On Moral Heresy

This deserves a wide readership –  please share liberally on social media and email.

by Fr. John Whiteford

We have previously discussed Aristotle Papanikolaou’s strange notion that, unlike the dogmas of the Church, Orthodox Christian morality is open to dispute and change (see The Living Church 2.0). In the wake of a recent conference in Oxford of Orthodox “scholars, pastors, clinicians, and other experts” who gathered to “dialogue” about LGBTQP+ issues, Papanikolaou has asserted that never in the history of the Church has the term “heresy” been used to describe a false teaching on a moral issue.

In the course of a Twitter exchange about the problems with this conference, I commented:

“It’s the idea that holding the position that homosexual sex is not inherently sinful is within the bounds of acceptable opinion in the church that is the problem. That’s not acceptable. That’s heretical. St. Paul says it is contrary to sound doctrine.”

Papanikolaou made two similar comments:

“Never in the history of the Church has ‘heresy’ been used in relation to morality.  That’s how much you know as you pontificate (irony) on who’s a heretic and who is not.  Say what you will about us, but at least we don’t throw that word around.”

“The more you talk the more it’s clear you don’t know what you are talking about and borrowing western categories.  Heresy was never, ever applied to morality, esp. not by St Paul and Jesus.  What surprises me is smart people who like your tweets.”


So let’s consider the facts here:

1. St. Paul and Moral Dogmas:

Does St. Paul teach that moral teachings of the Church are dogmas and doctrines? He most certainly does.

To understand St. Paul’s teachings, we need to go back to the very first Council of the Church, the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15. The question in dispute was to what extent ought gentiles be held to obey the Mosaic Law. On one side, there were those who argued that gentiles had to become Jews, and live according to all of the ceremonial and moral laws of Moses. However, the Apostles said that gentiles were to be held instead to the basic laws God gave to Noah for all of mankind (see Genesis 9:1-17), and to the Moral Law of God, particularly with regard to sexual morality. They wrote to the gentile converts:

“…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well” (Acts 15:28-29).

Some will object that Christians do not observe what the Apostles wrote with regard to eating the blood of animals, but while this is generally true of the heterodox, it is not true of the Orthodox (See Stump the Priest: The Council of Jerusalem on the Blood of Animals).

And when the text speaks of “fornication,” the word is porneia (????????), which refers to any sex which is unlawful, and in the Jewish and Christian context, this means any sexual relations forbidden by the moral law of God, as expressed in the Scriptures, including homosexual sex (see The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 6, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1964-1976), p. 587-595) .

So is this decree of the Apostles, that all Christians must refrain from sexual immorality, dogma? Well the Scriptures say that this is exactly what it is. The Apostles obviously did not post their epistle to their website. The way this epistle was disseminated to gentile converts was by people like St. Paul himself. We are told in the chapter immediately following the record of the Council of Jerusalem that St. Paul and his companions delivered this epistle as they went on their next missionary journey:

“And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decrees, that were ordained by the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4).

And what is the Greek text for “the decrees”?  “?? ???????” ta dogmata (i.e. the dogmas).

St. Paul also does in fact number sexual immorality (fornication) in general, and homosexual sex in particular, among a number of things that are contrary to “sound doctrine”:

“But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites [?????????????], for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust” (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

If a sin is contrary to sound doctrine, then teaching that this sin was not actually a sin would obviously be heretical. Falling into a sin is sinful, but not heretical. However, teaching that a sin is not really a sin is both sinful and heretical. It is in fact a very serious heresy, because people cannot repent of a sin that they do not believe to be a sin, and this effectively shuts the doors of repentance in the face of sinners who are misled by this error.
2. A Moral Heresy Condemned By Christ Himself
One of the very earliest heresies in the first century Church was the heresy of the Nicolaitans. In the second chapter of Revelation, in Christ’s epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, after warning the Ephesians about their having lost their first love, he praised them on one count: 

“But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:6).

Then, in His letter to the Church at Pergamos, he writes:

“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Revelation 2:14-15).

So, the first question is did the Fathers of the Church understand Christ to be speaking of a heresy, and was that heresy with regard to their teachings on morality?

St. Andrew of Caesarea (563–637), wrote what is indisputably the most authoritative commentary on the book of Revelation, commenting on Revelation 2:6, he says:

“Anyone who comes upon the works of the Nicolaitans, which are hated by God, will know their detested heresy” (Andrew of Caesarea, trans. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Andrew of Caesarea, Commentary on the Apocalypse, (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2011), p. p. 64, emphasis added).

Reading just the text of Revelation 2:14-15, you might think that here Christ is speaking of two different, though perhaps related, heresies, but in fact, “the doctrine of Balaam” is referenced directly with regard to the Nicolaitans:

“So it seems this city [Pergamos] had possessed two difficulties: First, the majority was Greek [i.e. Pagan], and second, among those who were called believers, the shameful Nicolaitans had sown evil “tares among the wheat” [Matthew 13:24-30]. For this reason he recalled Balaam, saying who in Balaam taught Balak, through these words signifying that the Balaam of the mind, the devil, by means of the perceptible Balak, taught the stumbling block to the Israelites, fornication and idolatry. For by means of that pleasure they were thrown down into performing thisto Beel-phegor” [Baal of Peor, Numbers 25] (St. Andrew of Caesarea, Ibid., p.68).

Oecumenius (who wrote around late 6th or early 7th century) likewise sees the reference to Balaam as applying to the Nicolaitans, rather than to some other group in Pergamos (Oecumenius, Ancient Christians Texts: Greek Commentaries on Revelation: Oecumenius and Andrew of Caesarea, trans. William C Weinrich, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2011) p. 13).

What else about the Nicolaitans can we find in the writings of the Fathers?

St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170–235) wrote that this heresy originated with the deacon Nicolaus that we read about in Acts 6:5:

“But Nicolaus has been a cause of the wide-spread combination of these wicked men. He, as one of the seven (that were chosen) for the diaconate, was appointed by the Apostles. (But Nicolaus) departed from correct doctrine, and was in the habit of inculcating indifferency of both life and food. And when the disciples (of Nicolaus) continued to offer insult to the Holy Spirit, John reproved them in the Apocalypse as fornicators and eaters of things offered unto idols” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 7:24).

St. Irenaeus (c.130–c.202) writes along the same lines:

“The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. (Irenaeus. Against Heresies, 1:26:3)

Clement of Alexandria (150–215), on the other hand, excused Nicolaus himself, and wrote that the heresy originated from a misunderstanding of the things Nicolaus taught:

“Such also are those (who say that they follow Nicolaus, quoting an adage of the man, which they pervert, “that the flesh must be abused.” But the worthy man showed that it was necessary to check pleasures and lusts, and by such training to waste away the impulses and propensities of the flesh. But they, abandoning themselves to pleasure like goats, as if insulting the body, lead a life of self-indulgence; not knowing that the body is wasted, being by nature subject to dissolution; while their soul is buried in the mire of vice; following as they do the teaching of pleasure itself, not of the apostolic man” (The Miscellianes 2:20).

And Eusebius ( c. 260– c. 340), agreed with Clements on the origins of this heresy:

“At this time the so-called sect of the Nicolaitans made its appearance and lasted for a very short time. Mention is made of it in the Apocalypse of John. They boasted that the author of their sect was Nicolaus, one of the deacons who, with Stephen, were appointed by the apostles for the purpose of ministering to the poor. Clement of Alexandria, in the third book of his Stromata, relates the following things concerning him. “They say that he had a beautiful wife, and after the ascension of the Saviour, being accused by the apostles of jealousy, he led her into their midst and gave permission to any one that wished to marry her. For they say that this was in accord with that saying of his, that one ought to abuse the flesh. And those that have followed his heresy, imitating blindly and foolishly that which was done and said, commit fornication without shame. But I understand that Nicolaus had to do with no other woman than her to whom he was married, and that, so far as his children are concerned, his daughters continued in a state of virginity until old age, and his son remained uncorrupt. If this is so, when he brought his wife, whom he jealously loved, into the midst of the apostles, he was evidently renouncing his passion; and when he used the expression, ‘to abuse the flesh,’ he was inculcating self-control in the face of those pleasures that are eagerly pursued. For I suppose that, in accordance with the command of the Saviour, he did not wish to serve two masters, pleasure and the Lord” (Eusebius, Church History 3:29:1-3).

There is no doubt that the Nicolaitans were considered heretics, and that their heresy consisted in teaching that it was acceptable for Christians to engage in sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols… both things being specifically contrary to the dogmas of the Council of Jerusalem.

So yes, there have been moral heresies in the history of the Church. There haven’t been many moral heresies, because even heretics have generally not dared challenge Christian morality, because it is so clearly taught in Scripture. But the folks at “Public Orthodoxy,” and those cheering them on, are pushing a type of heresy that even most heretics would not have stooped to.

For more information, see:

The Living Church 2.0

Sermon “To the Church of Pergamos” (Revelation 2:18-29)



Did Christ quote from the Septuagint?

by Fr. John Whiteford

From Fr. John Whiteford’s “Stump the Priest” series of blogposts.

Question: “I have heard that Christ quoted the Septuagint. Is there a listing of these quotes?”
It is a generally recognized fact that “the writers of the New Testament used almost exclusively the Greek Septuagint” (Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the making of the Christian Bible (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 850. And we find this in quotations of the Old Testament from Christ as well.

For example, when Christ entered into Jerusalem before his Passion, and the chief priests and scribes were expressing their disapproval of the children crying “Hosanna to the son of David!”, Christ said:

“Yea; have ye never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?”” (Matthew 21:16).

This is a reference to Psalm 8:2, which according to the Masoretic Hebrew text, reads:

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2 KJV).

Which is close, but significantly different when it comes to the very reason why Christ quoted from this Psalm in the first place. However, when you look at the Septuagint text, we find the text exactly as Christ quoted it:

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou perfected praise, because of Thine enemies, to destroy the enemy and avenger” (Psalm 8:2, LXX).

The Greek text of Matthew 21:16 and the Greek text of Psalm 8:2 in the Septuagint are identical:

You can find a list of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, which compares the Hebrew  and Septuagint readings here:

Table of Old Testament quotes in the New Testament, in English translation, by Joel Kalvesmaki

You can find a similar list, with the differences highlighted, by R. Grant Jones, by clicking here.


Is Bible Study Orthodox?

Sadly, people are still asking this question, or worse, answering that it is not!

by Fr. John Whiteford
It is unfortunately not uncommon to find Orthodox people who argue that it is not Orthodox to study the Bible. Perhaps clergy and monastics should study the Bible, they might concede, but not laymen. They argue that all that we need to know we get simply from the services of the Church, or perhaps from reading the Fathers of the Church, if they do not consider the Fathers to be off limits as well.

The problem with this reasoning is that if you actually read the Fathers of the Church, you will discover that they regularly admonished people to study the Scriptures… and not just clergy and monastics.

Let’s begin with the Ecumenical Canons of the Church, which are certainly the most authoritative declarations of the Fathers of the Church. Canon 19 of the Quinisext Council states:

“We declare that the deans of churches, on every day, but more especially on Sundays, must teach all the Clergy and the laity words of truth out of the Holy Bible, analyzing the meanings and judgments of the truth, and not deviating from the definitions already laid down, or the teaching derived from the God-bearing Fathers; but also, if the discourse be one concerning a passage of Scripture, not to interpret it otherwise than as the luminaries and teachers of the Church in their own written works have presented it; and let them rather content themselves with these discourses than attempt to produce discourses of their own, lest at times, being resourceless, they overstep the bounds of propriety. For by means of the teaching afforded by the aforesaid Fathers, the laity, being apprised of the important and preferred things, and of the disadvantageous and rejectable, are enabled to adjust their lives for the better, and do not become a prey to the ailment of ignorance, but, by paying due attention to what is taught, they sharpen their wits so as to avoid suffering wrongly, and for fear of impending punishments they work out their own salvation” (D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons, Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 313 [emphasis added]).

St. Nicodemus provides the following interpretation of this canons:

“The Canon decrees that the Deans of churches, by which term is meant preeminently the Bishops, but secondarily also the Presbyters, must teach all the Clergy and the laity every day in the week, and especially and above all on Sundays (or even other holidays). For on these days, since Christians are wont to rest from their manual work, they congregate in the churches and listen to the divine words. Consequently those teaching therein afford them additional benefit. But such men must not teach with their own words and thoughts, but with those of divine Scripture, without straying away from the definitions adopted and confirmed by Councils and the dogmas of the faith, or away from the teaching handed down by the God-bearing Fathers. And if at any time they repeat words of the Bible, they are not to explain them in any other way than as the teachers of the Church have explained them in their written works; and they must endeavour more to make headway by teaching the discourses of the divine Fathers than by composing sermons of their own, lest by employing thoughts and conceptions of their own, and being unable sometimes to understand things aright, they fall out of line with what is proper and the truth. For by learning things from this teaching of the doctrines taught by the Fathers, the laity learn what things are of advantage to their souls, and what are disadvantageous, and they accordingly change their mode of living from viciousness to virtuousness, and are freed from the darkness of ignorance. By paying attention, again, to that teaching, and hearing about the chastisements and punishments which bad persons are bound to suffer, for fear of these they abstain from vices and bring about their salvation. Besides this, however, c. XIX of Laodicea says that the Bishop must first give a didache (or “teachment”) in the liturgy” (Ibid., p. 313f). 

If the Church did not think the laity need to understand the Scriptures, such a canon issued by an Ecumenical Council would hardly have been necessary. And note that it encourages the deans of Churches to teach the Scriptures daily.

Furthermore, commenting on the Apostolic Canon that provides one of the earliest list of the canonical books of Scripture (Canon 85), St. Nicodemus states:

“These are the holy books of the Old and of the New Testament: according to the Maccabees, those in your hands; the sources of salvation, according to St. Athanasius; the records left by the holy men, according to the Areopagite; the books of the official testaments, according to Eusebius; the canonical books of the Bible, according to Council held in Carthage. Study therein, brethren and fathers, and meditate upon them day and night, in order that you may become more like the righteous man pronounced blissful by divine David. Read them continually and perpetually, because, according to St. Chrysostom, reading the Scriptures is the key which opens the way to heaven, and the mouths of the Prophets are the mouth of God. Busy yourselves therewith all the time that you have available, since, according to St. Augustine, the remedy for every disease of the soul is to be found in the Bible. Search the Scriptures in order that you may find therein the life that is everlasting, according to what the Lord Himself said (John 5:39)” (Ibid., p. 152 [emphasis added]).

In St. Athanasius the Great’s canons, which were specifically affirmed by the Quinisext Council, he recites the list of the canonical books, and then speaks of the deutercanonical books, which he refers to as “the readable books”, and states:

“Nevertheless, for the sake of greater exactness, I add also this, writing as I do the fact as a matter of necessity, that, there are also other books than these outside of the list herein given, which, though not canonically sanctioned, are to be found formally prescribed by the Fathers to be read to those who have just joined and are willing to be catechized with respect to the word of piety….” (Ibid, p. 769 [emphasis added).

Obviously, if catechumens were advised to read the deuterocanonical books as part of their preparation for baptism, it would be highly unlikely that after they were baptized they would have been prohibited from reading the canonical books.

It is objected that most people could not afford to own copies of the Bible prior to the printing press, and that most people were illiterate. Obviously, those who were illiterate would have not been able to read the Scriptures on their own, but even such people are known to have memorized large portions of Scripture. But there is good evidence that literacy among Christians and Jews during the first few centuries of Church history was not as low as is often asserted.

“Both Hellenism and Judaism promoted literacy, and the use of books was widespread during the early period before and after Christ. Already, by 75 BC, in Judah, elementary education was available to all boys — the world’s firs public school system, on could say. A significant number of people , at least in cities, could read, and “writing was an essential  accomplishment of life at almost all levels to an extent without parallel in living memory”[C. H. Roberts, “Books in the Graeco-Roman World and in the New Testament,” in the Cambridge History of the Bible, edited by P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), vol. 1, p. 48] (Dr. Mary D. Ford, The Soul’s Longing: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Biblical Interpretation (Waymart, PA: St. Tikhon Monastery Press, 2915), p. 60). 

It is true that a complete copy of the Bible would have been well beyond the reach of all but the most wealthy of Christians, but the Bible was not usually produced as a single volume text, and so copies of the Gospels, or the Epistles would have been circulated separately, and would have been something that people of more modest means could afford to get, though it was certainly a big investment. But we know that there were many scriptoria that employed as many as 100 scribes, and would produce about 1,000 manuscripts a month, and obviously, there had to be a large demand for such texts to sustain such levels of production (Ford, p. 64). In addition to the production of texts of Scripture there were also biblical dictionaries and commentaries which were produced to help readers better understand the Scriptures. (Ford, p. 68).

We can see an example of someone who was not even yet a Christian who had copies of Scripture at his disposal in St. Augustine’s Confessions. He recounts the occasion which led him to become a Christian, when he was in his garden, and was experiencing a spiritual crisis as he struggled to determine what direction he should take:

“…I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first Chapter I should light upon. …So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius [a lifelong friend of St. Augustine] was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell,—“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as  the sentence ended,—by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart,—all the gloom of doubt vanished away. Closing the book, then, and putting either my finger between, or some other mark, I now with a tranquil countenance made it known to Alypius” (Confessions, 8:12:29-30).

But even if it were true that many did not study the Scriptures in the Early Church because they could not read it, or could not afford a copy of the Scriptures for themselves, this would hardly be a compelling argument against the private study of the Scriptures for those who can read and who can afford to have a copy of the Scriptures — as is the case with most people in our time.

St. John Chrystostom makes it very clear that he considered the private study of Scripture to be an obligation of all Christians, including the laity — and in fact says that they have a greater obligation and need to study the Scriptures than do monks:

“This, also, I am ever urging, and shall not cease to urge, that you give attention, not only to the words spoken, but that also, when at home in your house, you exercise yourselves constantly in reading the Divine Scriptures. This, also, I have never ceased to press upon those who come to me privately. Let not any one say to me that these exhortations are vain and irrelevant, for “I am constantly busy in the courts,” (suppose him to say;) “I am discharging public duties; I am engaged in some art or handiwork; I have a wife; I am bringing up my children; I have to manage a household; I am full of worldly business; it is not for me to read the Scriptures, but for those who have bid adieu to the world, for those who dwell on the summit of the hills; those who constantly lead a secluded life.” What dost thou say, O man? Is it not for thee to attend to the Scriptures, because thou art involved in numerous cares? It is thy duty even more than theirs, for they do not so much need the aid to be derived from the Holy Scriptures as they do who are engaged in much business. For those who lead a solitary life, who are free from business and from the anxiety arising from business, who have pitched their tent in the wilderness, and have no communion with any one, but who meditate at leisure on wisdom, in that peace that springs from repose — they, like those who lie in the harbour, enjoy abundant security. But ourselves, who, as it were, are tossed in the midst of the sea, cannot avoid many failings, we ever stand in need of the immediate and constant comfort of the Scriptures. They rest far from the strife, and, therefore, escape many wounds; but you stand perpetually in the array of battle, and constantly are liable to be wounded: on this account, you have more need of the healing remedies” (Discourse 3 on the Rich Man and Lazarus, Chapter 1, emphasis added).

Despite the great expense in acquiring copies of Scripture, St. John Chrysostom nevertheless admonished people to get at least some portions, and to study them on their own. They should not put all of the burden for instruction on the clergy but should study themselves, and instruct others:

“Do not wait, I entreat, for another to teach thee; thou hast the oracles of God. No man teacheth thee as they; for he indeed oft grudgeth much for vainglory’s sake and envy. Hearken, I entreat you, all ye that are careful for this life, and 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. If grief befall thee, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take thence comfort of thy trouble, be it loss, or death, or bereavement of relations; or rather dive not into them merely, but take them wholly to thee; keep them in thy mind. This is the cause of all evils, the ignorance of the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how ought we to come off safe? Well contented should we be if we can be safe with them, let alone without them. Throw not the whole upon us! Sheep ye are, still not without reason, but rational; Paul committeth much to you also. They that are under instruction, are not for ever learning; for then they are not taught. If thou art for ever learning, thou wilt never learn. Do not so come as meaning to be always learning; (for so thou wilt never know;) but so as to finish learning, and to teach others. In the arts do not all persons continue for set times, in the sciences, and in a word, in all the arts? Thus we all fix definitely a certain known time; but if ye are ever learning, it is a certain proof that ye have learned nothing” (Homily 9 on Colossians).

St. Seraphim of Sarov read the entire New Testament every week:

“So that our spirit will have freedom to uplift itself there and be nourished by sweetest conversation with the Lord, one must humble himself with prayers and the remembrance of the Lord, and I, humble Seraphim, for this reason, go through the Gospel every day. On Monday I read St. Matthew from beginning to end. On Tuesday, St. Mark. On Wednesday, St. Luke. On Thursday, St. John. The other days of the week I divide between the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles, and I do not for a single day neglect to read the epistle and gospel appointed for the liturgical day and the lives of the saints.
Through this not only my soul, but even my body rejoices and is vivified, because I converse with the Lord. I hold in my mind his life and suffering, and day and night I glorify and give thanks to my Redeemer for all his mercies that are shed upon mankind and upon me, the unworthy one” (quoted in “Reading the Scriptures with Accountability – Patristic Counsels on Bible Study,” by Fr. Josiah Trenham, Ancient Father Radio, 11-12-2016).

Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), gave the following advice on spiritual reading:

“But what should you read? First of all, read the Bible, concurrently from 1) Pentateuch and Kings, 2) from the Prophets and Wisdom Books and 3) from the New Testament. Read every day, for at least half an hour. If you make yourself read through the Bible twice in this way, then subsequently you will reread it at your own desire and inclination” (Confession: A Series of Lectures on the Mystery of Repentance, trans. Fr. Christopher Birchall (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1975) p. 28).

He of course went on to advise that we should read from the lives of the saints and the Fathers as well, but this was first on his list.

In the classic text, The Way of a Pilgrim, the pilgrim carries with him two books every where he goes, the New Testament, and the Philokalia.

Had the Russian Church not wanted its people to read the Scriptures they would not have translated the Scriptures into Russian and published them. Go to any Church bookstore in Russia, and you will find many copies of Scripture available for the people to purchase and to read.

We must interpret Scripture in the light of the teachings of the Church and in accordance with the interpretation of the Fathers, but the study of Scripture is something that the Church places a high priority on, and admonishes all of her faithful to engage in, to the best of their ability.

How to Read the Bible and Why, by St. Justin (Popovich) of Chelije


The Bible and Homosexual Practice (7 Video Lectures)

by Fr. John Whiteford

One of the best books you can read on the subject of Homosexuality from a Christian perspective is “The Bible and Homosexual Practice,” by Dr. Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I found the following videos which provide some of the highlights of that book in lecture format.
The Old Testament

Genesis 1 & 2: 


Levitical Prohibition: 

David & Jonathan: 

The New Testament

The Witness of Jesus: 

The Witness of Paul: 

Hermeneutical Relevance of the Bible


Shrimp and Homosexuality

by Fr. John Whiteford

In reponse to Christian stands against homosexuality non-Christians often point to Old Testament laws that are no longer followed by New Testament Christians, such as the Leviticus 11:9-12 forbidding of the consumption of shrimp. Why do Christians continue to adhere to some Old Testament laws and not others? Why do Christians eat shrimp but oppose homosexuality? Fr. John Whiteford answers these questions:

The Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22), but it also says that eating shrimp is an abomination (Leviticus 11:9-12), so why do Christians east shrimp, but oppose homosexuality?

As these texts are translated by the King James Version, and in several other translations, you do find the same word (“abomination”) is used, but in the Hebrew text you find two different words:

Leviticus 18:22 reads: Thou shalt not lie with a man, as with a woman: it is abomination [to??e?bah].

Leviticus 11:9-12 reads: “These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination [sheqets] unto you: they shall be even an abomination [sheqets] unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination [sha?qats (verbal form of sheqets)]. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination [sheqets] unto you.

These two words, while they have some overlap in terms of their range of meaning, do not have thesame range of meaning. The NRSV translates “sheqets” as “detestable,” which at least alerts the reader to the fact that the words are not identical. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the word “sheqets” is used “mostly in reference to unclean and forbidden foods … Relegating certain animals to the category of “unclean” and “abominable” may in a number of instances involve considerations of health. Yet the main consideration here must be that, whatever the reason, or however much or little it was understandable to the Israelites, certain foods were forbidden and regarded as detested. This was to be accepted on the simple basis of trust in, and obedience to God” (Vol. II, ed. R. Laird Harris, et al. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 955).

While “to??e?bah” can refer to that which is ritually offensive, it also includes matters that are morally repugnant, such as homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22), human sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:31), ritual prostitution (1 Kings 14:23f), etc. “Whereas to??e?bah includes that which is aesthetically and morally repulsive, its synonym sheqets denotes that which is cultically [i,e, ritually] unclean…” (Ibid., p. 977).

Even when one uses the very same word, this does not necessarily mean that they carry the same weight. I can say that I love Blue Bell Ice Cream, and I can say that I love my wife, but while I would die for my wife, I will generally only buy Blue Bell when it is on sale. Though the same word is used, it is used in two very different senses.

In the case of eating shrimp vs. homosexual sex, you can tell a lot about the degree to which these things were regarded as sinful by the punishments meted out to those who violated them. In the case of eating shrimp, there was no specified punishment at all. The person who shrimp would have certainly been considered unclean for some period of time, pending ritual purification. According to Jewish tradition, they might also have been subject to corporal punishment. The punishment for engaging in homosexual sex was death (Leviticus 20:13).

We can also tell that these things are viewed very differently by the fact that only Israelites were expected to abstain from non-kosher food. On the other hand, the passage that the ban against homosexual sex is listed (in Leviticus 18) is in the context of a list of sexual sins for which God judges even the gentiles. This is stated before this list, and repeated again at the end of it:

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the Lord your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord (Leviticus 18:1-5).

Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: and the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations [to??e?bah]; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations [to??e?bah] have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spew not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spewed out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations [to??e?bah], even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable [to??e?bah] customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 18:24-30).

There was no mention that non-kosher foods were forbidden before the Law of Moses. For example, God said to Noah: Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things (Genesis 9:3). And when Gentiles began entering the Church, the Apostles declared that the Gentiles were not bound by the kosher laws of the Mosaic Law:

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well(Acts 15:28-29).

And it should be noted that the word translated as “fornication” is the Greek word “porneia,” which includes any kind of sexual immorality, including those listed in Leviticus 18. This also completely ignores the vision given to St. Peter which specifically ended the requirement for Christians to abstain from non-kosher food (Acts 10:9-16), and that there are several other New Testament passages that condemn homosexuality. So the argument that Christians are hypocritical in their appeal to the ban on homosexual sex in in Leviticus 18:22, which still each shrimp, lobster, clams, and crawfish is completely consistent with testimony of Scripture.

Some things are inherently sinful, and some things are sinful in specific contexts. For example, it is sinful for an Orthodox Christian to disregard the fasts for no compelling reason, and to eat a hamburger on a fast day, but there is nothing inherently sinful about hamburgers. Likewise, for Israelites, not eating certain kinds of foods had a symbolic meaning, and was a matter of obedience, but there was nothing inherently sinful about eating shrimp. However, it is inherently sinful for a man to have sex with another man, and the Bible is completely unambiguous about this.

A Recent Example:

A recent example of pro-homosexuals trying to argue against taking seriously Leviticus 18:22 by appealing to the biblical illiteracy of the average American is the following clip from the TV show “West Wing,” which “Occupy Democrats” have been circulating via social media recently, which even resulted in CNN’s Don Lemon playing portions of it:

(the pertinent part of this clip begins at about 1:18)

This line of argument is really not just against the Church’s position on homosexuality. It is also an argument against taking the Bible seriously at all. No one who considers himself a Christian should have any sympathy for such arguments. But we should know how to respond to them, and so let’s look at the passages referenced in this video:

Exodus 21:7-11: This passage provides some special protections for female slaves, because they obviously were in a more vulnerable position. For more on this question, see “Stump the Priest: What about Slavery in the Bible?“, but suffice it to say here that this passage does not command that anyone own slaves, nor that anyone sell their children into slavery—it puts limits on how slaves could be treated. This was quite in contrast with Roman law, for example, in which a master could do whatever he wished to a slave, up to and including killing them, for any reason.

Slavery is no where in the Bible presented as a good thing. A Christian can certainly not own slaves and oppose most forms of slavery without violating any tenet of Scripture or Church Tradition (we still allow for involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime, and in the form of the military draft). And so the comparison of this issue to the question of whether or not homosexual sex is a sin is a ref herring.

Exodus 35:2: This passage calls for the death penalty for those who break the Sabbath. The Church still believes that the Ten Commandments, including the commandment to remember the Sabbath day, apply to Christians, but we consider the Lord’s day (Sunday) to have taken the place of the old Sabbath as the primary day of Christian rest and worship, though we also continue to observe Saturday the day of creation. The Church does not call for the death penalty for violating this, nor does it call for it in the case of homosexuality. For more on this, you can listen to the sermon: The 4th Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

The Old Covenant was given to people who were at a very low level of spiritual understanding. The harsh penalties that are often found in the Old Testament law were due to this. St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the law which condemned Sabbath breakers to death, said that it was “Because if the laws were to be despised even at the beginning, of course they would scarcely be observed afterwards” (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew 39:3). But while the harsh and immediate penalties for the violation of the law are relaxed in the New Testament, the strictness of the laws themselves are not only not relaxed, but are rather enhanced. Just as you spank younger children, but expect less of them, and expect more of older children, without spanking them, the Old Testament dealt with the Israelites where they were, but brought them gradually to a higher level of spiritual understanding.

Then Martin Sheen‘s character simply begins to make stuff up. He speaks of the Bible calling for stoning someone who plants different seeds together, and burning to death someone who mixes different kinds of fabrics. While Leviticus 19:19 does say: Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle breed with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee, you will note that it says nothing about anyone being stoned or burned alive for failure to observe these customs. This shows the complete dishonesty of those who make such arguments. These customs were part of the ceremonial law of Moses (which still has symbolic value, but which is no longer directly applies in the New Testament), not the moral law of God—which was in effect before the law of Moses, and remains in full force and effect today. See: The Continuing Validity of the Moral Law of the Old Testament.

For more information on the Levitical Law and homosexuality , see:

Dan Savage Savages the Bible, Christianity, and the Pope,” by Dr. Michael Brown

As well as the following video from Dr. Robert Gagnon:   

Robert Gagnon: The Bible and Homosexual Practice (7 Video Lectures)


On Rebaptism in the Eastern Orthodox Church

an interview with Fr. John Whiteford

I’ve been a fan of Fr. John Whiteford for some time, and his presentation on this important topic is balanced and excellent in the superlative. 

Orthodox Biblical Interpretation and Protestant Biblical Scholarship

by Fr. John Whiteford

The question of what Orthodox Christians should make of Protestant biblical scholarship is a complicated question. First off, what do I mean by “Protestant biblical scholarship”? I don’t mean to limit this to the work of scholars who are actually Protestants — I include any scholar who takes the approach to Scripture that Protestant scholars developed, whether they be Roman Catholics, Jews, or Atheists. Should we embrace it fully, reject it completely, or should we make use it to some extent — but critically, and cautiously

The Problems with Embracing it Fully

A key question to consider at the beginning here is whether Protestants discovered an approach to Scripture, beginning in the 17th century, which is essential to properly understanding the Scriptures? If this were true, that would mean that for most of Church history, people were not really able to to properly understand the Scriptures. And that is an assumption which no right-believing Orthodox Christian could possibly accept.

When speaking about Protestants in general, it is necessary to make generalizations that are not going to be true to the same extent in every case, but generally modern Protestant biblical scholarship attempts to do the same thing with interpreting Scripture that Protestants attempt to do with Church history. They assume the Church became corrupt over the course of its history, and so it is necessary to leapfrog over the centuries and reestablish (more or less) the early Church. When it it comes to interpreting the Bible, they argue that have have to make that same leap, and get back to the understanding that prevailed when the Scriptures were written, in order to properly understand them. But the problem is, absent a time machine, we can only go back to the first century, in a sense, via the living Tradition that connects us with that time and with the apostles and saints of that time.

How do we know what St. John meant in his Gospel? We of course start with the text, but we then look to those whom he taught, and then to the Church as whole which received his teachings, and preserved them. We do not believe that the connection we have with St. John and the preservation of his teachings is either tenuous, or only partially reliable — we believe the Church to be an infallible guide to what St. John meant.

Protestant scholars approach the Gospel of John like a crime scene investigation, or an archaeological dig, where they have to piece together fragmentary evidence, and then try to put together some sort of a plausible hypothesis about what to make of it. This, however, would only be true, if the Scriptures were not really the inspired word of God, and if the Church was not really the pillar and ground of the Truth. The Church understands the Scriptures because it knows the authors, and it is guided by the ultimate author of the Scriptures — the Holy Spirit.

We also have to understand that Protestant methods are not neutral “technologies.” They are methods that come with theological assumptions… assumptions which we generally do not share. If they were neutral technologies we should expect to see consistent results from their use, but in fact what we see is that they are used to produce speculative and subjective scholarship that is all over the map — the likes of which would make the most speculative Freudian psychoanalysts blush, and shame the worst Gnostics the Church has ever encountered in its history.

But some might suggest that surely no Orthodox Christian would just accept this kind of scholarship, whole-hog, but such people would be wrong. Fr. Paul Tarazi is a case in point. If you look, for example, at the first volume of his three part introduction to the Old Testament, you will find that his entire text is based upon the assumption that the JEDP theory is a fact. Part one of the text is entitled “The Yahwist Epic” (the “J” source, which ends with an excursus entitled “The Case of the Elohist” (the “E” source); part 2 is entitled “The Deuteronomistic Tradition (the “D” source); part 3 is entitled “The Priestly Writings (the “P” source); and part 4 is entitled “The Post-Exilic Historical Traditions (which discusses the final redaction of the four sources into the Pentateuch as we know it). Fr. Paul does not present the JEDP theory as a theory, or discuss its merits. You would never know that any serious scholars questioned it. He simply assumes it to be true, and analyzes the separate histories and theological perspectives of the four sources. A good protestant introduction to the Old Testament generally does a better job of laying out the various theories, and they do discuss their merits and demerits. In fact, Brevard Childs (a Yale Old Testament Scholar, who was a Protestant) comes closer to an Orthodox presentation of the question, because in the end, he argues that we should interpret the Pentateuch as a whole, in its canonical form, not as separated sources (see his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (1979).

Is it possible that the Pentateuch was comprised of more than one source? It is possible. Is there any way that we could confidently know which source was which in the Pentateuch, given the information available to us today? No. But even if we knew for sure that the Pentateuch was composed of four sources, and even if we could confidently identify which source any particular portions of the Pentateuch came from, if we believe in God, and believe that the Scriptures are inspired by Him, and have confidence that the form that we have received is the form that God intended for us to receive, then the form we have receive is what we should concern ourselves with.

But as a matter of fact, as is often the case, Protestant scholars selectively choose the “facts” and “evidence” that suit their agenda and then proceed, with their conclusions essentially predetermined by their basic assumptions, to apply their methods to the Scriptures. And so if you assume, for example, that any mentions of liturgical worship would be later than the time of Moses (because you’re a Protestant, and see that as a later corruption), and obviously, the work of later priests, your starting assumption is how you identify the “P” source, and then you know the “P” source, because it matches your assumptions. The reasoning is circular, but because it is presented with confidence, by people who sound like they know what they are talking about, people too often assume there is something objective and compelling about it, when in fact, it is completely subjective.

The Problems with Rejecting it Completely

Having said that Protestants did not discover anything new that is essential to properly understanding the Scriptures, the fact remains, we live in a world in which the fruits of Protestant biblical scholarship are everywhere. If we could establish an isolated community on an island somewhere, completely disconnected from the rest of the world, such a community could afford to ignore this scholarship… but that is not the world we live in.

One fairly obvious reason we should want to understand this field is that if we want to reach Protestants, we have to be able to communicate with them in ways that will be meaningful to them. We have to understand where they are coming from, and be able to answer their questions. We should not only be able to identify where they deviate from the Orthodox Faith, but also to acknowledge where they do not.

What is not usually obvious, however, is that even Orthodox people who live in the west have been heavily influenced by this kind of scholarship, and they more often than not do not realize it, or recognize where so many of their assumptions about Scripture come from. Even though we live in a culture that is becoming increasingly anti-Christian, it is nonetheless a culture that is immersed in Protestantism. Our people watch documentaries, read articles, or have teachers or professors who make appeals to biblical scholarship, and often what is presented in the name of biblical scholarship is in fact a fairly radical set of conclusions that are not even in the mainstream, but because someone with a Ph.D. is quoted, the assumption is that this is what people who are educated on the subject ought to think. And so if you have a parish priest who has not critically studied Protestant biblical scholarship, he may not recognize how his flock has been influenced by it, much less recognize its influence upon himself, nor will he be equipped to give convincing answers when people ask him if it is really true that the Gospel of Judas is a reliable text, or why we should accept the testimony of the canonical Gospels, or even how we know that Christ was even an historical person.

And as a matter of fact, the enemies of the Church are not unaware of this scholarship. For example, we have a letter Maxim Gorky wrote to Joseph Stalin, in which he discussed his strategies for eliminating religious faith in Russia, and among many other things, he said:

“We cannot do without an edition of the “Bible” with critical commentaries from the Tubingen school and books on criticism of biblical texts, which could bring a very useful “confusion into the minds” of believers” (Letter of Gorky to Stalin).

The liberal German biblical scholarship Gorky refers to may very well have played a role in his own atheism. If it did not cause him to become an atheist, it certainly did nothing but confirm him in that atheism.

Making Medicines from Poisonous Snakes

The Church Fathers obviously didn’t have to contend with liberal German biblical scholars, but they did have to contend with an issue that has some analogies to this question — and that is the question of what use, if any, Christians should make of pagan Greek learning. In the wider culture, pagan Greek philosophy, rhetoric, and literature was the intellectual gold standard, and to educated people of the time, you either were conversant in these things, or you were not to be taken seriously.

On the one hand, you had those like Tertullian, who dismissed Greek philosophy by asking: “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?” (Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 7). And on the other hand, you had those, those who adopted Greek philosophy in such a way that they ended up with a pagan faith with only a thin Christian veneer. Tertullian’s extremism lead him out of the Church; and most of those who fully embraced pagan philosophy belonged to heretical groups that never were in the Church to begin with.

The Church Fathers, however, took a balanced approach. For example, St. Gregory the Theologian wrote:

“…as we have compounded healthful drugs from certain of the reptiles; so from secular literature we have received principles of enquiry and speculation, while we have rejected their idolatry, terror, and pit of destruction.  Nay, even these have aided us in our religion, by our perception of the contrast between what is worse and what is better, and by gaining strength for our doctrine from the weakness of theirs” (Oration 43, Panegyric on Saint Basil,” A Selected Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, series 2, vol. vii, eds. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff (New York: Christian, 18871900), p. 398f).

Likewise, St. Basil the Great said:

“Now, then, altogether after the manner of bees must we use these writings, for the bees do not visit all the flowers without discrimination, nor indeed do they seek to carry away entire those upon which they light, but rather, having taken so much as is adapted to their needs, they let the rest go. So we, if wise, shall take from heathen books whatever befits us and is allied to the truth, and shall pass over the rest. And just as in culling roses we avoid the thorns, from such writings as these we will gather everything useful, and guard against the noxious. So, from the very beginning, we must examine each of their teachings, to harmonize it with our ultimate purpose, according to the Doric proverb, ‘testing each stone by the measuring-line”” (Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature, IV).

Simply put, we eat the meat, but spit out the bones. Use what is useful to us and to our purposes, and reject what is not. The appropriation of terminology and useful elements of Greek philosophy is already evident in the writings of the Apostles in the New Testament, and so what the Fathers did was entirely in keeping with the Faith that they had received from the Apostles. But the criterion of where to draw the lines here has always remained the Faith once delivered unto the Saints (Jude 3).

We should approach Protestant biblical scholarship in precisely the same way

Taking a Critical Approach to Biblical Criticism

The key to approaching this scholarship in order to make good use of it, without falling prey to its pretensions, is to apply the same  “hermeneutic of suspicion” to Protestant biblical scholarship, which its practitioners so love to apply to Scripture. As, Thomas Oden observed

“Scripture criticism is more firmly captive today to its modern (naturalistic, narcissistic, individualistic) Zeitgeist than Augustinianism ever was to Platonism or Thomism to Aristotelianism. Trapped in modern prejudices against pre-modern forms of consciousness, reductionistic exegesis has proved to be just as prone to speculation as were the extremist forms of Gnosticism and as uncritical of its own presuppositions as supralapsarian Protestant scholasticism” (Agenda for Theology: After Modernity What? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990) p. 111).

 “We violate a primary ethical demand upon historical study if we impose upon a set of documents presuppositions congenial to us and then borrow from the canonical prestige of the documents by claiming that it corresponds with our favored predisposition. That lacks honesty. The modern attempt to study Christ has done this repeatedly. The text has often become a mirror of ideological interest: Kant’s Christ becomes a strained exposition of the categorical imperative; Hegel’s Christ looks like a shadow-image of the Hegelian dialectic. Schleiermacher’s Christ is a reflection of the awkward mating of pietism and romanticism; Strauss’s Christ is neatly weeded of all supernatural referents. Harnack’s portrait of Christ looks exactly like that of a late nineteenth-century German liberal idealist; and Tillich’s Christ is a dehistorical existential idea of being that participates in estrangement without being estranged…. The historical biblical critic was “not nearly so interested in being changed by his reading of the Bible, as in changing the way that the Bible was read in order to confirm it to the modern spirit”” (The Word of Life: Systematic Theology Volume Two, (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 224f).

“Historical biblical criticism has been allied with polemical concerns since its eighteenth century inception as an ideological agent of “Enlightenment.” It has expressed a determined interest from the beginning in discrediting not merely the authority of Scripture, but authority in general — all authority as such. Just read the biographies of Reimarus, Rousseau, Lessing, Strauss, Feuerbach, and of course Nietzsche (cf. Jacques Derrida, The Ear of the Other). It has operated especially as a partisan “ideology for the demystification of religious tradition”… It is astutely described as the strike force of modernity, “the Wehrmacht of the liberal Church”… The hermeneutic of suspicion has been safely applied to the history of Jesus but not to the history of the historians. It is now time for the tables to turn. The hermeneutic of suspicion must be fairly and prudently applied to the critical movement itself… One obvious neglected arena is the social location of the quasi-Marxist critics of the social location of classic Christianity, who hold comfortable chairs in rutted, tenured tracks. These writers have focused upon the analysis of the social location of the writers and interpreters of Scripture. Yet that principle awaits now to be turned upon the social prejudices of the “knowledge elite” — a guild of scholars asserting their interest in the privileged setting of the modern university” (Ibid., p. 225f).

Whenever you read a claim by a modern biblical scholar that seems questionable — question it. Ask how he knows what he claims to know? What actual hard evidence does he have? Usually, you will find the actual evidence is very slender, and the rest is filled in with speculation and wishful thinking. And it is often the case that you will find that bad scholarship of that sort is refuted by better, more conservative Protestant scholars. Even with those scholars, you have to be discerning, but it should be understood that not all of these scholars are equally wrong-headed, or equally hostile to the Traditional understanding of the Scriptures which we hold to.

I would also add that it is not just for apologetic purposes that we need to be familiar with this kind of scholarship — there are some good and useful things that these scholars have produced over the centuries. For example, until there is a good Orthodox Bible dictionary that is available in English, there is no reason we should not make use of such handy resources that helps a reader figure out who is who, and what is what as they read through the Bible. Why should we not make use of a good Greek or Hebrew Lexicon, even if those who compiled it were not Orthodox? As a matter of fact, there is no translation of the Bible in English that is not either entirely the work of non-Orthodox scholars, or at least dependent upon their work to some extent. It would be foolish, and practically impossible to make no use of heterodox scholarship when studying the Scriptures.

As Clement of Alexandria put it, we can take the spoils of Egypt and turn them into the furniture of the Tabernacle. That requires that we do not simply import pagan furniture into the Church, but whatever is true and good can be put to good use in the Church, and this is true of Protestant scholarship as well. We simply have to be discerning, and to remain faithful to the Tradition of the Church in the process.




For more information:

Sola Scriptura,” particularly the section on Historical-Critical Exegesis

Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture 1300-1700, Scott W. Hahn and Benjamin Wiker

The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology) 1st Edition, by Michael C. Legaspi 

For an Orthodox critique of Fr. Paul Tarazi’s approach to Scripture, see “Fr. Paul Tarazi: From Study to Heresy! A Critique of his Book Introduction to the New Testament: Paul and Mark,” by Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

A Guide to Biblical Reference Texts

Beginning to Read and Understand the Bible

Skeptical Biblical Scholarship: Part 1

Skeptical Biblical Scholarship: Part 2

Stump the Priest: Raising Hands at the Liturgy

by Fr. John Whiteford

Question: “Is it proper for laymen to raise their hands in prayer during the consecration of the Eucharist and the Lord’s Prayer?”


Raising hands in prayer is a very ancient practice, and following this practice is private prayer is certainly acceptable. However, even among the clergy, only the presiding clergyman raises his hands at various points in the Liturgy.* The other priests do not. The deacons raise only one hand at these points, but never both.

Why is this? I don’t recall ever reading an explanation, but I would give one answer I am certain of, and another that I think is probably true:

1. This is not the practice we have received.

2. The liturgical logic at work seems to me to be that the person who is leading the people in prayer raises his hands on behalf of all the people, and so the people, deferring to that priest or bishop, do not attempt to usurp his role, but allow him to do this alone. On the other hand, in private prayers, you are the one presiding, so to speak, and so in this case you can raise your own hands in prayer.

There is an Old Rite practice of people raising both hands when they are censed during the services, but this is a different practice. This is not done at the times when the presiding priest or bishop raises his hands.

It is important that we conduct ourselves in the services in a way that does not draw attention to ourselves, and so adhering to the practice we have received is very important. It helps everyone focus on God in prayer. The services are where we serve God in prayer and worship — not where we are served, and get to do whatever pleases us.

St. Paul admonished the Corinthians by saying:

“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40),

Commenting on this verse, St. John Chrysostom says:

“Nothing builds up as much as good order, peace and love, just as nothing is more destructive than their opposites. It is not only in spiritual affairs but in everything that one may observe this” (Homily 37:4 on 1 Corinthians).

*In my experience at least, the presiding priest or bishop doesn’t raise his hands during the Our Father either.

For more information, See: 

Sermon: Let All Things be Done Decently and in Order

Does God care how we worship?