Monday, October 7, 2019

What is the Bible?: The Patristic Doctrine of Scripture [Review]


What is the Bible?: The Patristic Doctrine of Scripture.ed. Matthew Baker & Mark Mourachian.(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 224 pp.

With the contemporary shift away from modernist/Enlightenment-influenced exegetical and hermeneutical practices,1 contemporary theologians are revisiting the works of their theological forebears. Studies on the exegetical and hermeneutical practices of the church fathers are numerous, but a definitive look at patristic bibliology is lacking. What is the Bible?: The Patristic Doctrine of Scripture aims to supply substantive information in this area by carefully examining the writings of several eastern patristic authors. What is more, however, the book aims to show the effect that these writers have had on recent theologians. Thus, the book is divided into two parts. The first covers “Approaches [to Bibliology] in the Christ East” dealing with the doctrine of Scripture as it appears in the writings of Origen of Alexandria, the so-called “Desert Fathers,” Ephraim the Syrian, John Chrysostom, Saint Maximus the Confessor, and others. The second part covers “Modern Approaches [to Bibliology] Inspired by the Fathers,” detailing the work of George Florovsky, Justin Popovic, and T.F. Torrance, ending with a brief history of modern biblical criticism.

One of the things that is helpful about this book is the several needed corrections it brings to discussions about the interpretive methods of Origen and Chrysostom, men who are typically set in diametrical opposition to one another as regards their understanding of the nature of Scripture and how it is to be read. Origen is typically painted as a wild-eyed allegorist who has no regard for grammatical-historical exegesis, who sees the Scripture as putty to be made into whatever the interpreter desires. However, this is not the case. Origen did engage in fanciful exegesis, if allegorical interpretation of his kind can justly be called exegesis, but this was only part of his interpretive process. For Origen, the Scriptures were tripartite, mirroring the composition of man and, by implication, the Trinity, being comprised of a body (the grammatical-historical meaning of the text), soul (the ethical/moral meaning of the text), and spirit (the anagogical meaning of the text). Just as the body and the soul and the spirit of man are intended to be in harmony with one another, so too the body and soul and spirit of the Scriptures are to be in harmony with one another.