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    VAGARIES OF THE FATHERS

    “Nothing can be more unsatisfactory, or rather childish, than the explanations of Holy Writ sometimes given by these ancient expositors. According to Tertullian, the two sparrows mentioned in the New Testament signify the soul and the body; and Clemens Alexandrinus gravely pleads for marriage from the promise—’Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ Cyprian produces as an argument in support of the doctrine of the Trinity, that the Jews observed ‘the third, sixth, and ninth hours’ as their ‘fixed and lawful seasons for prayer.’ Origen represents the heavenly bodies as literally engaged in acts of devotion. If these authorities are to be credited, the Gihon, one of the rivers of Paradise, was no other than the Nile. Very few of the Fathers of this period were acquainted with Hebrew, so that, as a class, they were miserably qualified for the interpretation of the Scriptures. Even Origen himself must have had a very imperfect knowledge of the language of the Old Testament. In consequence of their literary deficiencies, the Fathers of the second and third centuries occasionally commit the most ridiculous blunders. Thus, Irenaeus tells us that the name Jesus in Hebrew consists of two letters and a half, and describes it as signifying ‘that Lord who contains Heaven and earth’! This Father asserts also that the Hebrew word adonai, or the Lord, denotes ‘utterable and wonderful.’ Clemens Alexandrinus is not more successful as an interpreter of the sacred tongue of the chosen people; for he asserts that Jacob was called Israel ‘because he had seen the Lord God,’ and he avers that Abraham means ‘the elect father of a sound!’”—Ancient Church, period 2, sec. 2, chap. 1, paragraphs 31, 32.FACC 70.1

    Upon this the same writer makes the following most just comments, which make a fitting close to this collection of statements concerning the Fathers:— “It would seem as if the great Head of the church permitted these early writers to commit the grossest mistakes, and to propound the most foolish theories, for the express purpose of teaching us that we are not implicitly to follow their guidance. It might have been thought that authors, who flourished on the borders of apostolic times, knew more of the mind of the Spirit than others who appeared in succeeding ages; but the truths of Scripture, like the phenomena of the visible creation, are equally intelligible to all generations. If we possess spiritual discernment, the trees and the flowers will display the wisdom and the goodness of God as distinctly to us as they did to our first parents; and, if we have the ‘unction from the Holy One,’ we may enter into the meaning of the Scriptures as fully as did Justin Martyr or Irenaeus [and to a far greater degree, for their minds were blinded and fettered by their false philosophy]. To assist us in the interpretation of the New Testament, we have at command a critical apparatus of which they were unable to avail themselves. Jehovah is jealous of the honor of his word, and he has inscribed in letters of light over the labors of the most ancient interpreters—‘Cease ye from man.’ The ‘opening of the Scriptures,’ so as to exhibit their beauty, their consistency, their purity, their wisdom, and their power, is the clearest proof that the commentator is possessed of ‘the key of knowledge.’ When tried by this test, Thomas Scott or Matthew Henry is better entitled to confidence than either Origen or Gregory Thaumaturgus. The Bible is its own safest expositor. ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.’”—The Ancient Church, sec. 2, chap. 1, last paragraph.FACC 70.2

    First in order come what are calledFACC 71.1

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