Greetings, and welcome to my site dedicated to better and more accurately understanding the Scriptures through the lens that the early Christians provide us with.
The most frequent topics of discussion concerning the Christian religion in general are those of a doctrinal nature. It is due to the ambiguity of various Bible passages that so many different Christian denominations and sects have come into existence, each interpreting the Scriptures in a different way. But they can't all be right, can they? Especially not when their interpretations directly contradict or conflict with each other. Most doctrinal issues (if not all), therefore, boil down to Biblical interpretation, and thus the question then becomes whether or not any particular interpretation is reasonable, and mere opinions are obviously not enough to substantiate an interpretation.
Whenever verses are given in support of a controversial doctrine there are several standard methods for reasoning with one another in order to better understand the verse(s) in question. First of all, one must always consider the context of such verses. Secondly, if there are corresponding or relative verses, they should also be considered, and in their full context as well. It is also useful to consult alternate translations, concordances, lexicons, Bible dictionaries, etc., in order to better understand the meaning of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of the Bible. But even when one takes all of the above into consideration, universal agreement among Christians as to how the Bible is to be correctly interpreted, is not easily found. Catholics and Protestants have strong disagreements, and both groups are broken into many separate sects that cannot agree with one-another on a wide diversity of doctrinal issues. But this really shouldn't be any surprise to the Christian world, for the Apostle Peter gave the following warning...
"So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures." (2 Peter 3:15-16, NRSV)
Some Christians, however, have made an appeal to the Holy Spirit as a guide for their interpretations of the Bible, and one can build a strong case for this method from other Bible verses (e.g., 1 Corinthians 2:5,12-13; 12:8; James 1:5, etc.). But does this really settle the issue of interpretation? Perhaps on a personal level it does, but I have witnessed many Christians use this argument to support their interpretations, and the problem is that most of these Christians can't agree with each other as to which interpretation is correct, and thus another passage comes to mind: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1, NASB)
And after all, "The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power." (1 Corinthians 4:20, NEB) Therefore, a more demonstrably accurate method for interpreting the Scriptures shall be required...
Now enter the early Christian authorities (aka "church fathers"). They received the teachings of Christ and the Apostles not only from the Gospels and epistles, but also via the oral tradition, and if anyone is to have a correct understanding of the New Testament authors' writings and teachings then who better than their students and successors? Indeed, one can build a strong case for making an appeal to the early Christians as interpreters for the Scriptures from the Bible itself:
"Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you." (1 Corinthians 11:2; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6)
Paul passed on "the traditions" both by epistle and by word, and thus we should heed the epistles and written words of the early Christians...
"It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." (2 Thessalonians 2:14-15)
So the Apostles not only wrote the Gospel (and the doctrines in accordance with it) in their epistles, they also taught it orally to their successors, the 'apostolic fathers,' who passed that interpretation to the next generation of Christian leaders, and so on and so forth. So we're talking about teachings that came from the Apostles themselves, and logically, the earlier we go, the less corrupted and more reliable those teachings and interpretations are bound to be:
"And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 2:2)
The 'apostolic fathers' were "witnesses" to the Apostles and they "heard" the Apostles speak, with their own ears, and they did "commit these" written and oral traditions to the "faithful men" who comprised the next generation of Christians, who in turn did "teach others also," (the next succeeding generation), and so on...
And finally, the honest Christian that is at all familiar with the history of their religion must ask: 'If we trust what the Nicene and post-Nicene Christian authorities had to say on such profound issues as to what books are and aren't canonical and would or wouldn't go in our Bible, and if we also trust in their creed which defines the nature of the Trinity, then shouldn't we give some credence as to what their predecessors had to say?' And indeed, most modern-day Christians rely on the pre-Nicene Christians without even knowing it...
In summation, if one honestly seeks a correct understanding of the Scriptures, then the early Christians are surely the best Bible commentators that humanity has to offer. What reasons would one have for trusting any modern-day scholar or theologians over the early Christians? What do they have that the early Christians didn't? Many modern Bible commentators have been schooled in Greek so as to better understand the original language of the New Testament; but the early Christians not only fluently read, wrote, and spoke Greek, they even thought in Greek because it was their first language. Modern Bible commentators have studied the history and cultures of the New Testament era in order to better understand the backdrop and implications of Biblical teachings, events, and thoughts; but the early Christians didn't need to receive any extra education in such matters, because they lived in those days and had a first hand knowledge of the idioms and circumstances surrounding that era. And no amount of modern-day education can equal or replace the oral tradition that only the early Christians had. And so to those that are open-minded lovers of truth, I offer the following for your honest consideration:
This second link provides many writings that were discovered fairly recently and didn't make it into any of the above mentioned sources. Perhaps the most noteworthy additions are Irenaeus' The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, and The Philocalia of Origen, but sadly, transcripts of Origen's many homilies on various books of the Bible have yet to find their way onto the internet.
This final link is to the Scroll Publishing site, which produces various books and audio CDs on the subject of the beliefs and history of the early Christians. You can also purchase the entire ten volume set of The Ante-Nicene Fathers from this site at about a third of the original retail price, which is much better than Amazon's sale price as well.