Conversion: Reading the Biblical Story Anew

Noah saved from the flood

“Within the speeches of Acts, Jewish people might hear the familiar stories borrowed from their Scriptures, but these stories have been cast in ways that advocate a reading of that history that underscores the fundamental continuity between the ancient story of Israel, the story of Jesus, and the story of the Way. Israel’s past (and present) is understood accurately and embraced fully only in relation to the redemptive purpose of God, and this divine purpose comes to decisive expression in Jesus’s ministry, crucifixion, and exaltation, and through exegetes operating in the sphere of the Holy Spirit. The coming of Jesus as Savior may signal the fresh offer of repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel (Acts 5:31; 13:38-39), but the acceptance of this offer by Jewish people is dependent on their embracing this interpretation of God’s salvific activity…calls for conversion. And what is conversion, but transformation of the theological imagination, which includes incorporation into the community of believers and concomitant practices? Conversion as Luke develops it entails a reconstruction of one’s self within a new web of relationships, a transfer of allegiances, and the embodiment of transformed dispositions and attitudes. That this conversion is to a particular reading of that ancient story – a reading that insists that the only genuine line tracing the actualization of God’s purpose passes through the life, death, and the exaltation of Jesus, Messiah, and Lord.”

(Joel B. Green, Seized by Truth, pg. 47-48)

Christ as Hermeneutic: Moses Wrote of Me

A theme regarding the interpretation of Scripture which I have frequently mentioned is that for Christians, Christ is the hermeneutic or interpretive key for understanding the Old Testament texts.  Unlike what some modern Christians like to claim, that literalism is the principle by which we read the Old Testament, the New Testament itself gives us the clue for reading the Old Testament.  We find this interpretive principle in John’s Gospel, Chapter 5.   It is an idea I have presented in many blogs as the Orthodox principle for reading the Old Testament.  (see for example my blogs:  Jesus the Key to Understanding TorahChrist is the Key to Reading ScriptureChrist is the Key to Open the Scriptural TreasuryReading the Old Testament with JesusReading the Old Testament to Reveal the Truth).   Today, one of the scheduled Scripture Lessons is John 5:30-6:2.  It is the very passage in which Jesus offers a hermeneutic for reading the Scriptures.  Jesus is in a dialog or debate with His fellow Jews discussing the messiah, who Jesus is and the purpose of the Scriptures.  Jesus says (the emphasis is mine and is not in the original text):

“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen;  and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent.   You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me;  yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.   I do not receive glory from men.   But I know that you have not the love of God within you.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; . . .  Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope.  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”  (John 5:37-47)

Jesus makes a very bold claim that Moses wrote about Him (Jesus).  Moses is credited with having written Torah, the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Bible.  Jesus says Moses was writing about Him (Jesus)!   To read the Genesis text literally to discover history and science is to misread and misunderstand the text.  We read Genesis and all of Torah and the entirety of the Old Testament in order to come to faith in Christ.

St. Luke in his Gospel offers a very similar lesson as Jesus explains to the two disciples walking to Emmaus the prophecy of and the purpose of His (the Messiah’s) own suffering, death and resurrection:

And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.     (Luke 24:27)

Jesus says according to St. John that the very way the texts of Moses are to be read is in and through Him.  It is Moses, not Jesus, who will judge whether or not the Jews (and all of us) have been faithful in reading and obeying Scriptures.  Jesus says if you really believe Moses, if you read his writings with faith and understanding, then you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  If you read Moses incorrectly – without faith – you won’t understand what he was purposefully saying and so you won’t believe Jesus either.

The real debate according to Jesus is not whether the Genesis creation story is literally true or not.  The real debate is whether you read Moses with faith and recognize that Moses was writing a prophecy about the Messiah.  If we understand that even Genesis is about Jesus, we will rightly understand its importance in our lives.  For Jesus believing Moses’ writings means recognizing that they are written about Jesus, the Messiah.

Jesus asks His fellow Jews, “if you do not believe Moses’ writings, how will you believe my words?”   Jesus is saying there is a right way to read Moses and the Torah.  That way requires the understanding that Moses wrote about Jesus the Messiah.  This way of reading Torah is very much in line with the many competing views of the proper way to read Scripture that existed among Jews in Jesus’ day.  Jesus offers a particular interpretation of Moses, a particular hermeneutic.  If you believe what Moses wrote you will agree with what Jesus teaches.  Only if you disbelieve Moses will you not believe in Jesus as Christ.

Adam, the First Human (PDF)

Christ and Adam Meet Again

The recent blog series  Adam, The First Human is now available as a PDF.

The series began with the blog:  Adam and Sin, Paradise and Fasting.

The series explores the role Adam – human, prototype, legend, story – has played in Orthodox theology through the ages.   While Adam is rarely mentioned in the canonical Jewish scriptures, his significance is made clear in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the incarnate God.  It is in the person of Christ that the importance of Adam and Genesis and the entire Old Testament is revealed to all.  Thus, we read the Scriptures in a Christocentric fashion.  It is Christ who reveals the ultimate importance and meaning of the Old Testament, and we come to realize the entire Old Testament speaks about and reveals Christ to the world.

You can find a few other blog series also available as a PDF at  https://frted.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/god-questions-his-creation-genesis-11-as-one-pdf-document/

and at  https://frted.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/pdf-reading-the-bible-means-opening-a-treasury-12-3/

and at https://frted.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/reading-scripture-the-old-testament-the-torah-and-prophecy-pdf/

Christ the New Adam

This is the 25th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam, Being Human and Biblical Scholarship (C).

“The first Adam is not the key to the New Testament.  The second Adam, however, is the key to the Old Testament.”  (John Romanides, THE ANCESTRAL SIN, p 124)

Orthodox Christians have read the Bible through a Christocentric lens.  This is based in the faith that Jesus is the Christ and the Incarnate God.  We have accepted Jesus’ own words from John 5:39-40:   “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” We have accepted Jesus’ own method of interpreting the Scriptures as described in Luke 24:25-27:   “And he said to them, ‘O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’  And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” It is Christ who gives us the means to understand the scriptural lessons of Adam and Eve found in Genesis 2-3.  Adam is a type of the true human, Jesus Christ; we come to understand the first Adam not by reading Genesis 1-3, but by understanding Christ and then studying the Genesis account of the first humans.

“The Fathers saw salvation embedded in the creation narratives…  But some of them take the ‘type’ or ‘prefiguration’ still further.  Leaving behind chronological time, they say, we may conceive of the first Adam as being created because of, and according to the model of, and in the image of Christ, the New Adam.  ‘It was not the old Adam who was the model for the new, but the new Adam for the old’, wrote St Nicolas Cabasilas; ‘The first Adam is the imitation of the second.’” (Peter Bouteneff in THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, p 95)

Christ is the true human (the incarnate Son of God!) and in Him we understand what the first Adam lost through sin.

Commenting on Romans 5:  “Paul is denying a direct and balancing contrast between the gift and the single act of sin…  Christ did not begin where Adam began.  He had to begin where Adam ended, that is, by taking on to himself not merely a clean slate, not merely even the single sin of Adam, but the whole entail of that sin, working its way out in the ‘many sins’ of Adam’s descendants, and arriving at the judgment spoken of in 1:32; 2:1-6; 3:19-20.  … He had not merely to replace Adamic humanity with true humanity.  He had to deal with the ‘many trespasses,’ and the consequent judgment, which had resulted from the sin of Adam.”    (N.T. Wright, THE CLIMAX OF THE COVENANT, p 37)

Paul “presents Christ as one who reverses Adam’s sin, and who sums up all that man ought to be: if Adam is disobedient, then Christ is obedient (Rom.5); if man fails to give glory to God (Rom.1), Christ is the one who does not fall short of God’s glory (Rom.3:23); if men and women are faithless, we may expect Christ to be faithful.  …  we may expect the Second Adam to be obedient, to give glory to God, and to be faithful.  Moreover, what the Christian becomes depends on what Christ is; if the Christian is a son of God, it is only because Christ is Son of God (Rom. 8; Gal. 4); if righteous, this is dependent on Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor.5:21); our holiness is also dependent on his (1 Cor 1:30); spiritual gifts—including the gift of faith—depend on life in Christ (Gal 5:22).  If Paul appeals to his converts to be obedient on the basis of Christ’s obedience (Phil. 2:8,12), is it not likely that their faith also will be dependent on his?”   (Morna Hooker, FROM ADAM TO CHRIST, p 168)

Next:   John Romanides THE ANCESTRAL SIN (A)

Jesus the Key to Understanding Torah

One of the Resurrectional Gospel Lessons used in Orthodox worship is Luke 24:13-35, which is read as part of the recurring readings for Sunday Matins.   In this reading, our Lord Jesus risen from the dead is speaking with two of His disciples as these disciples are leaving Jerusalem following the crucifixion of Christ.  The disciples had hoped Jesus was the Messiah, but his execution had dashed their hopes.  They leave Jerusalem despondently, though puzzled by what to make of the rumors they had heard about His being risen from the dead.  Jesus joins them in their walk, though they do not recognize their Risen Lord. After listening to their disappointment in what had happened, Jesus spoke to them, and here I’ll mention only two things He says to these despairing disciples:

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you: that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:42‑47)

 Basically what the Risen Lord reveals to these two disciples of His is that the Old Testament indeed is a treasury of God’s riches. But it remains locked in its vault until the key is given to open the vault. That key is Christ Himself.  (see also Christ is the Key to Open the Scriptural Treasury).  The key to understand all the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments and all 613 laws of the Torah, including the history, the psalms and the prophecies is Jesus the Messiah.  That of course is going to be one of the main points of disagreement between Christians and Jews to this day. Christians accept the notion that Jesus is more important than either Torah or Temple, and that in fact He replaces both of them in by fulfilling their original purposes, thus enacting a New Covenant/Testament between God and His People.

The Evangelist John records Jesus saying to His fellow Jews:  “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf” (John 5:39). As in the Gospel lesson of Jesus with His two traveling disciples in Luke 24, so too in John 5 Jesus teaches that the Scriptures – the entire Old Testament – serve the purpose of helping to reveal or point out the Messiah.  Jesus fulfills all the promises, prophecies and apocalyptical sayings found in the Jewish Scriptures.

Next: Reading the Old Testament with Christ

Reading the Scriptures with the Early Church: In Christ

This is the 3rd Blog in this series which began with Reading Scripture: the Old Testament, the Torah and Prophecy.   The immediate preceding blog is Reading the Scriptures in the Earliest Christian Communities.  In this Blog Fr. John McGuckin offers a glimpse at how early Christians read the Scriptures – and read them differently from how we read them today.

 “A modern reader, used to interpreting the Bible according to its sequential narrative content, and its historical or ethical significances, is singularly ill-equipped to realize that throughout the vast majority of Christian history this is not how the bible was generally read.  In earlier Christian ages (and the style still applies predominantly to most of the bible as it appears in Church in the form of liturgical poetry) the scripture was read in fragmented pericopes, each one turning around a Type (tupos): namely a figure or symbol or story from the old text that was reworked symbolically in line with the evangelical mystery. 

So, for example, the old story of Abraham and Isaac’s sacrifice becomes, by reference to the inherent symbols of the ‘Beloved Son’ carrying ‘the wood’ (the Cross) of his own sacrifice ‘up the hill’ (Calvary), for the establishment of ‘a new covenant’ of grace (the foundation of New Israel) … Type, in this case, means that this reference to the passion-covenant theology is ‘really’ what the Abrahamic story is all about.  Its ‘other meaning’ (what one might call the literal or first-sight meaning, as something to do with the patriarchs and the establishment of the covenant with Israel) was understood as a level of revelation on the surface, meant to be passed through by the enlightened reader (the one who had been given the key to the mystical interpretation through the acceptance of the Gospel story).

Our Father among the Saints: John Chrysostom

The mechanism of this form of interpretation was based upon three central notions common among the Fathers of the Church namely: that (a) all scripture was a single inter-related text telling the same story of the Incarnate Word; (b) that all scripture had superficial levels of meaning that deepened in a mystical significance made visible according to the initiation possessed by the disciple of Christ; and (c) that there were clues within the text, at surface level, that gave signs to the initiate reader who would read the old story (the Old Testament) ‘back from the new,’ not forward as if reading historically.*  Like the ‘type’ of an old machine-press, which was reversed so that its impression on the paper would render the letters in their correct readable alignment, so too the biblical ‘type’ was an enigmatic symbol, or story, hidden in the Old Testament whose ‘real meaning’ became apparent to the careful (initiated) observer only in the light of the Gospel, and only according to the degree of the illumination which the Divine Spirit of God gave to the heart of the faithful reading it ‘In Christ.**’”

[Notes:  *”Mar Theodore of Mopsuestia, described the issue succinctly in his argument that if the scripture is a sacred literature that transcends historicity, being of the eschatological moment, then it cannot be exegeted solely by linear historical methods of interpretation.”

 

The Word of God

**”Reading the text, en christo (1 Cor 4:10; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 1:9) or with the ‘mind of Christ’ phronema Christou, (cf. 1 Cor 2:13-16), it passes from simple textual reading to become a sacrament of divine revelation.  The Church Fathers, then, believed that the Scripture really only became ‘sacred revelation’ when it fulfilled that function in Christ, and through Christ.  His was the presence that sanctified the literature and made it revelatory for the purpose of salvation.  It was in this sense that Origen called the scripture, the ‘sacrament’ of the body of the Logos….”] 

(John McGuckin,  HARP OF GLORY, pp14-15)

 Next: Reading the Scriptures with St. John Cassian

Methodology: How We Read the Bible – Theodoret of Cyrrus

This is the 8Th  and final  blog in this series which began with Reading the Bible: Hermeneutics & Typology.  The previous blog is  Methodology: How We Read the Bible – St. John Cassian.

In reading through some of the Patristic Biblical commentators, we do see the variety of meanings they felt were put into the text by God Himself.  Their goal was always to come to the full revelation of God – to completely understand the text as God intended us to comprehend it – and to get all the possible meanings that God had put into the text.  Theodoret of Cyrus (d. 457AD) was a bishop in the Antiochian tradition of biblical studies.  Generally the Antiochians downplayed the use of allegory in their interpretation of Scripture, but in their writings we also can see that the differences between a typological reading and an allegorical reading can sometimes be slim.  They knew full well that St. Paul himself used both typology and allegory in his own reading of interpretation of the Jewish scriptures.  Here is Theodoret commenting on the Epistle to the Hebrews:

“While he seems to conduct his treatment in narrative style, he is laying the groundwork for his thesis.  The reason, you see, that he showed Abraham giving a blessing and offering a tenth of the spoils was to show the patriarch yielding precedence even in type.  Then he brings out his importance also from the names: In the first place his name means King of righteousness; then he was king o f Salem which means peace.  This name, Melchizedek, in the Hebrew and Syriac language means King of righteousness; he ruled over Salem, and the world Salem is translated peace.  His intention, therefore, is to present him this way as a type of Christ the Lord: according to the apostle he is our peace, and according to the Old Testament author he is our righteousness.”    (Theodoret Commentary on St. Paul, Vol 2, p 163)

Theodoret does look for the meaning in words and names in their original languages.  He understands that there are many ways that God’s message and intent might be ‘hidden’ in the text.  The very purpose of interpretation (hermeneutics) is to uncover all of the meanings God has placed in the text to inspire and instruct us.  In the above text, Theodoret simply follows what he considers to the natural reading of the text – reading it for the obvious meanings.

A little later in his commentary, Theodoret shows that the spiritual meaning may not be stated literally in the text but must be discerned from the text.  Here he offers what we would consider to be much more an allegorical interpretation, but Theodoret would have said is typology but ultimately a literal reading of the text because it is discovering the meaning God intended us to receive from the Scripture:

“The water was a type of baptism, the blood of brute beasts the saving blood, the heat of the hyssop the grace of the divine Spirit, the scarlet wool the new garment, the piece of cedar (being a wood that does not rot) the impassable divinity, the ashes of a heifer the suffering of humanity.”  (Theodoret Commentary on St. Paul, Vol 2, pp 174-175)

How do we know if these other readings of scripture are the real meaning of the passages?  Protestantism generally has moved in the direction of insisting that a literal reading of the text is the only meaningful reading, and thus they claim they can avoid eisegesis.  But any modern reading  of the text makes certain assumptions that may not have been in the inspired mind of the original author.  What we have as aid to the reading of Scriptures are the vast commentaries on the Scriptures from the early Church and Patristic periods.  They serve as a guide to us to help prevent us from making the Scriptures conform to our ideas.  We can look at how biblical scholars of earlier church times interpreted and made use of the scriptures in their own teaching and preaching.

 “A literalist, on the other hand, is content to take a statement or work at face value without attempting or managing to divine the author’s intention… … Chrysostom:..  “There is a great treasure stored up in the Scriptures, concealed beneath the surface … so there is need of study so that we can learn the force hidden beneath the surface.’   …  He likewise has no difficulty with a talking serpent, and though ‘in the narrator’s mind it is scarcely an embodiment of a “demonic” power and certainly not of Satan,’ Chrysostom readily makes that identification in the course of his moral treatment of the Fall.”  (Robert Hill, READING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN ANTIOCH,  pp 152-153)

 The Fathers of the Church were not mere literalists in their reading of the Scriptures.  They did seek out the moral implications of various texts as well as the other spiritual meanings they could find in the text.  Ultimately they always were looking to find Christ.  They saw the Scriptures as a great treasury which needed only the key to make it accessible to all believers.  Jesus Christ is that key which unlocks all the treasures of the Bible.  They also accepted as principle the words of the Apostle Peter:

“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The Fathers accepted a notion of Tradition as a guiding principle for interpreting the Scriptures.  They were not afraid to disagree with one another, nor did they think that only one interpretation of a scriptural passage was valid.  They plumbed the depths of the meaning of Scriptures, and then through their own interactions established boundaries for the possible meanings of Scripture.  Ultimately it is Christ who establishes the boundaries for the meaning of the Scriptures, for they all bear witness to Him.

“If there only existed a single sense for the words of scripture, then the first commentator who came along would discover it, and other hearers would experience neither the labor of searching, nor the joy of finding.  Rather, each word of our Lord has its own form, and each form has its own members, and each member has its own character.  Each individual understands according to his capacity and interprets as it is granted to him.”  (St. Ephrem the Syrian, COMMENTARY ON THE DIATESSARON).

We each are given the treasury of Scripture to do the labor to discover its meaning and to experience the joy of that discovery.  Each reader doesn’t add to the treasury, the treasury is already there, we discover what is valuable, and it is through the Patristic witness that we are taught the difference between gems and costume jewelry.

To read this blog series on hermeneutics and reading the bible in PDF format go to: https://frted.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/reading-the-bible-hermeneutics-typology-pdf/

For links to other blogs I’ve written on reading the scriptures with the Fathers, go to https://frted.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/pdf-reading-the-bible-means-opening-a-treasury-12-3/

Methodology: How we read the Bible (A)

This is the 3rd  blog in this series which began with Reading the Bible: Hermeneutics & Typology.  The previous blog is  Christ is the Key to Reading Scriptures. While reading the Scriptures “in Christ” is the Orthodox way to come to a full understanding of the text, through history the Patristic writers and theologians of the Church used a number of methods for interpreting the Bible.  In this blog and the ones to follow, we will consider some of the terminology Orthodox writers have used to allow themselves to read the Scriptures in a Christocentric manner.  To see the Scriptures as pointing to Christ, revealing Christ or being explained and interpreted by Christ who shows their full meaning is to read the Bible in this Christocentric manner.  But there are several different specific methods of reading the text which enable the reader to maintain the Christocentric interpretation.  And yes, there is an assumption that the texts do and are supposed to speak of Christ.

“When we think of the doctrine of the senses of Scripture we commonly think of them as consisting of three or four: the literal, first, then the moral or tropological, the mystical or allegorical, and finally the anagogical.  Reduced to three, they become the literal, the moral and the mystical…  The literal sense teaches what happened, allegory what you are to believe, the moral sense what you are to do, anagogy where you are going. … the movement to allegory is not at all a movement away from history, but we might say a movement into history, into the significance of the sacred events that are the object of our faith.  The literal sense is the object of faith: this is what we are to believe, to believe in, in a God who meets us in history, becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth.  The allegorical sense represents our attempt to understand the mystery we discern here.”  (Andrew Louth, DISCERNING THE MYSTERY,  pp 112-113)

The different ways of reading the Scriptures –  for their moral teachings (tropological), their mystical sense (allegorical), or for their higher meaning (anagogical) – are all different ways of reading the text to discover the divine meaning which God has placed in the text.  To find the meaning which God has placed in the text – the revelation God intends us to find – is to read the text literally even when we are not reading the text merely for its historical or factual sense.  Going beyond the literal is the proper reading of the text if it gets us to the meaning God placed in the text, and when it helps us to see the Christological purpose of the Scripture.  Many early church theologians believed God placed in the text clues to lead us beyond the literal reading of the Scriptures to find the revelation which was in the text if we have the eyes of faith to see it.

Origen (d. 254AD) several times remarks that inconsistencies in the historical narrative presented in Scriptures are there to alert us to the fact that the true meaning of Scripture is not to be found at the level of the historical narrative (or literal meaning) at all.”  (Andrew Louth, DISCERNING THE MYSTERY,  pp 112-113)

Chrysostom (d. 407AD) expresses his own deep appreciation of scriptural koinonia.  For him the biblical authors are the means by which communication (omilia) with God occurs, a communication which can be withheld…   The Scriptures, like the Incarnation, come to us as a gesture of divine considerateness, synkatavasis, a loving gesture… nothing to suggest ‘condescension’…  The Incarnation, after all, does not represent a patronizing gesture on God’s part towards human beings – only love and concern. …  (Chrysostom writes -) ‘remember that with the patriarchs as well, when he was sitting by the oak tree, he came in human form as the good man’s guest in the company of the angels, giving us a premonition from on high at the beginning that he would one day take human form to liberate all human nature by this means from the tyranny of the devil and lead us to salvation.’” (Robert Hill, READING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN ANTIOCH,  pp 36-37)

God takes on forms or speaks to us in words that we can understand, but then does it in such a way as to lead us beyond the literal and the obvious to the divine meaning and purpose which is at first glance hidden from our view.  The Patristic writers used

“… a hermeneutic that viewed the entire history of Israel as foreshadowing events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and his followers.  The words of the prophets were said to have been written not for their own day, but for ‘the time of the end’; the voice of the preincarnate Jesus was heard echoing throughout the Psalms.  The underlying principle was summed up by the Apostle Paul in Rom. 15:4:  ‘For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.’”  (Christopher Stanley in EARLY CHRISTIAN INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPTURES OF ISRAEL, (eds) C. Evans and J. Sanders, p 18)

Scriptures were recorded not for the sake of biblical characters, just to preserve their story, but for our sake, the readers of the Scriptures in every generation, to instruct us in God’s way and revelation.  The Scriptures are thus written not just to preserve history and fact, but to give us God’s revelation.  This is why they must be read not merely literally, but Christocentrically

Next:  Methodology: How we read the Bible (B)

Christ is the Key to Reading Scriptures

This is the 2nd blog in this series which began with Reading the Bible: Hermeneutics & Typology.

Jesus Christ is not only the One about whom the Scriptures speak, prophesy, point out, or reveal, but He also is the One who reveals the meaning of all Scriptures  This is clear in the Gospels.

On four different occasions Jesus asks his opponents (Pharisees and Sadducees), “have you not read…?” (Matthew 12:3, 12:5, 19:4, 22:31; Mark 12:10, 12:26; Luke 6:3)   The answer is of course they had read those passages, but they had perhaps never read them with the particular understanding that Jesus was offering.   Jesus reveals the meaning and purpose of Scripture through His teachings.  Without Christ, meanings would be derived from the Scriptures, but it is Jesus who clarifies what their meaning is.

 Then in Luke 24:13-35, we see the risen Jesus interpreting to the two disciples “in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (vs .27).  The two disciples acknowledge that their hearts were burning when He opened to them the scriptures (vs. 32).   Here we see the Scriptures pointing to (revealing) the Christ, and the Christ revealing the Scriptures!

Fr. Paul Tarazi notes,

“… the Pauline conception of scripture—its meaning can be revealed only by Christ (only the Lamb can open it,  Rev 5: 6-10).   {Footnote: Numerous Pauline texts make it clear that the Old Testament is only understood correctly when it is interpreted as prophesying the gospel of the crucified Christ; see especially Rom 1:1-5 and 2 Cor 3:12-17; also Eph 3:1-12).}”  (Paul Tarazi, THE NEW TESTAMENT INTRODUCTION: THE JOHANNINE WRITINGS, p 60)

Dr. Peter Bouteneff writes:

“Christ—the crucified Christ, as Irenaeus is keen to specify—is the one by whom we rightly read the Scriptures, and when we read the Scriptures through him, we understand both them and him correctly.  Irenaeus describes a double dissemination: Christ is sown in the Scriptures, and the Scriptures in their turn announce, or ‘disseminate,’ the coming of the Son of God (AHY 4.23.1) …  In a celebrated passage in Against Heresies, he speaks of this unity and of how Christ is present both in the sowing (OT) and the reaping (NT)—a presence that should guide our reading of Scripture:

‘If any one therefore reads the Scriptures in this manner, he will find in them the Word concerning Christ, and a prefiguration of the new calling.  For Christ is the treasure that was hidden in the field (Matt 13:44), that is, in this world—for ‘the field is the world’ (Matt 13:38).  [Christ is] a treasure hidden in the scriptures, since he was signified by means of types and parables that, humanly speaking, could not be understood before the fulfillment of the things that were prophesied – in other words, before the coming of Christ…

For any prophecy, before it is fulfilled, is nothing but enigmas and ambiguities.  But from the moment that the prediction is fulfilled, it finds its proper interpretation.

And so it is that in our own day when the law is read by the Jews, it is [to them] like a fable [mythos], for they do not possess the exegesis of all things in order  to know the human coming of the Son of God.  When read, on the other hand, by Christians, [the law] is indeed a treasure hidden in a field, revealed and interpreted by the cross of Christ.’”   (Peter Bouteneff, BEGINNINGS: ANCIENT CHRISTIAN READINGS OF THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVES, pp 74-75)

Christ is not only the Word of God, but the one in Whom God’s word is made known to us.   Thus for Christians, the Word of God is not so much a book, as it is the revelation of God.  The words of the Bible are our means to enter into this revelation; they are our means to live in Christ.  Our goal in reading the Bible is to move beyond the literal words on the page into a relationship with the Word of God made flesh, and thus with the Holy Trinity.  The text of the Bible is the means of God’s revealing His Word, but the text is not identical with God’s Word, nor is the Word of God – the 2nd Person of the Trinity – limited by or coterminous with the biblical text.  This is indeed part of the mystery of God’s revelation and how that revelation is not limited by our understanding of it.

Next:  Methodology: How we read the Bible

Reading the Bible: Hermeneutics & Typology

During this past summer, I wrote a blog series on reading and interpreting Scripture which began with the blog Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasure.  To a large extent the series was based in quotes from Patristic writers, saints of the church, modern Orthodox theologians and biblical scholars.   This blog series will be another look at the Scriptures focusing on some methods and means by which the Patristic writers interpreted our Scriptures.  The goal here as in the earlier series, and in the long Genesis 4-11 Commentary Blog series (God Questions His Creation), is to expand and enrich our reading of the Bible in conformity with how Orthodox teachers and saints have read the Scriptures throughout the history of the Church.  Rather than a mere literal reading of the text, Orthodox Patristic teachers relied on a Christological reading of the text to open its meaning to all believers.

The great teachers of the Orthodox Church, whose writings to a large extent amount to a continuous commentary on the Scriptures saw the Bible as a great Treasure which has been given to us by God as a gift.  The Treasure is kept in a beautiful chest, the written words of the Bible.  The key to opening this treasure is Christ, who not only is the key, but is also the greatest Treasure Himself, as all of the riches of Scripture reveal Him to us.

If any one therefore reads the Scriptures in this manner, he will find in them the Word concerning Christ, and a prefiguration of the new calling.  For Christ is the treasure that was hidden in the field (Matt 13:44), that is, in this world—for ‘the field is the world’ (Matt 13:38).  [Christ is] a treasure hidden in the scriptures, since he was signified by means of types and parables that, humanly speaking, could not be understood before the fulfillment of the things that were prophesied – in other words, before the coming of Christ…

When read, on the other hand, by Christians, [the law] is indeed a treasure hidden in a field, revealed and interpreted by the cross of Christ.”   (Peter Bouteneff, BEGINNINGS: ANCIENT CHRISTIAN READINGS OF THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVES, pp 74-75)

“Chrysostom:..  ’There is a great treasure stored up in the Scriptures, concealed beneath the surface … so there is need of study so that we can learn the force hidden beneath the surface.’”  (Robert Hill, READING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN ANTIOCH,  pp 152-153)

The Orthodox teachers throughout the Patristic period were in fact interested in the literal meaning of the text, but they did not limit themselves to this literal meaning, which they often felt was the simplest meaning but not necessarily the most profound meaning of the text – that was a treasure that had to be sought.  Additionally even when they did speak about the literal meaning of the text, they often assumed that the deeper meanings of the text were in fact what the original author inspired by the Holy Spirit meant and thus a spiritual reading of the text was a literal reading of the text.

Hugh of Rouen said, “…’by history and parables we are nourished; by allegory we grow; by morality we are perfected’…      The literal meaning is the fundamental meaning: it is this that we are seeking to understand.  Indeed the literal meaning of the New Testament is itself spiritual … the readings from Scripture, combined with the liturgical year which concentrates successively on different aspects of the mystery always celebrated, draw out of the mystery the wealth and variety of it signification.”  (Andrew Louth, DISCERNING THE MYSTERY,  pp 120-122)

 “In their exegetical method, the Antiochians paid more attention to the literal and historical sense than the Alexandrians, who used an allegorical method.  This does not mean that the Antiochians limited themselves to the literal meaning.  They did not reject reasonable speculation and they did admit spiritual meaning of the text, beyond the literal or historical meanings.  As an example, the Antiochians borrowed from the Platonic tradition the term theoria to designate the sublime sense of a text, the meaning that is not obvious from the letter; yet, unlike allegory, it takes for granted the literal meaning as well.  … The Antiochians regarded the Old Testament as a preparation for the New: as a sketch is to a finished picture.  This preparation implied a promise to be fulfilled.  In contrast, the Alexandrians emphasized the prophesies as prefiguration, not necessarily preparation, of the new event: the future reality prefigured in the Old Testament text is already present.”  (Veselin Kesich, FORMATION AND STRUGGLES: THE BIRTH OF THE CHURCH AD 33-200)

This blog series will continue to look at the Orthodox interpretation of our Scriptures, and the hermeneutics (the method of interpretation) which was employed by the Fathers of the Church.

Next:  Christ is the Key to Reading Scriptures