Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
June 30th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Reading Scripture without buckets.

Altarpiece of the Church Fathers: St Augustine...

Altarpiece of the Church Fathers: St Augustine and St Gregory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those following along, I wanted to post a better way than buckets  to read Scripture as a Christian. You can read it with the Church Fathers.

First, begin here with a solid Wesleyan view. Christopher Hall has several great resources published via IVP-Academic.

The fathers considered the Bible a holy book that opened itself to those who themselves were progressing in holiness through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. The character of the exegete would determine in many ways what was seen or heard in the biblical text itself. Character and wise exegesis were intimately related. In Athanasius’ words, “…the searching and right understanding of the Scriptures [demands] a good life and a pure soul…. One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life…” (On the Incarnation [St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982],

Then, for those interested in how this looks like in the Roman Catholic setting, see the catechism. There are three senses:

(1) The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism. 

(2) The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”. 

(3) The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem. 

From the Orthodox perspective, you see something very similar:

Accordingly, the Church Fathers often distinguished between several different senses of Scripture. A good example is the way some of them read the Exodus tradition. In this account of Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt they found at least four different levels of meaning: 1) the “literal/historical,” which speaks of Israel leaving Egypt for the Promised Land; 2) the “allegorical” or “typological,” which sees Old Testament images (e.g., Moses and Joshua, the manna and rock in the wilderness) as figures or “types” that are fulfilled in Christ and the Church’s sacraments; 3) the “tropological” or moral, which sees in Israel’s journey an image of the soul’s conversion from sin and death to grace and “newness of life” (Romans 6:4); and 4) the “anagogical” or mystical sense, which speaks of the believer’s journey toward eternal glory (“anagogical” means “leading upward”).

Protestants, like they have with other things, have seriously damaged the way Christians read Scripture.

Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers is a vast improvement over reading it as if you are lord and master of what it says and whether or not that book belongs in there. Indeed, to suggest that because we no longer know how to read Scripture with the senses and thus some parts can be dismissed is not to elevate ourselves, but to show how far we have fallen.

 

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

3 Responses to “Reading Scripture without buckets.”
  1. I am a trouble maker. But I don’t like the last 100 years of academic research to be dumped by reading Church Father Interpretations.

    Buckets everywhere. I get to use the term again.

    Jiggery-pokery!

    “Or, as Michael Casey puts it, “When we have recourse to writers of antiquity, we have the opportunity to compensate for the blind spots inherent in our particular culture.””

    And instead accept the blind spots of the writers of antiquity.

    “Solid Wesleyan View”:
    “Read the Bible holistically. The church fathers insist that the narrative of the Bible is a continuous, deeply connected story from Genesis through Revelation. The Old Testament is not discontinuous with the New.”

    ???
    JEPD R DTR1 DTR2.
    Daniel, multiple versions, long, short, Hebrew, Greek.
    Gospels all conflict and disagree.
    Paul, true author 7 of 13, not author of 6, plus Hebrews.
    Luther’s antilegomena, Revelation and others not canon.
    I bet at this point, Joel wishes I go away. But this blog has been too quiet lately.

    • Gary, never leave.

      There is a place — and must be — for historical criticism, but in that is reception theory.

      And we must remember that the Text is the book of the Church.

      It is a dynamic that must be explored and wrestled with, but this doesn’t allow for buckets. Only for better understanding the original sense.

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