Patristic Exegesis

Relevance to Contemporary Biblical Hermeneutics

In: Religion and Theology

This essay will argue that in several – often unnoticed – respects patristic exegesis can be relevant to contemporary biblical hermeneutics and can be a source of fruitful inspiration for it. From several quarters, contemporary scholars have called for an integrative approach to biblical hermeneutics, especially one that conjoins the historico-critical method and theological hermeneutics. A similar integrative approach was already adopted by patristic exegetes in Origen’s line, with their integration of historical reading and noetic exegesis, and with their hermeneutics of multiplicity that is another respect in which patristic exegesis proves highly relevant to contemporary biblical hermeneutics. The present relevance of scriptural passages is also a core principle of both patristic exegesis and contemporary hermeneutics, as well as the tenet of the unity of Scripture, which was emphasised by patristic exegetes and is to be taken into account in contemporary biblical hermeneutics with respect to the Bible as supertext. Also, philosophical investigation applied to scriptural hermeneutics is one of the most remarkable features of Origen’s and his followers’ hermeneutics. A reflection will thus be devoted to the relationship between philosophy and biblical hermeneutics, as well as between theology and philosophy, and a parallel will be drawn with philosophy of religion.

  • 1

    See Michael Pye, “Comparative Hermeneutics: A Brief Statement,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 7.1 (1980): 25–33, here 25–26.

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  • 3

    Michael Moxter, “Schrift als Grund und Grenze von Interpretation,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 105.2 (2008): 146–169.

  • 5

    Enrico dal Covolo, Il Vangelo e i Padri: per un’esegesi teologica (Rome: Rogate, 2010). See already Peter Williamson, Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture: A Study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (Rome: Gregorian Biblical BookShop, 2001); David M. Williams, Receiving the Bible in Faith: Historical and Theological Exegesis (Washington, D.C.: CUA Press, 2004)

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  • 6

    Dal Covolo, Il Vangelo e i Padri, 13. Translation mine.

  • 7

    Dal Covolo, Il Vangelo e i Padri, 181–186; quotation from 182, my translation.

  • 8

    Paul Griffiths, Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

  • 16

    See Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Ethos and Logos: A Second-Century Apologetical Debate between ‘Pagan’ and Christian Philosophers,” Vigiliae Christianae 69, no. 2 (2015): 123–156.

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  • 21

    See Matthew R. Crawford, “Ammonius of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Origins of Gospel Scholarship”, New Testament Studies 61 (2015): 1–29.

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  • 33

    See, e.g., Kathleen M. O’Connor, “Crossing Borders: Biblical Studies in a Trans-Cultural World,” in Teaching the Bible: The Discourses and Politics of Biblical Pedagogy (ed. Fernando F. Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert; Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1998), 322–337. An excellent overview of both the historical development of biblical hermeneutics and its modern and contemporary trends, from liberation theology to postcolonialism and feminist hermeneutics, is Anthony Thiselton, Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009). See also Walter Kaiser and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007).

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  • 37

    Frances Young, God’s Presence: A Contemporary Recapitulation of Early Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

  • 40

    See Paul B. Decock, “Origen’s Christian Approach to the Song of Songs,” Religion & Theology 17 (2010): 13–25.

  • 42

    E.g., Princ. 4.2.8; cf. Clem. Strom.

  • 51

    As argued in Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Origen in Augustine: A Paradoxical Reception,” Numen 60 (2013): 280–307, followed and confirmed by Karla Pollmann, “The Broken Perfume-Flask: Origen’s Legacy in Two Case-Studies,” in Origeniana XI, Aarhus 26–31 August 2013 (ed. Anders-Christian Lund-Jacobsen; Leuven: Peeters, 2015).

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  • 56

    Peter William Martens, Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 105–106.

  • 61

    Michael Bergunder, “What is Religion? The Unexplained Subject Matter of Religious Studies,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 6 (2014): 246–286, here 246.

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