The church’s book

Daily Reading for June 28 • Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, c. 202

The awareness of the communal nature of exegesis was particularly highlighted in the early church’s encounter with the Gnostics, hermeneutical lone rangers who claimed to have received in secret both revelation and interpretive insight. Irenaeus, the Gnostics’ great opponent, rejected the possibility of secret revelation and interpretation because the meaning of Jesus and the narrative leading up to his coming can only be discovered and explained in the community he founded, the community whose very existence culminates the biblical narrative’s plot structure. In effect, as Robert Jenson explains, “It is the church that knows the plot and dramatis personae of the scripture narrative, since the church is one continuous community with the story’s actors and narrators, as with its tradents, authors, and assemblers.”

For the fathers, then, hermeneutics is not an objective science that can be practiced by any scholar within any context. Rather hermeneutics in Christ becomes a spiritual, communal, interpretive art. It can be safely, wisely, and fruitfully exercised only by those whose minds and hearts have been soaked in and shaped by the gospel itself—within the Christian community’s reflection, devotion, and worship.

From Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall (InterVarsity Press, 1998).

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