Advent: It begins with hope

Advent begins with hope. Hope is one of those words that Christians use a lot, but we seldom take time to consider the idea. It is, after all, a tricky thing. Hope believes in better things even when everything points to the contrary, and it does so without succumbing to naïve optimism. We might hope for more money and be bankrupt. We might hope for perfect health but find ourselves sick.

True, biblical hope is not like worldly hope. It is grounded in two realities.

First, God promised that things will be better someday. Second, this world cannot satisfy our desires. Or to say it another way, because this world cannot ultimately make me happy, I look forward to another world in which my greatest desires are finally realized. That’s hope.

Hope means that things aren’t like they should be. We do not hope for what we have. We hope for something yet to be true. Hope keeps us longing (Rom 8:20–25).

In his classic work Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis reflects on the theological virtue of hope. He reminds us that the purpose of hope is to look for things that ultimately satisfy—things of heaven, not of earth. God did not make this world to make all our dreams come true, especially in its fallen state. Hope anticipates what will come in heaven and makes our hearts yearn for the beauty, peace, holiness, joy, and satisfaction that will be ours. Lewis writes,

“I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

Christmas hope is about the in-breaking of heaven, but it’s just a foretaste. It reminds us that this world is important, which is why God sent his Son to redeem us, but it also points to fulfillment when the Son will come again to take us home.

So this Christmas, in a time when it feels like so much is unraveling, I encourage you to lift your eyes to heaven. Jesus came once and he will come again.

This is our hope.

Dr. Brian Arnold serves as the fourth President of Phoenix Seminary. In this role he combines a love for the local church with a passion for serious, academic theology. He is convinced that seminaries are servants of the church, uniquely positioned to train men and women for mature, biblically-grounded ministry in a rapidly changing world.

Before joining the faculty of Phoenix Seminary in 2015, Dr. Arnold served as the Pastor of Smithland First Baptist Church in Kentucky. Dr. Arnold earned his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2013 and has since authored two books, Justification in the Second Century (de Gruyter; Baylor University Press) and Cyprian of Carthage: His Life and Impact (Christian Focus), and a number of journal articles. He has been married to Lauren since 2007 and has two children, Jameson and Natalie.

We Have a Winner!

Congrats to Dave Belles who won our recent book giveaway! His copy of Justification in the Second Century written by Brian Arnold will be in the mail soon. For those who didn’t win but still want the book, it is now available on Amazon.

The last round our summer Faculty Book Giveaway will begin Monday. Make sure to follow us on our TwitterInstagram, and Facebook channels so you don’t miss any.


Justification in the Second Century

Brian Arnold on Justification in the Second Century

At Phoenix Seminary, we treasure the motto, Scholarship with a Shepherd's Heart, and we teach, mentor, serve, and publish with it in mind. In this post, summarizing his recently published book on the topic, Dr. Brian Arnold clarifies the earliest history of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. We hope you find it helpful. Furthermore, look out for a future giveaway of his book right here on the PS Blog.

Justification in the Second CenturyLast year Protestants celebrated the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. In the popular imagination, Martin Luther’s hammer strikes on October 31, 1517 echoed all the way back in time, shattering fifteen hundred years of wrong teaching on the doctrine of justification. He alone knew Paul’s Gospel and recaptured it from a millennium and a half of corrupt teaching. Without casting shade on Luther, since he did wrangle the Gospel from the merit-based clutches of medieval Catholicism, the fair question to ask is whether Luther was the first voice championing justification by faith since Paul, or if there were voices in earliest Christianity who also believed that sinners are declared righteous by faith alone.

Before addressing that question, we need to sound an important qualification. To require that the church fathers speak about justification in the same terms or with the same passion as the Reformers is anachronistic. Doctrine isn’t truly forged until it enters the furnace of debate, and the doctrine of justification would have to wait until the fires of the Reformation to be formulated. When this is kept in mind, I argue that several voices in the second century did seem to argue along the lines of what the Reformers would call sola fide (faith alone).

Over a half century ago, T. F. Torrance argued that the earliest Christian writers, a group we call the Apostolic Fathers, abandoned Paul’s teaching of justification by faith and that they infused works righteousness into the Gospel (The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers). Scholars across the theological spectrum, Protestant and Catholic, agreed with Torrance. Catholics used this to confirm their teaching that salvation is based upon faith and works; Protestants continued to look to Luther as the fountainhead of justification by faith. However, if we probe the writings from the second century, I think we see more emphasis on faith alone than Torrance gave credit. To show this in the book I look at the following works or writers: 1 Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Diognetus, Justin Martyr, and the Odes of Solomon. Let’s look at Clement, Diognetus, and the Odes.

1 Clement

Clement of Rome was likely writing in the late AD 90s to the same troubled congregation in Corinth to whom Paul wrote. After exhorting the believers there to follow the godly examples of Peter, Paul, and many Old Testament figures, he made this astounding comment lest his words be taken to mean that one could earn the favor of God:

Therefore, all were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or through their own works or through righteous actions that they did, but through his will. Therefore, we too, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves nor through our own wisdom or through our understanding or through our piety or through our works which we did in holiness of heart, but through faith, through which the Almighty God justified all who existed from the earliest times; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Clement 32.3–4, emphasis added)

No human work could justify a person—faith alone is the only basis by which God has justified anyone. However, someone may object that Clement also said “we are justified by works, and not by words” (1 Clement 30.3). Two things are significant. First, I think Clement adds 32.3–4 lest there be confusion that he teaches works righteousness. Second, I think Clement, whether consciously or not, bridged Paul and James. Does Paul not say, “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16) and James say, “you see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas 2:24)? As Protestants we often demonstrate how Paul and James were not at odds. Why, then, not give Clement the same benefit of the doubt?

Epistle to Diognetus

Likely written in the middle of the second century by an unknown author to an unknown Diognetus, the Epistle to Diognetus contains the most beautiful expression of the Gospel in early Christianity:

For what else was able to cover our sins except the righteousness of that one? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly to be justified except in the Son of God alone? O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable work (of God), O the unexpected benefits (of God), that the lawlessness of many might be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one might justify many lawless men. (Epistle to Diognetus 9.3–5)

Is this not the Gospel! Jesus is the “sweet exchange”—the holy for the lawless, the innocent for the wicked, the righteous for the unrighteous, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal (v. 2). And how does one acquire the righteousness of this one? The author states in 8.6: “And he revealed himself through faith, which is the only means by which one is permitted to see God.” Clearly Jesus is the only source of salvation and his salvation is accessed through faith.

Odes of Solomon

Of the sources I survey, the Odes of Solomon are the most unfamiliar to people. The Odes are the first known hymnbook in the early church. It is one thing to study what various theologians said in the second century, but another thing to eavesdrop on what the common Christian sung. Songs are what would transmit doctrine into the heart. Luther understood the importance of writing theologically sound music, saying, “Let others write the catechisms and the theology, but let me write the hymns!” And here in this songbook we see several places where believers sang about justification. Consider these three Odes:

And I was justified by my Lord

For my salvation is incorruptible

I have been freed from vanities

and am not condemned

My chains were cut off by His hands

I received the face and likeness of a new person//And I walked in Him and was saved. (Ode 17.2–4)


I was rescued from my chains

And I fled unto Thee, O my God….

And I was justified by His kindness

And His rest is for ever and ever. (Ode 25.1, 12)

The connection between justification and faith is made most explicit in Ode 29.5–6, where justification is tied simply to belief and grace:

And I humbled my enemies,

And He justified me by His grace.

For I believed in the Lord’s Messiah,

And considered that He is the Lord.

If one didn’t know any different, they might think that Charles Wesley wrote these words, since his famous hymn And Can It Be strikes a similar tone:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quickn’ing ray,

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free;

I rose, went forth and followed Thee.

The point in Justification in the Second Century is not to say that there was a single voice on justification in the early church or that they expressed the doctrine with the same force or eloquence that the Reformers did. The point is to demonstrate that those in the second century did not abandon the Gospel of justification by faith. The great church historian Jaroslav Pelikan said it well: “To condemn the doctrine of grace in the apostolic fathers, for example, for not being sufficiently Pauline greatly oversimplifies the development both within the first century and between it and the second. There is a continuity in the doctrinal development from one century to the next, and there is a unity within any particular century; neither the continuity nor the unity can be identified with uniformity.” Were there Christians in the second century who expounded Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith? I think so.

About Brian Arnold

Dr. Arnold joined the Phoenix Seminary faculty in 2015 and teaches courses in Systematic Theology and Church History. You can learn more about him at his faculty page.

Win a Copy of Cyprian of Carthage by Brian Arnold

The second book in our Faculty Book Giveaway is Cyprian of Carthage: His Life and Impact by our own Brian Arnold. It is a weighty, yet very accessible, biography of an understudied figure from church history. See below for a description of the book and a chance to win it. You can also find video of Dr. Arnold on why Cyprian matters today from our Night with the Professors.

Cyprian of Carthage on a bookshelf

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About the Book

Cyprian of Carthage’s story is one of incredible perseverance for the sake of the gospel. Living through a time of terrible persecution towards Christians, Cyprian wrestled with questions surrounding the church and contributed greatly to the writings on its importance as the bride of Christ. He dealt first–hand with the effects which persecution has on church bodies and offered many insights which are becoming increasingly relevant in the West today.


"Immensely rewarding and full of exquisite detail, this book is a winner in every respect. More, please."

Derek Thomas, Senior Minister of Preaching and Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina

"Brian Arnold guides us to a compelling voice from the past at a time when we desperately need wisdom for the present. This is a valuable book for those seeking a formative conversation with the Church Fathers. We would do well to listen."

Megan DeVore, Associate Professor of Church History and Early Christian Studies, Colorado Christian University, Colorado

About Brian Arnold

Dr. Arnold joined the Phoenix Seminary faculty in 2015 and teaches courses in Systematic Theology and Church History. You can learn more about him at his faculty page.

Video from our Night with the Professors

On April 19, Phoenix Seminary was pleased to host a Night with the Professors. It was an opportunity to celebrate and share some recent research produced by our faculty. The event was free and open to the public with a light dessert reception following.

Dr. Brian Arnold presented on “The Need for Cyprian Today” based on his recent book on the third century bishop of Carthage and Dr. Peter Gurry presented on “How your Greek New Testament is Changing” based on his recent book with Tommy Wasserman on textual criticism. Both talks were followed by Q&A.



A New Approach to Textual Criticism cover

Brian Arnold on Retrieving Cyprian

Retrieval from earlier epochs of Christian history seems to be all the rage these days, and for good reason. In the increasingly chaotic realm of evangelicalism, believers are looking for deeper roots and many are turning to the fathers. In this quest for retrieval, we need to take another look at figures like Cyprian of Carthage, who have valuable things to say to the church today.

Cyprian (c. AD 200–258) was born a pagan of high station and likely did not come to faith until his 40s. Not long after his conversion he became the bishop of Carthage and soon after that, Emperor Decius unleashed a major persecution. A plague followed the persecution and then another persecution followed the plague. Cyprian was able to flee from the first persecution, but he was not so lucky the second time around. On September 14, 258, he was executed by the sword.

Cyprian’s most significant legacy was his doctrine of the church. These persecutions revealed large cracks in the church’s infrastructure, which led him to write On the Unity of the Church. For Cyprian, the nature of the church is her unity. The church cannot be split as several factions had tried to do in picking up the pieces after the persecution. It is in this work that we find one of his most famous lines: “You cannot have God as your Father if you do not have the Church as your Mother.” In a letter written several years later he even upped the ante, saying, “There is no salvation outside the church.”

Many evangelicals would have a tough time swallowing these words. It sounds as though Cyprian is adding to salvation by faith alone. While we would not want to add church attendance to a checklist for salvation, we should have enough concern for people who claim to be Christians but who are not connected to the bride of Christ to tell them that we do not think they are believers. To be a Christian is to be part of the universal church, but this should also mean being a part of the local church.

A lot of the problems in evangelicalism stem from a low ecclesiology. If we are going to secure that area of our theology, then we will need voices like Cyprian to help show us the way.

Further Reading

J. Patout Burns Jr., Cyprian the Bishop.

Michael Haykin, Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church.

Brian Arnold, Cyprian of Carthage: His Life & Impact.

About the Author

Dr. Arnold joined the Phoenix Seminary faculty in 2015 and teaches courses in Systematic Theology and Church History. You can read more about him at his faculty page here.