Justification in the Early Church – 08 – Tertullian

200 Early Church picWelcome to this series of posts giving a survey of what the early church fathers have written about justification and works of law with reference to Paul. Click this link to go to the first post with the contents of the whole.

In today’s post we look at Tertullian (c.e. 155-240). Tertullian was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy. He wrote several statements concerning justification.

200 Early Church Jew Gentile

Though conservative, he did originate and advance new theology to the early Church. He is perhaps most famous for being the oldest extant Latin writer to use the term ‘Trinity’ (Latin, trinitas), and giving the oldest extant formal exposition of a Trinitarian theology. Other Latin formulations that first appear in his work are “three Persons, one Substance” as the Latin “tres Personae, una Substantia” (itself from the Koine Greek “treis Hypostases, Homoousios”). He wrote his trinitarian formula after becoming a Montanist. However, unlike many Church fathers, he was never canonized by the Catholic Church, as several of his later teachings directly contradicted the actions and teachings of the apostles.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tertullian)

The following quotes are from his Five Books against Marcion. Marcion was an early Christian heretic who claimed the deity described in the OT was different to that in the Gospels. Quite often the early Christians had to defend themselves against Jews and others over whether they were advocating a new religion and serving another god. The following quotes are from Book V.

Christ proclaimed the Creator


It is not at all likely that he would call men away from Judaism without showing them at the same time what was the god in whom he invited them to believe; because nobody could possibly pass from allegiance to the Creator without knowing to whom he had to cross over.

For either Christ had already revealed another god—in which case the apostle’s testimony would also follow to the same effect, for fear of his not being else regarded as an apostle of the god whom Christ had revealed, and because of the impropriety of his being concealed by the apostle who had been already revealed by Christ—or Christ had made no such revelation concerning God; then there was all the greater need why the apostle should reveal a God who could now be made known by no one else, and who would undoubtedly be left without any belief at all, if he were revealed not even by an apostle.

We have laid down this as our first principle, because we wish at once to profess that we shall pursue the same method here in the apostle’s case as we adopted before in Christ’s case, to prove that he proclaimed no new god; that is, we shall draw our evidence from the epistles of St. Paul himself.

(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. 431). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

Tertullian refers to an earlier argument that Christ revealed the God of Israel (Judaism). He now proceeds to argue the same from Paul’s epistles. Mainly drawing from Galatians.

Christ marks the period of the separation


The epistle which we also allow to be the most decisive against Judaism, is that wherein the apostle instructs the Galatians. For the abolition of the ancient law we fully admit, and hold that it actually proceeds from the dispensation of the Creator,—a point which we have already often treated in the course of our discussion, when we showed that the innovation was foretold by the prophets of our God. Now, if the Creator indeed promised that

“the ancient things should pass away,” (cf. Isa. 43:18,19;65:17; 2 Cor. 5:17)

to be superseded by a new course of things which should arise, whilst Christ marks the period of the separation when He says,

“The law and the prophets were until John” (Lk 16.16)

thus making the Baptist the limit between the two dispensations of the old things then terminating—and the new things then beginning, the apostle cannot of course do otherwise, (coming as he does) in Christ, who was revealed after John, than invalidate “the old things” and confirm “the new,” and yet promote thereby the faith of no other god than the Creator, at whose instance it was foretold that the ancient things should pass away.

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Therefore both the abrogation of the law and the establishment of the gospel help my argument even in this epistle, wherein they both have reference to the fond assumption of the Galatians, which led them to suppose that faith in Christ (the Creator’s Christ, of course) was obligatory, but without annulling the law, because it still appeared to them a thing incredible that the law should be set aside by its own author. (ibid)

As I have already noted in another series. Its probably helpful from the start to recognise Tertullian believes the gospel is the narrative of Jesus Christ. Here he speaks about ‘dispensations’. The law (the old things) is followed by the gospel (the new).

Note he mentions the law of Moses has been abrogated.

The next is a long winded argument through Galatians arguing that Paul’s gospel proclaimed the god of the Old Testament.

Not the gospel of a new god

Again, if they had at all heard of any other god from the apostle, would they not have concluded at once, of themselves, that they must give up the law of that God whom they had left, in order to follow another? For what man would be long in learning, that he ought to pursue a new discipline, after he had taken up with a new god?

Since, however, the same God was declared in the gospel which had always been so well known in the law, the only change being in the dispensation, the sole point of the question to be discussed was, whether the law of the Creator ought by the gospel to be excluded in the Christ of the Creator? Take away this point, and the controversy falls to the ground.

Now, since they would all know of themselves, on the withdrawal of this point, that they must of course renounce all submission to the Creator by reason of their faith in another god, there could have been no call for the apostle to teach them so earnestly that which their own belief must have spontaneously suggested to them.

Therefore the entire purport of this epistle is simply to show us that the supersession of the law comes from the appointment of the Creator—a point, which we shall still have to keep in mind. Since also he makes mention of no other god (and he could have found no other opportunity of doing so, more suitable than when his purpose was to set forth the reason for the abolition of the law—especially as the prescription of a new god would have afforded a singularly good and most sufficient reason), it is clear enough in what sense he writes,

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him who hath called you to His grace to another gospel” (Gal 1.6)

(He means) “another” as to the conduct it prescribes, not in respect of its worship; “another” as to the discipline it teaches, not in respect of its divinity;

because it is the office of Christ’s gospel to call men from the law to grace, not from the Creator to another god. For nobody had induced them to apostatize from the Creator, that they should seem to “be removed to another gospel,” simply when they return again to the Creator. When he adds, too, the words, “which is not another,” he confirms the fact that the gospel which he maintains is the Creator’s. For the Creator Himself promises the gospel, when He says by Isaiah:

“Get thee up into the high mountain, thou that bringest to Sion good tidings; lift up thy voice with strength, thou that bringest the gospel to Jerusalem.” (Isa 40.9)

Also when, with respect to the apostles personally, He says,

“How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, that bring good tidings of good” (Isa 52.7; Rom 10.15)

even proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles, because He also says,

“In His name shall the Gentiles trust;” (LXX Isa 42.4; Mt 12.21)

that is, in the name of Christ, to whom He says,

“I have given thee as a light of the Gentiles.” (Isa 49.6; Acts 13.47)

However, you will have it that it is the gospel of a new god which was then set forth by the apostle. So that there are two gospels for two gods; and the apostle made a great mistake when he said that “there is not another” gospel, since there is (on the hypothesis) another; and so he might have made a better defence of his gospel, by rather demonstrating this, than by insisting on its being but one. But perhaps, to avoid this difficulty, you will say that he therefore added just afterwards,

“Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed,” (Gal 1.8)

because he was aware that the Creator was going to introduce a gospel! But you thus entangle yourself still more. For this is now the mesh in which you are caught. To affirm that there are two gospels, is not the part of a man who has already denied that there is another. His meaning, however, is clear, for he has mentioned himself first (in the anathema):

“But though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel.” (Gal 1.8)

It is by way of an example that he has expressed himself. If even he himself might not preach any other gospel, then neither might an angel. He said “angel” ’ in this way, that he might show how much more men ought not to be believed, when neither an angel nor an apostle ought to be; not that he meant to apply an angel to the gospel of the Creator. He then cursorily touches on his own conversion from a persecutor to an apostle—confirming thereby the Acts of the Apostles, in which book may be found the very subject of this epistle, how that certain persons interposed, and said that men ought to be circumcised, and that the law of Moses was to be observed; and how the apostles, when consulted, determined, by the authority of the Holy Ghost, that

“a yoke should not be put upon men’s necks which their fathers even had not been able to bear.” (Acts 15.10)

Now, since the Acts of the Apostles thus agree with Paul, it becomes apparent why you reject them. It is because they declare no other God than the Creator, and prove Christ to belong to no other God than the Creator; whilst the promise of the Holy Ghost is shown to have been fulfilled in no other document than the Acts of the Apostles.

Now, it is not very likely that these should be found in agreement with the apostle, on the one hand, when they described his career in accordance with his own statement; but should, on the other hand, be at variance with him when they announce the (attribute of) divinity in the Creator’s Christ—as if Paul did not follow the preaching of the apostles when he received from them the prescription of not teaching the Law. (p432-433, ibid)

Tertullian is using Paul’s OT quotations in various contexts to argue he preached the same God when the preached the gospel.

Partial Concession for the weak in faith


But with regard to the countenance of Peter and the rest of the apostles, he tells us that

“fourteen years after he went up to Jerusalem,” (Gal 2.1-2)

in order to confer with them about the rule which he followed in his gospel, lest perchance he should all those years have been running, and be running still, in vain, (which would be the case,) of course, if his preaching of the gospel fell short of their method. So great had been his desire to be approved and supported by those whom you wish on all occasions to be understood as in alliance with Judaism! When indeed he says, that

“neither was Titus circumcised,” (Gal 2.3)

he for the first time shows us that circumcision was the only question connected with the maintenance of the law, which had been as yet agitated by those whom he therefore calls

“false brethren unawares brought in.” (Gal 2.4)

These persons went no further than to insist on a continuance of the law, retaining unquestionably a sincere belief in the Creator.

They perverted the gospel in their teaching, not indeed by such a tampering with the Scripture as should enable them to expunge the Creator’s Christ, but by so retaining the ancient régime as not to exclude the Creator’s law. Therefore he says:

“Because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ, that they might bring us into bondage, to whom we gave place by subjection not even for an hour.” (Gal 2.4-5)

Let us only attend to the clear sense and to the reason of the thing, and the perversion of the Scripture will be apparent. When he first says,

“Neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised,” (Gal 2.3)

and then adds,

“And that because of false brethren unawares brought in,” (Gal 2.4) etc.,

he gives us an insight into his reason for acting in a clean contrary way, showing us wherefore he did that which he would neither have done nor shown to us, if that had not happened which induced him to act as he did. But then I want you to tell us whether they would have yielded to the subjection that was demanded, if these false brethren had not crept in to spy out their liberty? I apprehend not.

They therefore gave way (in a partial concession), because there were persons whose weak faith required consideration. For their rudimentary belief, which was still in suspense about the observance of the law, deserved this concessive treatment, when even the apostle himself had some suspicion that he might have run, and be still running, in vain.

Accordingly, the false brethren who were the spies of their Christian liberty must be thwarted in their efforts to bring it under the yoke of their own Judaism before that Paul discovered whether his labour had been in vain, before that those who preceded him in the apostolate gave him their right hands of fellowship, before that he entered on the office of preaching to the Gentiles, according to their arrangement with him.

He therefore made some concession, as was necessary, for a time; and this was the reason why he had Timothy circumcised, and the Nazarites introduced into the temple, which incidents are described in the Acts. Their truth may be inferred from their agreement with the apostle’s own profession, how

“to the Jews he became as a Jew, that he might gain the Jews, and to them that were under the law, as under the law,” (1 Cor 9.20-21)

and so here with respect to those who come in secretly,—

“and lastly, how he became all things to all men, that he might gain all.” (1 Cor 9.22)

Now, inasmuch as the circumstances require such an interpretation as this, no one will refuse to admit that Paul preached that God and that Christ whose law he was excluding all the while, however much he allowed it, owing to the times, but which he would have had summarily to abolish if he had published a new god.

Rightly, then, did Peter and James and John give their right hand of fellowship to Paul, and agree on such a division of their work, as that Paul should go to the heathen, and themselves to the circumcision. Their agreement, also, “to remember the poor” (Gal 2.10) was in complete conformity with the law of the Creator, which cherished the poor and needy, as has been shown in our observations on your Gospel. (p433, ibid)

Tertullian is aware of the complexities of Paul’s gospel ministry working with Jews and Gentiles of varying maturity of faith.

Paul opposes Peter at Antioch

It is thus certain that the question was one which simply regarded the law, while at the same time it is apparent what portion of the law it was convenient to have observed. Paul, however, censures Peter for not walking straightforwardly according to the truth of the gospel (Gal 2.14). No doubt he blames him; but it was solely because of his inconsistency in the matter of “eating,” which he varied according to the sort of persons (whom he associated with)

“fearing them which were of the circumcision,” (Gal 2.12)

but not on account of any perverse opinion touching another god. For if such a question had arisen, others also would have been “resisted face to face” by the man who had not even spared Peter on the comparatively small matter of his doubtful conversation.

But what do the Marcionites wish to have believed (on the point)? For the rest, the apostle must (be permitted to) go on with his own statement, wherein he says that

“a man is not JUSTIFIED by the WORKS OF THE LAW, but by faith:” (Gal 2.16)

faith, however, in the same God to whom belongs the law also.

For of course he would have bestowed no labour on severing faith from the law, when the difference of the god would, if there had only been any, have of itself produced such a severance. Justly, therefore, did he refuse to

“build up again (the structure of the law) which he had overthrown.” (Gal 2.18)

The law, indeed, had to be overthrown, from the moment when John

“cried in the wilderness, Prepare ye the ways of the Lord,” (Mk 1.3)

that valleys and hills and mountains may be filled up and levelled, and the crooked and the rough ways be made straight and smooth—in other words, that the difficulties of the law might be changed into the facilities of the gospel. (p433, ibid)

Tertullian is saying if Paul preached another god, it would have been easy to turn away from the law of Moses.

God of Israel Different god proclaimed in the gospel Easy to turn away from the Moses
God of Israel Same God proclaimed in the gospel Requires a lot of work to free Gentiles from the law of Moses

But since he did preach the same god, his ministry was difficult and complex. For he had to sever faith from the law. Jews you may remember from Justin Martyr trusted in God through the law.

We are justified as Abraham was

For he remembered that the time was come of which the Psalm spake,

“Let us break their bands asunder, and cast off their yoke from us;” (Ps 2.3)

since the time when

“the nations became tumultuous, and the people imagined vain counsels;” (Ps 2.1)


“the kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ,” (Ps 2.2)

in order that thenceforward man might be JUSTIFIED by the liberty of faith, not by servitude to the law,

“because the JUST shall live by his faith.” (Hab 2.4; cf Gal 3.11; Rom 1.17)

Now, although the prophet Habakkuk first said this, yet you have the apostle here confirming the prophets, even as Christ did. The object, therefore, of the faith whereby the JUST man shall live, will be that same God to whom likewise belongs the law, by doing which no man is JUSTIFIED.

Since, then, there equally are found the curse in the law and the blessing in faith, you have both conditions set forth by the Creator:

“Behold,” says He, “I have set before you a blessing and a curse.” (Dt 11.26)

You cannot establish a diversity of authors because there happens to be one of things; for the diversity is itself proposed by one and the same author. Why, however,

“Christ was made a curse for us,” (Gal 3.13)

is declared by the apostle himself in a way which quite helps our side, as being the result of the Creator’s appointment. But yet it by no means follows, because the Creator said of old,

“Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” (Gal 3.13; cf. Dt 21.23)

that Christ belonged to another god, and on that account was accursed even then in the law. And how, indeed, could the Creator have cursed by anticipation one whom He knew not of? Why, however, may it not be more suitable for the Creator to have delivered His own Son to His own curse, than to have submitted Him to the malediction of that god of yours,—in behalf, too, of man, who is an alien to him?

Now, if this appointment of the Creator respecting His Son appears to you to be a cruel one, it is equally so in the case of your own god; if, on the contrary, it be in accordance with reason in your god, it is equally so—nay, much more so—in mine. For it would be more credible that that God had provided blessing for man, through the curse of Christ, who formerly set both a blessing and a curse before man, than that he had done so, who, according to you, never at any time pronounced either.

“We have received, therefore, the promise of the Spirit,” as the apostle says, “through faith,” (Gal 3.14)

even that faith by which the JUST man lives, in accordance with the Creator’s purpose. What I say, then, is this, that that God is the object of faith who prefigured the grace of faith. But when he also adds,

“For ye are all the children of faith,” (cf. Gal 3.26)

it becomes clear that what the heretic’s industry erased was the mention of Abraham’s name; for by faith the apostle declares us to be “children of Abraham,” and after mentioning him he expressly called us “children of faith” also. But how are we children of faith? and of whose faith, if not Abraham’s? For since

“Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for RIGHTEOUSNESS;”(Gen 15.6; cf Gal 3.6)

since, also, he deserved for that reason to be called “the father of many nations,” whilst we, who are even more like him in believing in God, are thereby JUSTIFIED as Abraham was, and thereby also obtain life—since the JUST lives by his faith,—it therefore happens that, as he in the previous passage called us “sons of Abraham,” since he is in faith our (common) father, so here also he named us “children of faith,” for it was owing to his faith that it was promised that Abraham should be the father of (many) nations.

As to the fact itself of his calling off faith from circumcision, did he not seek thereby to constitute us the children of Abraham, who had believed previous to his circumcision in the flesh? In short, faith in one of two gods cannot possibly admit us to the dispensation of the other, so that it should impute RIGHTEOUSNESS to those who believe in him, and make the JUST live through him, and declare the GENTILES to be his children through faith. Such a dispensation as this belongs wholly to Him through whose appointment it was already made known by the call of this self-same Abraham, as is conclusively shown by the natural meaning. (p434-435, ibid)

Tertullian uses Paul’s passages about faith (‘we who are like him in believing God are justified as Abraham was’) to identify himself and other Gentile Christians. Gentile Christians are the nations God promised Abraham.

He does this while stating Paul’s abrogation of the law of Moses and declaring the God they worship is the same God of Israel.

The Creator abolished His own laws


Now, from whom comes this grace, but from Him who proclaimed the promise thereof? Who is (our) Father, but He who is also our Maker? Therefore, after such affluence (of grace), they should not have returned

“to weak and beggarly elements.” (Gal 4.9)

By the Romans, however, the rudiments of learning are wont to be called elements. He did not therefore seek, by any depreciation of the mundane elements, to turn them away from their god, although, when he said just before,

“Howbeit, then, ye serve them which by nature are no gods,” (Gal 4.8)

he censured the error of that physical or natural superstition which holds the elements to be god; but at the God of those elements he aimed not in this censure.

He tells us himself clearly enough what he means by “elements,” even the rudiments of the law:

“Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years” (Gal 4.10)

the sabbaths, I suppose, and “the preparations,” and the fasts, and the “high days.” For the cessation of even these, no less than of circumcision, was appointed by the Creator’s decrees, who had said by Isaiah,

“Your new moons, and your sabbaths, and your high days I cannot bear; your fasting, and feasts, and ceremonies my soul hateth;” (Isa 1.13-14)

also by Amos,

“I hate, I despise your feast-days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies;” (Amos 5.21)

and again by Hosea,

“I will cause to cease all her mirth, and her feast-days, and her sabbaths, and her new moons, and all her solemn assemblies.”(Hos 2.11)

The institutions which He set up Himself, you ask, did He then destroy? Yes, rather than any other. Or if another destroyed them, he only helped on the purpose of the Creator, by removing what even He had condemned.

But this is not the place to discuss the question why the Creator abolished His own laws. It is enough for us to have proved that He intended such an abolition, that so it may be affirmed that the apostle determined nothing to the prejudice of the Creator, since the abolition itself proceeds from the Creator.

(Tertullian. (1885). The Five Books against Marcion. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 435-436). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company)

Tertullian interprets what Paul means by the ’elements’ giving some OT background to why the LORD abolished them. These ‘institutions’ are also described by Paul as the ‘works of law’ in Galatians (Gal 2.16).

Monogamist Abraham and his sons

But let us proceed with our inquiry into some eminent chief fathers of our origin: for there are some to whom our monogamist parents Adam and Noah are not pleasing, nor perhaps Christ either.

To Abraham, in fine, they appeal; prohibited though they are to acknowledge any other father than God. Grant, now, that Abraham is our father; grant, too, that Paul is.

“In the Gospel,” says he, “I have begotten you.” (1 Cor 4.15) Show yourself a son even of Abraham. For your origin in him, you must know, is not referable to every period of his life: there is a definite time at which he is your father.

For if “faith” is the source whence we are reckoned to Abraham as his “sons” (as the apostle teaches, saying to the Galatians,

“You know, consequently, that (they) who are of faith, these are sons of Abraham” (Gal 3.7),

when did Abraham

“believe God, and it was accounted to him for RIGHTEOUSNESS?” (Gen 15.6; cf. Gal 3.6)

I suppose when still in monogamy, since (he was) not yet in circumcision.

But if afterwards he changed to either (opposite)—to digamy [a second marriage after the termination of the first] through cohabitation with his handmaid, and to circumcision through the seal of the testament—you cannot acknowledge him as your father except at that time when he “believed God,” if it is true that it is according to faith that you are his son, not according to flesh.

Else, if it be the later Abraham whom you follow as your father—that is, the digamist (Abraham)—receive him withal in his circumcision. If you reject his circumcision, it follows that you will refuse his digamy too.

Two characters of his, mutually diverse in two several ways, you will not be able to blend. His digamy began with circumcision, his monogamy with uncircumcision. You receive digamy; admit circumcision too. You retain uncircumcision; you are bound to monogamy too.

Moreover, so true is it that it is of the monogamist Abraham that you are the son, just as of the uncircumcised, that if you be circumcised you immediately cease to be his son, inasmuch as you will not be “of faith,” but of the seal of a faith which had been JUSTIFIED in uncircumcision.

You have the apostle: learn (of him), together with the Galatians. In like manner, too, if you have involved yourself in digamy, you are not the son of that Abraham whose “faith” preceded in monogamy. For albeit it is subsequently that he is called “a father of many nations,” (Rom 4.17) still it is of those (nations) who, as the fruit of the “faith” which precedes digamy, had to be accounted “sons of Abraham.”

(Tertullian. (1885). On Monogamy. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), S. Thelwall (Trans.), Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second (Vol. 4, p. 63). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

Tertullian uses two stages in Abraham’s life to describe what happens when a Gentile believer (in monogamy) accepts circumcision and becomes a Jew (in digamy). They immediately ‘cease to be Abraham’s son’.

His reference to Gen 15.6 is associated with Abraham when still in ‘monogamy’.

Patience and Faith


Accordingly it is patience which is both subsequent and antecedent to faith. In short,

Abraham believed God, and was accredited by Him with RIGHTEOUSNESS (Gen 15.6);

but it was patience which proved his faith, when he was bidden to immolate his son, with a view to (I would not say the temptation, but) the typical attestation of his faith. But God knew whom He had accredited with RIGHTEOUSNESS.

So heavy a precept, the perfect execution whereof was not even pleasing to the Lord, he patiently both heard, and (if God had willed) would have fulfilled. Deservedly then was he “blessed.” because he was “faithful;” deservedly “faithful,” because “patient.”

So faith, illumined by patience, when it was becoming propagated among the nations through” Abraham’s seed, which is Christ,” and was superinducing grace over the law, made patience her pre-eminent coadjutrix for amplifying and fulfilling the law, because that alone had been lacking unto the doctrine of RIGHTEOUSNESS.

For men were of old wont to require “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” and to repay with usury “evil with evil; “for, as yet, patience was not on earth, because faith was not either.

Of course, meantime, impatience used to enjoy the opportunities which the law gave. That was easy, while the Lord and Master of patience was absent. But after He has supervened, and has united the grace of faith with patience, now it is no longer lawful to assail even with word, nor to say “fool” even, without “danger of the judgment.”

Anger has been prohibited, our spirits retained, the petulance of the hand checked, the poison of the tongue extracted. The law has found more than it has lost, while Christ says,

“Love your personal enemies, and bless your cursers, and pray for your persecutors, that ye may be sons of your heavenly Father.” (Mt 5.44-45)

Do you see whom patience gains for us as a Father? In this principal precept the universal discipline of patience is succinctly comprised, since evil-doing is not conceded even when it is deserved.

(Tertullian. (1885). Of Patience. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), S. Thelwall (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 711). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

Tertullian is commending the virtue of patience. The Gen 15.6 quote is used in the overall context of Abraham’s patience in waiting for the LORD to fulfill his promise of offspring.

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven


Since my little work is approaching its termination, I must treat but briefly the points which still occur, whilst those which have so often turned up must be put aside. I regret still to have to contend about the law—after I have so often proved that its replacement (by the gospel) affords no argument for another god, predicted as it was indeed in Christ, and in the Creator’s own plans ordained for His Christ.

(But I must revert to that discussion) so far as (the apostle leads me, for) this very epistle looks very much as if it abrogated the law. We have, however, often shown before now that God is declared by the apostle to be a Judge; and that in the Judge is implied an Avenger; and in the Avenger, the Creator.

And so in the passage where he says:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel (of Christ): for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek; for therein is the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God revealed from faith to faith,” (Rom 1.16)

he undoubtedly ascribes both the gospel and salvation to Him whom (in accordance with our heretic’s own distinction) I have called the just God, not the good one.

It is He who removes (men) from confidence in the law to faith in the gospel—that is to say, His own law and His own gospel. When, again, he declares that

“the wrath (of God) is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and UNRIGHTEOUSNESS of men, who hold the truth in UNRIGHTEOUSNESS,” (Rom 1.18)

(I ask) the wrath of what God? Of the Creator certainly. The truth, therefore, will be His, whose is also the wrath, which has to be revealed to avenge the truth. Likewise, when adding,

“We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth,” (Rom 2.2)

he both vindicated that wrath from which comes this judgment for the truth, and at the same time afforded another proof that the truth emanates from the same God whose wrath he attested, by witnessing to His judgment.

Marcion’s averment is quite a different matter, that the Creator in anger avenges Himself on the truth of the rival god which had been detained in UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. But what serious gaps Marcion has made in this epistle especially, by withdrawing whole passages at his will, will be clear from the unmutilated text [of Paul Romans epsitle] of our own copy.

It is enough for my purpose to accept in evidence of its truth what he has seen fit to leave unerased, strange instances as they are also of his negligence and blindness.

If, then, God will judge the secrets of men—both of those who have sinned in the law, and of those who have sinned without law (inasmuch as they who know not the law yet do by nature the things contained in the law) (Rom 2.12-16)

surely the God who shall judge is He to whom belong both the law, and that nature which is the rule to them who know not the law. But how will He conduct this judgment?

“According to my gospel,” says (the apostle), “by (Jesus) Christ.” (Rom 2.16)

So that both the gospel and Christ must be His, to whom appertain the law and the nature which are to be vindicated by the gospel and Christ—even at that judgment of God which, as he previously said, was to be according to truth. (Rom 2.2)

The wrath, therefore, which is to vindicate truth, can only be revealed from heaven by the God of wrath; so that this sentence, which is quite in accordance with that previous one wherein the judgment is declared to be the Creator’s, cannot possibly be ascribed to another god who is not a judge, and is incapable of wrath.

It is only consistent in Him amongst whose attributes are found the judgment and the wrath of which I am speaking, and to whom of necessity must also appertain the media whereby these attributes are to be carried into effect, even the gospel and Christ.

Hence his invective against the transgressors of the law, who teach that men should not steal, and yet practise theft themselves. (This invective he utters) in perfect homage to the law of God, not as if he meant to censure the Creator Himself with having commanded a fraud to be practised against the Egyptians to get their gold and silver at the very time when He was forbidding men to steal,—adopting such methods as they are apt (shamelessly) to charge upon Him in other particulars also.

(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, pp. 456–457). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

Marcion claims the god of the New Testament is different from the Old. The argument revolves each of their interpretations of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Tertullian counters with ‘the judgment is declared to be the Creator’s, cannot possibly be ascribed to another god who is not a judge, and is incapable of wrath’. He argues the same God judges in wrath and in truth.

The righteousness of God which is by the faith of Jesus Christ

Are we then to suppose that the apostle abstained through fear from openly calumniating God, from whom notwithstanding He did not hesitate to withdraw men? Well, but he had gone so far in his censure of the Jews, as to point against them the denunciation of the prophet,

“Through you the name of God is blasphemed (among the Gentiles).” (Rom 2.24)

But how absurd, that he should himself blaspheme Him for blaspheming whom he upbraids them as evil-doers! He prefers even circumcision of heart to neglect of it in the flesh. Now it is quite within the purpose of the God of the law that circumcision should be that of the heart, not in the flesh; in the spirit, and not in the letter. Since this is the circumcision recommended by Jeremiah:

“Circumcise (yourselves to the Lord, and take away) the foreskins of your heart;” (Jer 4.4)

and even of Moses:

“Circumcise, therefore, the hardness of your heart,” (Dt 10.16)

—the Spirit which circumcises the heart will proceed from Him who prescribed the letter also which clips the flesh; and “the Jew which is one inwardly” will be a subject of the self-same God as he also is who is “a Jew outwardly;” (Rom 2.28) because the apostle would have preferred not to have mentioned a Jew at all, unless he were a servant of the God of the Jews.

It was once the law; now it is

“the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God which is by the faith of (Jesus) Christ.” (Rom 3.21-22)

What means this distinction? Has your god been subserving the interests of the Creator’s dispensation, by affording time to Him and to His law? Is the “Now” in the hands of Him to whom belonged the “Then”?

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Surely, then, the law was His, whose is now the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God. It is a distinction of dispensations, not of gods.

He enjoins those who are JUSTIFIED by faith in Christ and not by the law to have peace with God (cf. Rom 5.1).

With what God? Him whose enemies we have never, in any dispensation, been?

Or Him against whom we have rebelled, both in relation to His written law and His law of nature?

Now, as peace is only possible towards Him with whom there once was war,

we shall be both JUSTIFIED by Him, and

to Him also will belong the Christ, in whom we are JUSTIFIED by faith, and through whom alone God’s enemies can ever be reduced to peace.

(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, pp. 458). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

Tertullian continues to argue the God Christians worship is the God of the Jews.

He refers to two dispensations in time. ‘Once the law’ and now ‘the righteousness of God by the faith of Christ’ (the gospel).

He recalls their previous rebellion against God. They were enemies. Now having been ‘justified by God’, they belong to Christ. In Christ they are ‘justified by faith’ and enjoy a peace with God, his enemies will never have.

This finishes today’s post. It was a long one but as hopefully you have seen. There is a lot of material where Tertullian demonstrates knowledge of Paul’s epistles and how to use righteousness language in his arguments.

In the next post we look at Hippolytus of Rome (c.e. 170–235). He was possibly the most important 3rd-century theologian in the Christian Church in Rome, where he was probably born. He was a champion of the Logos doctrine that distinguished the persons of the Trinity. He conceived of God as a unit who, while indivisible, was plural. He is sometimes considered the first antipope, but was very probably reconciled to the Church when he died as a martyr. He didn’t write much concerning justification. He does give us some interesting information regarding the Jews, their sects and beliefs.

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