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?

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February 11, 2013