Understanding the Faith Received from the Early Church Fathers


Dr. Nathan Jacobs has served as a professor at Calvin College and Seminary, Trinity College and Graduate College, and University of Kentucky. His specializations incorporate contemporary philosophy and Eastern patristic believed. In addition, he is a fine arts painter and filmmaker. Nathan lately was a guest on Hank Unplugged. The following is an excerpt from their discussion on the faith handed to us from the early church fathers.

Hank Hanegraaff: What I enjoy about the conversation therefore far is you retain referring back to the fathers. Possibly some definitions are in order. So normally we speak about the patristics. We even use the term “pope.” That is offsetting. We say, “priest.” Oftentimes, in Protestant context, that is an offsetting word as nicely. We hear the word “Father,” and persons quickly say, “We are not supposed to get in touch with anyone Father.” But, we are saying, “Father Steve,” or “Father John,” or whoever. But, Protestants say, “Do not get in touch with anyone Father.” That is sort of the considering. At times it is beneficial to recognize that there is a context. Certainly, when we are speaking about the term “Father,” there is a context. There is much more to the passage than “Do not get in touch with any individual on earth ‘father’” (Matthew 23:9 NIV). Jesus goes on to explicate that. So normally when we hear these words, they are off-placing for the reason that we do not realize what they imply.

Nathan Jacobs: Correct. When we are speaking about the church fathers, this is a term that recognizes the truth that Paul identifies specific persons as his spiritual kids. He is identifying himself as their spiritual father (1 Corinthians four:14 Galatians four:19 two Timothy 1:two). John, when he is writing to persons, he identifies this hierarchy of spiritual development: some of them are small kids and other folks are complete grown (1 John two:12–14).

One particular of the points that the church — the Eastern Orthodox Church or the Christian church historically — in the initially millennium recognized was that there had been specific persons who went prior to us who had been totally spiritually mature, who received and lived out the points handed down to them, and they had been the ones who spiritually nurtured and cared for us, and we appear to them as spiritual guides and spiritual fathers. When we appear at that term “patristic,” this term is derived from patros (Greek) or pater (Latin), we are referring to these Christian writers who went prior to us, who received, lived out, and handed down to the subsequent generation these points that they received in turn, which is what tradition refers to — that which is handed down.

When I am referring to the church fathers, I am referring to these people, largely and normally, these from the initially millennium. That is how church fathers is generally applied. These are the people who had been early Christian writers, who defended core doctrines of the faith. Oftentimes this is associated to persons like these at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), who received, defended, and upheld against heretics, the Arians,1 the doctrine of the Trinity. Church fathers at Constantinople defended Christology and the complete humanity of Christ more than and against the Apollinariantwo heresies. Church fathers defended the doctrine that He was genuinely incarnate. At Ephesus, church fathers defended more than and against the Nestorianthree heresies, concluding that Christ is only 1 particular person and that there is only 1 Son of God, the 1 who is with the Father, and the 1 who dwelt amongst us.

These men and women who defended the faith and handed on to us the faith that they received, these are the church fathers. This is 1 of the points that I believe is in some cases misunderstood. In the initially millennium you had ecumenical councils. Ecumenical refers to the entire residence. These councils occurred only seven occasions in the initially millennium prior to the Wonderful Schism involving the Western church and the Eastern church.

You had these seven ecumenical councils — and lots of people are unaware that there had been seven ecumenical councils (that is seven occasions on seven core doctrines). The Church stated this is the faith that was handed down to us. These councils type the basis for what is generally referred to as Nicaean Trinitarianism and Chalcedonian Christology, these core doctrines of the Trinity and Christology.

One particular of the points that is exciting is, for what ever purpose, the presumption is when you hear the word “council,” it need to have been a bunch of academics or one thing like that, or bishops sitting about hashing out what they believed was the very best answer to a offered query. But when you appear at these councils and what they have to say, what is fascinating is that the query is by no means “What is the most philosophical savvy answer?” or “What is the newest trend in the academy?” The query is usually “What is the faith we received?” “What did the apostles hand down?” That is why the declaration is usually This is the faith of Peter. This is the faith that Cyril taught. They usually deferred back to the prior generations who had received and handed down the faith. They by no means saw themselves as academics attempting to resolve riddles or come up with new, revolutionary, and inventive insights. The query has usually been “What have we received?” They had been curators, which is the very best way to place it.

Hank: By the way, just parenthetically, is not that specifically what the apostle Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15: “What I received I passed on to you as of initially importance” (v. three NIV)?

Nathan: Totally! That is why he exhorts other folks to do the identical. To hold on to what has been handed down. That is why in Jude three there is reference to the faith as soon as offered more than to the saints. This is essential as they saw it. Staying the course in Christianity eventually meant sticking with and guarding and becoming a preserver of the faith that was handed down, which is why it was so essential for the church fathers to appear back at what was handed down to us for the reason that that is what we are entrusted with. This is the pearl of wonderful value. What has been stated about it? What is that pearl? It is our job to guard it, and to not innovate. Innovate is a quite undesirable word amongst the church fathers for the reason that that is the epitome of what you are not supposed to be carrying out.

Hank: You are supposed to perpetuate — not innovate.

Nathan: That is ideal. That would be a wonderful way of placing it. That is 1 of the motives why with lots of troubles, yes, I have a tendency to go back. I appear, and I say, “Well, what did the church fathers have to say on this subject? What did they hand down?” For the reason that at the finish of the day, if I am hunting at a doctrine, and I can not locate it advocated by the church fathers, it is a medieval doctrine that emerges, say like from Anslem or an individual like that, that is problematic theologically, considering the fact that that would be prima facia, face worth proof, of an innovation, and it is not the faith that was handed down to us.

Listen to the complete interview right here.

Study Nathan’s post “Understanding Nicene Trinitarianism” in the Christian Analysis Journal volume 41, quantity four (2018). To subscribe to the Journal, click right here.

We also advocate the film Becoming Really Human: Neither This Path Nor This Version of Me Is My Location, directed by Nathan Jacobs, which is a documentary on the “nones” (religiously unaffiliated) and the search for spiritual wholeness.

A beneficial overview on the false teachings about Christ and the Trinity, which the early church fathers addressed, can be identified in Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief by Bruce Milne. For a much more comprehensive and sophisticated therapy on this topic, please seek the advice of Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church by Harold O. J. Brown. Each of these sources are accessible by way of the Christian Analysis Institute.

For additional associated reading, we advocate the following articles on equip.org:

“Jesus as God in the Second Century” by Paul Hartog

“Is the Son Eternally Submissive to the Father? An Egalitarian-Complementarian Debate” by Robert Letham and Kevin Giles

“Jesus as ‘God’: Scriptural Reality or Scribal Fantasy?” by Brian J. Wright

“Begotten of the Father prior to All Ages” by Charles Lee Irons

“Deciding Who Jesus Was” by H. Wayne Home


  1. Arians had been these embracing the false teaching of Arius of Alexandria (AD 246–336). Arius taught that the Son was developed, and that there was a time when Christ was not. This was a denial of Christ’s complete divinity.
  2. Apollinarian refers to the false teachings of Apollinarius or Apollinaris (AD 310–390). Apollinarius taught that the eternal Logos (Word), i.e., God the Son, replaced the human soul of Jesus. In other words, the Lord was the divine Word residing in a soulless human physique. This was a denial of Christ’s complete humanity.
  3. Nestorian refers to the false teaching of Nestorianism, which is the concept that the two natures in Christ had been separate. In other words, the God-man was two persons as opposed to 1. Nestorianism denied the unity of Christ, who is 1 particular person as opposed to two. Nestorianism is related with Nestorius of Syria (386–450), Archbishop of Constantinople. Even though Nestorius was opposed to identifying Mary as the theotokos (bearer of God), preferring to use either anthropotokos (bearer of man) or Christotokos (bearer of Christ), it is debatable no matter if or not Nestorius affirmed and taught the radical dichotomy involving Christ’s humanity and divinity identified as Nestorianism.


Latest posts