Friday, March 21, 2014

Adolf Harnack on Early Bible Reading

I will now sum up Adolf Harnack's arguments which are found in his work Bible Reading in the Early Church (New York: GP Putnam's Sons, 1912).

Harnack contends, as does yours truly, that private Bible reading (not private interpretation) was a common practice among ancient Jews. Therefore when the LOGOS became flesh and dwelt among us for a short time, dutifully selecting the Twelve along with other men and women who would constitute his spirit-begotten EKKLHSIA, "the private use of the Holy Scriptures simply continued" (Harnack 32) as suggested by Acts 17:10-11 and Eusebius' account of the layman who petitioned Bishop Melito of Sardis to make him a copy of the Law and Prophets (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. IV.26.12.) so that he could get to know the soteriological matters pertaining to the Christian faith.

Another insightful passage is likewise found in Ignatius of Antioch's letter to the Philadelphians VIII.1-2. There we read:

"I trust in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall loose
from you every chain; and I exhort you to do nothing
of contention, but according to the discipline of
Christ. Since I have heard certain men say, 'Unless I
find it in the ancients [the OT], I believe it not in
the Gospel.' And when I said unto them that 'It is
written,' they replied, 'That it is set forth
aforetime.' But my archives are Jesus Christ; his
cross and his death, his resurrection, and the faith
which is through him, are inviolable archives, through
which I desire to be justified by means of your

Here Ignatius evidently alludes to certain laymen who were well-versed with Holy Writ, especially the OT. While they seemed to be contending with Bishop Ignatius and he thus had to remind them of the significance the Christ Event holds for believers in Jesus, this Ignatian passage almost certainly indicates that private Bible reading was common among the laity in the second century CE. Adding to this testimony in a powerful manner, Polycarp writes to the Philippians (XII.1):

"For I am persuaded that ye are well trained in the sacred writings, and nothing is hidden from you."

Notice how Tatian also describes his conversion to Christianity. He claims that it was wrought by reading and studying the "barbaric" antiquitous writings of Judaism and Christianity:

"Wherefore, having seen these things, and moreover
also having been admitted to the mysteries, and having
everywhere examined the religious rites performed by
the effeminate and the pathic, and having found among
the Romans their Latiarian Jupiter delighting in human
gore and the blood of slaughtered men, and Artemis not
far from the great city sanctioning acts of the same
kind, and one demon here and another there instigating
to the perpetration of evil, retiring by myself, I
sought how I might be able to discover the truth. And,
while I was giving my most earnest attention to the
matter, I happened to meet with certain barbaric
writings, too old to be compared with the opinions of
the Greeks, and too divine to be compared with their
errors; and I was led to put faith in these by the
unpretending east of the language, the inartificial
character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed
of future events, the excellent quality of the
precepts, and the declaration of the government of the
universe as centred in one Being. And, my soul being
taught of God, I discern that the former class of
writings lead to condemnation, but that these put an
end to the slavery that is in the world, and rescue us
from a multiplicity of rulers and ten thousand
tyrants, while they give us, not indeed what we had
not before received, but what we had received but were
prevented by error from retaining" (Oratio ad Graecos

Lastly I will cite Justin's charitable exhortation
found in his 1 Apology XLIV:

"But by the agency of the devils, death has been
decreed against those who read the books of Hystaspes,
or of the Sibyl, or of the prophets, that through fear
they may prevent men who read them from receiving the
knowledge of the good, and may retain them in slavery
to themselves; which, however, they could not always
effect. For not only do we fearlessly read them, but,
as you see, bring them for your inspection, knowing
that their contents will be pleasing to all. And if we
persuade even a few, our gain will be very great; for,
as good husbandmen, we shall receive the reward from
the Master."

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