The Role of Prayer in Origen's Exegetical Endeavors

Peter Martens has written a fantastic book, Origen and Scripture examining the exegetic life of Origen and how he perceived the ideal interpreter of Scripture. I am now through chapter 8 of the book and so far Martens has examined the tools of Origen’s exegetical endeavor[1] and his placement within the Greco-Roman educational system (67) in the first part of the book. In the final part Martens examines Origen’s view of the ideal interpreter in the way manner they conduct their exegesis. He says that Origen believed that “exegetes did not simply offer scholarly assessments of the message of salvation inscribed on Scripture’s pages; the exercise of biblical interpretation was also a means of participating in this living drama, a way of life culminating in the vision of God (67).”

The chapter, Conduct: Moral Inquiry, I think is especially insightful for getting a glimpse of Origen’s ideal of the posture one should have when interpreting scripture. Scripture cannot be interpreted apart from a moral life that is seeking after God. Martens states that “only those who were ‘worthy’ or ‘pure’ — that is, only those who had made some moral progress on the itinerary of the Christian faith — could interpret the Scriptures well (161).” Someone who came to the Scriptures without this moral pursuit would read into the Scriptures ideas contrary to the high moral life that Scripture speaks of. Martens outlines three ideals that Origen believed to be necessary in the interpreters pursuit of the meaning of the Scriptures: exegetical virtues, faith in the scriptures, and prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide in the exegetes interpretation.

I think most telling of Origen’s posture when it came to the study of the Scriptures is his emphasis on prayer during study. For Origen, the divine Scriptures are a mystery and contain many difficult truths that can only be understood with the help of the Spirit. Martens says, “it is remarkable that Origen frequently spoke of his exegetical project as anything but an autonomous affair in which he wrestled with the text in isolation from its divine authors (italics mine) (182).” Regardless of the tools in the interpreter had at his disposal it was prayer that unlocked the truth of the Scriptures. Origen reflecting on the difficulty of some of the truths in Scripture says, “And we see this daily among us when we search for some true meaning in the Scriptures. Before we find what we are looking for, we suffer from an absence of meanings, until such an absence is brought to an end in us by God who gives to the worthy ‘food at the right time’ (183–84).”

This book is an enlightening look into the exegetical mind of Origen and his view of the ideal interpreter. Not only is this book helpful in learning more about the life of Origen but it also gives interpreters today food for thought in their own exegetical endeavors.

Thanks of Oxford University Press for this review copy. I will be writing a full review of this book when finished.


  1. See my short post on Origen the Philologist  ↩