HagiaSophia.jpgDon’t know if you saw this, but David Neff reports on Robert Wilken’s opening lecture at Wheaton about how the early fathers read the Bible. I wish I could have been there, but I had too much on my plate that week.

Theological readings of the Bible are becoming more and more prominent, and alongside this the historical-critical method and the modernist theory that we can get back to the pure meaning of that text in its time are falling by the wayside.

Wilken made several key points about the Fathers’ nonliteral and image-laden reading of the Bible.

1. The New Testament authors clearly applied Old Testament texts in ways that departed seriously from the plain, surface meaning of the text. When Paul cites Psalm 19 in Romans 10 (“their voice is gone out into all the world”), he applies the Psalmist’s statement about the heavens to the preaching of the apostles. This runs against the plain meaning, said Wilken.

2. The books of Scripture do not bear their own significance. They must be united to something greater, which is Christ. Thus Paul interprets the creation of man and woman as a great mystery, which is Christ and the church; and he interprets the water-giving rock in the Sinai desert as Christ.

3. Typically, such creative renderings of the Bible are focused on the Old Testament. That is because the Old Testament text signifies Christ, but the New Testament text does not signify another Christ. It requires no allegory or analogy to reveal the Incarnate Word.

4. The Fathers also understood the interpretation of Scripture to require the reader’s participation in the spiritual reality of the text. Thus it is not enough to say that Christ was crucified. We must also say, “I am crucified with Christ,” and thus also I am raised with Christ.

Here is a point I would make: the lens through which the Christian is to read the whole Bible, including the Old Testament, is the gospel lens, what the earliest Christians called the regula fidei. When we opt for a purely historical reading of the Bible, we fail to do justice to the larger truth to which each passage in the Bible points.
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