Do we understand the words and terms the New Testament writers used? Iím sure every bible-believing Christian would say yes. However what if the definitions you ascribe to the words and terms you read in the New Testament are different from what the Lord and his apostles had in mind? The result would be that every time you picked up your bible and read it you would be reading an entirely different message than the apostles had in mind; you would be reading another gospel. Letís take the seemingly simple word ďgraceĒ for example. What if your definition of grace is different than that of the apostle Paulís? When you read his epistles you would come to an entirely different understanding of salvation than what the apostle Paul was communicating. It wouldnít matter how much you read and reread Paulís epistles, Paul would no longer be saying the same thing to you as he said to the early churches. Likewise, you would not hear Jesus preaching the same message he preached as he walked amongst us 2000 years ago. You could even memorize the whole New Testament, fasting and praying, but you would still be reading another gospel.
One advantage that the early Christians of the first century had over us was that any question regarding the meaning of the apostleís teachings could be answered personally with a one-on-one discussion with the apostles themselves. In fact, through the apostle Johnís revelation Jesus directly gave correction to various churches. Itís important to note that in addressing the church of Smyrna our Lord found no flaw needing corrected during the time that Polycarp (disciple and personal companion of the apostle John) happened to be the bishop appointed over that church. The only exhortation Christ gave was, ďBe thou faithful unto deathĒ. Polycarp was burned at the stake after refusing to deny his Lord at the age of 87 years old, and his writings are still with us today. Canít we listen to men such as this that both the scriptures themselves and history have proven as faithful? Neither Polycarp nor any other early Christian writers claimed their writings to be inspired scripture, however such writings shine valuable light on how the gospel is to be understood and practiced.
The purpose of any dictionary is to define words and terms. By making use of close to 2,000 quotes from more than 30 different early church writers over a time span of three centuries dating before the time of Constantine, The Early Christian Dictionary lets the early Christians redefine some of the more important Bible concepts. After some investigation, you will probably find their understanding of scripture to be radically different than your own. You may find answers to many questions youíve always had. The scriptures may come alive to you as you learn to walk in new light. Or you may decide not to put any reliance on their definitions at all. Even so you must remember that every time you pick up your bible you still rely on the Early Christian writers. Thatís because they decided what books to include or not include in the New Testament canon that you use. And after all, if you find you have a serious conflict with the writings of men like Polycarp, you still have to grapple with the fact the these men were favored by both the Lord and the Apostles, and proven faithful even unto death. These are not new truths challenging your old ideas, these are old truths challenging your new ideas.