‘ENCOUNTERING SCRIPTURE WITH THE CHURCH FATHERS’ ADDS DEPTH OF UNDERSTANDING TO READING THE BIBLE
SOME QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN READING SCRIPTURE, COURTESY OF:
ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA
- What’s the obvious meaning?
- How does this impact how I live my life?
- How does this connect with or shape what I believe as a Christian?
- When I imagine myself in this situation or scenario, what do I notice?
- What does the text say that shapes my imagination of the situation or scenario?
- What does the text NOT say about the situation or scenario, such that I need to fill in the gaps with my imagination?
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO
- How am I (or are we) the subject of this text? How are we the ones doing the things done or saying the things said there?
- How am I or are we the object or addressee of this text? How might it be talking to us today?
- How am I or are we the topic of this text? How is it discussing me or us? How would I respond if I overheard that conversation?
Source: David Kneip, for Summit class on “Ancient-Future Reading: Encountering Scripture With the Church Fathers.”
By Loretta Fulton
Who better than the church fathers to help today’s readers get a more in-depth understanding of ancient scripture?
In an easy-to-understand and enjoyable presentation, David Kneip offered some insight into their thinking and understanding during a track on “The Ancient-Future Bible,” a part of Summit 2017 at Abilene Christian University.
For those trying to take notes, Kneip, an assistant professor in ACU’s Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry, handed out a helpful “cheat sheet,” which is printed above.
It doesn’t take special skills to read and appreciate the Bible, Kneip said. It’s like “an amazing, intricate pop-up book,” he said, and as you get deeper into it, “you see more detail and more beauty.”
But, reading the scriptures like the church fathers did can add an extra layer of understanding. Like a good professor trying to go easy on his freshman class, Kneip was reassuring about plumbing the depths of the minds of the church fathers.
“They’re not all that different from us,” Kneip assured.
Take Origen of Alexandria, for example.
“He was a guy who loved the Lord a lot,”Kneip said,
Origen, who was born in 185 and died in 254, believed that the Bible, like humans, had a body, soul, and spirit. The body is that part that is detectable or touchable, the soul is the seat of moral life, and the spirit allows ascension to God.
Correspondingly, the body of the Bible is its plain meaning, which may be obvious or it might be mysterious. The soul of the Bible is the moral meaning of the text: “What does this mean for how I live my life?” The spirit of the Bible is how it connects to God. He cited Numbers 33, but with a light-hearted preface.
“That was the book where I quit when I tried to read the Bible all the way through,” Kneip joked.
But seriously, Origen believed that when the scripture says the Israelites went “up out of Egypt,” it meant more than literally going “up” from sea level. It also has a metaphorical meaning.
Likewise, Kneip said, humans go “up” when they leave vices behind in pursuit of virtue or leave behind a life of sin and death to a life in Christ. Origen invites asking questions about deeper meanings of scripture than meets the eye.
John Chrysostom, whose name literally means, “Golden Mouth,” lived from 349 to 407. He was a monk who was drafted into church leadership, eventually being appointed Archbishop of Constantinople. He didn’t read the Bible as allegory but rather tried to amplify or magnify a text, Kneip said.
Chrysostom was so taken with the story of Lazarus and the rich man, as told in Luke 16: 19-31, that he preached a series of at least seven sermons on that scripture, Kneip said.
Chrysostom asked the people of his day if they did not see the situation in the text “as if it were present,” Kneip pointed out. And that leads to the questions for today’s reader, Kneip added.
“What do I notice when I imagine this situation? Are there clues in the text that help me imagine? What silences are there in the text?”
Augustine of Hippo, who lived from 354 to 430, was extremely influential on the Western church, Kneip pointed out. He wanted believers to become “more deeply Christian” as they gathered around the Bible as a community. He invited the use of imagination in reading scripture by alternately seeing ourselves as the subject, the object, and the topic of the text.
For example, Augustine asks the question of why did Jesus quote Psalm 22, verse 1, from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
“For what other reason was this said, than that we were there?” Augustine asks. “For what other reason than that Christ’s body is the church?”