Patristic Exegesis for a Post-modern World

Patristic Exegesis… is receiving renewed interest from proponents of Theological Interpretation. Discuss the relevance of pre-modern exegesis for post-modern exegesis from your perspective, and describe what use Patristic exegesis might be for your own ministry.

INTRODUCTION

We enter the task of exegesis, as those called to ministry, with reverence and holy fear. Exegesis may be described as that which

…openeth the window, to let in the light, that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water. [ 1 ]Orignal Preface 1611, The King James Version, 1611 <http://www.kjvbibles.com/kjpreface.htm> (Accessed April 2016)

Taken from the 1611 Original Preface to the King James Bible, and referring to the translation of the Word, it echoes perfectly the hope and desire of exegesis.[ 2 ]Translation, moreover, requires interpretation and exegesis.

In this essay I will discuss briefly the impetus behind the renewed interest in patristic exegesis[ 3 ]The pre-modern period is wider than the era of the patristic fathers. However, for the purposes of this essay, as suggested by the question, I will follow the conflation of the two. by proponents of theological interpretation, arguing that it reflects the spirit of a ‘new Enlightenment’.[ 4 ]John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon, eds., God, the Gift and Postmodernism (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999), 2 In discussing the relevance of pre-modern exegesis for post-modern exegesis, I will also briefly outline the characteristics of patristic exegesis, theological interpretation, and postmodern exegesis. In conclusion, I will reflect on how Patristic exegesis might enhance my own ministry.

A New Enlightenment

A renewed interest in Patristic exegesis by proponents of theological interpretation is a sign of a long overdue ‘postmodern turn.’[ 5 ]Myron Penner, ed., Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views (Michigan: Brazos Press, 2005)  The church has, in recent centuries, been locked in a futile enterprise: attempting, as fallible finite humans, to appropriate final infallible truths from Scripture about an infinite God. This is not to deny the existence of fundamental truth claims, or scriptural truths, but to suggest that the attempt reflects both intellectual and spiritual pride in assuming that we might know and own[ 6 ]The desire to own spiritual truths is demonstrated by the endemic denominational differences, distrust and inability to find common ground as God’s people. the complete truth about God.

The rise of humanism, and the dominance of scientific and rational paradigms were outcomes of post-enlightenment modernity. The consequence was a belief that humanity was capable of knowing ‘everything under the sun,’[ 7 ]Ecclesiastes 1:3 All references from the Bible are from the New Revised Standard Version and the attendant enslavement to rationality and truth claims. The ‘inaugural and constituting act of modernity’ was to become ‘an epoche, a methodological imperative… [of] human reason alone.’[ 8 ]Caputo and Scanlon, eds., God, the Gift, 2 In The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry,[ 9 ]Rupert Sheldrake, The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry. (London: Coronet, 2012)  Sheldrake talks of the ossification of deterministic and materialistic sciences into an ideology, a type of atheistic, anti-Christian faith, appropriating authority over several domains, including religion; trapped, its assumptions and speculation ossified into dogma. The ‘scientific worldview’ has become a belief system. The supreme irony is that the Church appropriated paradigms of the post-enlightenment, leading it to a similarly calcified understanding and proclamation of God. Theological interpretation and biblical exegesis often mirrored this scientific paradigm: a search for one infallible truth, albeit about the nature and work of God.[ 10 ]See James K. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Relativism (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014) 35
Smith points out to those who argue against contingency and fallibility that ‘[t]he picture of knowledge bequeathed to us by the Enlightenment is a forthright denial of our dependence, and it yields a God-like picture of human reason.’

However, the postmodern era brings a new Enlightenment, which Derrida believes is ‘enlightened about the [old] Enlightenment and resists letting the spirit of the Enlightenment freeze over into dogma.’ This new Enlightenment spills over into faith. Daley, examining the question of whether ‘patristic exegesis is still usable,’ states that the ‘dominant post-enlightenment approach to identifying the meaning of scriptural texts has begun to lose some of its energy.’ He attributes this to a ‘new romantic enthusiasm…a postmodern hermeneutic…for finding meaning in texts from other times and cultures in ways that are less rationalistic[ 11 ]italics mine than detached historical analysis.’[ 12 ]Brian E. Daley SJ, ‘Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable? Some Reflections on Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms.’ in The Art of Reading Scripture eds. Ellen F. Davis & Richard B. Hays (Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003) 69. There is a significant move by both biblical scholars and theologians towards patristic exegesis, because in this return they hope to rediscover models for new ways of reading scripture, to combine ‘both scholarly sophistication and a reverent orthodox faith.’[ 13 ]Ibid. 70

 

Kaliedescopic Perspectives

Pre-modern, modern, and postmodern exegesis and theological interpretation provide a kaleidoscope of perspectives of Scripture.

Patristic Exegesis [ 14 ]I will not be discussing the details of the various types of exegesis, theological interpretation and doctrinal arguments of the Patristics due to the constraints of focus and word limit in this essay. For examples and further information see Alister McGrath (ed.) The Christian Theology Reader. 3rd ed. (Blackwell, Oxford, 2007) For example, see, among others, ‘Origen on the three ways of reading scripture,’ p.80; ‘Augustine on the Literal and Allegorical Senses of Scripture, p.86.
See also W. Yarchin, The History of Biblical Interpretation: A Reader (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011)  xi-xxx

The modern view of patristic[ 15 ]Donald Fairbairn, ‘Patristic exegesis and theology: the Cart and the Horse’ in Westminster Theological Journal 69 (2007): 1-19, accessed April 2016, <http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.elib.tcd.ie/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=7026d749-67e1-45bf-aa00-0c67a60287cf%40sessionmgr120&vid=0&hid=120&preview=false>
Although this is a general view, Fairbairn examines the nuanced complexity of patristic exegesis which cannot be explored within the confines of this essay. The dichotomy between the Antiochene and Alexandrian schools continues to influence us today. The former – whose culture was rhetorical and philosophical – impressed on biblical exegesis a sense of the importance of the historical narratives of the Old Testament narratives, while the latter treated these differently, and influenced Christian exegetes to read such narratives based on the legacy of Philo of Alexandria. The exegetical school of Antioch favoured literal, historical exegesis, while the Alexandrian favoured allegorical exegesis.
 and medieval (pre-modern) exegesis has been, on the whole, negative.[ 16 ]Daley, Is Patristic, 70
Daley quotes Farrar’s dismissive perspective of pre-modern exegesis in1885 ‘[we shall pass in swift review many centuries of exegesis…dominated by unproven theories, and overladen by untenable results.… There are but few of them whose pages are not rife with errors – errors of method, errors of fact, errors of history, of grammar, and even of doctrine.’
 It was felt to rely heavily on ‘figural, or allegorical, interpretation’ (as pointing to Christ, salvation and spiritual growth). This was considered ‘arbitrary, pious fantasy,’ rather than ‘plain sense,’ – it stripped scripture of its ‘authentic meaning.’[ 17 ]Ibid. 71 The assumption behind these evaluations is the modern post-enlightenment belief that history and the past can only be understood with the ‘same standards of evidence and verifiability,’ a methodology that is ‘atheistic.’[ 18 ]Ibid. 72 The ‘meaning of the text’ was therefore ‘what the author meant.’[ 19 ]Ibid.

However, patristic and pre-modern exegesis are deeply spiritual exercises, free from the constricting desire to find ‘authentic meaning’[ 20 ]Ibid. 73 in the text. Patristic exegesis (c100 – c430)[ 21 ]McGrath classifies the following as the Patristic fathers: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Athansius, the Cappudocian Fathers, and Augustine of Hippo. For a fuller description of the individual figures. See McGrath, Alister, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)  had several main features.[ 22 ]Daley, ‘Is Patristic, 74-9 Due to the constraints of this essay – in terms of length and focus – I am confining myself to the outline of these features Firstly, despite the different conceptions of how God might be encountered, there was a ‘conviction of the present reality of God,’ in Scripture.[ 23 ]Ibid. 74 Secondly, exegetes believed in a ‘unified narrative’ of Scripture, and approached specific passages with the backdrop of the entire salvation story as revealed in the Bible.[ 24 ]Ibid. Thirdly, exegesis was governed by the ‘Rule of Faith,’ and the ‘Rule of Piety’ (as Origen’s opening declaration in On First Principles reveals) summarised in liturgy and catechism: basic Christian doctrine (which included the mystery of the Bible) was its chief guide.[ 25 ]Ibid. 75-6 Fourthly, Scripture was considered internally coherent; although ‘diverse’ in content, it was nevertheless ‘a unified whole.’ This perspective did not, however, produce a ‘flat uniformity of doctrine.’ Instead, it generated ‘a new richness and variety, a kind of unquenchable fountain whose scattered drops all reflect the one Mystery of Christ.’[ 26 ]Ibid. 76-7 Fifthly, exegetes believed that although scripture was ‘historical,’ it was also ‘meant for us.’ It was relevant to the ‘situation in our life.’ This did not mean that nothing was taken at its ‘face value,’ but that the primary concern of exegesis was the lives of believers. The Bible was a ‘single universally significant…unfinished[ 27 ]Italics mine. story,’ and the task of exegetes and scholars was to reveal both its cohesion and its continued relevance.[ 28 ]Ibid. 77-8 Finally, exegetes believed that Scripture was ultimately a mystery. This was reflected in how they settled disputes, for meaning was defended on the basis of more ‘reverent,’ or ‘more appropriate to God’ – which, Daley points out, we might find irrational and ‘hopelessly unscientific.’[ 29 ]Ibid. 78. These terms were also used in disputes of doctrinal orthodoxy. The ‘dominant procedure’ of exegesis was this ‘hermeneutic of piety’ The Bible ‘radiates God’s holiness,’ and was therefore, ‘worthy of enormous reverence.’[ 30 ]Daley, ‘Is Patristic,’ 79. Daley describes Keble’s defence of patristic exegesis against a charge of ‘mysticism’, where nineteenth century English Protestantism believed that ancient exegesis was ‘superstitious credulity and irrationality, rather than its older sense of a graced union with God. He suggested that his contemporaries might ‘benefit from sharing in this ancient Christian sense of awe before the Biblical text.’ Engaging with Scripture was no less than a ‘personal encounter with the Divine Mystery.’[ 31 ]Ibid.
See also Yarchin, History, xii Yarchin points out that the early church inherited ancient traditional ways of viewing sacred texts: ‘The basic interpretative presupposition was [that] due to the inherent limitations of human understanding, there will always be something in the sacred text that remains undisclosed to unglossed reading. Mystery …was characteristic of sacred texts. God is the speaker, but humans are the writers, and multiplicity of meaning…is to be expected….’ i

Theological interpretation and Postmodern Exegesis

Theological interpretation is defined as ‘those readings of biblical texts that consciously seek to do justice to the perceived theological nature of the texts and embrace the influence of theology (corporate and personal; past and present) upon the interpreter’s enquiry, context, and method.’[ 32 ]D. Christopher Spinks, The Bible and the Crisis of Meaning: Debates on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (London: T&T Clark, 2007) 7 Exegesis, as its Greek root suggest, seeks to bring meaning out of the text.

The unfortunate post-enlightenment legacy to faith is the gulf between theology and exegesis, what Vanhoozer describes as an ‘ugly ditch.’[ 33 ]Vanhoozer, Kevin. J. The Dictionary of Theological Interpretation. (Michigan: Baker, 2005) 20
This also precipitated academic biblical studies into a ‘theology free zone.’ Exegesis sans faith.
 Biblical studies became an effort to protect the Bible from ‘“dogmatic captivity” to confessional and theological traditions.’[ 34 ]Ibid. 21 Vanhoozer describes this as a gulf between ‘reason and faith,’ ‘ascertainable history… and privately valued belief.’ However, for many Christians the gulf divides the nature of faith itself, tragically separating rational faith from the mysteries of God. In the context of postmodern biblical interpretation, there is a ‘muddy ditch’ between exegesis and ideology.[ 35 ]Ibid. 20 The postmodern turn in theological interpretation recognises the ‘quagmire of history, language, tradition, and culture…gender, class’ from which we cannot disentangle ourselves. It recognises, as the Patristics did, the presence of a multi-vocal interpretation where no interpretation is privileged. Fowl examines Aquinas’ ‘literal sense in practice’ in John 1, which allows diverse perspectives of the text.[ 36 ]Stephen E. Fowl, ‘The Importance of a Multivoiced Literal Sense of Scripture’ in Adam, A.K.M. et.al. Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Michigan: Baker Academic, Michigan, 2006) 35-50 The aim of interpretation becomes instead, as it did for the Patristics, ‘what it means to my community.’[ 37 ]Ibid. 20

Johnson detects a ‘threefold movement’ in postmodern exegesis and interpretation. A move ‘Beyond Foundations’ – the ‘universal all encompassing, self-evident, and self-defeating’[ 38 ]William Stacy Johnson ‘Reading the Scriptures faithfully in a Postmodern Age’ in The Art of Reading Scripture. eds., Ellen F. Davis & Richard B. Hays (Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003) 109-24. foundations of knowledge – to biblical narrative. Our foundations of knowing are coercive and complex, and therefore untrustworthy. The return to narrative in Scripture resonates with the Patristic primary focus on biblical narrative itself and the idea that there is something ‘grand and glorious at stake.’[ 39 ]Ibid. 109-16 There is also a need to move ‘Beyond Totality,’ to the ‘open-endedness of Scripture’ to ‘diverse meanings.’ The much maligned process of ‘deconstruction’ is actually a way in which ‘multiple possibilities’ preclude a ‘single totality of meaning.’[ 40 ]Ibid. 117-22 This echoes the approach of the ancient exegetes. The third movement is ‘Toward the Other,’ where the ‘Other’ (reader or believer) is admitted with an affirmation of plurality and diversity, and where ethics take on new meaning (what is right for others), where the supreme ‘Other’ is Christ himself.[ 41 ]Ibid 122-24

Gorman states that ‘theological interpretation does not own a particular exegetical method or methodology…but can use a variety of methods.’[ 42 ]Michael J. Gorman Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers, (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009) 9 This points to the possibility of the exegesis of one period finding common ground with another – the postmodern with the patristic. Postmodern and Patristic exegesis find common ground in the richness and variety of their approaches to Scripture, sharing a fluidity, openness, and acceptance of different interpretations. Both open themselves to the Mystery and unknowability of God.

 

Ministry and Patristic Exegesis

The principles behind patristic exegesis are a rich resource for ministry[ 43 ]See also Charles J. Scalise, ‘Patristic Biblical Interpretation and Postmodern Baptist Identity’ in Review and Expositor, 101, Fall 2004, Accessed April 2016, <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.elib.tcd.ie/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=cfa5f489-5773-458f-8a97-5335de3c7c8d%40sessionmgr4002&vid=0&hid=4108&preview=false>
Scalise’s article discusses the benefits of evangelical Baptist Christians engaging with Patristic exegesis and interpretation both for their own spiritual lives and for their ministry. He believes that such a perspective will refresh and renew Baptist ministry, which has held a prejudicial view of scripture.
 and engagement with Scripture.[ 44 ]I am returning here to Daley’s features of Patristic Exegesis discussed earlier.

Primarily I would seek to sustain, like the Patristics, the mystery at the heart of knowing God, where engaging with Scripture is to hear the God who speaks, a ‘personal encounter with the Divine Mystery’[ 45 ]Ibid.
See also Yarchin, History. Yarchin points out that the early church inherited ancient traditional ways of viewing sacred texts: ‘The basic interpretative presupposition was [that] due to the inherent limitations of human understanding, there will always be something in the sacred text that remains undisclosed to unglossed reading. Mystery …was characteristic of sacred texts. God is the speaker, but humans are the writers, and multiplicity of meaning…is to be expected….’ p.xii
 – a mystery sometimes lost in the noise and certitude we have inherited. I believe the practice of Lectio Divina which encourages this.[ 46 ]See Enzio Bianchi, Lectio Divina (London: SPCK, 2008)
Bianchi provides a wonderful journey, which to me is close to the heart of the Patristic engagement with Scripture.
  I will encourage a return to the mystery at the heart of our faith, and seek to ensure that a primary consideration in exegesis (and its practical expression in the church, in bible study or preaching) is a ‘hermeneutic of piety.’ I will attempt to bring people to encounter a Bible that radiates the holiness of God, and inspires deep reverence[ 47 ]Daley, Is Patristic, Daley describes Keble’s defence of patristic exegesis against a charge of ‘mysticism’, where nineteenth century English Protestantism believed that ancient exegesis was ‘superstitious credulity and irrationality, rather than its older sense of a graced union with God. He suggested that his contemporaries might ‘benefit from sharing in this ancient Christian sense of awe before the Biblical text.’  I rediscovered this reverence towards the Word during my placement at St Anne’s Cathedral, where each Sunday I was deeply moved by the physical reverence towards the gospel reading.

Related to this reverence of the Word, is my desire to deal with disputes and differences, whether of practice or theological interpretation, by affirming and encouraging others to choose what is ‘reverent’ and ‘appropriate’ to God.[ 48 ]Ibid. 78 These terms were also used in disputes of doctrinal orthodoxy. People encounter God in various ways, and the Patristics accepted this diversity, without condemnation or judgement, while sustaining a belief in the present reality of God within Scripture.[ 49 ]Ibid. 74

I believe that the Patristic insight of a unified story of Salvation in both the Old and New Testaments,[ 50 ]Ibid. presents a ‘diverse, yet a unified whole,’[ 51 ]Ibid. 76-7 providing a sense of cohesion to our faith.[ 52 ]The Old Testament people of God, and the writers of the New Testament Epistle constantly did this. I want to convey a historical understanding of the Bible, while encouraging people to consider how the Scripture speaks into their lives. Chris Wright’s question at a recent conference highlights this: ‘where are you in God’s continuing story?’ [ 53 ]Transforming the Mind, Christian Postgraduate Conference, Dovedale, England, 26th-28th June, 2015

Finally, I will uphold the ‘rule[s] of faith and…piety’ as summarised in liturgy and perhaps confirmation classes. Liturgy, collects, psalms, creeds, and canticles can be incorporated into sermons, which links them to Scripture, life and faith.[ 54 ]The Lectionary promotes this possibility by the resonance that the scripture has with the psalms, while the creed and collects can always be reconnected to scripture regularly.

The principles of Patristic exegesis, will enable me to work with those of different denominational and doctrinal understandings. For above all, Patristic exegesis promotes humility in recognising that this is not our venture. It is not my theological interpretation or exegesis – it is always God who is at the centre, the God who speaks. The Patristics understanding of this, despite interpretative excesses, resulted in reverence and humility. They understood what Smith calls the ‘contingent character’ of our existence. This contingency is to ‘know God is God (and we are not)…to own up to the tenuous fragility of our existence…to recognise that everything, depends – not just our life and breath, but also truth and knowledge, even our epistemology and metaphysics.’[ 55 ]Smith, Who’s Afraid, 35

Conclusion

The debate between modern theological interpretation and Patristic exegesis continues.[ 56 ]Fairbaine, Patristic Exgesis,
The older view suggests exegesis was the horse and theological interpretation the cart, while more recent, especially postmodern perspectives favour theology to be the horse that drives the cart.
 Their boundaries are blurred, and always have been – there can be no exegesis of Scripture free of a theological perspective, while theological interpretation is to some degree informed by exegesis. It is clear that some postmodern interpretations will be dissonant with some of the fundamental criteria of patristic exegesis: firm foundational and liturgical truths within which interpretation is based; the overarching salvation narrative that is fundamental to its interpretation; the pursuit of holiness and a yearning for God in interpretation.

Postmodern exegetical efforts can sometimes end as sterile, intellectual exercises,[ 57 ]Caputo, More Radical Hermeneutics: On Not Knowing Who We Are (Indianapolis: Indiana University, 2000) 193-219
Caputo’s exegesis on the Emmaeus story is case in point. Although exciting, and thought provoking, it did not appear to affirm the biblical foundational salvation narrative or its liturgical narrative truths.
 yet we can never completely return to past intellectual and faith perspectives. As fallible people of our own time, we can choose a dance of both engagement and disengagement with the past. Without blindly accepting interpretations of the past, we can decide, as some postmodern exegetes do, that patristic fathers have something of profound value to offer us today. For Christian faith is nothing if not a historical faith passed down through time.

The Patristics clearly viewed Scripture through their doctrine and theology, yet their exegesis was nuanced, diverse, and open to the God who speaks. This liberated it from closed readings – something postmodern theological exegesis and interpretation welcomes. We should welcome this in our ministries, for Patristic exegesis of Scripture does indeed[ 58 ]A rewriting of the Original Preface 1611, The King James Version, 1611 Accessed April 2016
<http://www.kjvbibles.com/kjpreface.htm>

…open the window, let in the light, and break the shell, in order that we may eat the kernels of truth. It puts aside the curtains, so that we may look into the most Holy place; it removes the cover of the well, that we may come by the water we all long to drink.

 

REFERENCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY

Adam, A.K.M., Fowl, Stephen. E., Vanhoozer, Kevin J., Watson, Francis., Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006)

Bianchi, Enzio Lectio Divina (SPCK, London, 2008)

Caputo, John D., and Michael Scanlon. eds.  God, the Gift and Postmodernism (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999)

Daley, Brian E. SJ. ‘Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable? Some Reflections on Early Christian

Davis, Ellen F. & Hays, Richard B. The Art of Reading Scripture (W.B Eerdmans, Cambridge, UK, 2003)

Fairbairn, Donald. ‘Patristic exegesis and theology: the Cart and the Horse’ in Westminster Theological Journal 69 (2007): 1-19
<http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.elib.tcd.ie/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=7026d749-67e1-45bf-aa00-0c67a60287cf%40sessionmgr120&vid=0&hid=120&preview=false>
Fowl, Stephen E. ‘The Importance of a Multivoiced Literal Sense of Scripture’ in Adam, A.K.M., Fowl, Stephen. E., Vanhoozer, Kevin J., Watson, Francis., Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006)

Gorman, Michael J. Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers, (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009)

Interpretation of the Psalms.’ in The Art of Reading Scripture. eds. Ellen F. Davis &

Johnson, William Stacy. ‘Reading the Scriptures faithfully in a Postmodern Age’ in eds. Davis, Ellen F.  & Hays, Richard B., The Art of Reading Scripture. (Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003)

McGrath, Alister., Christian Theology: An Introduction. (Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford 2011)

(ed.) The Christian Theology Reader. 3rd ed. (Blackwell, Oxford, 2007)

Penner, Myron. ed. Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views (Brazos Press, Michigan, 2005)

Richard B. Hays (Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003),

Scalise, Charles J., ‘Patristic Biblical Interpretation and Postmodern Baptist Identity’ in Review and Expositor, 101, Fall 2004. Accessed April 2016.

<http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.elib.tcd.ie/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=cfa5f489-5773-458f-8a97-5335de3c7c8d%40sessionmgr4002&vid=0&hid=4108&preview=false>

Sharp, Caroline J. Wrestling the Word: The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Believer
(Westminster John Knox Press, Kentucky, 2010)

Sheldrake, Rupert. The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry. (London: Coronet, 2012)

Smith, James K. Who’s Afraid of Relativism (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014)
Spinks, Christopher D., The Bible and the Crisis of Meaning: Debates on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (London: T&T Clark, 2007)

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. (ed.) The Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (London, SPCK, 2005)

Yarchin, W. The History of Biblical Interpretation: A Reader (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011)

Orignal Preface 1611, The King James Version, 1611, Accessed April 2016  <http://www.kjvbibles.com/kjpreface.htm>

Transforming the Mind, Christian Postgraduate Conference, Dovedale, England, 26th-28th June, 2015

 

 

 

References   [ + ]

1. Orignal Preface 1611, The King James Version, 1611 <http://www.kjvbibles.com/kjpreface.htm> (Accessed April 2016)
2. Translation, moreover, requires interpretation and exegesis.
3. The pre-modern period is wider than the era of the patristic fathers. However, for the purposes of this essay, as suggested by the question, I will follow the conflation of the two.
4. John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon, eds., God, the Gift and Postmodernism (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999), 2
5. Myron Penner, ed., Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views (Michigan: Brazos Press, 2005)
6. The desire to own spiritual truths is demonstrated by the endemic denominational differences, distrust and inability to find common ground as God’s people.
7. Ecclesiastes 1:3 All references from the Bible are from the New Revised Standard Version
8. Caputo and Scanlon, eds., God, the Gift, 2
9. Rupert Sheldrake, The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry. (London: Coronet, 2012)
10. See James K. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Relativism (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014) 35
Smith points out to those who argue against contingency and fallibility that ‘[t]he picture of knowledge bequeathed to us by the Enlightenment is a forthright denial of our dependence, and it yields a God-like picture of human reason.’
11. italics mine
12. Brian E. Daley SJ, ‘Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable? Some Reflections on Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms.’ in The Art of Reading Scripture eds. Ellen F. Davis & Richard B. Hays (Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003) 69.
13. Ibid. 70
14. I will not be discussing the details of the various types of exegesis, theological interpretation and doctrinal arguments of the Patristics due to the constraints of focus and word limit in this essay. For examples and further information see Alister McGrath (ed.) The Christian Theology Reader. 3rd ed. (Blackwell, Oxford, 2007) For example, see, among others, ‘Origen on the three ways of reading scripture,’ p.80; ‘Augustine on the Literal and Allegorical Senses of Scripture, p.86.
See also W. Yarchin, The History of Biblical Interpretation: A Reader (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011)  xi-xxx
15. Donald Fairbairn, ‘Patristic exegesis and theology: the Cart and the Horse’ in Westminster Theological Journal 69 (2007): 1-19, accessed April 2016, <http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.elib.tcd.ie/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=7026d749-67e1-45bf-aa00-0c67a60287cf%40sessionmgr120&vid=0&hid=120&preview=false>
Although this is a general view, Fairbairn examines the nuanced complexity of patristic exegesis which cannot be explored within the confines of this essay. The dichotomy between the Antiochene and Alexandrian schools continues to influence us today. The former – whose culture was rhetorical and philosophical – impressed on biblical exegesis a sense of the importance of the historical narratives of the Old Testament narratives, while the latter treated these differently, and influenced Christian exegetes to read such narratives based on the legacy of Philo of Alexandria. The exegetical school of Antioch favoured literal, historical exegesis, while the Alexandrian favoured allegorical exegesis.
16. Daley, Is Patristic, 70
Daley quotes Farrar’s dismissive perspective of pre-modern exegesis in1885 ‘[we shall pass in swift review many centuries of exegesis…dominated by unproven theories, and overladen by untenable results.… There are but few of them whose pages are not rife with errors – errors of method, errors of fact, errors of history, of grammar, and even of doctrine.’
17. Ibid. 71
18. Ibid. 72
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid. 73
21. McGrath classifies the following as the Patristic fathers: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Athansius, the Cappudocian Fathers, and Augustine of Hippo. For a fuller description of the individual figures. See McGrath, Alister, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)
22. Daley, ‘Is Patristic, 74-9 Due to the constraints of this essay – in terms of length and focus – I am confining myself to the outline of these features
23. Ibid. 74
24. Ibid.
25. Ibid. 75-6
26. Ibid. 76-7
27. Italics mine.
28. Ibid. 77-8
29. Ibid. 78. These terms were also used in disputes of doctrinal orthodoxy.
30. Daley, ‘Is Patristic,’ 79. Daley describes Keble’s defence of patristic exegesis against a charge of ‘mysticism’, where nineteenth century English Protestantism believed that ancient exegesis was ‘superstitious credulity and irrationality, rather than its older sense of a graced union with God. He suggested that his contemporaries might ‘benefit from sharing in this ancient Christian sense of awe before the Biblical text.’
31. Ibid.
See also Yarchin, History, xii Yarchin points out that the early church inherited ancient traditional ways of viewing sacred texts: ‘The basic interpretative presupposition was [that] due to the inherent limitations of human understanding, there will always be something in the sacred text that remains undisclosed to unglossed reading. Mystery …was characteristic of sacred texts. God is the speaker, but humans are the writers, and multiplicity of meaning…is to be expected….’ i
32. D. Christopher Spinks, The Bible and the Crisis of Meaning: Debates on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (London: T&T Clark, 2007) 7
33. Vanhoozer, Kevin. J. The Dictionary of Theological Interpretation. (Michigan: Baker, 2005) 20
This also precipitated academic biblical studies into a ‘theology free zone.’ Exegesis sans faith.
34. Ibid. 21
35. Ibid. 20
36. Stephen E. Fowl, ‘The Importance of a Multivoiced Literal Sense of Scripture’ in Adam, A.K.M. et.al. Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Michigan: Baker Academic, Michigan, 2006) 35-50
37. Ibid. 20
38. William Stacy Johnson ‘Reading the Scriptures faithfully in a Postmodern Age’ in The Art of Reading Scripture. eds., Ellen F. Davis & Richard B. Hays (Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003) 109-24.
39. Ibid. 109-16
40. Ibid. 117-22
41. Ibid 122-24
42. Michael J. Gorman Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers, (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009) 9
43. See also Charles J. Scalise, ‘Patristic Biblical Interpretation and Postmodern Baptist Identity’ in Review and Expositor, 101, Fall 2004, Accessed April 2016, <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.elib.tcd.ie/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=cfa5f489-5773-458f-8a97-5335de3c7c8d%40sessionmgr4002&vid=0&hid=4108&preview=false>
Scalise’s article discusses the benefits of evangelical Baptist Christians engaging with Patristic exegesis and interpretation both for their own spiritual lives and for their ministry. He believes that such a perspective will refresh and renew Baptist ministry, which has held a prejudicial view of scripture.
44. I am returning here to Daley’s features of Patristic Exegesis discussed earlier.
45. Ibid.
See also Yarchin, History. Yarchin points out that the early church inherited ancient traditional ways of viewing sacred texts: ‘The basic interpretative presupposition was [that] due to the inherent limitations of human understanding, there will always be something in the sacred text that remains undisclosed to unglossed reading. Mystery …was characteristic of sacred texts. God is the speaker, but humans are the writers, and multiplicity of meaning…is to be expected….’ p.xii
46. See Enzio Bianchi, Lectio Divina (London: SPCK, 2008)
Bianchi provides a wonderful journey, which to me is close to the heart of the Patristic engagement with Scripture.
47. Daley, Is Patristic, Daley describes Keble’s defence of patristic exegesis against a charge of ‘mysticism’, where nineteenth century English Protestantism believed that ancient exegesis was ‘superstitious credulity and irrationality, rather than its older sense of a graced union with God. He suggested that his contemporaries might ‘benefit from sharing in this ancient Christian sense of awe before the Biblical text.’
48. Ibid. 78 These terms were also used in disputes of doctrinal orthodoxy.
49. Ibid. 74
50. Ibid.
51. Ibid. 76-7
52. The Old Testament people of God, and the writers of the New Testament Epistle constantly did this.
53. Transforming the Mind, Christian Postgraduate Conference, Dovedale, England, 26th-28th June, 2015
54. The Lectionary promotes this possibility by the resonance that the scripture has with the psalms, while the creed and collects can always be reconnected to scripture regularly.
55. Smith, Who’s Afraid, 35
56. Fairbaine, Patristic Exgesis,
The older view suggests exegesis was the horse and theological interpretation the cart, while more recent, especially postmodern perspectives favour theology to be the horse that drives the cart.
57. Caputo, More Radical Hermeneutics: On Not Knowing Who We Are (Indianapolis: Indiana University, 2000) 193-219
Caputo’s exegesis on the Emmaeus story is case in point. Although exciting, and thought provoking, it did not appear to affirm the biblical foundational salvation narrative or its liturgical narrative truths.
58. A rewriting of the Original Preface 1611, The King James Version, 1611 Accessed April 2016
<http://www.kjvbibles.com/kjpreface.htm>