and misinterpreted.

    I don’t disagree – I am not one who looks back at the protestant reformation with nostalgia. I just said that, in principle, I believe it to be one of the roles of scripture to call us back to our core tradition when we stray. That was what happened with Luther when he was struggling with the angry God and turned to the book of Romans, even if he in his personal interpretation only got things partially right. I grant that much of what happened afterward was disastrous.

  38. fatherstephen Avatar


    I think your line of thought is a useful direction indeed.

  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    A General Thought, possibly a correction,

    It has occurred to me that for many readers, interpreting the Scriptures is a continuing project, and I realize that can lead to some misconceptions. I do not think that interpreting the Scriptures is a continuing project, at least in some very primary ways. The faith of the Risen Christ and its fullness has been made known and received into the very life of the Church. Nothing new is added. It is true, however, that this same faith, in its infinite facets are and continue to be revealed to those who study the Word of God and keep it. But there is nothing new to be said. The Christ who made Himself known is and always is known in the Church as the same Lord.

    Also, the primary act of interpretation is the life of the Church itself (cf An Orthodox Hermeneutic). “You are my epistle” St. Paul says to the Corinthians. If the Scriptures are not fulfilled in the life of the Church then they become useless – just a collection of old writings. It is in the life that has been given to the Church in the Holy Spirit, that Scripture finds its interpretation. There we either read that “God is love,” or we see nothing at all.

  40. jim Avatar

    It seems to me that you are arguing here as to who should have authority over people, the church or the state. It may be that the church lost that authority due to its own abuse of authority. You say to just look at the many monks that were killed by the state but you do not mention how many monks as well as civilians were killed and or punished by the church. The authority of the state it would seem was a direct result of the abuses of the church. As the old saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, ask joan of ark or Galileo or many others who held opposite views or found new truths, what dangers putting authority into the hands of a single institution can bring. This kind of spiritual community that dare not speak to authority under penalty’s of torture or death could not forever stand over rational human beings because in the end like it or not we are rational. You say that now we live at the mercy of the nation state,that being democracy,as if that is somehow worse than the absolute power the church has shown it would abuse people with. I agree with aaron that there should not be any one group to claim a monopoly on the Interpretation of scripture,it is dangerous and we have seen this in the past. Apart from the church you say that scripture has no meaning, but no one as far as I have seen including the church is able to give clear meaning to scriptures anyway. You say father that Jesus is the God of the O.T., but if i ask you was it jesus who asked moses to sacrifice animals to him or was jesus the god who talked to Noah and told him to build an Ark,then you say, no, that part was just symbolic. Well it seems to me that you can not have it both ways.It seems to me that the church does not so much interpret scripture but rather puts whatever meaning to it they want, even if obscure, so long as it supports their cause.
    As for jesus telling the sadducees that they were wrong because they didn’t know the scriptures, were not the sadducees the religious leaders of the church back then? How is it that that church somehow didn’t know scripture, is it possible that a church does not know its own scriptures? One question I have though is, if you know, what was gods purpose in our creation? Because all i can see from the reading of this book is that we are some kind of play things for him, to judge us , to punish us, to send us to heaven or hell,I mean why?

  41. fatherstephen Avatar


    Forgive me, but you are confusing a number of things. Most of what you describe under the name of “the Church” fits the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but does not fit the history of the Orthodox Church – and that certainly makes some difference.

    But I would agree, that the rise of the nation state is in many ways a result of failures within the Church’s hierarchy. Corruption of one gives way to the other.

    But the sins of the members within the Church are not the sins of the Church. The Church, which is the Body of Christ, abides and remains despite the abuses of some of its members. The right interpretation of Scripture (did you read my comment shortly before writing?) is when the very life of God is being manifest in the life of the Church – this is just the opposite of exercising power. I believe I said that if in looking at the Church, if you did not see the interpretation “God is love” then you would be seeing nothing, because there would be no true interpretation dwelling there.

    I think this is quite different than what you’ve said.

    I also think that if you would read Kalomiros’s River of Fire, you’d understand that the God you speak of, who sees us as play things, who judges us, who punishes us, who sends us to hell, etc., is considered a heretical teaching by the Orthodox Church and is a wrong interpretation of Scripture and a perversion of the Christian faith.

  42. William Avatar

    Jim, much like in the last post about the Bible, you are making claims about the Church which are confusing Orthodoxy with some of Western Christendom’s darker periods. To understand the discussions that happen around here, you need to distinguish the Orthodox Church from religious events that happened in the West since the 1050s. Orthodoxy has nothing to do with Joan of Arc or Galileo (whose birthday was last week, I believe). When you limit your examination to the Orthodox Church itself, you will find a remarkable consistency in teaching that does not support the evils that have been done in the name of Christ, including evils done by some who thought themselves to be Orthodox.

    No, the Sadducees were not the religious leaders of the church. They were members of a particular school of thought within Judaism that didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.

    The issue is less one of authority (these people tell those people what to think and do) and more one of life (this is what the life of Christ is like, and here are people who have clearly shared in it — the saints).

    I cannot authoritatively state the Orthodox answer to why God created us, but I think there is ample support in the Church’s teaching to say that God created us to share in his abundant life, love and glory. God doesn’t send people to Hell, but his all-pervading life, love and glory will be hell for those who hate him.

  43. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jill, if all you get from the Holy Scripture is that we are God’s playthings it is because you are reading it from a Protestant/humanist mindset. The longer I am in the Church, the more I see God’s mercy and love when I read the Scriptures.

    Your comments actually make Fr. Stephen’s point perfectly.

    The whole point of Jesus’ Incarnation was to restore us to God that we might once again experience His love for us. Despite that, we torture ourselves rather than allow His love to change us.

  44. Meskerem Avatar

    GOD created man so man can become like HIM. So we can become like HIM.

  45. Lucian Avatar

    Aaron Harrell,

    here’s the Orthodox reading You’ve been waiting for all Your life: The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

  46. Aaron Harrell Avatar

    Father Stephen and William,
    Thank you for taking the time to expand on this post in a most enlightening way. You are both able to articulate Orthodoxy in a most compelling manner. I still have some misgivings about some of the things that you say, but I have a feeling that if I do some reading I will be able to add meat to the bones of your argument. If I was not a regular reader here before, I am now. How fun!

    One thing that makes me a little sad is that there is no Orthodox Church for me to attend, not practically. I live in a small rural community that hosts mostly evangelical congregations. My sister has been attending a Presbyterian church and is in love with the liturgy of it all. I have to admit that I am looking to strip down the faith that I have because it seems like most theology that I run across has a lot of humanity thrown in the mix. I want to have a strong core of faith, but be able to hold it loosely with the knowledge that at any given moment I might be wrong.

    I am disappointed with how most Christians treat people. We should not be satisfied to only love those who are easy and comfortable to love. That isn’t love at all. How are we loving our enemies? Are we feeding the hungry? Are we sheltering the homeless? I am so frustrated because most Christians where I am have views that contradict what I feel about how people ought to be treated. I reject them, therefore I reject their theology as well. But where does that leave me? There is a small group that meets a couple of times a month here and we are all trying to distill a core set of beliefs that we can adhere to. But I think that we are largely lost. It seems to be easier to know what we don’t want than what we do.

    Sorry to vent, but it’s killing me. I love the idea of the church, but lately it has becomes hard to love the actual church. Maybe it’s me, I honestly don’t know. I do like the idea that the church being the body of Christ, I just don’t see it very often.

  47. Robert Avatar

    Wonders for Oyarsa said: “I am still quite protestant in my convictions that the Holy Scriptures should serve as an anchor for the traditions of the Church – calling her back to her core tradition and vocation she had from the beginning. ”

    This notion that the Church has lost her tradition and needs be restored, this is an entirely foreign concept to Orthodox ecclesiology, make no mistake about it.

    The danger in approaching the Church and Scriptures by way of discursive reasoning using non-Orthodox paradigms is to risk missing the Church, as well as the Scriptures.

  48. Robert Avatar


    Here is a tool to locate an Orthodox church in your area. Hopefully there is one nearby:

    We drive 45 minutes to church, and I will tell you, it is well worth it.

    BTW: cute baby, what a joy, congrats!

  49. Carl Avatar

    Great post, Father!

    Another example of this is given in Acts: God sends Philip to help the Ethiopian eunuch read the book of Isaiah. On his own, the scriptures make no sense to him. After Philip teaches him, he asks to be baptized.

  50. Epiphanist Avatar

    If I couldn’t read, would you sell me a cure?

  51. Reader John Avatar
    Reader John

    Thank you, Father, for this posting. The political side of the Reformation had never crossed my mind. Having come of age in the 60s, any point that undermines the state is right by me.
    For finding out more about Orthodoxy:
    1. I agree you cannot read your way into Orthodoxy, but I read and talked my way pretty close before closing the deal by attending.
    2. I am 60 years old, a former Wheaton College-type Evangelical, then a Calvin College-type Calvinist. That means I have a different mindset than other readers here may have. Having said that, I recommend Fr. John Whiteford’s monograph Sola Scriptura as a polemical corrective if you’re coming from Evangelicalism or other “low” Protestantism as were my roots. It was the first of several epiphanies for me in my journey.
    2. I found “Evangelical is Not Enough” very helpful. But, ironically, I had read it before encountering Orthodoxy, and since I thought the eventuality of Howard’s point was either Rome or Canterbury, I set it aside as interesting but unworkable.

  52. Reader John Avatar
    Reader John

    I meant to add a third book for inquirers: Matthew Gallatin’s Searching for God in a Land of Shallow Wells. It wasn’t in print when I became Orthodox, but when I read it later it seemed to recap in broad terms the Protestant dilemma and the Orthodox antidote.

  53. fatherstephen Avatar


    Not sure of your point.

  54. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas


    Sorry I’m late to the party (and skimming the comments at that), but I wanted to reply back to your post of Feb. 19th at 5:14P.M.


    “I guess that’s why anyone who claims to have it right is suspect in my mind.”


    “….I am simply not as sure as everyone else here about where the ultimate authority is. Obviously God is the authority, but how is that manifest on earth?”

    As to the first point, I couldn’t tell if you were directing that at Protestants only or at the catholic faith of the Fathers (note the small “c”). For Protestants, you are absolutely correct. Many charismatic yet disturbed people have truly believed that they and they alone have it right, and in their hubris have convinced others of this error, often with tragic results.

    The catholic faith of the Fathers, on the other hand, is grounded in the instruction delivered by Christ himself (note the discussion that Christ gave to the disciples on the road to Emmaus; the disciples didn’t “sit on” this information that was divinely revealed…it was handed down to Christ’s burgeoning Church). Frequently you’ll see fathers referring to other Fathers’ interpretations, showing the humility one should use when approaching scripture.

    As to the second point, you are correct in saying that “God is the authority”. The way in which that is manifest on earth is in the Orthodox faith handed down by Christ himself, as in the Emmaus passage referred to above. Scripture isn’t revealed in any other way (which is what Christ was saying to the Pharisees and Saducees). This principal has been reinforced time and again throughout history, from the First Ecumenical council (Arius had some pretty good arguments, and they were based on his interpretation of scripture), through the defense of the faith by St. Gregory Palamas, and up to our present time with the manifestation of this blog post by Fr. Stephen.

    At the risk of cluttering up this conversation, it’s also worth noting that the only time the Church claims to be infallible is in council; not necessarily in how an individual Father interprets scripture. You will find instances where Fathers are at odds with one another. When those differing interpretations start impacting the Faith, that’s when you’ll see a council to clarify things. Only in council is the Church infallible; and no one person can speak for the Church (though at times, a single person seemingly has kept the faith from being distorted).


  55. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas

    One last thing:

    One of the things I finally realized is that the Church produced the scriptures, not the other way around. St. Paul had to have some material to write about before he could write about it!


  56. coffeezombie Avatar

    @Reader John I will have to check out Fr. John Whiteford’s Sola Scriptura; I have not heard of it before. Personally, I read Dr. Clark Carlton’s The Way, which is primarily about Sola Scriptura, as well. I think it was that book that cemented in my mind the idea that Sola Scriptura is the main wall that stands between most “low” Protestants and Orthodoxy.

    As a side note, I agree with your point #1 as well. I do think that, for many of us, reading and talking with Orthodox people about the Church and about the various differences is often a necessary precursor to actually visiting an Orthodox service. I, for one, had to have a lot of misconceptions corrected, and a lot of walls (like Sola Scriptura) knocked down before I would have been able to really appreciate my first Liturgy.

  57. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar


    “This notion that the Church has lost her tradition and needs be restored, this is an entirely foreign concept to Orthodox ecclesiology, make no mistake about it.”

    I didn’t say she had “lost her tradition” – I said that at times she strays from it. Two examples I might give are “Athanasius Contra Mundum” and the period of the dominance of Iconoclasm. In both cases, scripture plays a role in being a witness to the core tradition of the faith, just as the writings of the fathers do.

  58. tiffanib Avatar


    This is an excellent post and is a great entrance into Lent. I appreciate your words.

  59. Aaron Harrell Avatar


    Thank you for your comments, they do shed light on my concerns, but they still don’t fill in a couple of blanks. You said, in reference to the the authority of God:

    “The way in which that is manifest on earth is in the Orthodox faith handed down by Christ himself, as in the Emmaus passage referred to above.”

    What troubles me is the huge gap between that statement and what Orthodoxy teaches. The passage referred to by Father Stephen, as well written as it is, is laden with assumptions and knowledge based on a faith that is not revealed in the same statement (I do recognize that it would be impractical to explain Orthodoxy in a blog post). Also, the passage in Luke is also very vague, so how can one be sure of what those teachings actually were? My guess is that much of the gaps I speak of can be filled in by reading Church history and educating myself about Orthodoxy. It makes it hard though, to read this and agree when we’re not really on the same page. It is not that our beliefs are so different as much as it is that we are coming at this from two pretty different viewpoints. I have started reading a couple of the links that have been posted and hopefully will have time to read some of the books. I am intrigued if nothing else. I have a similar discussion with evangelical friends about making sure that when you start talking about Jesus, you can use terms that are at least understandable to the point where both parties are mostly talking about the same thing.

    Grace and Peace,


  60. Darla Avatar

    Aaron, we are not Orthodox as of yet and it sounds like we and you are on the same path …. wondering and intrigued. Sometimes I feel more “convinced” than my husband, but last night he read this post and many of the comments and again was questioning what we have both believed for 20 (me) and 40 (him) years about Church, Scripture and God. And then he, and I, sighed. Converting would be such a huge thing in our lives (rightly so) — we love our church and the relationships we have there, and as ministry leaders in another avenue, our decision would be questioned greatly by people we respect.

    Different note:
    I have often commented on my own salvation, saying that I was saved from reading Scripture — I’d borrowed my roomies’ Bible much in our dorm room. In prayer last night I was thinking “If that’s true, then why didn’t I find the Orthodox church at that time?” and I realized that my reading the Word had in fact been joined with attending a very evangelical, missions-oriented Protestant church a couple of times. That was enough to give my reading of the word that evangelical Protestant slant. I appreciated the comment in Fr. Stephen’s blog post about Scripture needing to be read through the context of the Orthodox Church; this just makes sense yet is so far removed from actual experience in the American / Protestant church.

  61. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas


    As you say, the passage in Luke is vague, but the point is that Christ was teaching to faithful men (that He Himself had chosen). It’s not too much to grant that they themselves passed that teaching on to other faithful men, and that, as He promised, the Church would never fail.

    As others have pointed out, simply following the call to “Come and see!” can be what makes it all click.

    I was a struggling seeker at one point. I didn’t even know what I was seeking until I was invited to Pascha by a friend. I knew nothing about Orthodoxy, except that it was a Russian or Greek thing, and that it was WEIRD! What awaited me there was enlightenment. After Paschal Matins, I was hooked.

    Is it still hard? Yes. Is it still weird? Yes. (In a sense, it should be….you’re in the presence of The Kingdom.) Do I still have questions? My spiritual father would give you an exasperated YES! 🙂

    May God grant you illumination!

    In Christ,

  62. MaryGail Avatar

    Fr. Stephen:

    This post is invaluable. I have never read anything so clear and concise on such a deep topic. I will use it to answer my friends questions about Orthodoxy. Brilliant! Sorry, Fr., I am not trying to start a fan club, but, you have to publish these essays!!

  63. dale Avatar

    a couple comments that may be helpful and if not please forgive me…
    as for reading leading one to Orthodoxy… I would say only the Spirit does that but He certainly used reading as a major part of my path. The one reading that pushed to beyond the point of return to my protestant roots was Athanasius’ On the incarnation. A fantastic piece of Wisdom from the fathers.

    the other point I would like to comment on is mostly directed at jim but also worth consideration to all who like to depend on logical reasoning which we define as rational thought.
    It is dangerous to put confidence in logical reasoning in itself unless we have complete knowledge of the assumptions that we begin with. our tendency is to examine our path of logical steps and seeing that they are valid we believe our conclusion is therefore true. the problem is that while all my steps were correct the error in my initial assumption logically leads to an error in my conclusion even though the steps were applied correctly.

    and lets face it. our assumptions are rarely even realized fully never mind individually analyzed for truthfulness. in actuallity the only way to examine our own assumptions is for something outside of us to be the standard. eventually it comes down to a faith issue. either my standard for ultimate truth can be placed in myself or in something I find more beautiful. I know myself to be ugly, ignorant and inconsistent and I have learned that the Orthodox Church is beautiful, consistent and of inexhaustible wisdom. (and by learned I do not mean I have been told but that through experience with it- this requires a bold step of faith to even allow yourself to consider it may be true – this goes against modern tendencies) I choose to have faith in something far better than myself. In fact, the faith in the Orthodox church which is ultimately faith in Christ makes myself more beautiful, consistent and wise and I become more willing to trust my own assumptions because they become aligned with Christ.

    I will stop now and I am sorry if this is not helpful for others but for me it was a big moment in my journey when I realized how misplaced my faith in my approach to logical reasoning was.

    May the Spirit move to bring all who are searching teh Peace that only is to be found in Him.

    Lord have mercy!

  64. fatherstephen Avatar

    You noted: Two examples I might give are “Athanasius Contra Mundum” and the period of the dominance of Iconoclasm. In both cases, scripture plays a role in being a witness to the core tradition of the faith, just as the writings of the fathers do.

    The Orthodox account of these events would not say that the Church had strayed – Athanasius, Hosios of Cordoba and a number of other bishops remained faithful to Nicaea. Those who rejected Nicaea, separated themselves from the Church (were technically in Schism or Heresy). But the Church did not err. However, Arius was a great Scripture scholar and based almost all his arguments on Scripture. But, as St. Irenaeus would have said two centuries earlier, Arius’ interpretation of Scripture was contrary to the “Apostolic Hyposthesis.” Creeds (as in Baptismal Creeds) predate the writing of the New Testament. Athanasius read the Scriptures right because he maintained the faith that had been delivered to him (the Tradition). It was not the other way around – that he upheld the Tradition because of the Scriptures. Tradition reads the Scriptures. The Scriptures do not read the Tradition – if that statement makes sense for you.

  65. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mary Gail,
    Glory to God for all for all things is, through the kindness of a group of students in Bucharest, daily translated into Romanian (I am overwhelmed at such kindness). Recently I’ve been contacted about an Orthodox publisher in Romania wanting to do a book with a selection of writings from GTGFAT. Apparently, I will be published in Romanian before English. God is good, and sometimes He makes me laugh.

  66. Aaron Harrell Avatar


    Your point is taken about the passage of teaching from one man to the next. The Jewish oral custom would have been strong, even among Christians. I still wonder at the content and Orthodox claims to be the one Church that came from the gospel. It is quite a claim, coming from man. At the same time I can accept some mystery, mainly since I have no choice, and can also assume that Orthodoxy is not coming claiming out of arrogance. It is still a little hard to see the humility since there is so much railing against protestantism. Winning an argument never won anything. Also Orthodoxy implies that one interpretation is right; the glass half full/half empty analogy clearly demonstrates that the same thing can be looked at two different ways.

    I love the mystery and I love the love with which you and others in this thread have communicated Orthodoxy to me. In some ways Orthodoxy is speaking to my heart in a way that other theology doesn’t. In some ways it is repelling me. I love the tension.

    As far and “coming and seeing”, that is not very practical, as the nearest Orthodox Church is two hours away. Even if I was sold on Orthodoxy itself, I have a hard time traveling that far, since I believe that Church and community should be intertwined. However, I hope that I can continue to learn and discuss these matters of faith and belief on blogs such as this. It is also a community of sorts.

    Grace and Peace,


  67. Aaron Harrell Avatar

    How come my last comment didn’t go through?

  68. Aaron Harrell Avatar

    Never mind, there it is. Silly me.

  69. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    OK, father Stephen – I’ll grant you your semantic clarification for the sake of discussion – that “the Church” is defined in retrospect as those who did not stray into heresy during those conflicts. Of course, if we are living in these times and not looking back at them, then it is a bit harder to discern who are members of “the Church” and who are schismatics and heretics. During those times, is it not right and prudent to look to tradition to anchor us? And is not scripture the chief tradition – the apostolic witness?

  70. asinusspinasmasticans Avatar

    Hmmm…. On “restoration” and “revival” in the Church. The Church needs no Reformation. Thank God. My soul needs reformation.

    Nevertheless, what St. Cosmas of Aitolos did sticks in my mind. He was roughly contemporary with John Wesley in the West, and he appears to have had a similar sort of spirit. From what my [Greek] priest tells me, the Greeks were very careless in their Orthodoxy, and very ignorant, not being allowed more than an elementary education by the Turks. For most of the Orthodox of the Ottoman state, their Orthodoxy was a combination of external routine and superstitions. St. Cosmas was a preacher and an educator, and called the Greeks back to Orthodoxy.

    The idea that the Church never needs “Reformation according to the Scriptures” doesn’t sit well with me either. As long as I need “Reformation according the Scriptures”, the Church will need “Reformation according to the Scriptures”, until that day when I am practicing all I can. What I don’t like to see, and what I don’t think the Church needs, are novelties and syllogisms extracted from the Scriptures wandering away from their proper place in the Tradition, gaining an autonomous life of their own, and mauling and wounding the faithful.

    Thank God for faithful Orthodox bishops.

  71. Handmaid Anna Avatar
    Handmaid Anna

    My family and I are recent converts (2 yrs. ago) to Orthodoxy. We, like you, were questioning everything from our protestant point of view which is all we knew. Once we got to the point (after much reading) that we desperately needed to “Come and See” the Orthodox church for ourselves, we drove 3 1/2 hrs. each way as often as we could to the closest one to us. We were concerned also about the loss of community that we would have to endure if we became Orthodox, but we came to the conclusion that would be a sacrifice we would have to endure. I would never have thought back then that today we would be the beginnings of an Orthodox mission in an isolated rural area. Our priest, who has other missions, visits us once a month for Divine Liturgy. We still visit the Orthodox church where we were Chrismated for we made lifetime friends there.

  72. Robert Avatar

    Father, bless.

    Are my ears right in hearing echoes of Behr and Cavanaugh here? Both were instrumental in teaching me the lessons of this post.

  73. Robert Avatar


    The Church does not stray. Period. Full stop.

  74. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    from all I have found out so far, Orthodoxy holds scripture as the most important “part” of tradition; scripture is not opposed to it, as I think you understand.

    I don’t mean to go all postmodern on you 🙂
    -but the issue for me around scripture is *interpretation* of scripture. Otherwise, the bible is no more than ink on paper. One of my favorite Noel Stookey lyrics: “If you get the Message, you might refuse it- but if you get the Meaning, hey, don’t ever lose it… if you get the Meaning, oh, of it all…”

    Earlier in my life, I moved from the RC interpretation of scripture to an evangelical protestant interpretation; it made the most sense to me at the time. But it started to wear thin after 20 years. I had too many questions that schema couldn’t touch. About ten years ago I turned and started down another path, not knowing where it would take me, but assuming it would be someplace within protestantism.

    Along the way, I set aside an interpretation of scripture that made God schizophrenic and the author of evil, marginalized the Trinity and focused only on getting to heaven after we die. The low value of this life was divided between “doing something great for God” (which we didn’t really do, but God did everything through us, because nobody can do anything good, and God is “in control”) and doing moral acts that were somehow intrinsically better than the moral acts of non-Christians (I do believe they are “better”, but my received theology couldn’t explain why). If you could hear my tone of voice, it would not be sarcastic; I’m trying to report how it was for me as best I can. There was something in my gut that said to all that, and more, “No! That’s not reality. God is not like that, based on what I can apprehend of scripture.” It was important to me that wherever I landed had to reconcile scripture and what was in my gut. It was then that I found and moved to NT Wright’s interpretation (which can’t really be said to be specifically Anglican- if there is such a thing), because it was so doggone holistic- (whoops, another postmodern word, but it’s the one that says it for me) as I’m a “big picture” kind of thinker. The relief I felt was overwhelming.

    Once I made *that* move, moving into the Orthodox understanding wasn’t so hard, although I have to say that I was certainly surprised by it at every turn, in a good way. Not that I know very much, but I think I’ve gotten over the biggest humps put up by my old way of thinking about things. I so appreciate that, in spite of not coming from a teaching magisterium, it leaves no loose ends and is organic (-there I go again!). I have to add my testimony that it is most fully apprehended in Orthodox liturgy and hymnody. The Mystery is good, and I’m glad for it, even hunger for it; Beauty and Symbolic Meaning likewise. And I need to have my mind engaged too. I find it fascinating how everything that is vocalized in O. worship- scripture included -is woven together in such a way that it points to some things, and if you pay attention to what is said and sung, you begin to get the picture. It took a while for me to figure out that that’s how it “works”. That’s how I’ve found it to be in my experience 😉


  75. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames


    I drive 65 minutes one way to my church. My husband does not support me becoming Orthodox and has requested that I not make the trip more than once a week. Children are grown. What am I supposed to do in the face of my conscience with what I now know?


  76. fatherstephen Avatar


    Of course Scripture has a chief place in the apostolic witness and in Tradition – but it is simply not self-interpreting. As noted, Arius and many other heretics were great quoters of Scripture – but they did not hold with the Tradition of the Church by which the Scriptures were interpreted. In some way, forgive me, Arius is among the first Protestants (in terms of his hermeneutical theory). Irenaeus’ The Apostolic Tradition is probably the best treatment of this problem. Essentially, he says there is an Apostolic Hypothesis, a Traditioned understanding by which Scripture is rightly interpreted. This is the Apostolic faith given to the Church. Without it, the Scriptures become useless. Thus, Scripture is authoritative, but only when used and quoted according to the Apostolic Tradition. There’s really no other way to solve the problem

  77. fatherstephen Avatar

    Respect your husband and don’t despise him in this matter. God will honor that. Speak to your priest about it, and ask his advice and a blessing for how often to come. God will honor the blessing and feed you richly in your obedience. Don’t be afraid. God is with you and will not abandon you or your husband.

  78. Robert Avatar


    I very much identify with your experience, when you say “an interpretation of scripture that made God schizophrenic and the author of evil, marginalized the Trinity and focused only on getting to heaven after we die. The low value of this life was divided between “doing something great for God” (which we didn’t really do, but God did everything through us, because nobody can do anything good, and God is ‘in control’)”

    Well put!

  79. Jane Avatar

    Re Fr Stephen’s comment about people who see interpreting Scripture as an ongoing process: For me, it is *learning* and understanding the Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, which is the ongoing process for me, and the Church’s explanations, made plain in the services and in the writings of the Fathers (old and new), continually help me in this.

  80. David Avatar

    I want to thank Fr Stephen for his continuing patience with his virtual flock (forgive me if that makes you a bit uncomfortable, I don’t mean to inappropriately oblige you, just make a metaphor).

    He could easily speak only about things which draw no controversy, but he rises to the challenge to help us work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We should all remember to pray for him, to support him as he carries us.

    So much of what is true, simply never occurred to me. This is why I now value that which I have received more than that which I believe I have discovered.

  81. William Avatar

    Speaking of the need to interpret scripture through the lens of tradition and the heretics being great scripture scholars, I’m reminded of a statement by Tertullian that said St. Paul had become the “apostle to the heretics.” Of course, he wasn’t trying to criticize Paul (as some do these days), but to criticize the use made of Paul by those who didn’t adhere to the true faith.

    Aaron, I thought I’d make another comment on one of your statements above, where you said “Orthodoxy implies that one interpretation is right.” I think that statement is a bit unhelpful, because it seems to suggest that you believe the Orthodox have only one way to read a given verse. This just isn’t the case. If you read the fathers, you’ll often find in them a variety of equally Orthodox interpretations on many passages of scripture. The interpretations will differ from one another but do not necessarily preclude one another. They are in harmony with one another (though of course, occasionally there are irreconcilable differences in two fathers’ interpretations). This harmony in variety comes from the fact that there is a shared faith. I think it’s better to think in terms of there being a properly Orthodox “interpretive scheme,” which is the term that Fr. Stephen used above, rather than in terms of there being just one interpretation, which does indeed belie the richness of interpretation found in the liturgical and patristic witness.

  82. William Avatar


    You said: “So much of what is true, simply never occurred to me. This is why I now value that which I have received more than that which I believe I have discovered.”

    That is so true. I second that.

  83. fatherstephen Avatar

    I don’t mind having a virtual flock. Actually, though few know it, I’m a hologram. 🙂

  84. Epiphanist Avatar

    If I couldn’t read, would you sell me a cure? Thank you Father Stephen. The Church was competing with the State at the time of the reformation but there were other preconditions for the reformation though. People were learning to read and the book they were interested in reading was the Bible. The Roman Church had ruthlessly exploited the sacrament of penance to extract money from the sinners through the sale of cures, and lost the trust of the faithful. Has something changed? The ideas, beliefs and symbols written about in the Bible are powerful and can be used for any number of purposes with or without good faith as history has demonstrated conclusively. I am often surprised by how much more ignorant I am than most Christians, they seem to have been told a lot more and believed a lot more than I have. You assert that the protestant churches have sold them a pup, I waver between agreement with this and an appreciation that God will call people in different ways. If I can’t effectively read the Bible for myself, who can I trust, and what would I get for the time and money that they will inevitably ask for to support their version of a sacred mission?

  85. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Father Stephen,
    Thank you. This is what I am trying to do. I believe God is good and merciful.
    You’re in my prayers.

  86. Robert Avatar

    Coffie Zombie:

    Here is the Sola Scriptura piece by Fr. John Whiteford:

    Like Reader John, it was instrumental to me as well in my conversion to Orthodoxy.

  87. fatherstephen Avatar

    Truth is Jesus Christ, a person, and it is a sin to objectify a person.

  88. fatherstephen Avatar


    I’m no fan of ore or post reformation Rome. But read one of Eamon Duffy’s works on the reformation in England before you falsely assert that the reformation was in any way popular.

  89. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless!

    Your counsel to Dana is a blessing to me, too. Thank you. This is a timely post again for me. Yesterday, a friend’s son, and self-designated Fundamentalist Christian, who had attended one of J I Packer’s Orthodox-evangelical dialog conferences grilled me (in a mostly friendly way) about Orthodoxy for about an hour and a half! Two big sticking points, of course, were the Orthodox Church’s claim to be, in fact, THE Church and also the fact that Orthodox Christians don’t claim to have assurance of salvation in the sense that Fundamentalists are taught. It is walking a tricky line to hold to the truth while attempting to honor the needs of someone’s heart (to affirm that God is truly good and merciful and genuinely forgives when we ask) and to refute the mechanistic, magical understandings most Protestants have of the ancient sacramental symbolic understandings because of Roman Catholic distortions at the time of the Council of Trent.

  90. jim Avatar


    In my last comments I was not so much making an interpretation of God, or maybe I was, but mainly I was asking you what your understanding of his purpose for our creation was. I did mention that it seems as though we were nothing but toys to god because I can not for the life of me see what could possibly be the purpose of creating man in order to test our obedience and then deal with us accordingly. Unfortunately you did not answer the question.
    My second question was in regards to your assertion that Jesus by his own assertion is the God of the old testament. What I asked was that if this be true then how is it that you can at the same time claim that the O.T is symbolic,or typological? Did jesus speak to Adam,banish him from eden? Did jesus speak to Noah,tell him to build an ark? Did jesus speak to moses,telling him to make burnt offerings to him? Did jesus part the red sea? Did jesus topple the walls of Jerricho and stop the flow of the jordan river? Did he speak out of a burning bush to moses and give him the ten commandments? You say on the one hand that jesus claimed to be the God of the O.T. that did all these things and many more,but then on the other hand you say that none of these things really happened, there’s no history there, that its all just symbolic. I am sorry for being rational but I do not think that you can have it both ways. It seems to me that either Jesus was the God of the O.T. and that he said and did these things or he was not that God and it is all made up.

  91. Lucian Avatar


    Here’s something that might help shed some light on Your question regarding creation.

    As far as the historicity of the Old Covenant is concerned, I think You’ll have to accept that the Bible was written by Eastern Semites living 3,500 to 2,000 yrs ago, and not by scientifically-obsessed Western Europeans living 500 yrs ago. Somehow I can’t really bring myself to believing the former to have had some sort of a mental problem with a more mythical presentation of history. — This as far as the Jews are concerned. And as regards us Christians, the Scriptures are clear that the Word of God is Christ (John 1) and that the role/purpose/fulfillment/meaning of the OT Scriptures themselves was to show Christ to us (Luke 24:27; John 5:39).

  92. William Avatar


    Please provide direct quotes of where Fr. Stephen or anyone else here said that the Old Testament events were ALL JUST symbolic.

  93. Lucian Avatar


    if You want to have a “101” face-to-face impression of what Orthodox interpretation of the OT looks like, (especially now since we’re slowly approaching the season), I would recommend You the same links I’ve provided for Aaron: #1, #2, #3, and #4.

  94. fatherstephen Avatar


    Yes to all of the above. Christ, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, does all of these things – it is He who is revealed in these events. But you don’t know how to read them except in the literalist manner of the modern fundamentalist. Jesus is the ark. He is the tree in the midst of the garden. He smashed the walls of Jericho on the 7th day – yes all of it is true – but it is all about Pascha. When speaking of Pascha we would never say something is “just symbolic”. Everything only has meaning and even existence through its relationship with Pascha.

    God creates us purely out of love, for the sole purpose of sharing His life with us. We rebelled and turned from Him, rushing ourselves towards non-being. God became man and rescue us, even entering into “hell” itself (something that is a state of being we had created for ourselves). There is no extent to which He would not go in order to bring us into His life and joy. There is no toy. No plaything. Only a Loving God seeking a rebellious man. It is the great love story of the universe.

    Compared to this, it is the atheist who sees us as the plaything of a cruel accident that brings us into being only to crush us with death and meaninglessness.

  95. Jim H. Avatar
    Jim H.

    I’ve been an OC inquirer for four years, and am remain dismayed by the lack of interest amongst the vast majority of the faithful to read their Bibles.

    It’s easy to bash evangelicals. But the fact is that the NT is full of references to acquiring scriptural knowledge.

    This is not a popular place to say this, but after attending dozens of Orthodox liturgies (both in the US and in Orthodox countries), I think it’s fair to say that most of those chanting the liturgy have absolutely no idea what it means.

    Sorry for the tone, but the constant sneering of protestants (especially evangelicals) on this blog is tiresome.

    “… interpretation of scripture that made God schizophrenic and the author of evil, marginalized the Trinity and focused only on getting to heaven after we die…..”

    Give me a break!

  96. Theodora Elizabeth Avatar
    Theodora Elizabeth

    Jim H., it’s not just the Divine Liturgy. If you want to *really* get the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, which we hear in church the first four days of Great Lent, you really have to know your OT as well…

  97. Dale Avatar

    Jim, it is obvious that you are struggling on your journey as we all do to differing extents. I understand the frustration and have spent many days there. you say you have been an inquirer of EO for 4 years. I was too for four years and growing increasingly frustrated with my faith during that time until I found I could continue as I was no longer. I was no longer comfortable staying evangelical but still unsure of EO. It just seemed so different and strange compared to all I had ‘known’. I had to do something though so I deccided I would take the plunge and build a relationship with a priest and parish and ‘try it out’. this led to becoming a catechumen and chrismation much quicker than I expected. really the moment I stopped actively holding on to my need for the protestant approach to be right, the beauty of EO and truth in it became so much more obvious. A little humilty is what I really needed the whole time. This was my story and it doesn’t mean it will be yours but I do prayer for those dealing with the frustration of feeling uncomfortable everywhere but desirely something to hold on to as true and real. That fact that you have remained an inquirer for four years suggests your spirit is drawn to it in a real way. maybe it is telling you something.

    as for your post it is true that as a protestant one can easily feel bashed by RCs or EO but let us not forget that far more often it is protestant bashing protestants. usually RCs and EO are more concerned with their own faults than those of the protestants. We can’t blame them for defending their beliefs though when protestants continuously claim that they hold the truth and the traditional church is lost in ritual.

    as a protestant I was always dismayed by the lack of interesst amongst the vast majority of protestants to read their bibles so chalk that up to human failing regardless of where you find yourself. as for members having no idea what they are chanting. We are only able to know what has been revealed to us. I certainly only know in part due to the grace of God. In time I trust I will know more fully. Be careful when judging the state of another man’s soul for we are barely able to know that state of our own.

    and lastly, I can only speak for myself but no apology is required for the tone. I spent many years with that tone and for me it came from exaspiration and exhaustion and frustration and anger all balled up into one and I know it did far more damage to myself and especially to those around me than it ever did any good. but what is one to do when that is the state you are in. I prefer an honest harsh tone than a dishonest one dripping with honey.

    many people have suggested good reading but honestly i suspect it would be vastly more useful for you to develop an ongoing relationship with a local priest to work through your struggles doubts frustraions etc. this does not need to lead you into the OC but regardless of where you end up it will have clarified some things for you in a way that reading cannot possibly accomplish.

    If this is unhelpful I apologize but your last post hit so close to home for me and I am poor and holding my tongue. Forgive if I have offended and any more mature orthodox please correct me if I have said anything inappropriate.

    Lord have mercy on us all.

  98. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jim H, in the early Church catechesis didn’t fully begin until a person made the committment to unite with Christ and join the Church. In a sense that is still true today. There are some questions that simply can’t be answered or understood from the outside. The ineffable grace of acutal participation in the sacramental life is amazing.

    Your criticism that we Orthodox need to read and study our Bibles more is valid. Certainly, in the traditional practice of the Church, knowledge of Scripture is quite important. Nevertheless, the immersion in the Scriptures that one experiences if one is a regular attendee of the services of the Church is exceptional.

    As we pray using the Scriptures, as opposed to merely studying them, our minds and hearts are changed. Hearing the Scriptures in the presence of the Holy Trinity, the angelic host and the saints makes for good leaning opportunity that goes far beyond anything I can achieve on my own.

  99. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    It’s not about authority. As a former Roman Catholic and Protestant I have plenty of baggage on the subject of authority. From authoritative vicar to authoritative bible. We should ask why we are we so hung up on authority that we somehow always have to start there?

    As an Orthodox person now for some years, I’m struck by how little scripture and authority have in common in any sense that we tend to think. God presses his “authority” so very differently. I like the passages Fr. Stephen quotes where Christ is clearly the interpretive rule for all scripture. It has no role outside of his singular authority. Even Chris’s own didn’t get it until he showed them that it was all about Him.

    In Orthodoxy scripture is a flowing force of life from the throne of God through his body which it nourishes. Its words, much like those that also called our food or bread into existence, sustain us and put us into communion with God the giver.

    Scripture is so far from being a mere criterion of truth, a competing source of authority, and so on, that I can’t help but think we make a massive error of category if we dare to start these discussions with modern (and western) notions like authority. God doesn’t come to us as an authority and his gifts don’t either.

    Scripture has no purpose but God’s purpose. That alone should make us silent in its presence. Like the Eucharist, we should gather around to receive it as the gift it is to our life together in Christ. It instructs the church in all times. The only proper response to it, I think, is listening together and giving thanks.

  100. jim Avatar


    I do not pretend to be a bible expert, but your language in describing its interpretation is as confusing to me as is the bible itself. First you say that the O.T. is mostly symbolic, then that jesus is the god of the O.T.. Then you seem to infer that he did not do all of those things or say all of those things in the O.T. literally, but yet he still did them, but that one can only understand them through the pascha. Could you be so kind as to explain to me what that means exactly? Like I said I am no expert, but is not the pascha the passover where god murdered the first born of all the egyptians while sparing the jews who marked their door posts with blood in order that god would know who was who which seems a little strange in and of itself? Is it not also associated with easter? Or if I am mistaken, what exactly do you mean that it is to be interpreted through the pascha? Not literal, Not symbolic, but paschal?

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