Philip Schaff: History of the Christian Church, Volume 1 Apostolic Christianity From the Birth of Christ to the Death of St. John A.D. 1 – 100

Philip Schaff’s

History of the Christian Church, Volume 1

Apostolic Christianity

From the Birth of Christ to the Death of St. John A.D. 1 – 100


Interaction with the text by Reformed Orthobilly

For History I, Master of Divinity Program

The North American Reformed Seminary








In the world of theological sciences, there are fundamentally two approaches: man reaching out for the divine, or idolatry,1 and God reaching down to sinful man, or the true religion.2 When a man studies God, His nature, attributes, works or worship, his fundamental commitment to idolatry or the true religion will govern such activity. Because of the nature of our fallen world, even a man who is committed to the true religion may be hampered by his remaining sin. Because man is God’s image, even a man who is committed to idolatry may be restrained in his idolatry by God’s image. Very few theologians are perfectly consistent with their basic commitments.

After reading and studying Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Volume 1,3 I am convinced that he was committed to idolatry, though hampered from his mad career by common operations of the Spirit of God. The valuable information contained in this volume may be traced to the Spirit of God, while the dross may be traced to Schaff’s idolatry. First, I will discuss Schaff’s idolatry as seen in his fear of liberal scholars, theory of inspiration, error of supposed neutrality, commitment to the corrupt science of Biblical Theology, and others of his erroneous positions. Second, I will discuss the points of common grace, such as edifying insights into the progress of Christ’s Kingdom and its future success, and valuable insights into history and Scripture.

Idolatry is man’s attempt to search out for God by the power of his own mind, will, emotion, or creative energies. In days of yore, idolatry took the form of crude statues and tales of fictitious and brutal deities. However, as the light of the knowledge of God has spread through the earth by the advance of the Church Militant, wicked men have learned to refine their systems of idolatry to mental idols rather than crude statues or icons.4 One of the major systems of mental idolatry during the century in which Schaff flourished was Gnosticism, reborn as Rationalism. The word Gnosticism literally means a belief in knowledge. Implied in this term is that such knowledge is not widely available by public revelations of God, but only available to the elite by secret revelations. Thus, when a Gnostic meets a publicly available divine revelation, he will evaluate it in terms of his private revelations. The canon of truth is contained within his own spirituality, rather than in the clear and public declarations of the Divine Word.

Schaff was born in German Switzerland, and studied theology under the rationalistic critics at the University of Tübingen, Germany. This school offered the world a bible containing a few epistles of Paul. This school of thought began with its secret revelations of what god must be like, and evaluated the true Word by this canon. Granted, there was not one monolithic standard among such scholars, but so many scholars, so many canons. Such training at a formative period in Schaff’s life could not have failed to make a strong impression. After reading his History through twice, I have been convinced that this impression, though waning in his later years, was yet fundamental to his thinking. Indeed, I will demonstrate this molding of Schaff’s character by his consistent fear of liberal critics, rather than God.

The epilogue of the History may be viewed as a defense of Schaff’s fear of liberal critics. Schaff wanted the final impression and summary of his book to be regarding “Faith and Criticism.”5 Among the good comments made in this section are some choice indicators of Schaff’s basically apostate concern. One such blunder is Schaff’s assessment of sincere satanic doubt as more useful than simple and ignorant orthodoxy: “honest, truth-loving skepticism always deserves regard and sympathy and demands a patient investigation of the real or imaginary difficulties which are involved in the problem of the origin of Christianity. It may be more useful to the church than an unthinking and unreasoning orthodoxy.”6 Aside from the naiveté regarding the intentions of evil men and the nature of human depravity, this statement demonstrates that Schaff found evil more useful than orthodoxy. Granted, this is a false dilemma, as no one prefers unthinking orthodoxy. However, as one Christian philosopher is reported to have said “dead orthodoxy is better than no orthodoxy,”7 or in this case unthinking orthodoxy would be better. Schaff, however, feared the face of liberal critics; he pitied and reverenced them rather than scorning and refuting them.

In the same vein, Schaff consistently took up page after page dealing with obtuse and meaningless objections to basic biblical truths. For example, God-hating liberals object to the “genuineness” of the Gospels and Acts (among other books), due to their own Gnostic idolatry. However, rather than simply calling such sinners to repentance and refuting and scorning their errors, Schaff spent time seeking to intellectually win over those who required a moral renovation.

One such example is Schaff’s discussion of how some liberal critics, including the infamous Ewald, deigned to put the halo of credibility over the book of Acts. Schaff eagerly scooped up this crumb from his masters’ table. Schaff stated, concerning the book of Acts, “The authorship of Luke, the companion of Paul, is conceded by a majority of the best modern scholars, even by Ewald. And this fact alone establishes the credibility.”8 Notice, first, Schaff’s apostate concern with the Bible being believed, only after autonomous man has established that it meets his Gnostic canons of believability. Notice, second, the pandering to contemporary scholars, “even Ewald”! This spinelessness is repeated time and again throughout the History.9 Concerning the Gospels and Pastorals, Schaff spent not a little time pandering to inane objections regarding authorship, credibility, truthfulness, and the Synoptic Problem.10

Another point of Schaff’s fear of liberal critics rather than God is how he structured his arguments in accordance with the books of the Bible conceded as genuine by neo-Gnostics. For example, Schaff informs us that the guidance the Church received from her Lord in selecting11 the canonical books of the New Testament does not supersede criticism. After this silly assertion, he went on to inform us of the bible of the satanic school of Tübingen (shorter than the heretic Marcion’s), consisting of five books at first. Schaff was thankful, however, that eventually at least all of Paul’s epistles had found advocates among some of his satanic masters!12 What joy! What rapture! Satan accepted certain portions of the Bible as genuine! The most pathetic aspect of this whole discussion was that Schaff took such concessions as “positive results”! If Schaff hadn’t cared what God haters said, and had not feared the face of man, it would not really have mattered what their opinions were regarding the Divine Word.

Additionally, Schaff carefully structured his arguments for the salient points of the gospel so as to avoid overturning the tables of these godless moneychangers. For example, in discussing the Apostle Paul’s testimony to the leading facts of the gospel, Schaff was forced to read from Satan’s lectionary, and only accept the five books Tübingen granted him.13 Schaff also made a heretical division among the epistles of Paul according to the unbelief of wicked men. He considered those epistles “most important” which God haters admitted as genuine. Others, he pathetically informs us, were admitted by nearly all critics (who cares?). Still others “bear the stamp of Paul’s genius,” and were tertiary because not accepted by the devil’s professors.14 In all of this, where is the Triune God Who gave us His holy Word? Trampled under foot by swine. Schaff feared the face of liberal critics, and not the face of God.

Schaff also gave up the clear dating of the Epistle to the Hebrews as before the destruction of Jerusalem due to his fear of liberal critics. Schaff spinelessly informs us, “The Epistle to the Hebrews, likewise, was written when the Temple was still standing, and sacrifices were offered from day to day. Yet, as the early date is not conceded by all, we will leave the Epistle out of view.”15 Mind you, this statement falls toward the conclusion of his epilogue (“Faith and Criticism”), and in the middle of his pretended interaction with liberals’ secret or open hostility to the supernatural.16 Thus, Schaff would drop a piece of evidence to refute his liberal masters if they did not grant it to him.

On a more fundamental level, Schaff admitted that his own age was “preeminently historical and critical.” Without raising an objection, he observed that the “Scriptures are subjected to the same process of investigation and analysis as any other literary production of antiquity… We want to know the precise origin, gradual growth, and final completion of Christianity as an historical phenomenon in organic connection with contemporary events and currents of thought.”17 Note that Schaff included himself in this blasphemous approach to God’s Word. In addition, Schaff demonstrated his liberalism by contrasting the new view with the orthodox attitude of “reverential belief in the divine inspiration and authority of Scriptures,” which was clearly not his own. 18

Schaff also confounded “Protestant freedom” with godless liberalism, while backhandedly demonstrating his heretical position. Schaff stated that Augustine’s view (of God-inspired Scriptures) “prevailed during the middle ages and down to the close of the eighteenth century. The verbal inspiration theory checked critical investigation. The problem [of the Synoptics] was resumed with Protestant freedom by Storr… It received new impulse and importance by the Leben Jesu of Strauss (1836), and the Tübingen school.”19 Thus, by his fear of liberal critics, Schaff sought to sink the ship of orthodoxy, confounding Protestant freedom under God’s Word with satanic freedom under the devil.

The crowning blasphemy, however, is when Schaff alluded to freedom from biblical authority as a sort of salvation from bondage: “Nothing is taken for granted; nothing is believed on mere authority; everything must be supported by adequate proof, everything explained in its natural growth from the seed to the fruit. Roman Catholics believe in an infallible oracle in the Vatican; but whatever the oracle may decree, the earth moves and will continue to move around the sun. Protestants, having safely crossed the Red Sea, cannot go back to the flesh-pots of the land of bondage, but must look forward to the land of promise.”20 To Schaff, his satanic doctrine of salvation entailed taking nothing for granted (for example, the absolute and full authority of Scripture), but in subjecting all assumptions to Gnostic canons for evaluation. This was his fear of man, and his spitting upon the sacred authority of God Almighty. This leads me to my second point of interaction with the text: Schaff’s faulty view of inspiration.

Since Schaff took nothing for granted, God’s holy Word was swept away with the torrent of criticism. In order to attempt an effective assault on the inspiration of Scripture, Schaff utilized the boogeyman of a “magical” theory of inspiration. While Schaff did not define this magical theory, its import may be judged by context. Schaff speaks with scorn of this “mechanical or magical inspiration, which is untenable and not worth defending.”21 From the context, one can only conclude that Schaff was referring to the faith of Fathers, Reformers and Papists, the theory mentioned on the page before this assault: “reverential belief in the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.”22

Schaff’s theory of inspiration may be seen in his constant assumption of discord among the inspired writers, not as persons but as Apostles.23 Although this theme will be discussed in more detail below in the section on Biblical Theology, it is worth mentioning that the Bible cannot be a God-breathed book if we assume different theologies or contradictory propositions within different authors. Schaff delighted in his scholarly subtleties of Johannean, Pauline and Petrine theologies. He insulted the Holy Spirit by referring to the Epistle of James as the “primary stage” of Christian doctrine,24 and to John’s Gospel as a “higher” revelation!25 With satanic hardness, scholarly arrogance, and infortuitous stupidity, Schaff referred to James’ form of theology as representing “timidity and narrowness.”26

Such foolishness divides the Holy Spirit, and makes Christ the author of confusion and factions. As the Apostle Paul asked with rhetorical flair, “Is Christ divided?” Schaff would have answered in the affirmative.27 Christ was divided while Schaff pretended to honor Him. Schaff spoke of a theoretical “Book of Jesus,” or a Gospel written by Christ’s own hand, and contrasted that with the writings of the Apostles,28 as if they would contain differences in content! Such artificial distinctions give a hint of Schaff’s view of inspiration, but he was more explicit elsewhere.

Schaff was more frank when he confidently affirmed that the Bible is the “word of man” as well as the “Word of God.”29 This is contrary to Paul’s assertion that the Thessalonians received the Apostles’ preaching “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God.”30 Schaff’s god, however, gave a word that was only partially inspired.31 Schaff was kind enough to inform his readers that the God-inspired Scriptures of I and II Timothy and Titus, though not conceded as genuine by all of his Gnostic masters, yet contain some “rare gems of inspiration.”32 Rather than the Word of God containing nothing but rare gems of inspiration, Schaff despoils us through vain philosophy, not holding to the Head, which is Christ.

To compound his indirect attacks on the God-breathed Scriptures, Schaff offered full frontal assaults by scoffing at reverential belief in these Scriptures.33 Schaff did this by raising a series of objections,34 by conceding satanically devised problems in Scripture,35 and by exchanging the truth of God for the lie of criticism.36 Thus, Schaff demonstrated that he erred greatly, not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God.

However, Schaff’s doctrine of humanistic inspiration was the fruit of a much graver problem. Since Schaff didn’t know the Scriptures or the power of God, this void was filled by the myth of neutrality. Neutral meaning supposedly “natural” or, more appropriately, neutered.37 I speak of this as a myth because it is popular with natural man to suppose that he may come to the truth by being impartial or without prepossession, while being blind to his own host of prepossessions. Trusting in such a myth is one of the grandest forms of self-deception.

Schaff was a classic example of such Gnostic idolatry when he stated that only “impartial sifting of facts” will enable a man to discern truth from error.38 God, however, declares that there is no neutrality in any area; man is either for Christ or against Him. We gather with Him or scatter abroad.39 What is a fact? What is truth? What is error? By what standard will man arbitrate between the competing answers to these and other fundamental questions? Schaff provided no sufficient answer to such questions, other than the insufficient faith natural man has in his own powers of discernment and neutrality.

When Schaff discussed one historian who was very honest and self-conscious about his assumptions, he derided him as demonstrating bias, and therefore being less reliable.40 Schaff demonstrated his wicked pride by asserting that only a moderatist and neutralist historian could effectively write a general church history.41 The most disturbing part is that Schaff himself wrote such a general church history. Thus Schaff’s faith in the myth of neutrality and his scholarly arrogance led him to a narcissistic repose in his own neutrality.

Based on his obsession with the myth of neutrality, Schaff had nothing but scorn for dogmatizing. For example, he demanded that we ought not to dogmatize concerning the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, if we are to be good historians.42 However, in typically hypocritical scholarly fashion, Schaff wrote this just after he had finished dogmatizing concerning Christ’s divinity!43 Schaff’s remarkable devotion to this tottering god of neutrality is seen by his ridiculous assertion that the Gospel of Mark took no “doctrinal type,”44 and that Luke the Evangelist was a perfectly neutral historian.45 In this way Schaff sought to justify his refusal to submit to God-given assumptions.

Schaff’s confusion about the nature of human thought, and natural man’s non-neutrality is demonstrated by his naiveté regarding the status of certain heathen, whom he compared with the saints in the Old Covenant. For example, Schaff said, “There was a spiritual Israel scattered throughout the heathen world, that never received the circumcision of the flesh, but the unseen circumcision of the heart by the hand of that Spirit which bloweth where it listeth, and is not bound to any human laws and ordinary means.”46 He then cited examples of what he considered to be such heathen piety, recorded by God in Holy Writ.

The problem with such citations is that the specimens chosen, by their contact with the prophets, covenants and people of God were in a different category than those Schaff included. Such cases cannot be used to justify the Christianization47 of God-haters such as Plato, Socrates, Seneca, Cicero, Virgil, et al. However, since Schaff’s fundamental faith was in the idol neutrality, he consistently accepted the splendid sins of the heathen as virtues.

Schaff’s mad addiction to neutrality went so far as to make Christ responsible for the wicked and vain philosophies and the “virtues” of such evil-doers. Though Scripture describes such as alienated from the life of God, Schaff stated that they lived under “the influence of the divine Logos before his incarnation, who was the tutor of mankind, the original light of reason, shining in the darkness and lighting every man, the sower scattering in the soil of heathendom the seeds of truth, beauty, and virtue.”48 In the context of calling such depraved wretches “souls constitutionally Christian”49 as Tertullian before him, it can hardly be doubted that Schaff considered such people to be saved by their natural, God-hating idolatry. Schaff ought to have detested such falsehood, but his god would not allow him to be prepossessed by God Almighty’s authoritative revelation. What of Christ, and faith in His Name? It was trampled under foot by almighty neutrality.

This idolatry may also be demonstrated by Schaff’s insistence that the two antagonistic schools of thought regarding apostolic history (the Christian theistic view, and the rationalistic view) are both guilty of “prepossession” (crime of crimes!), and that “history itself must decide between them. The facts must rule philosophy, not philosophy the facts.”50 Again, such contempt for God Almighty led Schaff to make “history” his arbiter of truth, along with so-called facts. Again, the difficulty in such thinking resides in defining and selecting what a “fact” is, and in applying canons of judgment to such facts. Schaff pretended to provide no philosophy of facts, but this is an impossible, nay hypocritical venture.

This refusal to submit to the almighty authority of God was also carried over into discussions of deontology. Schaff asserted some kind of fairytale “common honesty”51 as the basis for all morality, rather than the revealed Law of God. Again, due to his presupposition of the myth of neutrality, Schaff refused to recognize God’s status as the only source of truth, right, and justice. Indeed, Schaff was very naïve concerning the fact that such “common honesty” is neither common among men, nor is it honest. It is not common because man is a sinner (a fact Schaff generally neglected). It is not honest because man’s honesty consists in a refusal to take God’s Word as his authority. Natural man’s version of honesty is the myth of neutrality, or what the Bible describes as man’s way of exchanging the truth of God for a lie.52

Schaff’s obsession with the myth of neutrality went so far that he played a shell game with two divergent concepts, and dragged Augustinian principles into the mud of liberalism. Schaff stated, “There is no necessary conflict between faith and criticism any more than between revelation and reason or between faith and philosophy. God is the author of both, and he cannot contradict himself.”53 Note that Schaff grouped criticism with reason and philosophy. This slick transition from a hostile position, criticism, to a faculty of man’s soul as God’s image, reason, is deceitful. Man, created in God’s image, has the capacity to reason, rooted in God’s rationality. Indeed, this faculty distinguishes man from the ogoi, or unthinking beasts.54 However, a critical approach to God Almighty’s inspired Word is part of fallen human nature, not the image of God. Due to Schaff’s idol of neutrality, however, he assumed fallen man was not really fallen.

Schaff also employed the common clap-trap of God being the author of special and general revelation, and therefore special revelation must bow before the trump card: general revelation. Rather than admit the clarity of Scripture, the myth of neutrality forced Schaff to demand the clarity of natural man’s fallen reason! Indeed, God is the author of faith and philosophy; this means that our philosophy must submit to our faith. Faith is the mother of facts, whether Schaff bought into this proposition or not.

One of Schaff’s grosser errors, which fed upon the errors previously mentioned, was his adherence to the school of thought known as Biblical Theology. Schaff feared liberal scholars rather than God. Schaff denied the orthodox doctrine of inspiration. Schaff tenaciously adhered to the idol of neutrality. From this triad of evil, a fourth error sprung: Biblical Theology. Biblical Theology is that school of thought which posits, among the biblical writers “religious agreement and theological difference.”55 These are Schaff’s own words to describe the relationship between the writings of Paul and John. He fancied a system of factions, headed by representative apostles. Mind you, he did not simply observe that this was true because of sinful infirmities in the apostles, but rather peremptorily claimed that this was a matter of their apostleship and canonical writings.

For example, Schaff insisted that Paul held to a “Gentile” form of theology, and was “the emancipator of the new religion from the yoke of Judaism, the herald of evangelical freedom, the standard-bearer of reform and progress.”56 Such nonsensical assertions divide the indivisible Christ, and set aside the common plenary inspiration of Scripture, and the unity of Christ’s Church. This ridiculous complex of assumption ruled Schaff’s treatment of the Gospels, the history of the apostolic age, the Epistles and the Apocalypse. It was a controlling grid through which Schaff distorted the whole of the Bible.

Paul is not the only amanuensis of the Holy Spirit to be divided from the Author of his writings, as Peter, James and John were likewise singled out for particular attention. Peter, we are told, was the head of the “middle party” between Paul on the left and James on the right. With typical scholarly self-importance, Schaff informed his reader that “as Peter represents the Jewish church, and Paul the Gentile, so John, at the close of the apostolic age, embodies the higher union of the two.”57 It is a patent fact of Scripture that the field of labor between Jews and Gentiles was divided, but that this represents differing theologies is prejudicially imported into one’s reading of Scripture. This borders on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by making Him the author of confusion, and dividing up His one inspired Word into the word of man, and the word of a confused god.

That it may be seen that I am not exaggerating Schaff’s folly, let me quote it extensively: “Accordingly we have two classes of teachers: apostles of the Jews or of the circumcision, and apostles of the Gentiles or of the uncircumcision. That this distinction extends farther than the mere missionary field, and enters into all the doctrinal views and practical life of the parties, we see from the accounts of the apostolic council which was held for the express purpose of adjusting the differences respecting the authority of the Mosaic law.”58 Thus, these confused apostles, giving us the word of man along side the Word of God established different theologies and practices. The theological term for such a view is hogwash!

One of Schaff’s more daring insults was against the writings and history of James, the Lord’s brother. Due to Schaff’s assumption of a less-than-God-breathed word, he insulted James’ Epistle as representing the “first and lowest stage of Christian knowledge,” and as “doctrinally very meager, but eminently practical and popular.”59 It should be noted that his Gnostic masters did not have very high opinions of James as contrasted, particularly, with Paul. Nor did Schaff’s view of inspiration leave James’ Epistle untouched, since it was also considered the “word of man,” it could be insulted as lower and doctrinally meager with impunity. All of this heresy was made possible by Schaff’s idol, neutrality, which led to his flippant and headstrong approach to an inspired apostle.

Such assertions about James’ Epistle are striking, given its strong covenant theology, doctrines of the law and regeneration, assertion of Christ as the Lord of Glory and of Sabaoth, thus explicitly describing Jesus as Jehovah of the Old Testament. James’ Epistle also annihilates antinomianism by asserting proper covenant theology, and lays out a doctrine of temptation and sin. The meagerness derives from James’ attack on errors that liberal scholars hold dear!

The coup de gras is Schaff’s bald assertion that James’ “Epistle represents simply an earlier and lower form of Christianity ignorant of the higher, yet preparatory for it, as the preaching of John the Baptist prepared the way for that of Christ.”60 The problem is that Schaff was serious about this nonsense. The fact that James was well instructed concerning “higher” Christianity is seen by his agreement with Paul regarding the gospel he preached among the Gentiles,61 and from the plain fact that he was Christ’s Spirit-inspired Apostle! To compare James’ Epistle with a preparatory mission like John’s is wrongheaded, and demonstrates the erroneous prejudice that Schaff’s Biblical Theology bequeathed to him.

Schaff’s Biblical Theology even created a pattern for his ecumenicism and toleration of heresy by a scholarly subtlety. Schaff declared his faith in “Schelling’s great idea of the three ages in the history of Christianity, the Petrine (catholic), the Pauline (protestant), and the Johannean (future).”62 Schaff followed up this nonsense with an anecdote of meeting this Gnostic master, Schelling shortly before his demise, and asking him if he still held to this construction. Schilling answered in the affirmative, and was kind enough to “[make] room63 for James as the representative of the Greek church, in distinction from the Roman or Petrine church.”64 Again, by his denial of inspiration, Schaff opened his mind to all sorts of errors, and wasn’t led back to the truth even when the grossness of his errors should have jolted him back to sanity.

Related to Schaff’s Biblical Theology was his disregard for the God-breathed Scriptures of the Old Testament. For instance, Schaff made some basic theological blunders by putting the Old Testament outside of the canon of saving truth. Schaff informed his reader that Christ “announced the founding of a spiritual kingdom which should grow from the smallest seed to a mighty tree, and, working like leaven from within, should gradually pervade all nations and countries. This colossal idea, the like of which had never entered the imagination of men, he held fast”65 etc.

The idea of a little flock, or a remnant is found throughout the Law and the Prophets. The sublime idea of loving God with all that we are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves is key to the Older Scriptures. Moses preached the gospel to the people of Israel. The Patriarchs longed for a better city, a spiritual Jerusalem. The covenant with Abraham announced the gospel of salvation to all nations, families, peoples and tongues. Israel was to be a light to all nations of the earth, a kingdom of priests. If Schaff expected to be taken seriously, he should have simply read the Apostle’s assessment of the Older Testament, rather than allowing his myth of neutrality to lead him to the strong prejudice he possessed against the Law and the Prophets.

Schaff likewise referred to the Old Covenant as a time of “lower religion” that possessed no gospel,66 and included it among the religions of the world, albeit one of the “higher” of the non-Christian religions.67 His assessment that Judaism (as contrasted with the New Testament) held woman “in a slavish position,” and did not include her as “an heir of the same salvation with man”(!) is blasphemous.68 A common-sense reading of the Old Testament renders a far different answer, as the laws protecting women,69 the sterling example of holy women,70 and the mighty deeds71 of women are inculcated.

Not only does this arrogant mistreatment of the Old Testament include the moral elements, but also the doctrinal elements. Schaff insulted the Spirit of God by referring to the Old Testament Scriptures as a “dispensation of the letter,” and excluding it from the “vivifying breath of God, piercing bone and marrow, thrilling through the heart and conscience, and quickening the dead.”72 Clearly the Apostle Paul’s statement that “the letter kills” is not a reference to the Law as God’s Word, but to the perversity and blindness of the Jews in reading it.73 Thus, Paul can likewise refer to the strong parallels between Old and New in I Corinthians 10, and seem to disparage the Old in II Corinthians 3: one asserts a reality, the other attacks an abuse. It is also plain that the Word that “pierces to the dividing of bone and marrow” is a primary, if not exclusive reference to the Old Testament Scriptures.74 Therefore, Schaff’s ignorant and unstable assertion that this is exclusively the property of the New Testament Scriptures is sheer folly, and contrary to the original context of Hebrews.

Such evidence would be sufficient to prove the folly of Schaff’s Biblical Theology, but insult is added to injury when he referred to Paul, before his conversion to Christ as a “self-righteous pupil of Moses.”75 This is not a reference to Paul’s misunderstanding of Moses, but to Moses’ writings per se. Thus, his heretical and distorted mind referred to the religion of Moses as “an outward letter of command,” as contrary to Christ’s religion of a “free, quickening spirit,” and “moral creation.”76

Since Moses wrote of Christ, preached the gospel to the Hebrew children, and was inspired by the Spirit of Christ,77 it is hard to comprehend the malicious wickedness behind such statements! Again, such twisting of Scripture is rooted in Schaff’s Biblical Theology, myth of neutrality, false doctrine of inspiration, and fear of liberal critics. This is Schaff’s way of apologizing for all of his god’s mistakes in the Old Testament. No Christian man should ever make such spineless and faithless apologies for a pretended deity!

Schaff snidely infers that the patriarchs did not look to Jesus, but merely encourage us in the conflict of faith.78 This patently contradicts that Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day,79 and that “many prophets and kings” longed to see what the disciples saw.80 Schaff’s Biblical Theology would not even allow him to pacifically conclude his epilogue without another back-handed assault on the Old Testament. There we are told that “the Gospels and Epistles of his Galilean disciples are still the book of books, more powerful than all the classics of human wisdom and genius.”81 It is not untrue that the Gospels and Epistles are a part of the “book of books,” but the insult proffered to the Holy Spirit by excluding a large body of His God-breathed words is idolatry, Gnostic idolatry. Thus, we see the havoc and evil done by Schaff’s Biblical Theology as his error of errors.

Other errors that could be discussed are Schaff’s ecumenicism,82 Arminianism,83 irrational or anti-systematic bent,84 and a host of other related issues. However, the main errors contained in Schaff’s History, fear of liberals, anti-inspiration, myth of neutrality, and Biblical Theology are sufficient to expose the mountain of error contained in this work. Statistically, I recorded a total of 167 comments while reading the History. Of these, 116 (70%) were concerning errors I detected, 39 (23%) concerning good things I detected, and 12 (7%) concerning items I found interesting. So as to avoid being a total sourpuss, I will now discuss the positive contributions, and items of interest in Schaff’s History.

When the History is first read, the opening pages shine with a brilliance and promise that make the subsequent byways somewhat disappointing. At the outset, Schaff discusses how history is, on the part of God “his revelation in the order of time (as the creation is his revelation in the order of space), and the successive unfolding of a plan of infinite wisdom, justice, and mercy, looking to his glory and the eternal happiness of mankind.”85

Correlated to this providential view of history is Schaff’s assertion of the specific Christ-centeredness of history: “The central current and ultimate aim of universal history is the KINGDOM OF GOD established by Jesus Christ… All other institutions are made subservient to it, and in its interest the whole world is governed.”86 These general thoughts crescendo in the postmillennial hope of the Church’s work of conversion of all nations,87 and the victory of that “unbroken stream of divine light and life” that is “still flowing, and will continue to flow, in ever-growing volume.”88 Such victory was prophesied by Christ Jesus our Lord in His parables of the leaven and the mustard seed: “The work must continue, till “the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in,” and “Israel shall be saved.” The law of the missionary progress is expressed in the two parables of the grain of mustard-seed which grows into a tree, and of the leaven which gradually pervades the whole lump.”89

Christ is “the pure fountain of that stream of light and life, which has since flowed unbroken through nations and ages, and will continue to flow, till the earth shall be full of his praise, and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The universal diffusion and absolute dominion of the spirit and life of Christ will be also the completion of the human race, the end of history, and the beginning of a glorious eternity.”90 What a glorious future Christ and His saints will have!

That this was no obscure and unimportant point to Schaff is clear by his placing it in the final page of his epilogue, where he stated that Christianity is like the sun, and “no power on earth or in hell can extinguish that sun. There it shines on the horizon, the king of day… shedding its light and life from east to west, until the darkest corners of the globe shall be illuminated. The past is secure; God will take care of the future. MAGNA EST VERITAS ET PRAEVALEBIT.”91 Thus, for Schaff, amidst all of the darkness of his unbelief, he recognized that history is going somewhere. The value in studying past history is to recognize the growth of the tree of life, and the illumination of the whole world by the sun of the gospel.

In contradiction to some of his less fortuitous statements regarding heathen persons being considered Christians,92 Schaff recognized that “heathenism is the starry night, full of darkness and fear, but of mysterious presage also, and of anxious waiting for the light of day.”93 Christianity, Schaff boldly asserted, is not only unique in its nature, but in its rapid success: “It was achieved in the face of an indifferent or hostile world, and by purely spiritual and moral means, without shedding a drop of blood except that of its own martyrs.”94 Thus, in Schaff’s better moments, he reckoned Christianity as in an entirely different category from heathen idolatry, and also as possessing a uniquely divine power to succeed in the face of incalculable odds.

Schaff not only asserted his personal testimony to the uniqueness of Christianity, but also called powerful and unexpected witnesses from history. Schaff informed his reader about Rousseau’s statement that “If Socrates lived and died like a sage, Jesus lived and died like a God.”95 Not only Rousseau, but also Napoleon was brought forward as a witness to the uniqueness and divinity of Christ. Napoleon was reported to have said “I know men, and I tell you, Christ was not a man. Everything about Christ astonishes me. His spirit overwhelms and confounds me. There is no comparison between him and any other being. He stands single and alone.”96

In addition to doctrinal issues related to the uniqueness of Christ and His religion, Schaff made some profound statements regarding the union of doctrine and practice, and regarding biblical law. For example, in commenting on the condition of the churches during the apostolic age, Schaff observed that a church is only “truly sound and flourishing in which purity of doctrine and purity of life, theoretical orthodoxy and practical piety are harmoniously united and promote one another.”97 Thus, practical piety is promoted, even among the howling wilderness of semi-liberal criticism.

Even more rewarding than this little oasis of truth is Schaff’s edifying discussion of the Christian Sabbath. In discussing the origin of the Christian observance of the first day of the week, Schaff noted that “The universal and uncontradicted Sunday observance in the second century can only be explained by the fact that it had its roots in apostolic practice. Such observance is the more to be appreciated as it had no support in civil legislation before the age of Constantine, and must have been connected with many inconveniences, considering the lowly social condition of the majority of Christians and their dependence upon their heathen masters and employers.”98

In addition to the origin of the Christian Sabbath, Schaff discussed the national benefits of such observance: “The due observance of it, in which the churches of England, Scotland, and America, to their incalculable advantage, excel the churches of the European continent, is a wholesome school of discipline, a means of grace for the people, a safeguard of public morality and religion, a bulwark against infidelity, and a source of immeasurable blessing to the church, the state, and the family. Next to the Church and the Bible, the Lord’s Day is the chief pillar of Christian society.”99 In this way, Schaff supported the observance of a central aspect of the law of God, and recognized the blessings and the curses in this life for keeping or breaking God’s commandments, though he did not speak in such terms. The blessings and curses are crucial factors in understanding the history of God’s people, both in weal and woe.

Schaff also pointed up edifying teaching in Scripture regarding missions. For example, in discussing Paul’s missionary work, Schaff observed Paul’s use of the synagogue as a starting point, and that “almost uniformly he found the half-Jews, or “proselytes of the gate,” more open to the gospel than his own brethren.”100 In this connection, Schaff observed the providential wisdom in the progress of the gospel among all nations by its propagation among Jews, semi-Jews or Samaritans, and finally all nations, as represented by Cornelius and the Church at Antioch.101

Schaff likewise remarked on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as applied in Paul’s life, in his inflexibility in “resisting the demands of false brethren, but always [being] willing to accommodate himself to weak brethren, and to become as a Jew to the Jews, and as a Gentile to the Gentiles in order to save them both.”102 In these ways, effective missionary strategy utilizes more favorable circumstances and practices, and minimizes the less favorable for the glory of God’s kingdom.

In addition to the edifying portions of the History,Schaff made several very interesting or helpful observations regarding Scripture and history. For example, despite Schaff’s false opinions regarding Mark’s Gospel,103 he had a very enlightening discussion of unique features of this Gospel, including the large number of details recorded by Mark. Among the unique features is Mark’s usage and translation of Aramaic words and names throughout his Gospel.104 Among the large number and variety of details, Mark records the varying emotions and passions of our Lord, such as His pity, wonder, grief, anger and indignation.105

Schaff also sketched out interesting historical details regarding the state of the Roman Empire during the apostolic age, including many of Nero’s diabolical acts,106 Rabbinical teaching and practice,107 the importance of the Jewish diaspora,108 the providential warnings God gave to the Jews before Jerusalem fell,109 and many other valuable facts. By giving valuable, biblical, and at times edifying information regarding Scripture and history, Schaff counteracted the deficiencies of his basic liberalism.

In conclusion, in reading and digesting Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Volume 1, I have been angered, annoyed, indignant, overjoyed, encouraged and edified. The less pleasant reactions were provoked, on the one hand, by Schaff’s fundamental idolatry, demonstrated by his reverence for unbelieving scholars, his faulty view of the inspiration, his idol of neutrality, and his commitment to the unbiblical science of Biblical Theology. On the other hand, I have discussed the points of common grace in his work, such as valuable facts about the progress of Christ’s Kingdom and its future success.

There have been several major lessons I have taken away from this study. The most important are as follows: First, I have seen the danger that scholarly pride can create, and the thirst for novelty which it spawns. Nay, worse, this pride makes a scholar think that he is serving God by his errors. This is a valuable and humbling lesson for anyone who would take scholarly tasks in hand, and seems to plague many pastors trained in scholarly seminaries. Second, I have learned how much of a blessing a strong confessional background is to keep one from getting swept away with “the newest thing.” Thank God for the those sturdy doctrines of sin, atonement, inspiration, eternal generation, and a score more taught in the Westminster Standards! Without such guiding lights I might be wallowing in the filth of liberalism with Schaff. Third, I have learned to hold God-hating scholars in righteous contempt rather than in supposed neutrality. Simon Magus was not honored, he was rebuked, lest others would fall by his ill example. This was the procedure Schaff should have followed with his Gnostic masters. Fourth, I have learned to appreciate the common grace of God which works in evil men to restrain them from absolute depravity. Such grace worked through Schaff to provide valuable and edifying information to students of history and Scripture. Although I would not recommend this book for the more tender in the faith, I would recommend it to any serious and well-grounded student in the School of Christ.

1 Cf. Acts 17:27 and 29 where Paul describes the heathen as groping for God, and the Holy Spirit’s description of idolatry as “something shaped by art and man’s devising.” All citations of Scripture are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994).

2Cf. Deuteronomy 7:6 – 11 where God describes the blessings of His covenant as only by His gracious choice, and His divine sovereignty over His people.

3 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 1, Apostolic Christianity. 4th ed. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996). This will be cited in the text as History.

4 Excepting Papists, and the so-called Orthodox churches.

5 Schaff, History, §102, pp. 853 – 863.

6Schaff, History, p. 856.

7Gordon H. Clark is reported to have said this.

8 Schaff, History, p. 188 (emphasis added).

9 Examples could be multiplied of such pandering to liberals: in the History’s bibliographies for each new chapter or section, the vast majority of recommended resources are by apostates (e.g. Schaff, History, pp. 27, 55 – 56, 71 – 72 and so throughout).

10Cf. Schaff, History, p. 127 where Schaff sought to establish credibility using Tertullian; p. 136 where he sought credibility from archaeological discoveries; pp. 183 – 186 where he took “remarkable concessions” by liberals as some sort of proof of credibility of the resurrection of Christ; p. 331 where he presented evidence for Paul’s Second Roman Captivity to help defend the genuineness of the Pastorals; pp. 408 – 410 where he wasted space recommending books by Christ haters against the genuineness of the Gospels; pp. 590 ff. where he discussed the problem he and other liberals had with the Synoptic Gospels; p. 791 where he informed his reader that he would not refute what he called “hypercritics,” but why stop with those that hate God consistently, rather than all who hate God?; p. 800 where he stated that godless criticism against the Pastorals deserved serious consideration; and p. 808 where he informed his reader of the vain and godless history of unbelief in portions of the Word of God.

11 This is like stating that a man selects whom his father and mother will be, since the Scriptures gave birth to the Church and not vice versa. If it is true that an individual saint is begotten by the engrafted Word, how much more the whole communion of saints?!

12Schaff, History, p. 187.

13Schaff, History, p. 213.

14Schaff, History, p. 281; cf. Ibid. p. 861.

15Schaff, History, p. 861.

16Schaff, History, p. 860.

17Schaff, History, p. 206.

18Schaff, History, p. 206; see below for a discussion of Schaff’s attack on the orthodox view of Scripture.

19Schaff, History, p. 608.

20Schaff, History, p. 854 (emphasis added).

21Schaff, History, p. 207; cf. Ibid., p. 694.

22Schaff, History, p. 206.

23 E.g., Schaff, History, p. 565.

24Schaff, History, p. 744.

25Schaff, History, p. 607. However, Schaff’s humanism forced him to the contradictory claim that we “must admit” that John molded Christ’s words to his own tastes in his gospel, rather than recording His actual words (cf. Ibid., p. 693). How this is “higher,” I am unsure.

26Schaff, History, p. 815. By stupidity, I refer to lacking in moral sense.

27 Cf. Schaff, History, p. 763 where Schaff divides up the Apostles into factions, thereby dividing Christ, whose ministers they were.

28Schaff, History, p. 855.

29Schaff, History, p. 857.

30 I Thessalonians 2:13. If the Apostles considered this to be the case regarding their public preaching, how much more would be the case regarding their writings!? Cf. Schaff’s conversion of the Apostles’ writings into the word of man on p. 859 of Schaff, History, (even if he calls them “holy men,” they were but men).

31 Cf. Schaff’s impotent assertion of salvific and moral inspiration in Schaff, History, p. 574.

32Schaff, History, p. 807.

33Schaff, History, p. 608: “The INSPIRATION theory cuts the gordian knot by tracing the agreement of the Synopsists directly and solely to the Holy Spirit. But this explains nothing, and makes God responsible for all the discrepancies and possible inaccuracies of the Evangelists.” Clearly Schaff did not subscribe to this theory.

34Schaff, History, p. 680; one link in this chain is Schaff’s citation of the early Church as holding to his form of humanistic inspiration, while previously Schaff stated (in contradiction) that the Fathers believed in the “inspiration theory.” Clearly, Schaff was a heretical partisan, and his pretenses to neutrality were hollow.

35Schaff, History, p. 715; by calling the stylistic differences between John and the Synopsists, and John’s writing of the Gospel and the Revelation a “problem,” Schaff conceded what ought to have been a point of contention; he was neutral to God’s Word, but committed to his own depraved reasoning.

36 Cf. Schaff, History, p. 857 where Schaff described godless criticism as forming “the antipode of the older orthodoxy, which so overstrained the theory of inspiration as to reduce the human agency to the mechanism of the pen. We must look at both aspects. The Bible is the Word of God and the word of holy men of old.” Note, it is the Word and the word, clearly symbolizing Schaff’s theory of a partially-God-breathed Bible.

37 Cf. Galatians 5:12 where Paul wishes neutrality for all high-priests of error.

38Schaff, History, p. 22.

39 Cf. Matthew 12:30.

40 Cf. Schaff, History, p. 46 where Schaff speaks of J.H. Merle d’Aubigne’s Histories of the Reformation.

41Schaff, History, p. 52: The denominational and sectarian divisions of American Christianity seem to be unfavorable to the study and cultivation of general church history, which requires a large-hearted catholic spirit.” (emphasis added).

42Schaff, History, p. 108; note in this connection that Schaff called history “the most important branch of theology” (cf. Ibid., p. 20), thus denigrating the doctrines of Christ, God, Salvation et al.

43 “The incarnation or the union of the infinite divinity and finite humanity in one person is indeed the mystery of mysteries. “What can be more glorious than God? What more vile than flesh? What more wonderful than God in the flesh?”” (Schaff here dogmatizes regarding full divinity and full humanity, and quotes from Augustine on point. If this is not dogmatizing, I’m not sure what is!). Cf. Schaff, History, p. 108.

44Schaff, History, p. 635.

45Schaff, History, p. 669.

46Schaff, History, p. 74.

47Schaff, History, p. 75. In this context, Cyprian’s famous statement Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus holds true: there is no salvation outside of Christ’s Church.

48Schaff, History, pp. 75 – 76; note Schaff’s willful ignorance of the Fall in describing the power of original light in the heathen.

49Schaff, History, p. 75.

50Schaff, History, p. 209.

51Schaff, History, p. 602; note that Schaff’s pathetic attempt to please his Gnostic masters caused him to plead that they at least grant the Apostles “common honesty.” This is further evidence of Schaff’s fear of liberal critics.

52 Romans 1:25.

53Schaff,History, p. 853.

54 Cf. II Peter 2:12.

55Schaff, History, p. 562.

56Schaff, History, p. 203. This idiotic division of Paul from the other apostles is repeated in Ibid., pp. 330 and 541ff. Schaff also imputed certain doctrines to “Paul’s genius” rather than to the Holy Spirit (cf. Ibid., pp. 204 – 205), and constantly divided up Pauline, Petrine and Johannean theologies (cf. Ibid., pp. 413, 517, particularly footnote 1, 604, 661, etc.).

57Schaff, History, p. 516.

58Schaff, History, p. 516 (emphasis added).

59Schaff, History, pp. 520 – 521.

60Schaff, History, p. 521.

61 Cf. Galatians 2:1 – 10.

62Schaff, History, p. 517.

63 How very generous of him!

64Schaff, History, p. 517.

65Schaff, History, p. 105 (emphasis added).

66Schaff, History, p. 301.

67Schaff, History, p. 433; cf. Ibid. p. 445 where Schaff speaks of Judaism as a higher form of non-Christian religion.

68Schaff, History, pp. 441 – 442.

69 Cf. Dowry laws, Levirate marriage, adultery laws against adultery by husbands as well as by wives, rape protection laws, etc.

70Cf. Moses’s mother, Sarah’s prevalence with Abraham, Hagar’s obedience to God, Deborah’s part in the overthrow of tyrannical rule in Israel, etc.

71 Cf. Jael’s military tactics, Ruth’s dedicated faith, Rahab’s shrewd life-preserving action, Michal’s protection of David’s life, Esther’s nation saving, etc.

72Schaff, History, pp. 484 and 512, respectively.

73 Cf. II Corinthians 3:14 – 16.

74 Cf. Hebrews 4:11 – 13.

75Schaff, History, p. 527.

76Schaff, History, p. 570; cf. Ibid. p. 572 where Schaff says “if ever God spoke and still speaks to man” it is in the New Testament, thereby excluding the Old Testament!

77 Luke 24:44 – 49 and John 5:45 – 47; Hebrews 3:16 – 4:3; I Peter 1:10 – 12, respectively. These passages are a mighty blow to any foolish dispensationalism.

78Schaff, History, pp. 811 – 812.

79 John 8:56.

80 Luke 10:24.

81Schaff, History, p. 863; note that this is on the last page of his book, and must therefore have been very important to Schaff.

82 Cf. Schaff, History, pp. 20 (real Christianity versus creeds), 25, 205 (Christ the “harmony of conflicting creeds”), 352, 358, 487, and 512.

83 Cf. Schaff, History, pp. 299 (Schaff’s resistance to irresistible grace), and 527 – 546 (his ridiculously ignorant treatment of the atonement and the doctrines of grace).

84 Cf. Schaff, History, pp. 526 (Schaff’s sordid venture to synthesize mysticism and scholasticism), 534 (the trump card of man’s “finite understanding” used to dodge the teaching of Scripture), 546 (he escaped the force of contrary argument by “God’s logic” not being the same as “man’s logic,” as if the image of God didn’t demand the same logic), 564 (eloquent assertion of the “inadequacy of human language”; one wonders if this phrase is adequate to describe inadequacy), and 636.

85Schaff, History, p. 2.

86Schaff, History, p. 3; cf. Ibid. p. 56 where Christ is said to be “the centre and turning-point not only of chronology, but of all history, and the key to all its mysteries.”

87Schaff, History, p. 4.

88Schaff, History, p. 5; cf. Ibid. pp. 19 – 20 regarding the prevalence of Christ’s Kingdom over all of the revolutions and shocks of history, and its future triumph within history.

89Schaff, History, p. 7.

90Schaff, History, pp. 100 – 101.

91Schaff, History, p. 863; these final words conclude the text.

92 See above, page 11.

93Schaff, History, p. 58.

94Schaff, History, p. 197.

95Schaff, History, p. 107; Schaff provides no citation.

96Schaff, History, p. 110.

97Schaff, History, p. 454.

98Schaff, History, pp. 478 – 479.

99Schaff, History, p. 479.

100Schaff, History, p. 320.

101Schaff, History, pp. 278 – 279.

102Schaff, History, p. 343.

103 See above, page 12.

104Schaff, History, p. 637; Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36; 15:34.

105Schaff, History, p. 638; Mark 6:34, 6; 3:5; 8:12; 10:14 (in order given above).

106Schaff, History, pp. 377, 378 and 382.

107Schaff, History, p. 148.

108Schaff, History, p. 87.

109Schaff, History, p. 393.


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