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  • « Useful Links for Mid-May 2009 | Main | Chapter Two: What is Christianity? »

    Athanasius on Scripture's Nature and Sufficiency

    (taken from an article by Dr. James White at hear the words of Athanasius (c. 293 – 2 May 373), one of the chief spokesmen for Christ in the first few hundred years after Christ:

    We note first and foremost the plain words from his work against the heathen:

    For indeed the holy and God-breathed Scriptures are self-sufficient for the preaching of the truth.[1]

    In this passage Athanasius begins with a fundamental tenet of his faith: the full sufficiency of Scripture for the proclamation of the truth. He immediately goes on to note that God uses other sources to teach truth as well, including godly men with an insight into Scripture. But he begins where Protestants and Roman Catholics part company: with the sufficiency of Scripture. He had learned such things from those who came before him. He even mentions the words of Antony, "The Scriptures are enough for instruction, but it is a good thing to encourage one another in the faith, and to stir up with words."[2]

    When writing to the Egyptian bishops he asserted:

    But since holy Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us, therefore recommending to those who desire to know more of these matters, to read the Divine word, I now hasten to set before you that which most claims attention, and for the sake of which principally I have written these things.[3]

    The high view of Scripture is continued in this passage from Athanasius work on the Incarnation of the Word of God:

    Let this, then, Christ-loving man, be our offering to you, just for a rudimentary sketch and outline, in a short compass, of the faith of Christ and of His Divine appearing usward. But you, taking occasion by this, if you light upon the text of the Scriptures, by genuinely applying your mind to them, will learn from them more completely and clearly the exact detail of what we have said. For they were spoken and written by God, through men who spoke for God.[4]

    One will search in vain for a reference wherein this Father describes oral tradition in such a way, and yet Trent did not fear to so speak of tradition. Rather than finding OBrien's idea that Scripture is not a safe guide as to what we are to believe, Athanasius said: ". . . for the tokens of truth are more exact as drawn from Scripture, than from other sources."[5]

    These other sources included church councils, such as that of Nicea, which Athanasius defended so strongly. Yet he realized that his sufficiency was not based upon the alleged authority of a council, but that the power of that council came from its fidelity to Scripture. Note his words with reference to the Arians:

    Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faiths sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrines so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.[6]

    By now the phrase "for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things" should be familiar, as it is a constant thread in Athanasius writings. And it is vital to note that the weight of the Nicene Council is described in terms of the consistency of the Councils teachings with the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.

    [1] Translation of the author. Greek text found in Robert Thomson, editor, Athanasius: Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1971), p. 2. Or Migne, PG, 25:4. With reference to the term sufficiency, we note the definition provided by Bauer, sufficiency, a competence and contentment, self-sufficiency. See Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 122. The most helpful work of Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (United Bible Societies: 1988), p. 680 says of the term, "a state of adequacy or sufficiency what is adequate, what is sufficient, what is needed, adequacy. . . . In a number of languages the equivalent of this expression in 2 Cor. 9:8 may be always having all that you need or, stated negatively, not lacking in anything."
    [2] Athanasius, Vita S. Antoni, 16, NPNF, Series II, IV:200.
    [3] Athanasius, Ad Episcopos Ægyptiæ, NPNF, Series II, IV:225. The Greek text is found in Migne, PG, 25:548.
    [4] Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, 56, NPNF Series II, IV:66. Text in Meijering, p. 10, and Migne, PG, 25:196.
    [5] Athanasius, De Decretis, 32, NPNF, Series II, IV:172, Migne, PG, 25:476.
    [6] Athanasius, De Synodis, 6, NPNF, II, IV:453, Migne, PG, 26:689

    Posted by John Samson on May 18, 2009 01:52 AM

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