Christians today would do well to consider these ideas. Jarrett married his high school sweetheart, Hannah, in 2005, and they now have four small children. Those false interpretations which are most harmful will, at least in theory, be much easier to identify as not being based in the commandments to love God and others. One should interpret passages that are consistent with the love command literally. Here again, there is space for various interpretations of varying complexity. As the scriptures themselves prophesy, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer 31:33b).”. We should always be slow to divide the church over varying interpretations of non-essential doctrines and slow to call heresy over varying interpretations of distinctives: none of us has everything figured out perfectly, and it would be stupidly arrogant to say that we did. As you rightly point out, however, there are interpretations that we cannot agree to disagree over–but often I think Christians tend to overestimate these. Augustine recognizes that becoming an expert interpreter is a “laborious task,” but it begins with the simple task of committing the Bible to memory or, if nothing else, becoming “not totally unfamiliar” with the content of the Bible. Each semester I work with students who have either very little or no exposure to the Bible.5 Before we even begin to read any selections from the Bible, I start with a series of lectures that explain the history of the composition and formation of the Bible. A person who does not grow in love does not truly understand the scriptures, even if that person knows a lot about the scriptures. How does one know if a particular interpretation measures up to this standard? These works had included such ideas as taking the days of Genesis 1 as 7 epochs of redemptive-historical history, and 7 stages of the Christian life.De Genesis contra Manichaeos 1.23.35-1.25.43, in Augustine, On Genesis, 62-68. Use features like bookmarks, note taking and highlighting while reading St. Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis (Ancient Christian Writers Book 41). In book XII, Augustine presents his exegesis on the first two verses of Genesis 1. They can see how biblical law works, and they understand the purpose and symbolism of biblical ritual and worship. Jarrett holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from Ohio Northern University and a master of divinity degree from Emory University, Candler School of Theology. I also resonated with Augustine’s discussion of charity in biblical interpretation here. . Nobody can say why God made the world. His numerous written works, the most important of which are Confessions (c. 400) and The City of God (c. 413–426), shaped the practice of biblical exegesis and helped lay the foundation for much of medieval and modern Christian thought. Eventually readers of the Bible have to learn how to differentiate between passages meant to be read literally and passages meant to be read figuratively, something that can challenge even the most advanced readers. Along with John Chrysostom, Augustine was among the most prolific scholars of the early church by quantity. Therefore, if scripture seems to confirm a secular idea (or at least allow for it), then there is no reason in Augustine’s view to not see it as valid. There is a particular emphasis on practicing charity toward those who hold different views or interpretations, even while holding a high view truth. The literal sense for Augustine is the sense the words bear in their original historical-linguistic context. If interpretations are true when they measure up to the standard of these two love commands, then a great range of perspectives and interpretations are open to the interpreter. My reasons for starting this way are simple: you have to crawl before you can walk. My reasons for starting this way are simple: you have to crawl before you can walk. In the above quote, Augustine offers a somewhat surprising response. It is a wonderful and beneficial … As many Bible teachers recommend, Augustine encourages readers to gain understanding of the original biblical languages. On a basic level, one might argue that the journey toward love is never fully complete; therefore, the scriptures have continual relevance for the life of faith. As Paul says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (. They have a working knowledge of the history of the Israelite people. As the opening quote illustrates, for Augustine, biblical interpretation is always abundantly practical. I was interested in this idea and how scriptural interpretation according to this principle might be accomplished. I explain how books are divided into chapters and verses, a topic tedious for my more experienced readers, I know. His commentary against the Manichees and the commentary in his Confessions were based on allegorical interpretations. A person who does not grow in love does not truly understand the scriptures, even if that person knows a lot about the scriptures. Anyone hearing or reading scripture should be able to understand its truths at a certain level, no matter how blessed they are for intellect. 22:37-9)” (265) are the basis for any and all true interpretations of scripture. The process of reading and understanding the Bible begins with baby steps–familiarizing one’s self with the content of the Bible–and grows from there. 2. He teaches classes at several local colleges in the areas of religion and humanities. Therefore, one who truly understands the scriptures will live well and love well. The story of his student days in Carthage, his discovery of Cicero's Hortensius, the enkindling of his … Keeping in mind that the goal of the Christian life is to order one’s loves correctly, the person who has interpreted the Bible wrongly, but loves, has taken a side trail to the right destination. Those readers should be gently corrected and directed back to the right path. When a reader engages the Bible, the subject (Bible) scrutinizes, examines, and studies the object (reader), which results in … St. Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis (Ancient Christian Writers Book 41) - Kindle edition by John Hammond Taylor. His understanding of these verses incorporates secular philosophical ideas, shedding light on his view of proper biblical interpretation. His rigorous study of the scriptures before embarking upon the journey of ordained ministry proves how central the scriptures were to Augustine’s thought and life. Augustine, John, and the Donatists: Reflections on the African Context, Biblical Interpretation, and Ecclesiological Polemics Boek - Dissertatie This project examines two major contributing factors to the genesis and development of Augustine's reception of John in … I think it is probable that the authors of scripture may have purposefully invoked double meanings in some cases, and I believe that the Bible always has application for times and scenarios which are not explicitly mentioned within. At the risk of offending someone, I have to confess that I am routinely disturbed by the amount of bad Bible interpretation floating around. Change ), You are commenting using your Twitter account. He informs us himself that he was born at Thagaste (Tagaste; now Suk Arras), in proconsular Numidia, Nov. 13, 354; he died at Hippo Regius (just south of the modern Bona) Aug. 28, 430. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. However, I do not know if I can ALWAYS go all the way with you to say that it is “better to recognize too many interpretations than too few.” I have to make a distinction here between interpretations of nonessential and distinctive doctrines on one hand, and essential doctrines on the other. ( Log Out /  there is no contradiction” (264). In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine’s most theoretical discussion of interpretation, he suggests that interpretation of scriptural passages should attempt to discern the intention of the biblical author had in mind. Augustine is the first ecclesiastical author the whole course of whose development can be clearly traced, as well as the first in whose case we are able to determine the exact period covered by his career, to the very day. If my students do not grasp the basics of the Bible first, they will have a difficult time reading the oracles of the prophets, the poetry of the Psalms, or the parables of Jesus. “If, as I began by saying, he is misled by an idea of the kind that builds up love, which is the end of the commandment, he is misled in the same way as a walker who leaves his path by mistake but reaches the destination to which the path leads by going through a field. The New Testament lies concealed in the Old, the Old lies revealed in the New. I agree with what you’re saying here and in no way intended to be taken as saying that Christians should countenance as valid any interpretation of scripture which they believe to be false and which cannot be reconciled with saving faith in Christ. I agree with him that it is arrogant and foolish to hold that only one interpretation can be true and that all others are false. He gives much room to the typological interpretation of the Old Testament, which, as mentioned, contains and conceals the New Testament. Of course, as a student progresses on this path, other issues become relevant. They know the arrangements of the books and can identify the various genres of literature. Clergy and laity are both subject to hermeneutical errors, but this is not the main point I want to make about this issue. ).” Paul and Augustine are making the same point: the truths of the scriptures are meant to be lived out. For Augustine, the Christian life is ultimately a life of correctly ordered loves–loving the things that ought to be loved in the appropriate measure.3 Therefore, one who truly understands the scriptures will live well and love well. A correct understanding of the scriptures produces the double love of God and neighbor. But he must be put right and shown how it is more useful not to leave the path, in case the habit of deviating should force him to go astray or even adrift.”10. The process of reading and understanding the Bible begins with baby steps–familiarizing one’s self with the content of the Bible–and grows from there. 22:37-9)” (265) are the basis for any and all true interpretations of scripture. Please avoid sarcasm, rhetorical questions, ad hominem attacks, and general statements that do not contribute to dialogue. According to Augustine, Bible interpretation is in a sense, a subjective enterprise. Is there, then, any further need of the scriptures? Or maybe it would be better to look at it differently. That is, the Bible is the subject and the reader is the object. If the purpose of the scriptures is to train a person to live a righteous life and to equip a person to do good works (2 Tim 3:16-17), then I suppose the scriptures cease to have a purpose once a person is living them out. Even so, perhaps it is better to recognize too many interpretations than too few. Like many pastors, Augustine was not simply content to teach the Bible to his congregation. Augustine's method of exegesis is rich and multi-layered. His hobbies include guitar, hiking, bird watching, crossword puzzles, sports, reading, and writing. He wanted to equip his congregation to read, interpret, understand, and apply the scriptures on their own. Notable proponents of allegorical interpretation include the Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo, who in the 4th century, on theological grounds, argued that God created everything in the universe in the same instant, and not in six days as a plain reading of Genesis would require; and the even earlier 1st-century Jewish scholar Philo of Alexandria, who wrote that it would be a mistake to think that creation … We should absolutely have charity for other views of scripture in the nonessential doctrines category, and even in the distinctive doctrines category which will likely be a lot harder. “Therefore a person strengthened by faith, hope, and love, and who steadfastly holds on to them, has no need of the scriptures except to instruct others. ( Log Out /  In Augustine's view, the biblical interpreter should understand God's blend of spiritual and human means in communicating truth; cultivate a humble Christ-like character; have a working knowledge of the whole Bible; and respect the 'rule of faith' (the historical teaching of the Church). Augustine’s City of God is not a treatise of politicalor social philosophy. I do not think that charity of the “better too many than too few” interpretations sort has to extend to essential doctrines like the trinity, the divinity and humanity of Christ, the sovereignty of God, and others though (not that you said this in your post, I’m just expounding). 1. Read More on This Topic As a pastor and teacher of the faithful, Augustine wrote. I explain how books are divided into chapters and verses, a topic tedious for my more experienced readers, I know. Sometimes readers of the Bible make interpretative mistakes, but it still produces love in their lives. The person who is living the scriptures has made them a part of their being; at this point there is no longer a need for written texts. Eventually readers of the Bible have to learn how to differentiate between passages meant to be read literally and passages meant to be read figuratively, something that can challenge even the most advanced readers.8 Augustine recognizes that becoming an expert interpreter is a “laborious task,” but it begins with the simple task of committing the Bible to memory or, if nothing else, becoming “not totally unfamiliar” with the content of the Bible.9. Key Concepts in Augustine’s Method of Interpretation of Scripture 1. As the opening quote illustrates, for Augustine, biblical interpretation is … [Both Suk Arras and Bona ar… Augustine further taught that God created the world for a purpose. Each semester I work with students who have either very little or no exposure to the Bible. No man can be a good bishop if he loves his title but not his task. In addition to teaching, Jarrett is the assistant pastor of a house church, where he helps with preaching, teaching, worship leading, and discipleship. For Augustine, the Christian life is ultimately a life of correctly ordered loves–loving the things that ought to be loved in the appropriate measure. The authors hail from a variety of Christian traditions and use this website to host an intentional community in order to facilitate the true exchange of ideas and to encourage loving action. St. Augustine, whom most consider the greatest of all the Church Fathers, spends the last three “books” of his Confessions interpreting the spare outline of the Creation recorded in Genesis. In the first chapter, a survey of the principles that Augustine … Psalm 86:3 quoted,e.g., in De civitate dei 11.1) and its antagonist, theearthly city, is right or wrong love. Augustine states that the intended meaning is that which “corresponds both to the light of truth and to the reader’s spiritual profit” (270). The Arrangement of Scripture Jarrett is a bi-vocational house church pastor and adjunct faculty member. However, the person ultimately needs to be corrected so that future interpretative mistakes do not lead to the wrong destination. While it opens up the possibility for various valid perspectives, my concern is that it might be difficult to discern when certain interpretations fail to match up to this standard. However, Augustine makes the provocative statement that a person firmly rooted in faith, hope, and love really has no need for the scriptures. The new ESV-CE Bible translation will make Bible reading more understandable and accessible yet retain the accuracy and reliability necessary for faithful Catholics when reading Sacred Scripture. Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. It is an extended plea designed to persuadepeople “to enter the city of God or to persist in it”(Letter 2*.3). If the goal of reading the Bible is to grow in love, what happens when one reaches the destination? It was not necessary for him to do so, and although it was an act of love on his part, we do not know why he chose to express himself in this particular way. glorfindel33, Before we even begin to read any selections from the Bible, I start with a series of lectures that explain the history of the composition and formation of the Bible. . They have a working knowledge of the history of the Israelite people. Often times when I hear bad Bible interpretation, I do not know how to respond because I can see that the bad interpretation is bearing a measure of good fruit in the person’s life. In the same way, Augustine argues that the most advanced students of the scriptures begin by gaining a basic reading knowledge of the Bible. Like many pastors, Augustine was not simply content to teach the Bible to his congregation. Augustine states that the commands “[l]et us love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. Augustine’s final commentary on Genesis was undoubtedly his most concerted effort as it was written over a fifteen year period. These days too many exegetes, or interpreters of the Bible, are rationalists who deny Christ’s miracles; or skeptics who deny his divinity; or modernists who deny the historical truth of his birth, death, and resurrection. Ultimately, if a person grows in their ability to understand the Bible so much so that it becomes a part of the fabric of their being, they have no further need of written texts. I simply mean that where other interpretations differ from our own but do not contradict what the Bible says elsewhere and which rightly conform to the commandments to love God and others, it is better to recognize them as valid even when we have reason in our own eyes to believe the view we hold is better. In On Christian Teaching, Augustine outlines his rules for biblical interpretation so that Christians can grow in the double love of God and neighbor. Then I make sure that my students have a general sense of the books of the Bible and their arrangement. It seems fairly clear to me that passages of scripture can be interpreted in many different ways and that one interpretation would not necessarily have to conflict with another. However, Augustine makes the provocative statement that a person firmly rooted in faith, hope, and love really has no need for the scriptures. A correct understanding of the scriptures produces the double love of God and neighbor. Of course, Augustine goes on to say that the person should be corrected and shown both the right path and the right destination, but, as far as it goes, the person’s wrong reading of the Bible has produced a good result. Augustine's large contribution of writings covered diverse fields including theology, philosophy and sociology. Augustine and Problems of Scriptural Interpretation Abstract In this paper, I examine Augustine's attempts to standardize Scriptural readings inOn Christian Doctrineand The Trinity,in which he painstakingly defines sign-theory and other technical aspects of literary production. (6) Ibid., 2.34 (7) Ibid., 2.44, 50 (8) Ibid., 3.20-34 (9) Ibid., 2.30 (10) Ibid., 1.88 (11) Ibid., 1.93. His rigorous study of the scriptures before embarking upon the journey of ordained ministry proves how central the scriptures were to Augustine’s thought and life. Before it sounds like I am only pointing fingers outward, I must admit that when I look at my old sermon notes I am often mortified by my own preaching. His mother was a devout Christian; his father Patricius was a Pagan who converted to Christianity on his deathbed. As a pastor and teacher of the faithful, Augustine wrote On Christian Teaching as a simple guide to biblical interpretation. I teach a basic introductory course on the Bible as a great work of literature at my local community college. In Roman Catholicism he is formally recognized as a doctor of the church. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. The Bible is true and nothing else that is true will contradict scripture. Change ), You are commenting using your Google account. This book contains a group of essays by internationally recognized scholars on Augustine’s hermeneutical theory and practice of biblical exegesis attempting to understand Augustine (1) against his own intellectual background, (2) within his own works, and (3) in relation to traditional and contemporary discussions of biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. As a pastor and member of a Christian church, I regularly teach my interpretation of the scriptures and listen to others offer their interpretations of the scriptures. Every Biblical text is influenced by a web of other scriptural texts that touch on it and expand its meaning, as Psalm 116 does for Genesis 1:2. On Prestige in Ministry. “The most expert investigator of the divine scriptures will be the person who, first, has read them all and has a good knowledge–a reading knowledge, at least, if not yet a complete understanding–of those pronounced canonical.”4. To a certain degree, I find this to be a rather generous attitude toward bad biblical interpretation. Change ). It is rare anymore that St. Augustine’s De doctrina Christiana—”On Christian doctrine”—is mentioned, much less taught, at Catholic colleges and seminaries. Such a view of biblical interpretation has the potential to be unifying and to ensure that division does not ensue needlessly. Sometimes readers of the Bible make interpretative mistakes, but it still produces love in their lives. Even so, he believes that the love command (to love God and to love one’s neighbor) provides a central principle that is useful for biblical interpretation. The Relationship Between the Testaments If we are unable to agree on the author’s meaning, we at least should interpret Scripture according to the wider context of the Bible as a whole. Scripture’s truth is such that it contains something for anyone. . This creates a challenging classroom dynamic! Reading and interpreting the Bible is never meant to be a purely academic or intellectual exercise, although it certainly can be read in that fashion. Maybe the person has misunderstood an expression in one of Paul’s letters or has taken the prophets out of their historical context, but their reading of the scriptures has increased their double love of God and neighbor. Augustine states that in “God . Those familiar with the biography of Augustine will know that after being ordained a presbyter in the African town of Hippo, reportedly against his own wishes and desires, he requested time off to study the scriptures intensely. Ultimately, if a person grows in their ability to understand the Bible so much so that it becomes a part of the fabric of their being, they have no further need of written texts. 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