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False Interpretation of Scripture

 

They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox. Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.326

But, say they, it is written, “All who were before the Lord’s advent are thieves and robbers.” All, then, who are in the Word (for it is these that were previous to the incarnation of the Word) are understood generally. But the prophets, being sent and inspired by the Lord, were not thieves, but servants. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.319

The story goes that one of them came to a virgin of our church who had a lovely face and said to her: “Scripture says, ‘Give to everyone that asks you.'” She, however, not understanding the lascivious intention of the man gave the dignified reply: “On the subject of marriage, talk to my mother.” What godlessness! Even the words of the Lord are perverted by these immoral fellows, the brethren of lust, a shame not only to philosophy but to all human life, who corrupt the truth, or rather destroy it; as far as they can. These thrice wretched men treat carnal and sexual intercourse as a sacred religious mystery, and think that it will bring them to the kingdom of God. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Miscellanies, book III ch.4

Perhaps it is such people that the apostle attacks in the epistle to the Romans when he writes: “And not as we are blasphemously accused and some assert that we say, Let us do evil that good may come, an argument which is rightly condemned.” These are they who when reading the Bible pervert the sense to their own desires by their tone of voice, and by changing certain accents and marks of punctuation twist words that are wise and useful to conform to their own lusts. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Miscellanies, book III ch.4

Those who hold that for them there is no difference between right and wrong force a few passages of Scripture and think they favor their own immoral opinions. In particular they quote the saying: “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law but under grace,” and others of this sort, which there is no reason to add, for I am not proposing to fit out a pirate ship. Let us then briefly put a stop to their argument. The noble apostle himself refutes the charge against him implied in their false exegesis by the words with which he continues after the saying just quoted: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? God forbid.” In this inspired and prophetic way he at once destroys the device of these licentious sophists. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Miscellanies, book III ch.8

Now all men, having the same judgment, some, following the Word speaking, frame for themselves proofs; while others, giving themselves up to pleasures, wrest Scripture, in accordance with their lusts. And the lover of truth, as I think, needs force of soul. For those who make the greatest attempts must fail in things of the highest importance; unless, receiving from the truth itself the rule of the truth, they cleave to the truth. But such people, in consequence of falling away from the right path, err in most individual points; as you might expect from not having the faculty for judging of what is true and false, strictly trained to select what is essential. For if they had, they would have obeyed the Scriptures. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.551

And if those also who follow heresies venture to avail themselves of the prophetic Scriptures; in the first place they will not make use of all the Scriptures, and then they will not quote them entire, nor as the body and texture of prophecy prescribe. But, selecting ambiguous expressions, they wrest them to their own opinions, gathering a few expressions here and there; not looking to the sense, but making use of the mere words. For in almost all the quotations they make, you will find that they attend to the names alone, while they alter the meanings; neither knowing, as they affirm, nor using the quotations they adduce, according to their true nature. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.551

Well, but they actually treat of the Scriptures and recommend (their opinions) out of the Scriptures! To be sure they do. From what other source could they derive arguments concerning the things of the faith, except from the records of the faith? Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg.250

One man perverts the Scriptures with his hand, another their meaning by his exposition. For although Valentinus seems to use the entire volume, he has none the less laid violent hands on the truth only with a more cunning mind and skill than Marcion. Marcion expressly and openly used the knife, not the pen, since he made such an excision of the Scriptures as suited his own subject-matter. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg.262

In this manner heretics either wrest plain and simple words to any sense they choose by their conjectures, or else they violently resolve by a literal interpretation words which imply a conditional sense and are incapable of a simple solution. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 377

They (the heretica) have found their opportunity, as is usual with heretics, in wresting the plain meaning of certain words… We, however, insist on the proper signification of every word, and say that principium means beginning,- being a term which is suitable to represent things which begin to exist. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 488

Take away, indeed, from the heretics the wisdom which they share with the heathen, and let them support their inquiries from the Scriptures alone: they will then be unable to keep their ground. For that which commends men’s common sense is its very simplicity, and its participation in the same feelings, and its community of opinions; and it is deemed to be all the more trustworthy, inasmuch as its definitive statements are naked and open, and known to all. Divine reason, on the contrary, lies in the very pith and marrow of things, not on the surface, and very often is at variance with appearances. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 574

They would have the entire revelation of both Testaments yield to these three passages, whereas the only proper course is to understand the few statements in the light of the many. But in their contention they only act on the principle of all heretics. For, inasmuch as only a few testimonies are to be found (making for them) in the general mass, they set off the few against the many, and assume the later against the earlier. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg.615

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