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What Did Jesus Say? (2012) - 7 topics 

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Tertullian: What Is the Greater Context Of The Quote Used in JWO


Eric provides friendly criticism on December 25, 2010 -- questioning whether the larger context of Tertullian provides a narrower point than I find in quoting Tertullian in chapter sixteen of Jesus' Words Only (2007). So I will excerpt key portions of JWO next. Then I will set forth the friendly criticisms and my reply. This will demonstrate how clear it is that Tertullian -- an orthodox church writer as of 207 AD when he writes Against Marcion -- eliminates Paul as an apostle or that Paul's words have an authority on par with the apostolic gospels of Matthew and John.


Historians Who Preceded Me Who Found These Negatives

Unbeknownst to me, a modern historian spotted these passages I thought I uniquely revived from forgotten pages in Against Marcion. English historian Edwin Johnson in 1887 wrote of this 207 AD work by Tertullian:

It is clear that Tertullian hadno liking for Paul. He hints that Paul's censure of Peter and the other apostles for their Judaistic leanings is inconsistent with his own after-practices -- 'all things to all men.' He calls him the 'heretics' apostle.' 

(Edwin Johnson, Antiqua Mater: A Study of Christian Origins (1887) at pages 236-237.)

Then Edwin Johnson quotes at length the same passage in Against Marcion which I stumbled upon in 2010 -- 123 years later which I will quote below. Namely, the passage where Tertullian rejects the self-professed claim of Paul to be Christ's  apostle, telling Marcion he has taken on board  "illicit cargo" when Marcion insists Paul is a true apostle of Jesus Christ.


Context: My Quotes of Tertullian from Jesus' Words Only 

In 207 A.D., Tertullian -- then a voice of orthodoxy -- in Against Marcion  -- quoted at length in Jesus' Words Only at 395 (see this link to read it in full) -- made the following sobering points about Paul:

  • Jesus never made Paul an apostle from the records that we can read.
  • Paul's claim to apostleship solely relies upon Paul's veracity.
  • If Paul were a true apostle, he is still an inferior apostle because Paul in Acts 15 submitted his doctrine to the twelve.
  • If Paul later varied from the twelve, we must regard the twelve as more authoritative than Paul because Paul came later.
  • Paul's claim of being selected as an apostle later by Jesus seems implausible. That story asks us to believe Jesus had not planned things adequately with the twelve.
  • Lastly, Tertullian said Jesus warned us of false prophets who would come doing miracles in His name and signs and wonders, and Paul perfectly matches that prophesied type of prophet.


The key quote with most of these points is the following passage from Tertullian -- written in 207 A.D. in Against Marcion:

I desire to hear from Marcion the origin of Paul the apostle. I am a sort of new disciple, having had instruction from no other teacher. For the moment my only belief is that nothing ought to be believed without good reason, and that is believed without good reason which is believed without knowledge of its origin: and I must with the best of reasons approach this inquiry with uneasiness when I find one affirmed to be an apostle, of whom in the list of the apostles in the gospel I find no trace. So when I am told that he [i.e., Paul] was subsequently promoted by our Lord, by now at rest in heaven, I find some lack of foresight in the fact that Christ did not know beforehand that he would have need of him, but after setting in order the office of apostleship and sending them out upon their duties, considered it necessary, on an impulse and not by deliberation, to add another, by compulsion so to speak and not by design [i.e., on the Road to Damascus]. So then, shipmaster out of Pontus [i.e., Marcion], supposing you have never accepted into your craft any smuggled or illicit merchandise, have never appropriated or adulterated any cargo, and in the things of God are even more careful and trustworthy, will you please tell us under what bill of lading you accepted Paul as apostle, who had stamped him with that mark of distinction, who commended him to you, and who put him in your charge? Only so may you with confidence disembark him [i.e., Paul]: only so can he avoid being proved to belong to him who has put in evidence all the documents that attest his apostleship. He [i.e., Paul] himself, says Marcion, claims to be an apostle, and that not from men nor through any man, but through Jesus Christ. Clearly any man can make claims for himself: but his claim is confirmed by another person’s attestation. One person writes the document, another signs it, a third attests the signature, and a fourth enters it in the records. No man is for himself both claimant and witness. Besides this, you have found it written that many will come and say, I am Christ. If there is one that makes a false claim to be Christ, much more can there be one who professes that he is an apostle of Christ.... [L]et the apostle, belong to your other god:.... (Tertullian, Against Marcion (Oxford University Press, 1972) at 509, 511, reprinted online at link

Earlier, in Book 4, chapter 2 of Tertullian's Against Marcion (ca. 207 A.D.), Tertullian  had also clearly said Paul's authority is inferior to that of the twelve apostles. Tertullian explains Paul's gospel is only valid so long as it is consistent with Jesus and the twelve.

First, Tertullian starts out by emphasizing the priority of the gospels written by the actual twelve apostles, namely the gospels of Matthew and John. Those of Luke and Mark were inferior because they were produced merely by disciples of their teachers. Later Tertullian identifies Luke and Mark as "apostolic men," but not apostles. Tertullian writes:

I lay it down to begin with that the documents of the gospel have the apostles for their authors, and that this task of promulgating the gospel was imposed upon them by our Lord himself. If they also have for their authors apostolic men [i.e., Luke and Mark], yet these stand not alone, but as companions of apostles or followers of apostles: because the preaching of disciples [i.e., Luke or Mark] might be made suspect of the desire of vainglory, unless there stood by it the authority of their teachers [i.e., the twelve apostles], or rather the authority of Christ, which made the apostles teachers. In short, from among the apostles the faith is introduced to us by John and by Matthew, while from among apostolic men Luke and Mark give it renewal, <all of them> beginning with the same rules <of belief>, as far as relates to the one only God, the Creator, and to his Christ, born of a virgin, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.****Marcion seems to have singled out Luke for his mutilating process [i.e., writing a gospel apparently based on Luke but altering it].Luke, however, was not an apostle, but only an apostolic man; not a master, but a disciple, and so inferior to a master.... [link]

This unquestionably puts Luke below the other Gospels of Matthew and John. Thus, Tertullian was saying that (a) to the extent Marcion is using Luke legitimately then (b) Luke is still inferior to the gospel accounts of Matthew and John.


Tertullian's quote below continues from the last quote above. In this next quote, Tertullian starts out by making clear that Luke is inferior to the apostles' gospel because Luke's Master (Teacher) was Paul, and Paul was a "lesser" apostle than the twelve. Tertullian then explains Paul (a) could not come with another gospel than the twelve and (b) Paul's authority derived from the twelve and Paul was inferior to them. He cites Acts chapter 15 as proof. Tertullian explains:

Now Luke was not an apostle but an apostolic man, not a master but a disciple, in any case less than his master [i.e., Paul], and assuredly even more of lesser account as being the follower of a later apostle, Paul, 9 to be sure: so that even if Marcion had introduced his gospel under the name of Paul in person, thatone single document would not be adequate for our faith, if destitute of the support of his [i.e., Paul's] predecessors [the twelve apostles]. For we should demand the production of that gospel also which Paul found <in existence>, that to which he gave his assent, that with which shortly afterwards he was anxious that his own should agree: for his intention in going up to Jerusalem to know and to consult the apostles, was lest perchance he had run in vain--that is, lest perchance he had not believed as they did, or were not preaching the gospel in their manner. At length, when he [i.e., Paul] had conferred with the original <apostles>, and there was agreement concerning the rule of the faith, they joined the right hands <of fellowship>....If he [i.e., Paul] therefore who gave the light to Luke chose to have his pre-decessors' authority [i.e., the twelve] for his faith as well as his preaching, much more must I require for Luke's gospel the authority [i.e., from the twelve] which was necessary for the gospel of his master [i.e., Paul]. 10

Tertullian could not be more clear. Paul's authority was not recognized as direct from Jesus or by revelation. It only derived from Paul's recognition by the twelve apostles. He was their disciple, and they were Paul's masters. If Paul created a gospel text, Tertullian responds that Paul's conduct in Acts chapter 15 reveals Paul's authority could not exceed the words and guidance of the twelve. Paul was not allowed to run beyond the teaching of Christ that the twelve had. Thus, if Paul was Luke's source for his gospel, then Luke's gospel still must be consistent with the apostolic canon of Matthew and John or otherwise it is invalid. This means that for Tertullian, Paul was not free to utter doctrines that were inconsistent with the gospels of Matthew or John.

Challenge Whether Tertullian In Context Is As Negative As This Sounds

Eric writes:

You don't tell the whole story with Tertullian and Paul. Quote: "What was the main point of Tertullian's attack on Marcion? As we shall see, Tertullian primarily attacks Marcion for his undue reliance on Paul. Paul's apostleship is dubious, Tertullian explains."

After reading Against Marcion, I'd have to say Tertullian's main point is something more like, "The God of the OT is the same one we find in Luke and Paul's writings because time and again this God is honored, referenced, and used as the authority (even to abolish His own law)."

Rather than attack him for his undue reliance on Paul, Tertullian actually relies on Paul and the mangled version of Luke to counterattack Marcion (since those are the only witnesses Marcion will accept).

Of course it's stated that Marcion should accept more Gospels and Acts but Tertullian doesn't belabor the point since he knows he won't get anywhere with it.

In the main section where he claims Paul's apostleship is dubious (V,1) he is claiming that *Marcion's* Paul has a shaky claim, because Marcion does not allow Acts (and only has Paul testifying about himself), and b/c signs and wonders can be false. He then goes on to give his two reasons why he believes Paul *is* an apostle ("I deny [Paul], to convince you [Marcion] that he is mine [Tertullian's].").

John similarly writes about this quote:

The "evidence" Tertullian used to prove Paul's apostleship was the Book of the Acts of the Apostles which Marcion rejected from his canon. Since Marcion rejected Acts, he had no means of proving Paul's apostleship except Paul's word alone. When Tertullian wrote, "Clearly any man can make claims for himself: but his claim is confirmed by another person's attestation," the other person that Tertullian uses to attest to Paul's apostleship is Luke, as do I. Yet, you refuse to accept Luke's attestation much to my bewilderment.

My Response Jan. 16, 2011:

To Eric I reply, I acknowledge that Tertullian says Paul is "my apostle." I noted that in my discussion. He simply never said he was an "apostle of Jesus Christ." I pointed out that Tertullian liked many things that Paul says, as do I. Because Tertullian accepts Paul as one who has valuable teaching does not mean he regards him as inspired. Tertullian's use of Paul does not prove Tertullian believes Paul is an inspired source in the church. Many in the early church through this period regarded all the apostles' letters as edifying, not inspired. It was only when the canon was finally put together in the 300s that verbal inspiration of even letters was considered the case.

As Reverand Gardner explained in 1858:

The Fathers [i.e., Christian commentators from 125-325 A.D.], however, differed in their views of inspiration; some took it in a more restricted, others in a more comprehensive sense, But they were usually more inclined to admit verbal inspiration in the case of the Old than of the New Testament; and it was not till the canon of the New Testament had been completed, that they adopted concerning it the views which they had long entertained concerning the verbal inspiration of the Old Testament. (Rev. James Gardner, "Inspiration," The faiths of the world: an account of all religions and religious sects, their doctrines, rites, ceremonies, and customs (A. Fullarton & co., 1858) at 142.)

Hence, one cannot read into Tertullian's approving use of Paul as an agreement that Paul is inspired. I demonstrate an entire chapter where in refuting Marcion Tertullian refutes predestination, eternal security, total depravity, faith alone, etc. - doctrines that Marcion, the Paulinist, was no doubt citing Paul in support, as Paulinists today continue with such interpretations of Paul. (Jesus Words Only at this link.)

Next, the point Eric and John make is that Tertullian said Marcion cannot prove his case of Paul's authority without Luke's Acts. And that would be true. However, Tertullian never says Marcion does not accept Luke's Acts. In fact, Tertullian relies on Acts 15 above to prove Paul was not equal to any of the 12 apostles, implying therefore that Marcion would accept such an authority as Acts. Tertullian said that Paul's travel from Antioch to Jerusalem for the 12 apostles decision in Acts 15 indicated that Paul did not believe he was equal to any of the 12 apostles to make a decision on his own about circumcision.

Also, Tertullian in chapter 1, book 12, says there are only 12 apostles into eternity, and he recognizes throughout Against Marcion that Marcion accepts Acts 1 where the Holy Spirit and Jesus guided spiritually  the 11 to choose Matthias to replace Judas on pre-Ascension criteria. Based on this proposition, Tertullian bases several arguments against Paul's validity throughout Against Marcion.

Tertullian's critiques on Paul thus all remain when Acts is accepted. In fact, the critiques are all based on the common knowledge about Paul from Acts. 

Thus, while both Eric and John are correct Tertullian said that Marcion could not prove his case for Paul without Luke, it is reading too much into that to assume Tertullian's points meant to exclude Luke's Acts.  Eric and John incorrectly assume that Paul's status could now be maintained by those who accept Luke's Acts.

Instead, Tertullian's points were too brutal in the quote above. For Luke, i.e., including his book of Acts, was clearly implied to be accepted by Marcion, as Tertullian's points were built upon Acts. Thus, when Acts is considered, Paul cannot be proven to be valid under the points raised by Tertullian.

For example, Paul is still self-serving in his claim to be an apostle of Jesus Christ as Tertullian said if you consider Luke's Acts. Nothing in Acts proves Jesus in the 3 vision accounts appointed Paul an apostle. Jesus only said Paul would be a "martus," a witness, not an "apostolos." (See Act 9, 22, 26.)

"In Acts...Paul is denied the title of Apostle." (Hengel & Schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch (John Knox Press, 1997) at 321.)

Moreover, Tertullian in the quote above said that Acts 15 proved Paul was inferior to the 12. That explicitly remains true if Acts is considered because Tertullian's point is based on Luke's account in Acts.

And Tertullian quotes Jesus' point about false prophets with signs and wonders, and suggests that applies to Paul too. If Acts is considered, Acts unwittingly provides great support for that statement that Paul is a false prophet with signs and wonders. Luke in Acts assiduously documents many signs and wonders of Paul. Hence accepting Luke's Acts as authority was the premise of Tertullian's very harsh statements. Luke's Acts provides the backbone to prove Tertullian's charge that Paul fit Jesus' warning of some false prophet coming with "signs and wonders" to deceive even the elect.

Hence, Tertullian already said too much in the extended quote I have provided. It now cannot be taken back, and even with Acts, upon which Tertullian expressly as well as indirectly relied, Tertullian's points remain and destroy Paul's validity.

As English historian Edwin Johnson correctly said in 1887, "Tertullian himself...express[ed] the most audacious doubts as to Paul...." (Edwin Johnson, Antiqua Matter: A Study in Christian Origins (1887) at page 240.) In doing so, Tertullian was then the most orthodox defender of Christianity as of 207 AD. The church relied principally upon Against Marcion to stamp out the only-Paul movement that had started in 144 AD by Marcion.

Study Notes

A similar argument trying to avert what Tertullian is saying (mentioning me by name) is made at http://www.church    history101.com/feedback/tertullian-paul-marcionism.php

Edwin Johnson [1842-1901] Antiqua Mater: A Study of Christian Origins (London: Trubner & Co., Ludgate Hill, 1887) at 253-254 says that Tertullian even expressed doubt that Paul ever existed:

If the mere name of 'Paul' in superscriptions and salutations be, as Tertullian argues, no evidence of the existence of such an apostle, then it will be difficult to find satisfactory evidence elsewhere.

Johnson in a footnote suggests such doubt can be found at Against Marcion 4.2. I have yet to validate the same.

Tertullian Coping With Problem Verses regarding Paul in Scorpion's Bite

Tertullian in Scorpiacae (202 AD) does deal with the fact Paul apparently teaches eternal security ("if we are faithless....he will not deny you"in 2 Tim. 2:13).This interpretation of 2 Tim. continues today - Charles Stanley in Eternal Security at 93 defends 2 Tim. 2:13 teaches you can lose belief / be faithless, and be saved. 

Tertullian quotes Paul, recognizes the source, does not dispute its word-meaning, and states how some construe that Christians should not allow themselves to be martyred and should just deny Christ. God will supposedly not "deny" you anyway, so some taught 'feel free to deny Jesus and be forgiven.' Tertullian was responding to the same argument that Charles Stanley relies upon from 2 Tim 2:13.

Then in response, Tertullian first casts doubt this could be Paul's meaning because Paul spoke in favor of martyrdom, if necessary (Scorpiacae ch. XIII).  But any one can see that this is not persuasive to prove  that Paul did not mean what Stanley and some in the second century shared as their eternal security view of 2 Tim 2:13. 

Tertullian then looks for better proof. Tertullian next quotes as the final rebuttal Jesus' warning about denial ("if you deny me...I will deny you") and Jesus' teaching "if you endure to the end, you shall be saved" from Matt 10:22. (See my JWOS ch. 5.)

So here Tertullian was himself exposed to a contradiction between Jesus Christ and Paul.  He couldn't really find anything in Paul to explain away 2 Timothy 2:13 but he did find Jesus Christ directly refuting what Stanley teaches today and which  was equally the second century argument which favoured denying Christ to save your skin based upon 2 Timothy 2:13's reassurance of no eternal consequence.

This was 5 years prior to Against Marcion. It was in that later work Tertullian finally addressed what authority Paul has -- and clearly he does not find Paul on par with the 12.