But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves.Clement of Alexandria, Stromata Book VI, Chapter 16
There are certain criteria common to men, as the senses; and others that belong to those who have employed their wills and energies in what is true,—the methods which are pursued by the mind and reason, to distinguish between true and false propositions.
Now, it is a very great thing to abandon opinion, by taking one’s stand between accurate knowledge and the rash wisdom of opinion, and to know that he who hopes for everlasting rest knows also that the entrance to it is toilsome “and strait.” And let him who has once received the Gospel, even in the very hour in which he has come to the knowledge of salvation, “not turn back, like Lot’s wife,” as is said; and let him not go back either to his former life, which adheres to the things of sense, or to heresies. For they form the character, not knowing the true God. “For he that loveth father or mother more than Me,” the Father and Teacher of the truth, who regenerates and creates anew, and nourishes the elect soul, “is not worthy of Me”—He means, to be a son of God and a disciple of God, and at the same time also to be a friend, and of kindred nature. “For no man who looks back, and puts his hand to the plough, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
But, as appears, many even down to our own time regard Mary, on account of the birth of her child, as having been in the puerperal state, although she was not. For some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined, to be a virgin.
Now such to us are the Scriptures of the Lord, which gave birth to the truth and continue virgin, in the concealment of the mysteries of the truth. “And she brought forth, and yet brought not forth,” says the Scripture; as having conceived of herself, and not from conjunction. Wherefore the Scriptures have conceived to Gnostics; but the heresies, not having learned them, dismissed them as not having conceived.
Now all men, having the same judgment, some, following the Word speaking, frame for themselves proofs; while others, giving themselves up to pleasures, wrest Scripture, in accordance with their lusts. And the lover of truth, as I think, needs force of soul. For those who make the greatest attempts must fail in things of the highest importance; unless, receiving from the truth itself the rule of the truth, they cleave to the truth. But such people, in consequence of falling away from the right path, err in most individual points; as you might expect from not having the faculty for judging of what is true and false, strictly trained to select what is essential. For if they had, they would have obeyed the Scriptures.
As, then, if a man should, similarly to those drugged by Circe, become a beast; so he, who has spurned the ecclesiastical tradition, and darted off to the opinions of heretical men, has ceased to be a man of God and to remain faithful to the Lord. But he who has returned from this deception, on hearing the Scriptures, and turned his life to the truth, is, as it were, from being a man made a god.
For we have, as the source of teaching, the Lord, both by the prophets, the Gospel, and the blessed apostles, “in divers manners and at sundry times,” leading from the beginning of knowledge to the end. But if one should suppose that another origin was required, then no longer truly could an origin be preserved.
He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things. What is subjected to criticism is not believed till it is so subjected; so that what needs criticism cannot be a first principle. Therefore, as is reasonable, grasping by faith the indemonstrable first principle, and receiving in abundance, from the first principle itself, demonstrations in reference to the first principle, we are by the voice of the Lord trained up to the knowledge of the truth.
For we may not give our adhesion to men on a bare statement by them, who might equally state the opposite. But if it is not enough merely to state the opinion, but if what is stated must be confirmed, we do not wait for the testimony of men, but we establish the matter that is in question by the voice of the Lord, which is the surest of all demonstrations, or rather is the only demonstration; in which knowledge those who have merely tasted the Scriptures are believers; while those who, having advanced further, and become correct expounders of the truth, are Gnostics. Since also, in what pertains to life, craftsmen are superior to ordinary people, and model what is beyond common notions; so, consequently, we also, giving a complete exhibition of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, from faith persuade by demonstration.
And if those also who follow heresies venture to avail themselves of the prophetic Scriptures; in the first place they will not make use of all the Scriptures, and then they will not quote them entire, nor as the body and texture of prophecy prescribe. But, selecting ambiguous expressions, they wrest them to their own opinions, gathering a few expressions here and there; not looking to the sense, but making use of the mere words. For in almost all the quotations they make, you will find that they attend to the names alone, while they alter the meanings; neither knowing, as they affirm, nor using the quotations they adduce, according to their true nature.
But the truth is not found by changing the meanings (for so people subvert all true teaching), but in the consideration of what perfectly belongs to and becomes the Sovereign God, and in establishing each one of the points demonstrated in the Scriptures again from similar Scriptures.
I Want the Truth…
This was my favorite section of Clement’s work, and it is very relevant. Clement begins this chapter with a strong affirmation of the Scriptures being the objective standard of truth. If he was a modern author he might have used the wording, the Scriptures are the final authority for all faith and practice. Notice how this ancient church father directs Christians to the Bible to distinguish between truth and error. Clement tells us, do not turn back, like Lot’s wife, from the gospel to a teacher’s opinion that isn’t demonstrated from the Scriptures.
Was the Bible Created at Nicea?…
I have heard atheists, agnostics, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, cults, documentaries, and even Evangelical pastors, try to argue that the early church didn’t have a Bible until the 4th Century. This argument is ignorant at best and immoral at worst. Did Clement own a leather-bound copy with all the same 66 books that I’m using every day? No. Did Clement have a Bible? Yes, listen to him describe what he means by Scripture, “For we have, as the source of teaching, the Lord, both by the prophets, the Gospel, and the blessed apostles, ‘in divers manners and at sundry times,’ leading from the beginning of knowledge to the end.” I don’t wish to assume the motives of those who would make that argument, but I do want to sound the alarm. It seems that all parties who want to assert the church of God were without a Bible until Nicaea have a common knee-jerk reaction to the historic protestant view of the Holy Scriptures’ authority. What is that historic protestant view?
The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and His will which is necessary unto salvation.2 Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in diversified manners to reveal Himself, and to declare (that) His will unto His church;3 and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now completed.1689 LONDON BAPTIST CONFESSION OF FAITH, CHAPTER 1.1
Hold up, What?…
Did you notice Clement said, “…while those who, having advanced further, and become correct expounders of the truth, are Gnostics.” This is an interesting point to bring out, but Clement was arguing against Gnostic heresies by attempting to claim that the real “Gnostics” were the Christian teachers. This line can easily be misunderstood in Clement, and understandably so. The term “Gnostic” is derived from a Greek word that means “knowledge”. Clement is simply meaning to communicate that the people who have true religious knowledge are those who correctly expound the Scriptures.
Old School Hermeneutics…
Clement’s argument is aimed against the kind of false teachers (Gnostic heretics) who are creeping into Christian congregations and twisting the scriptures to fit their false claims. He writes, “And if those also who follow heresies venture to avail themselves of the prophetic Scriptures; in the first place they will not make use of all the Scriptures, and then they will not quote them entire, nor as the body and texture of prophecy prescribe. But, selecting ambiguous expressions, they wrest them to their own opinions, gathering a few expressions here and there; not looking to the sense, but making use of the mere words.”
These teachers are able to be recognized because their opinions are unsupported by the Scripture. The interpretive methodology that Clement tells us to employ as readers of the Scripture is sometimes referred to as the “analogy of faith”. He writes, “we also, giving a complete exhibition of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, from faith persuade by demonstration.” Simply put, Clement is teaching us to interpret the Scriptures with the Scriptures.