On Reading Scripture – Some Thoughts


I would like to start by considering some words from Origen’s Peri Archôn, On First Principles:
1. All who believe and are assured that grace and truth were obtained through JesusChrist, and who know Christ to be the truth, agreeably to His own declaration, “I am the truth,”  derive the knowledge which incites men to a good and happy life from no other source than from the very words and teaching of Christ. And by the words of Christ we do not mean those only which He spake when He became man and tabernacled in the flesh; for before that time, Christ, the Word of God, was in Moses and the prophets. For without the Word of God, how could they have been able to prophesy of Christ? And were it not our purpose to confine the present treatise within the limits of all attainable brevity, it would not be difficult to show, in proof of this statement, out of the Holy Scriptures, how Moses or the prophets both spake and performed all they did through being filled with the Spirit of Christ. And therefore I think it sufficient to quote this one testimony of Paul from the Epistle to the Hebrews,  in which he says: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of the Egyptians.”  Moreover, that after His ascension into heaven He spake in His apostles, is shown by Paul in these words: “Or do you seek a proof of Christ who speaketh in me?”

If Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and if Jesus is the word of God, then the word of God is truth. It must be the sole criterion for truth and wisdom. The Lord is our light and our salvation, his word is a lantern unto our feet and a light unto our path. To begin to understand the fathers on their own terms, we have to begin from this starting point and given that the Bible is our sole source of wisdom we are not trying to peer behind the text, but see how the whole of Scripture makes sense in and of itself, there is no such thing as contradiction only is a deeper and richer understanding.
Most modern biblical scholarship does not adopt this approach because in a post-enlightenment way it adopts a theory of referential meaning: the Bible is significant because it refers. The Bible has an x, subject matter, and good interpretation helps readers to shift attention from the signs or words to the x that is the real meaning of the signs and words. This is the reason for source criticism and the unpacking of the deep, layered texts. Theologians go wrong when they treated the Bible simply as a body of evidence for what happened, as a series of facts which refer to historical events somehow outside the text, or as evidence of theological propositions, separating Scripture and Christian doctrine in a way which would be unthinkable to the fathers of the church. This is why they can appear to modern readers to be disorganised ineffective or contradictory. Instead, we would do well to meditate upon the words of St Irenaeus (adv. Haer. 2.28.2) ‘the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit’.