Daniel Kirk’s recent blog post on the Bereans from Acts happened to touch on a subject I have been researching lately. All through the New Testament we see echoes, allusions, and quotations of the Old Testament, and I have oft heard speakers who are trying to make a point about the canon say that the Old Testament was the Bible of the church. However, when we actually begin to read the early church documents we encounter a surprising ambivalence to finding everything in the Old Testament.
The quotation that follows is from Ignatius’ Letter to the Philadelphians and arises in the context of a dispute over the proper order of the church and congregational life. Several challenge Ignatius, and he responds in this manner:
I trust [as to you] in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall free you from every bond. And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ. When I heard some saying, If I do not find it in the ancient6 Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel; on my saying to them, It is written, they answered me, That remains to be proved. But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith7 which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified. (Ign. Phld. 8)
What strikes me about this passage is that Ignatius applies the designator “It is written” to revelation he personally received from the Holy Spirit as described in the chapter before this. His command that all obey the Bishop is supposedly from the Holy Spirit, but the members of the congregation can’t find any justification in the Old Testament for an episcopal structure and consequently reject it. It is interesting to me that within 80 years of the cross there is already this conflict of Spirit and Scripture– or dare I say, of Tradition and Sola Scriptura.