Augustine: Allegory and the Good Samaritan

How would Augustine respond to modern day critiques of his "fanciful" exegesis of the Good Samaritan

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Reception History and the Grateful Dead

A brief post on reception history inspired by the Grateful Dead.

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In Scriptural Interpretation, Tags grateful dead, reception theory,

United in Christ: Augustine and the Tower of Babel

The tower of Babel marks one of humanity's most pride filled moments in history. Recall, the people wanted to build themselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be…

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In Early Christianity Tags , tower of babel, calvin,

Book Review: Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters

The editor, Marion Ann Taylor, is to be commended for putting this volume together. It is a much needed addition to the field of biblical studies and will be especially helpful for anyone interested in the history of reception of the Scriptures. I highly recommend it.

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Why You Should Study the History of Interpretation

Dale Allison says…

  1. History of interpretation is intrinsically interesting and and of itself
  2. It instills humility by reminding exegetes…
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In Scriptural Interpretation Tags , bockmuehl, allison, , icc

Thoughts on Chrysostom's First Sermon on Matthew

Chrysostom notes the many difficulties in the text of Matthew. He says that it may be plain at first site but when one focuses on the text many question arises…

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In Early Christianity Tags chrysostom, , dogs,

Augustine on the Ability to Control the Tongue

Throughout the letter of James he makes bold imperatives that should be true in Christians lives. These imperatives encompass all areas of life from our deeds to what we say. But does James give the Christian a basis on which these can be achieved? Augustine seems to think so.

Throughout Augustines writings on original sin a certain passage keeps appearing from an unlikely place. Writing against Pelagius he often cites from James 3:2, which says “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” He uses this passage to show that no one is sinless. A person can not control their speech by their own will. Originally, he probably gained this usage based on Jerome’s writings. Augustine doesn’t stop there though. He notices that James says that although humans cannot control the tongue by themselves they can by the wisdom of God begin to become a whole person and tame our tongues by God changing our heart and giving us wisdom.

This excerpt is Augustine’s On Nature and Grace:

“This is the wisdom that tames the tongue; it comes down from above and does not arise from the human heart. Or will someone dare to remove it too from God’s grace and in pride and vanity locate it in the power of the human being? Why then do human beings pray that they may receive it, if having it depends upon them? Is someone going to oppose this prayer to avoid harm to free choice, because it is sufficient unto itself by its natural ability to observe all the commands pertaining to righteousness? Let them oppose the apostle James himself, who warns with the words, ’If any of you lack wisdom, let them ask it from God who gives to all abundantly without rebuking them, and it will be given to them, but let them ask with faith, without hesitation (Jas 1:5–6). This is the faith to which the commandments drive us so that the law commands and faith obtains what we ask. By the tongue, which no human being can tame but the wisdom coming down from above can tame, ‘we all offend in many ways’ (Jas 3:2a). This apostle after all, did not state this in any other sense than his words, ‘No human beings can tame their tongues.’ (Jas 3:8).”[1]

  1. Answer to the Pelagians. Vol. I/23. Introduction, translation and notes by Roland J. Teske, S.J. Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 1997, p. 232–3  ↩

In Early Christianity Tags speech, ,

Venerable Bede's use of Luke in James 1:9-11


One of the differences between a modern reading of scripture and an ancient reading is the use of examples in sermons and commentary writing. Often times the Fathers use biblical narrative examples of truths found elsewhere in Holy Scripture, whereas most of our examples in modern day exegesis and preaching come from everyday life. This is not necessarily a negative thing but it is different. I think sometimes we have a phobia of moralizing narratives that we often neglect using them as examples altogether but the Church Fathers were not paralyzed this fear. Venerable Bede provides a good example of this in his exegesis of James 1:9–11, which says:

"Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”

Bede uses the story from Luke 16:19–31 goes on to describe that being rich isn’t inherently destructive but it is the pride that often times accompanies being rich that cause people to lose their devotion to God. He says:

“For even Abraham, although he was a rich man on the world, nevertheless received a poor man after his death into his bosom, a rich man he left in torments. But he did not leave the rich man because he was rich, which he himself also had been, but because he had scorned being merciful and humble, which he himself had been; and on the contrary, he did not receive Lazarus because he was poor, which he himself had not been, but because he had taken care to be humble and innocent, which he himself had been. Therefore, such a rich man, that is, one who is proud and wicked and places earthly ahead of heavenly joys, will languish in his ways, that is, he will perish in his evil actions because he has neglected to enter the Lord’s straight way. But when he falls off like the hay under the sun’s heat, the righteousness on the same sun, that is, the severity of the judge, unblemished, and in addition brings forth fruits for which he will be rewarded for ever.”

Bede isn’t worried whether or not this is a parable or peek into the afterlife but instead he sees value in the Gospel narratives that sheds light on other parts of Holy Scripture. He knows from the text of Genesis that Abraham is a wealthy man so this sets up alarm bells in Bede’s mind that James cannot condemn being rich but rather it has to be something else. In this case he uses Luke’s Gospel to show that James condemning being rich but rather the pride that accompanies money.

What do you think of Bede’s use of Holy Scripture? Is this helpful or unhelpful?

In Scriptural Interpretation Tags , luke, abraham, venerable bede, james 1:9-11,

History of Interpretation: Venantius Fortunatus on the Virgin Birth

Fortunatus was a poet during the 6th century in France. The following poem is an exposition on the virgin birth prophesied in Isaiah 7:14:[1]

The prophets’ tongue has sung the Virgin’s giving birth:[2]
The angel takes the tidings to earth beneath the sky.
The voice of men agrees, remembers what this girl has done,
How she, a virgin, bore a man without man’s seed.
Concordant with this gospel, Isaiah tells
What God inspires, he sounds the trumpet call,
With eloquence abounding, and truly tells the mystery,
And sings the Virgin’s gift of our Emmanuel,
Predicting from of old, that through the mother of the Lord
Would Jesse’s root produce a flower from his shoot.
The Virgin is that shoot, from which the Flower, Christ, has sprung,
Whose living fragrance causes buried limbs to rise,
As Lazarus, undone by death four days before,
Received anew his breath from Christ, the fragrant Flower.
Made holy in the womb[3], the prophet Jeremiah
Likewise foretold her in his vatic speech: Behold,
The days will come: from David will I cause a shoot
To sprout, a king will reign, and wisely will he rule[4]
The Virgin is this shoot, the king her infant son,
The arbiter of justice, heir to world rule.
The psalmist hymned the Virgin on his plectrum,
When strings and voices sang their melody:
Of Mother Zion will they say: “One man here, one born there”
In her"[5], which means: He founded her, became a man in her.
And then it says, Most High is he who founded her:[6]
For she, the Virgin Mother, she is Mother Zion.

Here, we can see some of the early stages of the emphasis on the virgin Mary. I think it is interesting that she is referred to as the shoot from Jesse and that Christ is the flower. We see this interpretation in Ambrose, who uses Isaiah 7:14, 11:1, and Song of Solomon 2:1 to interpret Christ as the flower from the root of Jesse:[7]

“The flower from the root is the work of the Spirit, that flower, I say, of which it was well prophesied: ’A rod shall go forth from the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise from his root.”The root of Jesse the patriarch is the family of the Jews, Mary is the rod, Christ the flower of Mary, Who, about to spread the good odour of faith throughout the whole world, budded forth from a virgin womb, as He Himself said: ‘I am the flower of the plain, a lily of the valley.’”

Jerome, in line with Ambrose, says:[8]

“‘There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a flower shall grow out of his roots.’ The rod is the mother of the Lord—simple, pure, unsullied; drawing no germ of life from without but fruitful in singleness like God Himself. The flower of the rod is Christ, who says of Himself: ‘I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys.’ In another place He is foretold to be “a stone cut out of the mountain without hands,’ a figure by which the prophet signifies that He is to be born a virgin of a virgin.”

Let this be another tool in the interpreter’s tool belt in reading Old Testament texts in light of the New.

  1. Wilken, Robert L. Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian Medieval Commentators. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007, 106  ↩

  2. Is 7:14  ↩

  3. Jer 1:5  ↩

  4. Jer 33:14  ↩

  5. Ps 87:5a  ↩

  6. Ps 87:5b  ↩

  7. Ambrose of Milan. (1896). Three Books of St. Ambrose on the Holy Spirit H. de Romestin, E. de Romestin & H. T. F. Duckworth, Trans.). In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume X: St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) (119). New York: Christian Literature Company.  ↩

  8. Jerome. (1893). The Letters of St. Jerome W. H. Fremantle, G. Lewis & W. G. Martley, Trans.). In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume VI: St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) (29). New York: Christian Literature Company.  ↩

In Scriptural Interpretation Tags church fathers, ambrose, jerome, fortunatus, isaiah, virgin birth,

Reading the Church Fathers for the Scholar's Soul and for Equipping the Church

The scholarly realm is filled with word studies, literary studies, systematic studies, and any other study one can think of. The multiplicity of studies can often be to the detriment to the scholar’s soul. In practice, theological studies is often divorced from the end to seek after the living God. This is where reading patristic exegesis can be fruitful for the soul. Claire McGinnis says that “Christian scholars of the Bible ought to read patristic exegesis because it offers an important antidote to the deadening effects scholarly training can have on the ability to hear in the pages of Scripture the Word of God, and a unified Word at that.”[1] The early church saw no separation between study of Holy Scripture and seeking after Christ. By reading the Church Fathers we can be awakened to the full unity of the Bible and seeking Christ at every step of the way. By seeing the way the early Church read the Bible we can “desire to recover and nurture ways of reading the Bible theologically.”[2] The Bible is not just an ancient text but rather the living Word of God (Heb 4:12).

For the Church Fathers, the purpose of rigorous study was to read and exegete the Bible in a way that lead them to Christ. Theological academics and writing for the church were one in the same. By reading the Patristics we can immerse ourselves in a different type of theological writing that can shed new light on our own exegesis. It will shed new light precisely because it is foreign to us.[3] It presents to us a new way of thinking that is different from current hermeneutical methods today. It gives us time to pause and reflect of the Christological interpretations of our Christian forefathers. Reading the four senses of scripture they often employ may make us uneasy but the four sense’s end goal was to see Christ in all the Bible.

At the recent Scripture and Hermeneutics seminar Craig Bartholomew stated that Christian scholarship is likened to the back lines of an army that is arming the front lines for war. We are arming the front lines, who are the pastors and teachers of the Church. If scholars can better read/write theologically then we can better supply the front lines in the battle. In Christian scholarship our end goal should not merely furthering of theological academics but the strengthening of the Church. Just as doctors in universities study biology, chemistry, anatomy etc. and write in journals for equipping other doctors with the knowledge and methods for fighting disease and injury for their patients, so too should Christian scholarship equip pastors with rigorous theological writing for the advancement of the Church.

An excerpt from one of St. Chrysostom’s homilies on Genesis 6:8–9 will provide a helpful example of the value for the soul in reading the Church Fathers. In this homily Chrysostom has been commenting on the virtue of Noah amidst of the wickedness of the world that he lived in. Chrysostom finds it amazing that Noah was the only righteous person in the world and God found favor in Noah. Chrysostom says[4]:

“‘Noah,’ the text says, remember, ‘found favor in the sight of the Lord God.’ Even though he was not the favorite or darling of any of the human race of the time through his refusal to follow the same route as theirs, nevertheless he found favor in the eyes of the one who haunts the heart, and to him his attitude was acceptable. What harm, after all, tell me, ensued in this case from the mockery and ridicule of his peers, considering the fact that the one who shapes our hearts and understands all our actions proclaimed the man’s deeds and rewarded him? On the other hand, what benefit would it be to a human being were he the object of admiration and praise of the whole world while being condemned on that dread day by the Creator of all and the Judge who is proof against all deceit? Understanding this, therefore, dearly beloved, let us set no store by people’s commendation nor seek praise from them in every way; instead, with him alone in mind who examines heart and entrails, let us practice the works of virtue and shun evil.”

Chrysostom exhorts us to be like Noah, living a life of virtue, not seeking the praise of men but seeking the praise of God. Noah was living amidst of wickedness but did not try to please man but to please God. As Christian scholars, we can take heed to his exhortation, not using theological study for the praise of other men but for the praise of God.

  1. Claire Mathews McGinnis, “Stumbling over the Testaments: On Reading Patristic Exegesis and the Old Testament in Light of the New,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 4, no. 1 (Spr 2010): 15–31, 18  ↩

  2. ibid, 19  ↩

  3. ibid, 16  ↩

  4. Chrysostom, Saint John. Fathers of the Church: Saint John Chrysostom : Homilies on Genesis 18–45. Catholic Univ of Amer Pr, 1990, 93  ↩

In Early Christianity Tags , church fathers, chrysostom