Origen on Scripture
I've been doing a little reading in Origen's On First Principles today (written sometime before 225). It's a scandalous work on several counts, but is likely the first attempt at a systematic exposition of the faith in the post-apostolic era and not without its benefits. So, continuing my theme on finding help in unexpected places (see my last post), I offer the following quotes on the doctrine of Scripture.
Origen opens his exposition of the faith with a strong statement on Scripture as the absolute source and norm of theology:
All who believe and are assured that grace and truth were obtained through Jesus Christ, and who know Christ to be the truth, . . . derive the knowledge which incites men to a good and happy life from no other source than from the very words and teaching of Christ (trans. by Crombie; preface.1).
By the words of Christ we do not mean those only which He spake when He became man and tabernacled in his flesh; for before that time, Christ, the Word of God, was in Moses and the prophets. For without the Word of God how could they have been able to prophecy of Christ? And [if space permitted] . . . it would not be difficult to show, in proof of this statement, out of the holy Scriptures, how Moses or the prophets both spake and performed all they did through being filled with the Spirit of Christ (trans. by Crombie; preface.1).
Though not perfect, Origen appears to affirm something approaching the plenary divine inspiration of Scripture.
Perhaps more fascinating, and satisfying, is Origen's statement on the clarity of Scripture:
The following fact should be understood. The holy apostles, when preaching the faith of Christ, took certain doctrines, those namely which they believed to be necessary ones, and delivered them in the plainest terms to all believers, even to such as appeared to be somewhat dull in the investigation of divine knowledge (trans. by Butterworth; preface.3).
A little over fourteen centuries later the Westminster divines would confess something remarkably similar--that "those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them" (WCF 1.7).
But most striking of all, I believe, is Origen's comments on the positive aspect of the sufficiency of Scripture. After outlining those doctrines he believed to be most clearly taught and necessary to know, he argues that,
by clear and necessary statements [one] may ascertain the truth regarding each individual topic, and form, as we have said, one body of doctrine, by means of illustrations and arguments,--either those which he has discovered in holy Scripture, or which he has deduced by closely tracing out the consequences and following a correct method (trans. by Crombie; preface.10).
In other words, "The whole council of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture" (WCF 1.6).
I am not suggesting Origen's view of Scripture lines up exactly with the one set out in the Westminster Standards, only that on a few points it is closer than I suspect some of you might have guessed and that is at least interesting and I hope quite encouraging.
(I suppose I should note that the only complete text we have of On First Principles is a Latin translation prepared by Rufinus, a defender of Origen against accusations of heresy, over the winter and early spring of 397-98. Jerome sharply criticized this translation and prepared his own, which is mostly lost to us. But that debate had nothing to do with the passages quoted above and besides, even if these lines have been corrupted, they still date back to the end of the fourth century--which is not too shabby.)
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