Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers

By Christopher A. Hall

InterVarsity Press, 1998 | ISBN 0-8308-1500-7

Reviewed by Merle Harton, Jr.

This is an exciting little companion to anyone's study of the scripture with the aid of commentary by early church fathers. Hall's intent here is not an expansive discussion of the history of biblical exegesis, but rather to introduce the reader to a select group of patristic figures the historic church has recognized as preeminent in their ability to interpret the Bible as a communal, devotional, and ecclesiastical act.

While he is sensitive to the appellation "church fathers"—and reviews the history of the term's use—he finds too small a body of exegetical work from early Christian women to warrant any sustained consideration of historical "church mothers" (although he does manage to include several in his general discussion).

After making some tough decisions on just who to include, Hall discusses Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great, drawing these figures from church traditions in both the East and the West. Not only does Hall put each into cultural context, but he also helps us to understand the directions the Holy Spirit has led these important teachers.

Hall concentrates his attention on actually reading scripture with these eight towering scholars. He does this first in a delightful "Hermeneutical sampler" of each thinker's views and how their contemporaries responded to them, following this up with a productive, telescopic survey of the patristic viewpoint. He is careful to distinguish the influence of East and West on the whole. The result of this treatment is a robust snapshot of interpretations that continue to resound in theological thought today: Christ's divinity, the presence of allegory in the scripture, the adequacy of language about God, grace, prayer, the very origins of scripture, Christian suffering. Although he does not end up making the eight antiquarians into our contemporaries, he is able to make good sense of their contributions to the history of Christian thought.

This book is a handy complement to the new ambitious series, the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (of which Hall is associate editor), but it is also genuinely a readable and friendly introduction to eight early bible study masters, from whom we can still learn much.

Copyright © 1999 by Merle Harton, Jr.

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