I am always baffled at how obvious our presuppositions being integral to examining evidence ought to be to others. Hardly anybody seems to think in this fashion anymore. Such is the case with this charge that we shall examine. Perhaps you have heard this charge before:
"The early Church fathers did not hold to the Calvinistic doctrines of predestination and total depravity. It wasn't until Augustine in the 3rd century AD, who was influenced by Gnosticism and Greek philosophy that these concepts arose. He was a Manichean you know! John Calvin simply continued this pagan Greek school of thought of Augustine and smuggled it into his theology just as Augustine did."
This charge is demonstrably false, and historically naive. Because of the presuppositions many of the people who make this charge hold, namely their absolute committal to autonomy; we can observe how arbitrary they are in selecting and suppressing evidence. Jesse Morell argues in this exact manner to defend his Pelagianism. He has even produced an entire work on this in video form around this very premise. On his website he notes that even Ignatius believed in libertarian freewill and denies, original sin, and the total spiritual inability of mankind. For example he cites Ignatius as saying:
APE Ignatius to the Magnesians (long. 5:1 Seeing, then, all things have an end, and there is set before us life upon our observance|of God's precepts¦, but death as the result of disobedience, and every one, according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and make choice of life.
2 For I remark, that two different characters are found among men— the one true coin, the other spurious. The truly devout man is the right kind of coin, stamped by God Himself. The ungodly man, again, is false coin, unlawful, spurious, counterfeit, wrought not by God, but by the devil. I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but that there is one humanity, sometimes belonging to God, and sometimes to the devil. If any one is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made such, not by nature, but by his own choice. The unbelieving bear the image of the prince of wickedness. The believing possess the image of their Prince, God the Father, and Jesus Christ, through whom, if we are not in readiness to die for the truth into His passion, His life is not in us. (IMl 5:1-2 APE)
But Ignatius also said the following in his letter to the Ephesians:
APE Ignatius to the Ephesians (long). 8:2 They that are carnal cannot do those things which are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual the things which are carnal; even as faith cannot do the works of unbelief, nor unbelief the works of faith. But ye, being full of the Holy Spirit, do nothing according to the flesh, but all things according to the Spirit. Ye are complete in Christ Jesus, "who is the Savior of all men, specially of them that believe." (IEl 8:2 APE)
Obviously the Gospel is a spiritual matter if there ever was one. Many such examples can be furnished but my point is simply that one can find early church father examples of the doctrine of total inability and spiritual death. This is contrary to the claim that Augustine the Manichean invented this notion and prior to that the doctrine is lacking and therefore a novelty. Let me give you one more example before I move on to my main point. Barnabas writing around 70 A.D. says the following:
APE Epistle of Barnabas 16:7 Learn, then, how it shall be built in the name of the Lord. Before we believed in God, the habitation of our heart was corrupt and weak, as being indeed like a temple made with hands. For it was full of idolatry, and was a habitation of demons, through our doing such things as were opposed to|the will of¦ God. (Brn 16:7 APE)
The problem is multiplied for the person pushing this Gnosticism Myth when we examine early Jewish thought leading into the 1st century A.D. We can note right away that there are some Jewish sects going into the first century who upheld the views of total depravity and absolute predestination before any church father ever existed, and before Gnosticism even existed. There simply was no "Monolithic Judaism". Josephus noted that these issues inclusive of the debate on freewill and original sin existed among the Pharisees and Essenes. The Pharisees believed in freewill and fate, while the Essenes held to total depravity and absolute predestination, the Saducees however denied all forms of fate and maintained only freewill. Here we have a very early account of Pelagians, Semi-Pelegians, and Monergists. Hence the International Bible Encyclopedia reads of Josephus' summary of these competing views:
"The account given of the doctrines of the Pharisees by Josephus is clearly influenced by his desire to parallel the Jewish sects with the Greek philosophical schools. He directs especial attention to the Pharisaic opinion as to fate and free will, since on this point the Stoic and Epicurean sects differed very emphatically. He regards the Pharisaic position as mid-way between that of the Sadducees, who denied fate altogether and made human freedom absolute, and that of the Essenes that "all things are left in the hand of God." He says "The Pharisees ascribe all things to fate and God, yet allow that to do what is right or the contrary is principally in man's own power, although fate cooperates in every action." It is to be noted that Josephus, in giving this statement of views, identifies "fate" with "God," a process that is more plausible in connection with the Latin fatum, "something decreed," than in relation to the impersonal moira, or heimarmene, of the Greeks. As Josephus wrote in Greek and used only the second of these terms, he had no philological inducement to make the identification; the reason must have been the matter of fact. In other words, he shows that the Pharisees believed in a personal God whose will was providence."
Josephus writes in the Antiquities of the Jews:
"9. At this time there were three sects among the Jews, who had different opinions concerning human actions; the one was called the sect of the Pharisees, another the sect of the Sadducees, and the other the sect of the Essens. Now for the Pharisees, (11) they say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate, but are not caused by fate. But the sect of the Essens affirm, that fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination. And for the Sadducees, they take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the causes of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly. However, I have given a more exact account of these opinions in the second book of the Jewish War."
The section where he discusses this more thoroughly in the Jewish Wars that he mentioned in the Antiquities citation above is 2.119-166. He notes that even among the Essenes there were different beliefs regarding their customs. But he explicitly affirms the existence of these three different belief systems which obviously look like our modern day debate on Synergism and Monergism. All of this from the 2nd century BC going into the 1st century AD, before any Gospel accounts, and before any church father existed.
You see how arbitrary and historically naive it is to claim that this view of the predestination, original sin, and total inability started in the time of Augustine is? Recent discoveries of the Qumran community of Essenes have been very helpful in this area. As John Piper points out the Qumran community (who, as we shall see, emphasized total depravity in a way very similar to that of Paul) connected God's absolute predestination with the individual eternal fates of all humanity. Some were predestined to eternal bliss, and others, eternal damnation. Look at the way many sections of the Qumran material reflect this:
"And I, because of Thine understanding, I know that [the righteousness of man] is not in the hand of flesh [and] that man [is not] master of (13) his way and that mankind cannot strengthen his step.....And I know that the inclination of every spirit is in Thy hand (14) [and that] Thou hast ordained [the way of every man] before creating him. And how can any man change Thy words? Thou alone hast created (15) the just and established him from his mother's womb unto the time of good-will (cf Romans 9:23) that he may be preserved in Thy covenant and walk in all Thy way. . . And Thou hast raised up (17) his glory from among flesh whereas Thou hast created the wicked [for the time of] Thy [wr]ath and hast set them apart from their mother's womb for the Day of Massacre. . .(19) Thou hast created all [them that despise] Thy [will] to execute judgment against them (20) in the eyes of all Thy works that they may serve as a sign, and wo[nder unto] everlasting [generations] that [all] may know Thy glory [cf Romans 9:23] and awful might [cf Romans 9:22]." (1 QH 15:12-22)
“Before things come to be, [God] has ordered all their designs, so that when they do come to exist—at their appointed times as ordained by His glorious plan—they fulfill their destiny, a destiny impossible to change…. He created humankind to rule over the world, appointing for them two spirits in which to walk until the time ordained for His visitation. These are the spirits of truth and falsehood. Upright character and fate originate with the Habitation of Light; perverse, with the Fountain of Darkness…. It is actually He who created the spirits of light and darkness, making them the cornerstone of every deed.” (1QS 3.15-19, 24-25)
“And you, O God, created us for yourself as an eternal people, and into the lot of light you cast us for your truth. You appointed the Prince of Light from old to assist us, for in his lot are all sons of righteousness and all spirits of truth are in his dominion. You yourself made Belial for the pit, an angel of malevolence, his dominion is in darkness, and his counsel is to condemn and convict.” (1QM 13.9-11)
A very interesting parallel emerges in all of this regarding the relationship between total depravity and unconditional election as the reformers uphold. For the reformers, because the human person is totally depraved, our will is utterly bent against the things of God and can never assent to the things of God. We therefore cannot believe in God unless God saves us by transforming our will, causing us to believe in Jesus Christ. Most are aware that us reformed folks are fond of citing many Pauline texts to support this. But notice that Paul's notion on these matters strongly resembles those of the Essenes. In a Qumran text called "The Community Rule" it emphasizes the depravity of mankind in a way that bears a striking resemblance to Romans 7:14-25.
"As for me, I belong to wicked mankind, to the company of ungodly flesh, My iniquities, rebellions, and sins, together with the perversity of my heart, belong to the company of worms, and to those who walk in darkness" ( 1 QS 11.9-10)
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.
15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.
17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Rom 7:14-25 NAU)
Before I move forward to the next area of interest I want to make it perfectly clear that I am in no way considering these Qumran texts as infallible scripture. My point is that it is simply false that these concepts did not arise until Gnosticism and Augustine. I am no way saying that Paul is being syncretistic with the Essenes either. Again the point is that these concepts existed before any NT writing, and before any Church fathers.
More to come......