From The Editor — The Founding Fathers We Never Knew
DON'T KNOW MUCH about history . . . “ So croons the popular song. And today, among the least—known figures of history are the early church fathers. But not only are such people as Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil the Great the originators of the church’s founding doctrines (the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and many others), they have much to teach us on that favorite Protestant subject: Bible study.
For the fathers (and mothers!) of our faith, Scripture was the Fountain—the source of everything that mattered. They studied the Hebrew Bible (though usually in Greek translation), along with the apostles’ documents that would become the New Testament, with an almost physical thirst for God and his truth. Their writings resound with the joy of those who have discovered the Well of Life and tasted its sweet waters.
These teachers developed the art and science of interpretation in different directions. What did their approaches—all reverent, but each distinctive—look like, and how do they continue to affect the church today?
In this issue we meet such larger-than-life Bible teachers as Irenaeus, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa. We peer over their shoulders as they work, to see the rich, quirky, inspiring ways they drew life from the Book that was the center of their lives. And we see how, as they read, they sought to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
As I read the stellar articles (sure, I'm not biased) our authors provide in this issue, I gained a new appreciation of how reverently the early generations studied Scripture-in settings marked by worship and the pursuit of holiness. The Holy Spirit clearly worked in the early Christians to open the eyes of their hearts—even though they used methods and came to conclusions that are strange to us.
My time with the first Bible teachers has also stirred again the passion for Bible study that I first experienced as a college-aged convert. In an age glutted with Bible “products,” it has been refreshing to read Scripture anew through the eyes of brilliant readers sold out to its Author.
I hope this issue will encourage you to join this Bible study with some of the best teachers of all time. (Some of them are fascinating characters, too!) There’s nothing like coming in contact with bright thinkers mere generations removed from the apostles, then following along with them as they plumb the deeper meanings of their faith’s founding texts. CH
By Chris Armstrong
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #80 in 2003]
The West’s foremost theologian offered a single principle by which even the unlearned could unlock Scripture’s meaning.Gerald Bray
Augustine vs. Literalism
Why he was so fond of spiritual Scripture interpretation.Christopher A. Hall
The First Bible Teachers: Did You Know?
Interesting and unusual facts about the church’s first Bible interpreters.the Editors
Three Wise Men from the East
The Cappadocian Fathers brought the best gift of all: a powerful scriptural defense of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity against the Arian heretics.Edwin Woodruff Tait and Chris Armstrong