When I first received God’s grace, I was essentially a blank slate, with only a couple of preconceived notions of what it meant to be a Christian. To catch up for lost time, I began devouring Christian books. Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly was a part of my catechism. It details the shaping of Christian doctrines in the first few centuries after Christ. If you’re Catholic or an Orthodox Christian, the doctrines and dogmas you believe were settled thanks to the Church Fathers the author details in this book.
Why does God seem different in the Old and New Testaments?
…the Law of Moses and the grace of the New Testament, both adapted to different sets of conditions, were bestowed by one and the same God for the benefit of the human race. If the Old Testament legislation appears less perfect than the New, this is because mankind had to undergo a progressive development, and the old law was designed for its earlier stages. Hence we should not conclude that it was the product of a blind Demiurge and that the good God came to abolish it; in the Sermon on the Mount Christ fulfilled it by propounding a more intimate and perfect justice. (Irenaeus)
In the Old Testament the New is concealed, in the New the Old is revealed. (Augustine)
I see much of the Old Testament as actions God had to take to ensure Jesus Christ would be born from the Jews and be able to fulfill the prophecies to save mankind. Judgement had to be faster and more wrathful against those who blocked His saving plan.
A priest I talked to also commented that the Old Testament is what the Israelites captured. God may have dealt with them through bountiful love, but since their faith was kept more in line through His anger, the prophets at times captured a stern God.
Should the Bible be interpreted literally?
According to ‘Barnabas’, the fatal error of the Jews was to let themselves be beguiled by the literal sense of Scripture. What God really asked of His people was not bloody sacrifices, as the Law seemed to prescribe, but a contrite heart; not bodily fasting, but the practice of good works; not abstention from certain forms of food, but the avoidance of vices symbolized by them.
[Augustine’s] rule for determining whether the literal or the figurative sense was the more correct was that whatever can be shown to be inconsistent, if taken literally, with propriety of life or purity of doctrine must be taken figuratively. In a general way he thought that no interpretation could be true which did not promote the love of God or the love of man.
I take the New Testament literally, and have not encountered any troubles or mental blocks while doing so. The Old Testament, however, is a challenge, and I take instructions from the Church Fathers to tell me what I should interpret as metaphorical or literal.
The Holy Spirit
The Spirit’s role is indeed essential, for ‘without the Spirit it is impossible to behold the Word of God… since the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and the knowledge of the Son of God can only be obtained through the Spirit; and according to the Father’s good pleasure the Son ministers and dispenses the Spirit to whomsoever the Father wills, and as He wills’. Our sanctification is indeed wholly the work of the Spirit, for it is ‘the Spirit of the Father Which purifies a man and raises him to the life of God’. (Irenaeus)
Before Christ’s coming men had possessed, as it were, seeds of the Logos and had thus been enabled to arrive at fragmentary facets of truth. Hence such pagans as ‘lived with reason’ were, in a sense, Christians before Christianity. The Logos, however, had not ‘assumed shape and become a man’ in Jesus Christ; He had become incarnate in His entirety in Him. The Logos is here conceived of as the Father’s intelligence or rational thought… (Justin)
…he goes on to identify the Word as the Son of God. Repudiating the objection that there is something ridiculous in God’s having a son, he protests that God’s Son is not like the children of men, but is ‘the Father’s Word in idea and in actualization. It was by Him, and through Him, that everything was made, and the Father and the Son form a unity. ‘The Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son by the unity and power of divine spirit, the Son of God is the Father’s intelligence and Word’. (Athenagoras)
The Word Himself fashioned His own humanity in the Virgin’s womb; and if it be asked why He did this instead of creating some altogether novel substance, the answer is that the humanity which was to be the instrument of salvation had to be identical with that which needed to be saved. (Irenaeus)
The Logos is our teacher, law-given and model; by associating with Him we lose our deadness and irrationality, becoming ‘divinely possessed and rational’. He is ‘the pattern of the perfect life’, the exemplar of true virtue into Whose likeness Christians are transformed, thereby being enabled to participate in the divine nature. As [Origen] puts it, ‘Discoursing in bodily form and giving Himself out as flesh, He summons to Himself those who are flesh, in order that He may first of all transform them into the likeness of the Word Who has been made flesh, and after that may exalt them so as to behold Him as He was before he became flesh’.
The fallen Adam
The original Adam, by his disobedience, introduced the principle of sin and death, but Christ by His obedience has reintroduced the principle of life and immortality. Because He is identified with the human race at every phase of its existence, He restores fellowship with God to all, ‘perfect man according to God’s image and likeness’. And because He is a real man, born of a woman, He is able to vanquish the Devil, into whose power mankind has fallen. (Irenaeus)
All men, [Clement] teaches, have a spark of the divine in them and are free to obey or disobey God’s law, but all except the incarnate Logos are sinners. They are, as it were, sick, blind and gone astray; they are enslaved to the elements and the Devil; and their condition can be described as death.
[Adam’s] only weakness was his creatureliness, which meant that he was changeable by nature and so liable to turn away from the transcendent good. Any blame must lie exclusively with his own will, which, though inclined towards goodness, had the possibility, being free, of choosing wrongfully. When it did so, the latent ground of the act was pride, the desire to break away from his natural master, God, and be his own master. If there had not been this proud satisfaction with self in his soul, this craving to substitute self for God as the Goal of his being, he would never have listened to the Tempter. And from this character of the first sin flows its heinousness. Trivial though it might appear, it can be seen on analysis to have involved sacrilege (through disbelieving God’s word), murder, spiritual fornication, theft and avarice. It was worse than any conceivable sin in proportion as Adam was nobler than any other man and as the will which produced it was uniquely free. In fact, such was its gravity that it resulted in the ruin of the entire race, which became a massa damnata, sinful itself and propagating sinners. (Augustine)
We were one with [Adam] when he made [the choice to sin], and thus willed in and with him. As he expressed it, ‘In the misdirected choice of that one man all sinned in him, since all were that one man, from whom on that account they all severally derive original sin’. Sin is a matter of the will, and ‘all sinned in Adam on that occasion, for all were already identical with him in that nature of his which was endowed with the capacity to generate them’. (Augustine)
Adam feels close and personal to me, because it’s plain to see how men in the current day are following women instead of holding firm to their faith.
Believe it or not, I originally got into game to land a girlfriend, but girls who hang out in bars and clubs—places I was frequenting—weren’t trying to find a boyfriend. In essence, they said to me, “Roosh, I like you but I only want to have sex with you until I get bored, and then I will move on. I don’t want a serious relationship.” Instead of sticking to my original desire of a girlfriend, I immediately threw it away and followed the woman’s desire for casual sex until I got addicted to it myself. It’s easy for me to insult Adam for his weakness, but I was no better.
To know the Son is to the know the Father
Hence anyone who sees Christ sees the Father, ‘because of the Son’s belonging to the Father’s substance and because of His complete likeness to the Father’. This likeness is no external resemblance, however, such as exists between man and man, but extends to His very substance or nature. (Athanasius)
If God’s help is necessary for doing good and if the good will itself comes from him, it is equally true that the initiative rests with man’s free will. Chrysostom similarly teaches that without God’s aid we should be unable to accomplish good works; nevertheless, even if grace takes the lead, it co-operates with free will. We first of all begin to desire the good and to incline ourselves towards it, and then God steps in to strengthen that desire and render it effective.
In creating man God did not subject him, like other creatures, to the law of nature, but gave him the unique privilege of being able to accomplish the divine will by his own choice. He set life and death before him, bidding him choose life (Deut 30:19), but leaving the final decision to his free will. Thus it depends on the man himself whether he acts rightly or wrongly; the possibility of freely choosing the good entails the possibility of choosing evil. (Pelagius)
Man’s free will is most completely itself when it is in most complete subjection to God, for true liberty consists in Christ’s service. (Augustine)
The Council Of Arausiacum
It is sufficient to note that at the council of Arausiacum (529 AD) the following propositions were established: (a) As a result of Adam’s transgression both death and sin have passed to all his descendants; (b) man’s free will has consequently been so distorted and weakened that he cannot now believe in, much less love, God unless prompted and assisted thereto by grace; (c) the saints of the Old Testament owed their merits solely to grace and not to the possession of any natural good; (d) the grace of baptism enables all Christians, with the help and co-operation of Christ, to accomplish the duties necessary for salvation, provided they make the appropriate efforts; (e) predestination to evil is to be anathematized with detestation; and (f) in every good action the first impulse comes from God, and it is this impulse which instigates us to seek baptism and, still aided by Him, to fulfill our duties.
Many people online have criticized my turn to God, claiming that it’s an “act” or “fake” because it happened so suddenly, but grace is indeed sudden. Grace is transformation. Overnight, your heart can be changed. The old me would probably comment that my transformation is fake as well, since I didn’t know grace, and believed that transformations can only occur after a prolonged period of human effort and time, such as building muscles in a gym or losing a lot of weight. If you don’t believe in grace, you cannot possibly understand how someone can change so quickly.
Saving work of Jesus Christ
When Adam was created, he was of course righteous, and a mediator was not needed. But when sin placed a wide gulf between mankind and God, a mediator was called for Who was unique in being born, in living and in being slain without sin, in order that we might be reconciled to God and brought by the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life. Thus through God’s humility human pride was rebuked and healed, and man was shown how far he had departed from God, since the incarnation of God was required for his restoration. (Augustine)
Now that the Lamb, foreshadowed of old in types, is led to the slaughter as a spotless sacrifice for all in order to do away with the sin of the world, to overthrow the destroyer of mankind, to annihilate death by dying for all, to rid us of he curse which lay upon us… For when we were guilty of many sins, and for that reason were liable to death and corruption, the Father gave His Son as a ransom, once for all… For we were all in Christ, Who died on our account and in our stead and rose again. But sin being destroyed, how could it be that Death, which springs from sin, should not be destroyed as well. (Cyril)
If in the Person of Christ one did prove able, by His death, to offer satisfaction on behalf of all, that was because His dignity and status (i.e. the fact He was very God) so far exceeded the dignity and status of all those whom He was saving taken together. Since He was God incarnate, precious beyond all human valuing, the offering made with His blood was abundantly sufficient to redeem the whole world. (Cyril)
Body and blood of Christ
Theodore of Mopsuestia argued very similarly that ‘He did not say, “this is the symbol of my body”, and, “This is the symbol of my blood”, but, “This is my body and my blood”, thereby instructing us not to look to nature of the oblations, for that has been changed, by the eucharistic prayer, into flesh and blood’.
Cyril of Jerusalem argues that we become ‘of one body and one blood with Christ’, citing 1 Cor. 11:23-25 to prove his point; for since He Himself has said, ‘This is my body, this is my blood’, who can doubt that the bread and the wine are truly His body and blood?
The Blessed Mother and virginity
[He] argued that Eve, while still a virgin, had proved disobedient and so became the cause of death both for herself and for all mankind, but Mary, also a virgin, obeyed and became the cause of salvation both for herself and for all mankind. ‘Thus, as the human race was bound fast to death through a virgin, so through a virgin it was saved.’ (Irenaeus)
It was indeed Mary and her virginity, according to Gregory [of Nyssa], that finally halted the long reign of death.
Early Christian Doctrines is an accidental book on Orthodox Christianity, which has not changed substantially from the days of early Christianity. While the teachings in this book are scattered and do include discussions of long-since-corrected heresies, most of it does not conflict with my faith today as an Armenian Orthodox Christian. This is not an easy book to read because of its academic tone, but I recommend it if you aim to understand how the beliefs and faith you hold dear were elucidated over the ages.