Why You Should Study the History of Interpretation
Dale Allison says…
History of interpretation is intrinsically interesting and and of itself
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
- 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
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
It reveals the plasticity of texts, and how easily and thoroughly they succumb to interpretive agendas.
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:
- History of Effects
- Patristic Biblical Interpretation
- Most of the entries on books of the Bible have a short section on history of interpretation
Sanctified Vision by John O’Keefe and Reno
- See some of my thoughts on this book here
- See my review here
Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present by Dale Allison
- See especially chapter 6, Reading Matthew through the Church Fathers
Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian Medieval Commentators by Robert L. Wilken
- See especially the preface (1–13)
Commentary series dedicated to including history of interpretation:
Dale Allison, “What I have Learned from the History of Interpretation”, PRS 35 (2008), 237–50.
Markus Bockmuehl, “A Commentator’s Approach to the ‘Effective History’ of Philippians”, JSNT 60 (1995), 57–88.
Robert Louis Wilken, “Interpreting the Bible as Bible”, JTI 4.1 (2010), 7–14
- 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. ↩︎