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Quotes from Church History on Scripture, the Gospel & more

Updated: Oct 31, 2023



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On the nature of Scripture:

Below is a sketch of various noteworthy quotes from various leaders in church history (ante-nicene, post nicene and pre-reformation).


Introductory remarks by Alisa Childers in her book, Another Gospel? (80): “Clement was a first-century believer who became the leader of the church in Rome. Tertullian, one of our church fathers, wrote that Clement knew the apostles personally. Clement believed that Christians should obey the Scriptures because they are the words of God:


“Let us act according to that which is written (for the Holy Spirit saith, ‘Let not the wise many glory in his wisdom’)...Look carefully into the scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit.” (Clement, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, XIII, XLV,” in The Church Fathers, loc. 175211 and 175514-15, Kindle.)


More from Clement of Rome (95-97)

  • “Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit.” Clement of Rome (c. 96, W), 1.17

  • “Take up the epistle of the blessed apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, he wrote to you under the inspiration of the Spirit.” Clement of Rome (c. 96, W), 1.18

  • "Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit." - First Epistle to the Corinthians.

  • 700 quotations from the gospel of Matthew

  • YET, total quotations from apocryphal material: 16

Didache (1st century)

  • "Do not add anything to these words and do not take anything away." - Didache, 4:13.

Polycarp (late 1st-2nd century)

  • "I trust that you are well versed in every good thing of the Lord, having been trained in the sacred Scriptures." - Epistle to the Philippians.


Justin Martyr (100-165)

  • “When you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired men themselves but by the divine word who moves them.” (Justin Martyr, “First Apology, XXXVI” in The Church Fathers, loc. 5762, Kindle)

  • "When I had ceased quoting from the Scriptures, I said again: 'Now, sirs, these Scriptures, and others not a few, compel us to acknowledge that there is a certain prophetic power.'" - Dialogue with Trypho

Irenaeus (130-202)

  • “The Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the word of God [Christ] and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries.” (Irenaeus, “Against Heresies, 3.3.4” in the Church Fathers, loc. 13525, Kindle)

Irenaeus on Gnostics that beyond the written text of Scripture:


"When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, "But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world." And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth; so that, according to their idea, the truth properly resides at one time in Valentinus, at another in Marcion, at another in Cerinthus, then afterwards in Basilides, or has even been indifferently in any other opponent, who could speak nothing pertaining to salvation. For every one of these men, being altogether of a perverse disposition, depraving the system of truth, is not ashamed to preach himself. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition. Such are the adversaries with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavouring like slippery serpents to escape at all points. Where-fore they must be opposed at all points, if per-chance, by cutting off their retreat, we may succeed in turning them back to the truth. For, though it is not an easy thing for a soul under the influence of error to repent, yet, on the other hand, it is not altogether impossible to escape from error when the truth is brought alongside it."


"The sacred books clearly reveal to us the apostles’ teaching.” (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 5.1.)


"We have known the method of our salvation by no other means than those by whom the gospel came to us; which gospel they truly preached; but afterward, by the will of God, they delivered to us in the Scriptures, to be for the future the foundation and pillar of our faith." - Against Heresies, Book III.


Theophilus of Antioch (2nd Century)


  • For these are the most excellent of created things seen in this world; but the divine beauty and might are seen in figures and shadowy types. Now, in all things, not only by thought, but also from the [Old Testament] Scriptures, which are truly divine, and from the [New Testament] spirit, God is known as the cause.” - To Autolycus, Book I, Chapter 4

Clement of Alexandria (150-215)

  • “We have the Lord as the source of teaching- both by the Prophets, the gospel and the blessed apostles...He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and the voice of the Lord (which by the Lord acts to benefit of men) is rightly [regarded] as being faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things.” Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.551.

  • “True Holy are those letters that sanctify and deify. For that reason, the same apostle calls the writings or volumes that consist of those holy letters and syllables as being “inspired of God, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction.”.....No one will be as impressed by the exhortations of any of the saints as he is by the words of the Lord himself, the lover of man.” Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.196

  • “He, then, who believes the divine scriptures with sure judgment, receives in them the voice of God, who bestowed the Scriptures.” Clement of Alexandria (C. 195, E), 2.349

  • "The Scriptures should be read first and with them the apocryphal books." - Miscellanies, 2:3.

  • “They that are ready to spend their time in the best things will not give over seeking for truth until they have found the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves.” - Stromata, 7.16.


Tertullian (circa 160-220)

  • “ Although Paul did not have a specific commandment of the Lord [to cite], he was accustomed to give counsel and to dictate matters from his own authority, for he possessed the Spirit of God, who guides into all truth. For that reason, his advice has, by the authority of the Divine Word, become equivalent to nothing less than a divine command.” Tertullian (c. 211, W), 3.95

  • “[The Church] unites the Law and the Prophets in one volume with the writings of evangelists and apostles, from which she drinks in her faith.” Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.260.

  • “[The Church] unites the Law and the Prophets in one volume with the writings of evangelists and apostles, from which she drinks in her faith.” Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.260.

  • “The apostle has used the same word in writing. For he was guided, of course, by the same Spirit by whom the book of Genesis was drawn up- as were all the divine Scriptures.” Tertullian, (c. 198, W), 3.687

  • “....concerning the righteousness which the law enjoined, confirmatory utterances are found both with the prophets and in the gospels, because they all spoke by one Spirit of God.” (169-183 AD, To Autolycus 3.12)

  • "We have for this [belief] the most trustworthy witnesses, the very ones who have penned the Gospel." - The Prescription Against Heretics.

  • "It is clear that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches, the molds and original centers of the faith, must be considered true." - Prescription Against Heretics, 32.

  • Tertullian names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the gospel authors.


Origen (185-253 AD)

  • “In addition, for the proof of our statements, we take testimonies from that which is called the Old Testament and that which is called the New- which we believe to be divine writings.” Origen (c. 225 AD, E), 4.349

  • “We....believe that it is possible in no other way to explain and bring within the reach of human knowledge this higher and diviner Logos as the Son of God, than by means of those scriptures, which alone were inspired by the Holy Spirit: The gospels and Epistles, and the Law and the prophets, according to the declaration of Christ himself.” Origen (c. 225, E), 4.252

  • “Every divine Scripture is gospel.” Origen, (c. 228, E), 9.305

  • "In the two Testaments every word that appertains to God may be sought and discussed, and out of them all knowledge of things may be understood." - On First Principles.

Cyprian of Carthage (3rd century)

  • “Let nothing be innovated, says he, nothing maintained, except what has been handed down. Whence is that tradition? Whether does it descend from the authority of the Lord and of the Gospel, or does it come from the commands and the epistles of the apostles? For that those things which are written must be done, God witnesses and admonishes, saying to Joshua the son of Nun: ‘The book of this law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate in it day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein.’” - Epistle 74.

  • “For the things which are placed in the Scriptures by the inspiration and command of God, suggest to us the compendium of truth, and do not allow faith to waver in the questions proposed.” - Letters 73:16.


Hippolytus (3rd century)


  • "There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures and from no other source." - Refutation of All Heresies.


Ambrose of Milan (4th century)


  • "How can we use those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?" - Exposition on the Christian Faith.

  • "When we wish to suggest anything sensible in sacred matters, let us go to the sacred writings, drawing from Scripture what we suggest." - On the Christian Faith, Book 1.


Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD)

  • “This Mediator, having spoken what he judged sufficient first by the prophets, then by His own lips, and afterwards by the apostles, has besides produced the Scripture which is called canonical, which has paramount authority, and to which we yield assent in all matters of which we ought not to be ignorant, and yet cannot know of ourselves...for it seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books.” (Augustine, “Letters, 23.3.3” in the Church Fathers, Loc. 13525, Kindle)

  • “In the innumerable books that have been written latterly we may sometimes find the same truth as in Scripture, but there is not the same authority.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, 11:5)

  • "For it seems to me that most disastrous consequence must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books." - Letter to Jerome, Letter 82.

  • “For when one says, ‘This is the custom,’ and another says, ‘No, that is the custom,’ I should prefer, however, that if possible, neither the circle of the year nor the rising of the sun should interrupt this custom of ours, but, above all, it seems to me that we should yield ourselves to the authority of Holy Scripture, which can neither be led astray nor lead others astray.” - Letters, 82.

  • “For in regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Do not even listen to me if I tell you anything that is not supported by or found in the Scriptures.” - Exposition on Psalm 119.


Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 AD)

  • “We make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet.”

  • "We are not entitled to such licence, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Strictures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings."

Gregory of Nazianzen (4th century)


  • "Let us test and judge what is said by the unerring rule of the Scriptures." - Theological Oration 4.

Basil the Great/Basil of Caesarea (379 AD)

  • “Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right” (Letter CCLXXXIII, ANCF, p. 312).

  • "Believe those things which are written; what is not written, do not believe." - On the Holy Spirit.

  • "The hearing of the Scriptures is necessary not merely for the uninstructed but also for those who are richly endowed with the word of doctrine." - On Psalm 1, 6.

Eusebius (4th century)


  • "The faith by which we believe in God has not been established by human testimonies, but by divine Scripture." - Ecclesiastical History, 1.4.


Athanasius (4th Century)


  • "The holy and inspired Scriptures are sufficient for the preaching of the truth." - Against the Heathen.

  • "The Scriptures, which are able to make one wise, are sufficient for instruction." - Letter to Marcellinus.

Hilary of Poitiers (4th century)

  • "Everything that we ought to say and do, all that we need, is taught us by the Holy Scriptures." - On the Trinity, 7:16.


Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century)

  • "For concerning the divine and sacred mysteries of the faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures." - Catechetical Lectures.

John Chrysostom (4-5th century)


  • "Let us not therefore carry about the notions of the many, but examine into the facts... Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things." - Homilies on the Second Epistle to Timothy.

  • “Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.” - Homily 13 on 2 Corinthians.

Ephrem the Syrian (4th century)

  • "The Sacred Writings contain the instruction of the ages." - Commentary on the Diatessaron.

John Cassian (4-5 Century)

  • We ought not to believe in and to admit anything whatsoever which is not in the canon of Scripture or which is found to be contrary to it.” - Conferences, 14.8.


Isidore of Seville (6-7th century)


  • "All doctrine ought to be derived from the divine Scriptures—for then it ought to be believed when it is proved by divine testimony." - Sententiae.

John of Damascus (8th century)


  • "It is not allowable to affirm whatever we please; we make Holy Scripture the rule and measure of every tenet." - An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.

St. Bonaventure (13th century)


  • “In Holy Scripture, the doctrine of faith is presented to us in a definite and clear manner. Everything that is included in it is, by divine mandate, committed to writing and set forth as an everlasting record. Hence those things which are presented to us in Scripture should be accepted with full faith and with the recognition that they are far removed from all falsehood.” - Commentary on the Sentences, Book I.

Thomas Aquinas (13 century)


  • “It is unlawful to hold that any false assertion is contained either in the Gospel or in any canonical Scripture, or that the writers thereof have told untruths, because faith would be deprived of its certitude which is based on the authority of Holy Writ.” - Summa Theologiae, I, Q. 1, Art. 8.


 

On heretics messing with scriptures:


Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.552.

  • “There heretics go the length of impiety by disbelieving the Scriptures!”


 


On understanding difficult passages:

Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.400.

  • “If therefore, according to the rule that I have stated, we leave some questions in the hands of God, we will both preserve our faith uninjured, and will continue without danger. And all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, will be found by us perfectly consistent. And the parables will harmonize with those passages that are perfectly plain. And those statements that have a clear meaning will serve to explain the parables.”


Tertullian (c. 210, W), 3.560.

  • “It cannot but be right (as we have shown above) that uncertain statements should be determined by certain ones, and obscure ones by those that are clear and plain.”


 


Quotes on the nature of Jesus

  • "God himself was manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life." Ignatius (circa A.D. 105), 1.58

  • "The Christians trace the beginning of their religion to Jesus the Messiah. He is called the Son of the Most High God. It is said that God came down from heaven. He assumed flesh and clothed Himself with it from a Hebrew virgin. And the Son of God lived in a daughter of man" Aristedes (circa A.D. 125,) 9.265,

  • "Brethren, it is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God- as the judge of the living and the dead." Second Clement (circa A.D. 150), 7.517

  • "We reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the True God Himself, and holding him in the second place.' Justin Martyr (cir. A.D. 160) 1.166

  • "He deserves to be worshipped as God and as Christ." Justin Martyr (c. 160), 1.229

  • "David predicted that He would be born from the womb before the sun and moon, according to the Father's will. He made Him known, being Christ, as God, strong and to be worshipped." Justin Martyr (c. 160), 1.237

  • "Rejoice, O you heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him" [Deut 32:43] Justin Martyr (c. 160) 1.264.

  • "There is the one God and the Logos proceeding from Him, the Son. We understand that the Son is insuperable from Him." Athenagoras (circa A.D. 175), 2.137.

  • "But the Son has been eternally co-existing with the Father. From of old, yes, from the beginning, He always reveals the Father." Irenaeus (c 180), 1.406.

  • "how can they be saved unless it was God who worked out their salvation upon earth? Or how shall man pass into God, unless God has first passed into man? Irenaeus (C 180) 1.507

  • "He is not on this account to be regarded as an angel- as a Gabriel or a Michael....Since He is the Spirit of God and the Power of the Highest, can He be regarded as lower than the angels? He who is truly God and the Son of God? Tertullian (circa A.D. 210) 3.534.

    • Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 (533–534/Chapter XIV). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

    • Click this source for the fuller Tertullian quote.

Above listed in Bercot, David W. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998, 93-106



 

Quotes on "faith alone" before Luther


John Chrysostom (late 300s AD, archbishop of Constantinople)


"The patriarch Abraham himself before receicing circumcision had been declared righteous on the score of faith alone: before circumcision, the text says, "Abraham believed God, and credit for it brought him to righteousness." (Fathers of the Church, Vol. 82, Homilies on Genesis 18-45, Homily)


More quotes coming soon! In the meantime, check out the resource below.




Clarification of the limited usefulness of church history quotes:


In the words of Dr. Michael Patton, whose work I am indebted, "It must be said that some of these [the church fathers] contradict themselves in earlier or later passages. Some, in other places, add a qualifier that the Church and its interpretation of the Scriptures is authoritative. And some, although I don’t know of any, may have changed their mind." Regardless, I do think it's valuable to establish that sola scriptura and sola fide are not completely novel ideas before Luther



more quotes coming soon....


 


Want to read more articles?


  • For more on how the early church recognized the canon and how it was not established by the Roman Catholic church but recognized as authoritative, click here and here.

  • For more about Engage Apologetics resources, click here.


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