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A Fundamental Principle of Patristic Exegesis

April 20, 2010

In the preface to his commentary on Isaiah, the church father Jerome (347-420) stated a fundamental principle of nearly all patristic exegesis.

si enim iuxta apostolum paulum christus dei uirtus est dei que sapientia; et qui nescitscripturas, nescit dei uirtutem eius que sapientiam, ignoratio scripturarum, ignoratio christi est.

If according to the Apostle Paul, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and he who does not know the Scriptures does not know the power of God and his wisdom, then ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

If one does not know the Scriptures, then one does not know Christ because it is the Scriptures that tell us of him. Moreover, failure to see Christ in the Scriptures is a failure to read the Scriptures aright, since it is a book that speaks of him. How this principle was applied varied enormously, but with few exceptions, the fathers read the Scriptures as a book about Christ, and depended heavily upon Scriptural exegesis to form their Christology. Can we go further and say that this is not only a fundamental principle of patristic exegesis, but a fundamental principle of all properly Christian exegesis?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Neil Jackson permalink
    April 20, 2010 3:52 pm

    Charles Simeon said, “Justification may be by faith, but a knowledge of the Bible comes only by works.” May God give us grace to labor in the Word, and may He open our hearts by the Holy Spirit to see Christ there.

    • Matthew Crawford permalink
      April 21, 2010 1:00 am

      Neil, what a great quote! Thanks for sharing it. Do you know where Simeon said that?

  2. Neil Jackson permalink
    April 21, 2010 5:38 am

    I found the quote in J. C. Ryle’s “Knots Untied” (in chapter 3 on “Private Judgment”). It was attributed to Simeon, but I really don’t know where he said it.

  3. April 21, 2010 12:08 pm

    Neil needs to be a scholar on Ryle’s reciprocal history. Who else is more qualified or more enthusiastic?

    • Matthew Crawford permalink
      April 21, 2010 3:23 pm

      Do you mean ‘reception history’?

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