Methodology: How We Read the Bible – Theodore of Mopseustia

This is the 6Th   blog in this series which began with Reading the Bible: Hermeneutics & Typology.  The previous blog is  Methodology: How we read the Bible – Melitios of Sardis.

In the previous blog we saw a little of how Melitios of Sardis who died in 180AD read the Old Testament as a typology – it is a preparation for the Messiah in a similar way that a sketch or a model is the preparation that an artist, sculpture or architect does before making the reality represented in the preliminary sketch or work.  Theodore of Mopsuestia who died in 428AD gives us some sense about how Christians in the 5th Century approached the Scriptures.  For though Theodore was condemned for his teachings long after his death by the 5th Ecumenical Council in 553, his methods in interpreting Scriptures were shared by St. John Chrysostom and others in the Antiochian tradition of interpretation.

“In this work (Commentary on the Psalms) it is evident, first, that Theodore  is almost entirely concerned with the istoria of the biblical text rather than its theoria.  By istoria I mean the narrative meaning of the text, not its literal or historical meaning.  On the other hand, theoria refers to the spiritual meaning of the Scripture in Antiochene theological circles.  Thus the istoria of any given text may also provide the theoria, since the narrative meaning on occasion can and does supply the spiritual sense.”   (Harry Pappas in SACRED TEXT AND INTERPRETATION, Ed. Theodore Stylianopoulos, p 59-60).

Theodore thus reads the Scripture keeping the text in its context as a necessary element for truly understanding the Bible.   It was sometimes the concern of the Antiochian biblical interpreters that reading the text allegorically led to removing passages from there context in order to impose an interpretation that suited the needs of the interpreter.   Fr. Harry Pappas continuing his comments on Theodore notes the concerns that guided Theodore in his reading and interpreting of Scripture:

 “I would agree that for Theodore of Mopsuestia, hypothesis essentially designates the subject matter or topic of a biblical passage whose limits are determined by exegesis.  …  it is instructive to list the categories of hypothesis….: moral  … dogmatic… historical….  In summary, for Theodore the task of interpretation involves the following elements:

Identifying the prosopon, the role assumed by David (who);

Identifying the hypothesis, the topic addressed by the speaker (what); and,

Defining the akolouthia, the logic that connects prosopon and hypothesis (how).”

(Harry Pappas in SACRED TEXT AND INTERPRETATION, Ed. Theodore Stylianopoulos, p 67-69)

To understand the meaning of the text, a literal reading is not sufficient, for the context of any passage may themselves give clues that the text also has moral and dogmatic meanings which are beyond the literal reading of the text.  In reading the Psalms, Theodore does make careful inquiry into who is actually speaking the text, and even what role or purpose the speaker has in saying what is in the text of the Psalm.   This is of course a very important and interesting study since we claim the Bible to be the Word of God and yet within the various passages it is clear that it is often humans, not God who are speaking.  Thus to discover in what sense a text containing human conversation, human points of view, human prejudices and emotions is the Word of God requires great spiritual wisdom.  Thus the Patristic writers endeavored not only to read the literal words, but also understood the importance of discerning the intent of the text, or the logic of the Bible which goes beyond a mere reading of the literal words.

“Overwhelmingly, akolouthia refers to the continuity or sequence of the biblical narrative.  … At the most basic level, akolouthia simply refers to unpacking the logic of the Bible.  … In reality, akolouthia stands midway between the text of the Scripture and its interpretation, functioning as a transition from one to the other.”  (Harry Pappas in SACRED TEXT AND INTERPRETATION, Ed. Theodore Stylianopoulos, p 61).

Next:  Methodology: How We Read the Bible – St. John Cassian

Christmas: The Coming Kingdom of God

“Thus, right at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contradicted all human judgments and all nationalistic expectations of the kingdom of God.  The kingdom is given to the poor, not the rich; the feeble, not the mighty; to little children humble enough to accept it, not to soldiers who boast that they can obtain it by their own prowess.  In our Lord’s own day it was not the Pharisees who entered the kingdom, who thought they were rich, so rich in merit that they thanked God for their attainments; nor the Zealots who dreamed of establishing the kingdom by blood and sword; but publicans and prostitutes, the rejects of human society, who knew they were so poor they could offer nothing and achieve nothing.  All they could do was to cry to God for mercy; and he heard their cry.”

(Stott, John R W, The Message of THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (Matthew 5-7), pg 40)