The great Saints of the Orthodox Church believed that the Scriptures are very clear, and that much of what they say can be clearly understood simply by reading them. They frequently relied directly on the text of Scripture, and they believed that their audience had the ability to understand the clear teachings of Scripture.
Of course, that does not mean they embraced Sola Scriptura.
They did not rely on Scripture alone.
For the first few centuries, Christians did not have a full understanding of which books belonged in Scripture, and which books needed to be excluded. And the Scriptures they did have, they interpreted in accordance with the Faith they had received from the Apostles and their successors, the bishops. They did not follow Scripture alone.
Unfortunately, some people go too far the other way, almost suggesting that we should follow Scripture-hardly-at-all. They think most people have little hope of interpreting Scripture correctly, so they believe we should predominantly read the writings of the Saints. Practically, the writings of the Early Church Fathers receive preeminence, and Scripture is relegated to a lower position in our everyday life.
Of course, this too is a mistake.
Early Christians may not have followed Scripture alone.
But they did follow Scripture first.
It was their primary authority.
For a sample of Orthodox Patristic thought, consider the following excerpts from the Early Church Fathers:
St. Justin the Martyr (~150 A.D.)
- “. . . for I undertake to prove to you from the Scriptures themselves . . .”
(ANF, Vol I, Dialogue of Justin, Chapter 56).
St. Clement of Alexandria (~200 A.D.)
- “Scripture is clear to all, when taken according to the bare reading”
(ANF, Vol II, The Stromata, Book VI, Chapter XV).
St. Hyppolytus (~200 A.D.)
- “There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source.” (ANF, Vol. V, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 9).
St. Dionysus of Alexandria (~250 A.D.)
- “we accepted whatever was established by the proofs and teachings of the Holy Scriptures” (NPNF2, Vol I, The Church History of Eusebius, Book 7, Chapter 24).
St. Athanasius (~350 A.D.)
- “the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth.”
(NPNF2, Vol. IV, Against the Heathen, Part I.1-3).
- “our Lord Himself said, ‘ye search the Scriptures, for they are they which testify of Me.’ How then shall they confess the Lord unless they first search the Scriptures which are written concerning Him?”
(NPNF2, Vol. IV., To the Bishops of Egypt, Chapter I.4).
- “Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things”
(NPNF2, Vol. IV, Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, Part I History of the Councils, 6).
St. Hilary of Poitiers (~350 A.D.)
- “I would not have you flatter the Son with praises of your own invention;
it is well with you if you be satisfied with the written word.”
(NPNF2, Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book III.23).
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (~375 A.D.)
- “For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.”
(NPNF2, Vol. VII, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture IV.17).
St. Epiphanius of Salamis (~375 A.D.)
- “I cannot give the answer to any question with my own reason, but I can with a conclusion from scripture.” (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book II, Section V, Against Paul the Samosatian, Heresy 65.5, 3, p.213).
St. Basil of Caesarea (~375 A.D.)
- “[It is] proper and necessary that each one should learn that which is useful from the inspired Scripture, both for the establishment of piety, and that he may not be accustomed to human traditions.” (Regulae Brevius Tractate, Interrogatio et Responsio XCV. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p. 132).
- “Believe those things that are written. What is not written inquire not into.” (Homilia Adversus Calumn. S. Trinitatis. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p. 134).
- “Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth.” (NPNF2, Vol. VIII, Letters, Letter 189 – To Eustathius the physician 3).
St. Niceta of Remesiana (~390 A.D.)
- “My single appeal will be to the Holy Scriptures.”
(FC, Vol. 7, Writings of Niceta of Remesiana, The Power of the Holy Spirit 1, p. 23).
- “I shall prove this by adducing many texts of Holy Scripture . . .”
(FC, Vol. 7, Writings of Niceta of Remesiana, Liturgical Singing 2, P. 66).
St. Ambrose (~390 A.D.)
- “I do not wish that credence be given to us; let the Scripture be quoted.”
(FC, Vol. 44, Saint Ambrose: Theological and Dogmatic Works, The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord, Chapter 3, p. 224).
- “So then, like prudent pilots, let us set the sails of our faith for the course wherein we may pass by most safely, and again follow the coasts of the Scriptures.”
(NPNF2, Vol. X, Exposition of the Christian Faith, Book I, Chapter 6.43).
St. Gregory of Nyssa (~390 A.D.)
- “Let the inspired Scripture, 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.”
(NPNF2, Vol. V, On the Holy Trinity and of the Godhead of the Holy Spirit, second paragraph).
- “we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet (dogma); we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.”
(NPNF2, Vol. V, On the Soul And the Resurrection.)
St. Theophilus of Alexandria (~400 A.D.)
- “It would be the instigation of a demonical spirit to follow the conceits of the human mind, and to think anything divine, beyond what has the authority of the Scriptures.” (A Paschal Letter (401 A.D.). Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, pp. 154-155).
St. Jerome (~400 A.D.)
- “There is no argument that is so forcible, as a passage from the Holy Scriptures.”
(In Zachariam Prophetam 10:15-16. Translation by William Goode. Vol. 3., p. 152).
- “The doctrine of the church, which is the house of God, may be found in the fulness of the divine books.”
(Epistola XXX, Ad Paulum 6. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p. 153).
- “For all questions, let us seek for suitable beams from the testimonies of the Scriptures, and cut them down, and build the house of wisdom within us.”
(Commentariorum In Aggaeum Prophetam 1:17-18. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p. 151).
- “The error, neither of parents nor ancestors, is to be followed; but the authority of the Scriptures, and the government of God as our teacher.”
(Commentariorum in Jeremiam, Liber Secundus, Cap. IX., v. 12. Translation b William Goode, Vol. 3., p. 151).
- “When anything appears to you harsh in my work, do not look at my words, but at Scripture, whence my words are derived.”
(Epistola XLVIII.20. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p. 150).
- “Everything we say, we ought to confirm from Sacred Scripture.”
(FC, Vol. 48, The Homilies of St. Jerome, Vol. 1, On the Psalms, Homily 26, p. 205).
- “That which does not have authority from the Scriptures, we may as readily despise, as well approve.”
(Commentariorum In Evangelium Matthaei, Liber Tertius. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p. 150).
St. John Chrysostom (~400 A.D.)
- “. . . procure books that will be medicines for the soul. If ye will not any other, yet get you at least the New Testament, the Apostolic Epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. . . . This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures.”
(NPNF1, Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, Homily 9).
- “Thou hast the Scriptures, he says, in place of me. If thou wouldest learn anything, thou mayest learn it from them. And if he thus wrote to Timothy, who was filled with the Spirit, how much more to us!”
(NPNF1, Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy, Homily 9.)
- “Great is the profit of the divine Scriptures, and all-sufficient is the aid which comes from them.”
(NPNF1, Col. XIV, Homilies on the Gospel According to St. John, Homily 37.1).
- “Since reasoned arguments are so weak, come, let us join battle with our opponents with arguments from the Scriptures as our weapons. From what source am I to begin my discourse? From whichever source you wish, either from the New Testament or from the Old. . . . I think it is best to fight my adversaries with weapons taken from the Old Testament because, if I draw my arguments from that source, I can strike down not only those enemies but many other heretics as well.”
(FC, Vol. 72, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily 11.7-8, p. 273).
Bible studies are not just for bishops.
Every Orthodox Christian should make it a priority to study Scripture diligently.
~ Dn. Joseph M. Gleason