Learning the Language of Scripture

Origen, Wisdom, and the Logic of Interpretation


In Learning the Language of Scripture, Mark Randall James offers a new account of theological interpretation as a sapiential practice of learning the language of Scripture, drawing on recently discovered Homilies on the Psalms by the influential early theologian Origen of Alexandria (2nd-3rd c. C.E). Widely regarded as one of the most arbitrary interpreters, James shows that Origen’s appearance of arbitrariness is a result of the modern tendency to neglect the role of wisdom in scriptural interpretation. James demonstrates that Origen offers a compelling model of a Christian pragmatism in which learning and correcting linguistic practice is a site of the transformative pedagogy of the divine Logos.

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Mark Randall James, Ph.D. (2015), University of Virginia, is an independent scholar. He was Visiting Professor of Religion at Colgate University in 2020. He has published essays on Origen, pragmatism, and scriptural interpretation, and he co-edited Signs of Salvation (2020).
"Most scholarship still evaluates Origen along lines that date to when he was alive, eighteen hundred years ago. By contrast, Mark James applies a fresh, linguistic perspective to Origen's recently discovered Homilies on the Psalms. He explains how Origen adopted a sophisticated, largely Stoic, philosophy of language and used it to give close attention to the Bible, to find personal transformation through it and to make bold deductions from it. This rigorously argued, clearly written and path-breaking study offers Origen as a model for those who cannot accept everything the Bible says at face value but still consider it authoritative." – Joseph Trigg, Independent Scholar.

"If you care about scripture and about reason, I know of no more important book to read today. Here is an utterly refreshing and surprising rediscovery of Origen’s contribution to thought and faith in the western world: Origen’s disciplined approach to reading scripture (rather than reading in), to reasoning out of scripture (rather than reasoning one’s own way into it), to performing the instructions of scripture (rather than sitting still before it). In Origen, Mark James uncovers scriptural instructions for what we now call pragmatic reasoning and patristic sources for reforming contemporary semiotics." – Peter Ochs, Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, Virginia Centre for the Study of Religion.

“James’ reading of Origen is careful and impressive, and his constructive proposal is provocative and far reaching. As a result, this proposal is well worth reading for both Origenian scholarship and those interested in scriptural interpretation.” – Adam Renberg, Anderson University.


 1 The Problem of Hermeneutic Arbitrariness
 2 Origen and Arbitrariness
 3 Method: Descriptive Logic
 4 Learning the Language of Scripture

1 Origen and Stoic Logic
 1 Stoic Philosophy of Language
 2 Origen on Language and Logic
 3 Conclusion

2 From Lexis to Logos
 1 The Pedagogy of the Logos
 2 Elements of the Movement from Lexis to Logos
 3 Conclusion

3 The Pragmatics of Scriptural Utterances
 1 Deixis
 2 Implicature
 3 Conclusion

4 The Grammar of Scriptural Language
 1 Inquiry and Vagueness
 2 Habits of Scripture
 3 Invention
 4 Conclusion

5 The Deification of Discourse
 1 Bold Speech
 2 Parrhesia and Deification
 3 Conclusion

6 Origenism as Pragmatism: A Sketch of a Sapiential Hermeneutic
 1 Wisdom
 2 Scripture and Philosophy
 3 Sapiential Interpretation
 4 Towards a Sapiential Theology of Scripture
Works Cited
Index of Citations
Index of Names and Subjects
Scholars of Origen’s exegesis and anyone (including ministers and laypeople) concerned with theological interpretation or postliberal theology.
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