The Gospel of the Early Church – 4 – Applications of the Gospel

xEarly ChurchToday we continue our series looking at what the early church believed about the gospel. Here are the links to my previous posts (here, here and here)

Now that I’ve established the early church believed the gospel is the story of Jesus and is an account of his words and deeds. I will provide some quotes from the early church which demonstrate how they used the gospel in preaching and teaching.

Converts and Saves

The early church believed preaching the narrative of Jesus could bring about the conversion and salvation of their audience.

Irenaeus of Lyons (c.e. 130-202)

In my earlier post, do you remember Ireneaus’ understanding of the gospel and apostolic practice? In light of this consider the following quote from him.

“Paul, of whom the apostle, calling to mind the Scripture, says in the Epistle addressed to the Romans, “As it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.” But here the expression “all the day long” is put for all this time during which we suffer persecution, and are killed as sheep. As then this day does not signify one which consists of twelve hours, but the whole time during which believers in Christ suffer and are put to death for His sake, so also the year there mentioned does not denote one which consists of twelve months, but the whole time of faith during which men hear and believe the preaching of the GOSPEL, and those become acceptable to God who unite themselves to Him.

3. But it is greatly to be wondered at, how it has come to pass that, while affirming that they have found out the mysteries of God, they have not examined the GOSPELS to ascertain how often after His baptism the Lord went up, at the time of the passover, to Jerusalem, in accordance with what was the practice of the Jews from every land, and every year, that they should assemble at this period in Jerusalem, and there celebrate the feast of the passover.”

(Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 390). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

Ireneaus says that through the ‘preaching of the gospel’ those who ‘unite themselves’ to God ‘become acceptable’ to him. Note he refers to the ‘preaching of the gospel’ in the singular and then a little later, ‘they have not examined the gospels to ascertain’ in the plural. He is comfortable interchanging the singular with the plural as necessary.

The quote below is part of an earlier quote I put in the first post. In this section Ireneaus speaks about the gospels power for salvation.

“Call to mind, then, the things which I have stated in the two preceding books, and, taking these in connection with them, thou shalt have from me a very copious refutation of all the heretics; and faithfully and strenuously shalt thou resist them in defence of the only true and life-giving faith, which the Church has received from the apostles and imparted to her sons. For the Lord of all gave to His apostles the power of the GOSPEL, through whom also we have known the truth, that is, the doctrine of the Son of God; to whom also did the Lord declare:

“He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me, and Him that sent Me.” (Lk 10.16)

1. We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the GOSPEL has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the GOSPEL of God.”

(Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, pp. 414–415). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

The early church believe the gospel is the power for salvation.

Ireneaus associates the ‘plan of our salvation’ with the gospel. I will leave this open as we could interpret a number of different ways. He also associates the gospel with the apostolic proclamation of the ‘peace from heaven’. Once again, I will leave this open as we could interpret a number of different ways. But both of these are great things.

Origen (c.e. 185-254)

“And since Celsus has termed the apostles of Jesus men of infamous notoriety, saying that they were tax-gatherers and sailors of the vilest character, we have to remark, with respect to this charge, that he seems, in order to bring an accusation against Christianity, to believe the GOSPEL accounts only where he pleases, and to express his disbelief of them, in order that he may not be forced to admit the manifestations of Divinity related in these same books; whereas one who sees the spirit of truth by which the writers are influenced, ought, from their narration of things of inferior importance, to believe also the account of divine things. Now in the general Epistle of Barnabas, from which perhaps Celsus took the statement that the apostles were notoriously wicked men, it is recorded that

“Jesus selected His own apostles, as persons who were more guilty of sin than all other evildoers.”

And in the GOSPEL according to Luke, Peter says to Jesus,

“Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Lk 5.8)

Moreover, Paul, who himself also at a later time became an apostle of Jesus, says in his Epistle to Timothy,

“This is a faithful saying, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.” (1 Tim 1.15)

And I do not know how Celsus should have forgotten or not have thought of saying something about Paul, the founder, after Jesus, of the Churches that are in Christ. He saw, probably, that anything he might say about that apostle would require to be explained, in consistency with the fact that, after being a persecutor of the Church of God, and a bitter opponent of believers, who went so far even as to deliver over the disciples of Jesus to death, so great a change afterwards passed over him, that he preached the GOSPEL of Jesus from Jerusalem round about to Illyricum, and was ambitious to carry the glad tidings where he needed not to build upon another man’s foundation, but to places where the GOSPEL of God in Christ had not been proclaimed at all.

What absurdity, therefore, is there, if Jesus, desiring to manifest to the human race the power which He possesses to heal souls, should have selected notorious and wicked men, and should have raised them to such a degree of moral excellence, that they, became a pattern of the purest virtue to all who were converted by their instrumentality to the GOSPEL of Christ?

(Origen. (1885). Origen against Celsus. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), F. Crombie (Trans.), Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second (Vol. 4, pp. 424–425). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

Origen says that sinners ‘were converted’ by the ‘instrumentality’ of the apostles preaching ‘to the gospel of Christ’. He also says a whole heap about the effect Jesus has on their lives in producing significant moral change.

Did the early church believe the gospel did anything more than simply convert and save people? Well yes they did.

Commands and Instructs

The early church believed the gospel commands and instructs people. It specifies a way of life.

Justin Martyr (c.e. 100-165)

“This is what we are amazed at,” said Trypho, “but those things about which the multitude speak are not worthy of belief; for they are most repugnant to human nature. Moreover, I am aware that your precepts in the so-called GOSPEL are so wonderful and so great, that I suspect no one can keep them; for I have carefully read them.

(Justin Martyr. (1885). Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 199). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Trypho having read the gospel has found the ‘precepts’ ‘so wonderful and so great’ he suspects ‘no one can keep them’.

Theophilus of Antioch (c.e. 169)

“And concerning chastity, the holy word teaches us not only not to sin in act, but not even in thought, not even in the heart to think of any evil, nor look on another man’s wife with our eyes to lust after her. Solomon, accordingly, who was a king and a prophet, said:

“Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee: make straight paths for your feet.” (Prov 4.25)

And the voice of the GOSPEL teaches still more urgently concerning chastity, saying:

“Whosoever looketh on a woman who is not his own wife, to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Mt 5.28)

“And he that marrieth,” says [the GOSPEL], “her that is divorced from her husband, committeth adultery; and whosoever putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery.” (Mt 5.32)

Because Solomon says:

“Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to a married woman shall not be innocent.” (Prov 6.27-29)


And that we should be kindly disposed, not only towards those of our own stock, as some suppose, Isaiah the prophet said:

“Say to those that hate you, and that cast you out, Ye are our brethren, that the name of the LORD may be glorified, and be apparent in their joy.” (Isa 66.5)

And the GOSPEL says:

“Love your enemies, and pray for them that despitefully use you. For if ye love them who love you, what reward have ye? This do also the robbers and the publicans.” (Mt 5.44,46)

And those that do good it teaches not to boast, lest they become men-pleasers. For it says:

“Let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth.” (Mt 6.3)

Moreover, concerning subjection to authorities and powers, and prayer for them, the divine word gives us instructions, in order that

“we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” (1 Tim 2.2)

And it teaches us to render all things to all,

“honour to whom honour, fear to whom fear, tribute to whom tribute; to owe no man anything, but to love all.” (Rom 13.7,8)

(Theophilus of Antioch. (1885). Theophilus to Autolycus. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), M. Dods (Trans.), Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire) (Vol. 2, p. 115). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

In the gospel Jesus tells his followers how they should live.

Here Theophilus uses the gospel to teach people what Jesus taught. Note he has a high view of scripture calling it ‘the holy word’ and ‘the divine word’.

Tertullian (c.e. 160-225)

Tertullian picks up on a similar theme.

“That teaching was even then a sufficient inducement to me to do to others what I would that they should do unto me. Accordingly, when He uttered such denunciations as,

“Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness,”

He taught me to refrain from doing to others what I should be unwilling to have done to myself; and therefore the precept developed in the GOSPEL will belong to Him alone, who anciently drew it up, and gave it distinctive point, and arranged it after the decision of His own teaching, and has now reduced it, suitably to its importance, to a compendious formula, because (as it was predicted in another passage) the Lord—that is, Christ—“was to make (or utter) a concise word on earth.”

Tertullian. (1885). The Five Books against Marcion. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 372). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Origen (c.e. 185-254)

“We would say in reply, that so He did; for righteousness has arisen in His days, and there is abundance of peace, which took its commencement at His birth, God preparing the nations for His teaching, that they might be under one prince, the king of the Romans, and that it might not, owing to the want of union among the nations, caused by the existence of many kingdoms, be more difficult for the apostles of Jesus to accomplish the task enjoined upon them by their Master, when He said,

“Go and teach all nations.” (Mt 28.19,20)

Moreover it is certain that Jesus was born in the reign of Augustus, who, so to speak, fused together into one monarchy the many populations of the earth.

Now the existence of many kingdoms would have been a hindrance to the spread of the doctrine of Jesus throughout the entire world; not only for the reasons mentioned, but also on account of the necessity of men everywhere engaging in war, and fighting on behalf of their native country, which was the case before the times of Augustus, and in periods still more remote, when necessity arose, as when the Peloponnesians and Athenians warred against each other, and other nations in like manner.

How, then, was it possible for the GOSPEL doctrine of peace, which does not permit men to take vengeance even upon enemies, to prevail throughout the world, unless at the advent of Jesus a milder spirit had been everywhere introduced into the conduct of things?”

Origen. (1885). Origen against Celsus. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), F. Crombie (Trans.), Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second (Vol. 4, pp. 443–444). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Origen says the gospel teaches people to be at peace with one another.

Teaches us about God, Jesus and man

Unfortunately the early church had to deal with unbelievers and heretics who promoted false doctrines about Jesus. The early church responded to this quoting from the gospel.

Irenaeus of Lyons (c.e. 130-202)

2. Marcion of Pontus succeeded him, and developed his doctrine. In so doing, he advanced the most daring blasphemy against Him who is proclaimed as God by the law and the prophets, declaring Him to be the author of evils, to take delight in war, to be infirm of purpose, and even to be contrary to Himself.

But Jesus being derived from that father who is above the God that made the world, and coming into Judæa in the times of Pontius Pilate the governor, who was the procurator of Tiberius Cæsar, was manifested in the form of a man to those who were in Judæa, abolishing the prophets and the law, and all the works of that God who made the world, whom also he calls Cosmocrator.

Besides this, he mutilates the GOSPEL which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most clearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father. He likewise persuaded his disciples that he himself was more worthy of credit than are those apostles who have handed down the GOSPEL to us, furnishing them not with the GOSPEL, but merely a fragment of it.

(Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 352). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

Marcion was an Ebionite. In the quote Ireneaus says he has denied that Jesus was the son of God. Ireneaus believes the gospel teaches that Jesus is of fleshly descent (‘generation of the Lord’) and is the son of God.

Ireneaus will later go on to say;

“The disciple of the Lord therefore desiring to put an end to all such doctrines, and to establish the rule of truth in the Church, that there is one Almighty God, who made all things by His Word, both visible and invisible; showing at the same time, that by the Word, through whom God made the creation, He also bestowed salvation on the men included in the creation; thus commenced His teaching in the GOSPEL:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made. What was made was life in Him, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” (Jn 1.1-5)

Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 426). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Tertullian (c.e. 160-225)

“So far as the philosophers are concerned, we have said enough. As for our own teachers, indeed, our reference to them is ex abundanti—a surplusage of authority: in the GOSPEL itself they will be found to have the clearest evidence for the corporeal nature of the soul. In hell the soul of a certain man is in torment, punished in flames, suffering excruciating thirst, and imploring from the finger of a happier soul, for his tongue, the solace of a drop of water.”

Tertullian. (1885). A Treatise on the Soul. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, pp. 186–187). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Tertullian refers to the gospel arguing that the soul has a corporeal nature.

The early church used the gospel to establish Christian doctrine.

Augustine (c.e. 354-430)

Augustine we may remember has a long discussion with Faustus the Manichæan whether Jesus was born or not.

“It will be enough, then, to take those passages in the Hebrew law which Faustus has chosen for criticism, and to show that, when rightly understood, they apply to Christ. For if the things which our adversary ridicules and condemns are made to prove that he himself is condemned by Christian truth, it will be evident that either the mere quotation or the careful examination of the other passages will be enough to show their agreement with Christian faith. Well, then, O thou full of all subtilty, when the Lord in the GOSPEL says,

“If ye believed Moses, ye would believe me also, for he wrote of me,” (Jn 5.46)

there is no occasion for the great perplexity you pretend to be in, or for the alternative of either pronouncing this verse spurious or calling Jesus a liar. The verse is as genuine as its words are true.

I preferred, says Faustus, to attribute falsehood to the writers, rather than to the Author of truth. What sort of faith can you have in Christ as the author of truth, when your doctrine is that His flesh and His death, His wounds and their marks, were reigned? And where is your authority for saying that Christ is the author of truth, if you dare to attribute falsehood to those who wrote of Him, whose testimony has come down to us with the confirmation of those immediately succeeding them?

You have not seen Christ, nor has He conversed with you as with the apostles, nor called you from heaven as He did Saul. What knowledge or belief can we have of Christ, but on the authority of Scripture? Or if there is falsehood in the GOSPEL which has been widely published among all nations, and has been held in such high sacredness in all churches since the name of Christ was first preached, where shall we find a trustworthy record of Christ? If the GOSPEL is called in question in spite of the general consent regarding it, there can be no writing which a man may not call spurious if he does not wish to believe it.

12. You go on to quote Christ’s words, that all who came before Him were thieves and robbers. How do you know that these were Christ’s words, but from the GOSPEL? You profess faith in these words, as if you had heard them from the mouth of the Lord Himself. But if any one declares the verse to be spurious, and denies that Christ said this, you will have, in reply, to exert yourself in vindication of the authority of the GOSPEL. Unhappy being! what you refuse to believe is written in the same place as that which you quote as spoken by the Lord Himself. We believe both, for we believe the sacred narrative in which both are contained.”

Augustine of Hippo. (1887). Reply to Faustus the Manichæan. In P. Schaff (Ed.), R. Stothert (Trans.), St. Augustin: The Writings against the Manichaeans and against the Donatists (Vol. 4, pp. 222–223). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

This concludes today’s post. There is actually quote a lot of material I could quote from to show how they drew on the gospel to serve different needs. In the next we will have a look at how the early church related the Gospel and the Law of Moses.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2014. All Rights Reserved.