Marcion and the first ecumenical councils

It’s my belief that God has many different ways of communicating with us and sharing the Divine Presence with us, so I must confess that I’m not particularly troubled that most of Origen’s works have been lost to us. He’s considered brilliant and prolific, to be sure (like Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas after him, to name just two later theologians). But if a man has to write 6,000 works in order to capture the essence of our God, then perhaps he’s missed the point altogether.

Jesus wrote sparingly – very sparingly, when compared to other 1st century CE Jewish philosophers such as Josephus or Philo. But his parables remain timeless teaching tools for each new generation, and his message continues to cut through the grandiosity of the human mind.

I think it’s important to remember that Jesus worked very hard to convey an image of God that’s simple, universal, inclusive, and based on the Heart.

Sometimes our words and theories can get in the way of that.

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Jesus did not write at all. He spoke to his apostles and they understood very little of what He was saying. Why they understood, they wrote down. Jesus promised to send the spirit of truth to explain everything. This is the role Origen fulfilled. There have been others of course as you indicated.

Yes, the basic message is very simple, but the apostles did not even get this message right. The longer story is important to understand the suffering in life and the work of His Spiritual World.

I know it’s become the norm to believe that Jesus was an illiterate “carpenter” who spoke only Aramaic. I think this is extremely unlikely, however. I think it’s much more likely – and more hopeful for the rest of us – that Jesus was a highly educated man who voluntarily chose a life without status because it’s easier to get close to God that way.

That’s just me, though.

Literacy in Israel was about 3% (an estimate with large error bars). Nevertheless people knew the Torah because it was read to everyone in the synagogue. Also it is a modern assumption that literacy means that one can write, which I don’t believe applies to that era. Writing was a specialized skill of the scribes. And in addition to the lack of abilities there was also a scarcity of books and writing tools, the latter which were probably pretty exclusive to the scribes.

I’ve seen this research, and I realize how important the oral tradition was in Second Temple Judaism. Nonetheless, I’m happy to maintain my crazy idea that Jesus was a highly educated scholar/physician/mystic who built on his unusual background to see what no one else at the time was seeing about God.

Sorry if I’ve ruffled any feathers. And this is probably now off-topic, too, so sorry about that, too!

Jesus created (authored) oral texts, which were preserved orally and eventually written down. Our literate worldview tends forget that authorship and texts exist in oral societies too. The idea that in an oral society, the disciples just wrote down “what they understood” later doesn’t accurately reflect how oral texts were transmitted in an oral culture.


My wife and I have been listening to Andy Stanley discuss our perception of sola scriptura and also of his response to Sam Harris and the New Atheists, and found it interesting how he talks about oral communication. I’v’e listened to #1 and #3 but am going to Part #2 next. it’s kicked up some waves among evangelicals, apparently.

Not that wave kicking is always a good thing!–but this was very interesting. I have a lot to learn.

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Christy, Jesus tells us exactly how this works.

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. John 16:13

How else did the Yahweist write down the books of Moses on 950 BC other than by having a spirit of truth to dictate it?

By writing down the stories that had been told repeatedly for hundreds or thousands of years. It is, as Christy mentioned, called an oral tradition. This has been observed repeatedly in cultures around the world which did not have written books: Africa, Australia, Native America, Asia, and Polynesia.

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Then how can it be called the Word of God and infallible?

I don’t think any of the biblical books were dictated by God.

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Good question. Check out John Walton and Brent Sandy’s The Lost World of Scripture.

It can be called the Word of God by those who believe in God using people and the events of history as His writing instruments. But it can only be called infallible by those who are delusional. There are obvious little errors of no importance except to those who try to inflate scripture a bit too much. We do not live in a perfect world – look too closely at a straight line made on paper and you will find imperfections. And to imagine infallibility in anything composed of the blunt/vague tool of human languages is absurd. Scriptures can be misunderstood and misused in an endless variety of ways. So the most I will say is that it would be foolish to think that we could have written it better because we simply do not have God’s knowledge of either the totality of the audience or of the far ranging effects of what is written. It serves the purpose for which it was written, but it is no replacement for the living God to be given the description, “infallible.”


Dear Christy, None of the books were dictated by God, but by a spirit of truth (John 16:13), a messenger from God. Every prophetic book shows this process in some way.

And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious. Ezekiel 2:1-7

Thanks for sharing this, Randy - and I’ll be interested in subsequent parts too when I can get to it. While I think the thrust of his message in this part 1 is good, I can anticipate what one critical response to him might be (and perhaps he addresses this in subsequent parts):

After declaring that the Bible is most emphatically not the foundation of his faith, what is the first thing he does as he then establishes who is the true foundation? He begins to make prolific use of passages from that very Bible! [Note: I’m not saying this is a fatal criticism to what he is advocating or that it doesn’t have a good answer - I’m only saying that this observation won’t be lost on self-appointed bible authority defenders, and that it does deserve to be addressed.]

So while we need to put bibliolotry in its place; dismiss it from its pretentions to be a fourth member of the trinity, etc. we should nonetheless not lose sight of how important that collection of testimonies are for us and our faith, and not be afraid to admit that it isn’t just “any old collection of books” to us either as we appraise the relative authorities of the many different sources and texts we attend to. There is such a thing as going too far the other way too. And from what I’ve heard of Rev. Stanley here so far, I’ve no reason to think he does go too far, or would disagree with what I’ve written here. But I’ll see, I guess.


Hi Mitchell,

I had a chance to dig around a bit in my files, and I came up with this summary piece from the Biblical Archaeology Society: Writing and Literacy in the Ancient World..

A 2003 Biblical Archaeology Review article by Alan Millard is summarized in this way:

Archaeologists have uncovered numerous inscriptions that provide invaluable insights into the Biblical world, but could they be understood by contemporaneous people? And could average people keep these records, or was that privilege reserved for the temple elite? In “Literacy in the Time of Jesus,” Alan Millard explores the question: Could the words of Jesus have been recorded in his lifetime? Archaeological discoveries and other lines of evidence now show that writing and reading were widely practiced in the Palestine of Jesus’ day. And if that is true, there is no reason to doubt that there were some eyewitness records of what Jesus said and did.

This doesn’t change the fact that oral teaching was important in 1st century Palestine. But it does allow us to ask questions about Jesus’ own literacy skills.

I’m not sure where you got the idea there was a scarcity of books and writing tools. It’s not that hard to make ink. It’s not that hard to make parchment or vellum from animal hides (as the abundant number of scrolls found at Qumran demonstrates). Papyrus was a plentiful plant – so again, not that hard to make. Even if there was a scarcity, it didn’t stop the Jewish community (including the Diaspora) from writing plenty of non-canonical texts, many of which have survived, including novels. (I have an anthology of ancient Jewish novels on my bookshelf.) And we know the Hellenistic world had libraries. Considering the fact that Jesus lived in a Roman province that was saturated in Hellenistic culture yet proudly maintaining its own ancient tradition of writing, I find it unlikely that a man of Jesus’ erudition wouldn’t have been able to read and write both Aramaic and Greek at the very least.

I know I have some other info about ancient literacy somewhere in my files, so if I can find it (in between Christmas shopping, wrapping, and baking), I’ll post it.

. . . (edit) I just checked in the very cool Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity, and they mention wax tablets as a medium for writing. I forgot about the wax tablets.

We obviously do not share the same view on the Trinity.

Yes, I see the trinity as a pagan belief and nothing that Jesus taught.

That is very sad because the Trinity has every thing to do with Who Jesus is as the Messiah and the Savior, and with what Jesus taught, Love and the Spirit.


Then you do not see the doctrine of the Trinity at all, the essence of which is that there is only ONE God – one God not made in the image of man because God is not limited to a singularity of personhood as we are. There is nothing like this among pagan beliefs or indeed in any other religion. A trinity of gods is not even remotely similar. But of course those who insist on a god made in their own image are not going to like this. It puts the fantasy of being God a bit out of reach.

And yet the even bigger fallacy here is that pagan means wrong. Even if you could show a similarity or history of something like the Trinity in pagan ideas all it would ever amount to is a foreshadowing of things to come. The pagans got a lot of things right including some of the foundations of math, logic, and science.

This is quite true. But then that hardly means that it is wrong. The things which Jesus did not teach are legion. Jesus did not teach evolution, math, logic, or physics – all true and yet Jesus did not teach these things.

Indeed! It is a logical lynch pin in the belief that Jesus is God – not a prophet or king or philosopher, but God. And this in turn is a rather large part of Jesus’ significance as a transformation of our understanding of God, which really is the whole point of Christianity. Otherwise, we might as well turn back the clock to the religion of the Pharisees and the God most often seen portrayed in the OT likened by many such as Marcion to the Demiurge, evil creator and ruler of this world.

It is not that the God in the OT really is evil, but that Jesus shines a new light on the OT and we see that what Jesus taught is really there in the OT. There is the horror God at the evil of men after the fall and God’s reaction to the hypocrisy of religion in Isaiah chapter 1. It is kind of like how surviving in a hellish environment like war can darken the distinctions between good and evil as you are forced to fight violence with violence.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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