Early Voices on Bible Study

Why Two Books? “All the apostles taught that there were indeed two testaments among the two peoples: but that it was one and the same God who appointed both for the advantage of those people.… who were to believe in God.… [T]he first testament was not given without reason, or to no purpose, or in an accidental sort of manner; but… exhibited a type of heavenly things… and foreshadowed the images of those things which now actually exist in the Church, in order that our faith might be firmly established.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.32

Garden of Delights. “All who ask receive, those who seek find, and to those who knock it shall be opened. Therefore, let us knock at the beautiful garden of Scripture. It is fragrant, sweet, and blooming with various sounds of spiritual and divinely inspired birds. They sing all around our ears, capture our hearts, comfort the mourners, pacify the angry, and fill us with everlasting joy.” John of Damascus, Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 4.17

Plain Words for the Simple; Depths for the Wise. “The Divine nature intended to teach not only those who were learned in the literature of Greece, but also the rest of mankind. Jesus adapted Himself in order to be understood by the simple multitudes whom He addressed. He sought to win their attention by using language familiar to them. This is so that after their first introduction, they might be easily persuaded to strive after an understanding of the deeper truths hidden in Scripture.” Origen, Against Celsus 7.60

Awesome Teachings. “The things [Jesus] explained [to his disciples] require even more consideration than the things which seem to have been simply stated. Those who heard such explanations didn’t ask questions, because the Lord’s words pertaining to the entire design of salvation were meant to be contemplated with awe and a deep spiritual mind.” Clement of Alexandria, "Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?"

Buried Treasure. “Then [we believe] that the Scriptures were composed by the Spirit of God and that they have not only a meaning that is manifest but also another that is hidden as far as most people are concemed. … About this the universal Church is in accord, that the whole law is spiritual. What the law is full of, however, is not known to all but only to those to whom it is given by the grace of the Holy Spirit in a word of wisdom and knowledge.” Origen, De principiis 1, praef. 8

Locked Away from the Learned. “There are many today who consider themselves leamed, yet the Scriptures are a sealed book to them. They can’t open it without the help of Him who has the key of David. ‘He that openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth.” Jerome, Letter 53

Wash Before Reading. “In order to search Scripture and truly understand it, we must have an honorable life, a pure soul, and Christ’s righteousness. Then our minds can understand the Word of God as much as human nature allows.… People who want to see a city or country go to the place to see it. In the same way, if we want to understand those who wrote about God, we must begin by washing and cleansing our souls. We must live like the saints themselves and imitate their works. When we become like them and live the common life, we can understand what God has revealed to them.” Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word 57

By the Editor

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #80 in 2003]

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