Why You Should Study the History of Interpretation

Dale Allison[1] says…

  1. History of interpretation is intrinsically interesting and and of itself
  2. It instills humility by reminding exegetes of how much they owe to those who came before, and of the degree to which they are bearers of traditions
    1. Most of our questions – as well as most of her answers – have been around for a long, long time. Further, much that we think of as new is really old
  3. Careful attention to older commentaries sometimes allows one to recover exegetical suggestions and profitable lines of inquiry that, from a historical critical point of view should never have dropped out of commentary tradition
  4. It reveals the plasticity of texts, and how easily and thoroughly they succumb to interpretive agendas.
  5. Reception history that looks beyond theologians and commentaries… reminds one that biblical texts are not the exclusive property of clerics and exegetes. They instead belong equally to popular piety and to literature in general, and likewise to artists, poets, and musicians

I would also add that if we believe the Holy Spirit guides our interpretation today then we should similarly believe that it was guiding the interprets of the past and this will add much fruit to our exegesis. And to the Church Fathers specifically, many interpreters rely on the Church Fathers doctrinal views (Trinity, humanity/deity of Christ etc.) but reject much of their exegesis and use of texts. It was their exegesis that led to the formulation to these doctrines so we should also value their exegetical insights.

For more of my thoughts on reading the Church Fathers and the importance of history in our interpretation and spiritual lives see this post

Also see Patrick Schreiner’s post 11 Reasons to Study the History of Interpretation

For more on history of interpretation and the Church Father’s exegesis I would recommend the following:


  1. excerpted from Jr, Dale C. Allison. 2013. James (ICC): A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (International Critical Commentary). Cri Int edition. Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2–3.  ↩

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