Thursday, February 18, 2010

St. Melito of Sardis & Sola Scriptura

Unfortunately, not a whole lot is known about St. Melito of Sardis. He wrote around the year AD 170. If the lists of books attributed to him by later Christian authors are any indication, he was a prolific writer, and most sources indicate he was held in very high regard by his contemporaries. Of his many writings, though, only some fragments, mostly found in quotes by later authors, remain to us today.

His significance in the debate over Sola Scriptura is that the oldest list of the books of the Old Testament made by a Christian is attributed to him. This quote is often put forward by Protestants as evidence that their trimmed-down canon of Scripture (which doesn't include the deuterocanonical books) is the original Christian Old Testament canon. This is an important point in their defense of Sola Scriptura because if Protestants have the wrong canon their entire proposition fails. One unknown but necessary commandment of Scripture is enough to turn Sola Scriptura on its head. Here's St. Melito of Sardis on the Old Testament canon:
"I accordingly proceeded to the East, and went to the very spot where the things in question were preached and took place; and, having made myself accurately acquainted with the books of the Old Testament, I have set them down below, and here with send you the list. Their names are as follows:- The five books of Moses -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, the two of Chronicles, the book of the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, the Book of Wisdom also, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job, the books of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, of the twelve contained in a single book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras." - St. Melito of Sardis, The Book of Extracts
There are several problems with Protestants using this passage in support of their canon of Scripture, though. Here are a few:
  1. The list does include one deuterocanonical book -- the Wisdom of Solomon.
  2. The list doesn't include Esther, Nehemiah, or Lamentations (although the latter two are assumed to be included within Esdras and Jeremiah, respectively), all part of the Protestant Old Testament.
  3. There is no indication that the books Melito was reading were part of the Masoretic textual tradition espoused by Protestants. In fact, the evidence is in favor of Melito's books being part of the Septuagint textual tradition, including the fact that Nehemiah and Lamentations may be included in Esdras and Jeremiah; that Melito refers to the books by their Septuagint names (4 books of Kings = 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Samuel, & 2 Samuel; Esdras = Ezra; etc.); and, of course, the fact that Melito's language was Greek, not Hebrew. For anyone who has compared the Septuagint with the Masoretic, the problem here is plain: there are verses and even large sections of books (such as in Isaiah, for example) that differ significantly between the two textual traditions.
  4. Melito probably made a mistake in choosing his source. The list of Old Testament books he gives here, which he says he became familiar with during his travel to the East, he probably got from the Palestinian Jews. Melito was probably unaware that the Jews had already begun to trim down their Bible at that point, largely as a reaction against Christians.
In the end, his list disagrees with both the current Orthodox Old Testament canon as well as the Protestant canon, and this does much more to undermine the Protestant position than the Orthodox. The Orthodox position does not hinge on any given book or verse; our Faith is preserved in the Tradition of our Church handed down through each generation of believers. The Protestant position breaks with one misplaced, misunderstood, or mistranslated word of Scripture.

And, to conclude, there's absolutely no indication in any of St. Melito's surviving writings that he believed in Sola Scriptura.

If you're interested in reading the writings of St. Melito of Sardis, you may do so here.


[Note: There has been some contention over whether St. Melito lists Wisdom as a separate book or is giving another name for the book of Proverbs. The Greek phrase in question here is "Σολομῶνος Παροιμίαι ἡ καὶ Σοφία" which, literally translated, means "Solomon's Proverbs, Wisdom too." Scholars of Greek language have largely thrown out the propisition, first put forward by Protestant translators in the 19th century, that Melito intended to say "Solomon's Proverbs, also [known as] Wisdom," as the Greek would be better rendered in the plural as "Σολομῶνος Παροιμίαι αἱ καὶ Σοφία" if this were the case. As it stands, the proposition that Melito intended to refer to the same book by two different titles can safely be discarded as the product of misguided Protestant apologetics. He is clearly referring to two distinct books.]


(slightly edited from original; originally published at Pious Fabrications on 27 December 2009)

8 comments:

Garret said...

Hi David!

The Orthodox position does not hinge on any given book or verse; our Faith is preserved in the Tradition of our Church handed down through each generation of believers. The Protestant position breaks with one misplaced, misunderstood, or mistranslated word of Scripture.

This statement is false. Scripture is a cohesive whole, there are multiple testimonies in Scripture, in various parts, to the essentials of the faith. It could only be destroyed by a massive corruption.
Two points that you do not address-1. God delivers the canon of Scripture in a divine act of Providence and 2. rejection of 'non-canonical' books are supported by reason, internal indicators for one.

Also, any group with an old church could claim that it has the tradition that others are missing. That does not make it true, the fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles and the ancient writings they called Scripture is what would prove/disprove that.

The above statement that I falsified shows that you are dealing with a straw-man portrayal of the very robust doctrine of sola Scriptura. If you cannot take down SS by dealing with the doctrine as it is properly understood, you are wasting your time. I would encourage you to read protestant material on it- and would ask that you refer me to Orthodox writings as well, where I misunderstand it.
Thank you, and God bless you!

David said...

Garret:

I don't think my statement is false. Here's why:

If you accepted the books of Maccabees as Scriptural, you would have to accept prayer on behalf of the departed as a practice. Since you don't accept them, you don't accept prayer offered on behalf of the dead. The absence of one book of Scripture from your canon has significantly altered your Faith. Now, you can claim that this is a non-essential or a minor point, but I disagree. I think that prayer on behalf of the dead is very essential to Christianity. Similarly, I know of many Protestants who would call me a heretic for praying on behalf of the departed. This is just one example of an essential doctrine that rises or falls for the Sola Scripturist based on one single book of Scripture.

Garret said...

Hi David:

I'm sorry, I am the one who brought the canon into discussion, and that is confusing. Technically, in order to have a discussion about ss, we need to stick to the Protestant canon (PC), as it is a Protestant doctrine, and to bring in non canonical books will get us nowhere. Your claim as applied to the PC is false, absolutely.
Sola Scriptura is a claim that is applied to 66 books of the Protestant canon. Your claim was that one errant sentence or mistranslated word breaks the Protestant notion of sola Scriptura. The fact is well known that there are several noted portions of Scripture, such as the long ending of Mark that are not original, as is pointed out in Protestant Bibles. This does not break the notion of the reliability of Scripture, it is a seeking of the original text, to get as close as possible to the originals.
Most scholars such as Bruce Metzger were convinced that we have the original texts within the critical texts, represented by Nestle-Aland 27 (soon to be 28) and the UBS texts. The disputed portions are very small, and do not leave in the balance any doctrine.
Interesting to note that if you don't have Maccabees (1 and 2 contradict each other) you only have the Pentateuchs condemnation of communicating with spirits. That is in both of our canons.
God bless,
Garret

Jnorm888 said...

Garret,

The notion of a 100% uniform "original" greek text is nothing more than a protestant dream. Many of the verses that modern protestant Bibles either throw out or say wasn't in the earliest greek manuscripts forget to mention that they were quoted as scripture by christians of the first 3 centuries.

The Byzantine modal was to include both Eastern and Western Biblical traditions. Because what early eastern christians were quoting wasn't necessarily 100%ly the same as what the early western christians were quoting.

What protestantism does is ignore what the early western churches quoted. The onlything they look at our the early eastern greek manuscripts, and that, mostly from Alexandria.

What they should do is what the Byzantines decided to do. And that is to include all the traditions, both East(Alexandria, Antioch/Constantinople, and ceasoria)
and
west(North west Africa, Gual, and Rome)

That way, whatever we read, will be what was read by the ancients.....no matter if it was East or West.


Also, I would like to say something about Sola Scriptura. The puritans and other prespyterians and congregationalists were the ones that took the D.C.'s out of protestant Bibles through Bible societies. Yes, it is true that protestants in general rejected the D.C.'s as scripture, but it was the puritans that had a more hardened and strict view in that regard.


I would also like to add that there is no such thing as "thee correct" view of Sola Scriptura. Different protestants have different variations/interpretations of what it means.

And so, there is no correct view of what it is and isn't. The Anabaptist view is just as protestant as the Magistoral protestant view. And any protestant view that is in the middle of the Anabaptist and Classical/Magistoral protestant view is just as protestant as well.

If I was to argue with someone from the Cambellite church of christ movement. I would have to use different arguments of what Sola Scriptura is and isn't, than if I were to argue with a Lutherian about Sola Scriptura.

The same is true if I were to argue with a Baptist or a Prespyterian. I would have to adjust what Sola Scriptura is and isn't depending on the protestant I am talking to.






ICXC NIKA

Jnorm888 said...

Also, protestants ignore or downplay the role Oral tradition played in the verses you guys reject. It doesn't matter if these verses were written down a generation or two latter, for they were closer to the Apostles and the Gospels were based on Oral tradition anyway. And so it shouldn't matter when Oral tradition was written....especially within the first few centuries of Christianity.




ICXC NIKA

Garret said...

Hi Jnorm

Many of the verses that modern protestant Bibles either throw out or say wasn't in the earliest greek manuscripts forget to mention that they were quoted as scripture by christians of the first 3 centuries.

That is irrelevant if they weren't in the originals- then they weren't original. Exactly how is that a controversial statement or concept? If Paul didn't write___ I wouldn't want____ in one of Pauls epistles! I want what Paul wrote, not what a 3rd century scribe added to Paul.

What they should do is what the Byzantines decided to do.

Why should 'they' do that if it is not in the interest of recovering what the original texts said?

I would also like to add that there is no such thing as "thee correct" view of Sola Scriptura. Different protestants have different variations/interpretations of what it means.

That is false. Individuals from the churches do many times have misunderstandings of what sola Scriptura is- that is different from saying the theologians do. It can be expressed in one sentence- The Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith. That does need elaboration, but it is the basis skeletal framework.

What IS different are interpretations of doctrines from Scriptures- but if a group claims to have an infallible rule of faith from outside of Scripture, they are not practicing ss. If they are appealing to Scriptures as the basis for the doctrine, and futher, that is the only place they get it from, and it is an infallible rule of faith- they are practicing ss. However, they might be mistaken on the details- perfect understanding is not something any church has experienced at any time in history.

Thanks Jnorm888-
God bless you
Garret

David said...

Garret:

Sola Scriptura is a claim that is applied to 66 books of the Protestant canon.

Right; that was exactly my point. If Protestants adhere only to the Masoretic and/or to those 66 books, and of course espouse Sola Scriptura, there are certain doctrines which they must reject. My argument was against this particular canon, as it is indefensible, being that it is not the canon used by the Apostles nor does it more closely match the originals of each book. There is no good reason to espouse this canon and many reasons not to -- and that's the problem.

Interesting to note that if you don't have Maccabees (1 and 2 contradict each other)

1 and 2 Macc. "contradict" each other no more than the Gospels do (see, for instance, the differences in the accounts of the Crucifixion between the four Gospels, or of John's account of when the Last Supper was held versus that of the Synoptics) [note that I'm not contending that the Gospels contradict each other but that the so-called "contradictions" between 1 and 2 Macc. are as invented and exaggerated as those of the Gospels].

you only have the Pentateuchs condemnation of communicating with spirits.

What does prayer on behalf of the departed have to do with "communicating with spirits?"

TheLove OfTheTruth said...

And one more thing that I might bring up with my last quote of John's usage of Zechariah 12:10, since it seems relevant to me. Something I found online:

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