"History is the depository of great actions, the witness of what is past, the example and instructor of the present, and monitor to the future."
If you are a student of church history or merely someone who appreciates dead authors over live ones, we are introducing two titles today that will aid you in your study of the past.
“Any consensus in theology today begins with the rejection of the classical Christian tradition as this is generally known in Western Culture.”
William J. Abraham, “Oh God, Poor God—The State of Contemporary Theology,” The Reformed Journal 40, no. 2 (February 1990): 19.
The quotation above can be found at the very beginning of chapter 2 in Christopher Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers and sums up much of the state of contemporary hermeneutics. I confess that for many years, I, too, was proponent of this modern prejudice against the past as I used to consider any historical understanding of Scripture to be inferior to modern interpretation methods. That has changed for me over time, though, and I have come to appreciate the insights of Tradition—especially that of the Early Church—as a voice in biblical study that should not be ignored.
Christopher Hall centers this title around “eight great doctors or preeminent teachers of the church: Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great and John Chrysostom in the East; Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and Gregory the Great in the West.” Although this list leaves out other significant figures in the Early Church, these eight individuals are representative enough, though, to give the reader an understanding of how the Church Fathers viewed and interpreted the Bible.
Click/tap the image above for a larger view of Reading the Scriptures with the Church Fathers.
This title is meant to be both introductory to the hermeneutical methods of the Early Church as well as a corrective to the modern perspective that believes ancient church writings are beneficial perhaps only for devotional thought. I have found that most people in today’s church either ignore Christian history or are simply ignorant of it all together. In the Protestant circles of which I am part, if history is appreciated at all it seems to suggest that there is no history of importance before the Reformation. And yet even in light of Reformation principles such as sola scriptura, Hall notes that “Reformers such as Luther and Calvin wisely considered the history, councils, creeds and tradition of the church, including the fathers’ writings, as a rich resource ignored only by the foolish or arrogant.” I heartily agree and recommend this title to you if you wish to incorporate the voices of the Early Church in your Bible study or already do so.
Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers is the initial title in a projected four-volume set. This volume joins Learning Theology with the Church Fathers and Worshiping with the Church Fathers, already part of the Accordance Bible Software Library. The not-yet-published fourth volume is tentatively titled Ethical Living with the Church Fathers.
Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers
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IVP Christian Fathers Bundle
For those interested in the Early Church Fathers,
save $200 on the new Accordance IVP Christian Fathers Bundle.
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The Introductory Special on the Christian Fathers Bundle is good through February 13, 2017 (11:59pm EST) and cannot be combined with any other discounts.
Any seminary student who has pursued biblical Greek studies past the required courses of the degree program eventually desires to expand his or her studies beyond merely the Koine of the New Testament. This can lead in one direction to a study of the Septuagint and in the other, a study of Early Church writings. A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers seeks to supplement study that goes in the latter direction.
In recent years, a number of “Reader’s Editions” of the Greek New Testament have emerged from various publishers that offer help to students who are learning to read New Testament Greek. In place of a textual apparatus, these editions usually include on each page a list of Greek words that appear 50 or fewer times arranged by the verses immediately before the reader. It is assumed that the reader will be familiar with words occurring more often than the words included in the help, so that with previously acquired knowledge and a little bit of help from the glosses at the bottom of the page, the reader can successfully translate any text in the New Testament.
Dan Wallace’s new Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers is designed to offer this kind of help to the person wanting to read the writings of the Early Church that most closely followed after the writing of the New Testament. Included in this lexicon is a verse-by-verse alphabetic listing of each word occuring 30 times or fewer in the New Testament. Although the print edition would certainly be an adequate help for anyone reading the Apostolic Fathers, this kind of tool takes on significantly greater usefulness in Accordance!
In Accordance, the Reader’s Lexicon can be placed in parallel with the Apostolic Fathers text, specifically the edition edited by Michael Holmes, for which this work was designed to be used. In Accordance, text and lexicon scroll together, a feature that gives immediate advantage over the print editions which at best would place two books side by side on a desk for reference.
Click/tap for a larger view of the Reader's Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers in parallel with the text.
Moreover, Accordance allows for even greater usefulness regarding the numbers that appear beside each word. As explained in the preface, “The first number indicates how many times the word appears in that book. The last number indicates how many times the word appears in the AF.” In Accordance, these words are hyperlinked. When the Accordance users clicks on these numbers, Accordance instantly opens a new tab and runs a search in the Apostolic Fathers for this word! Print editions can’t even come close to this kind of usefulness.
Click/tap for a larger view of the Reader's Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers in parallel with the text after a search has been run by clicking on the hyperlinked word count.
If you already have interest in reading the Apostolic Fathers or believe you will eventually, I would strongly recommend getting both the Lexicon and Holmes’ text in Greek and English today.
Reader's Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers
Regular Price $27.90
Holmes' Apostolic Fathers Text (Greek & English)
Regular Price $99.90
This Introductory Special is good through February 13, 2017 (11:59pm EST) and cannot be combined with any other discounts.
Confession: I used to totally ignore the Early Church’s interpretation of the Bible. I felt that it was pre-critical and not worth paying any attention beyond historical curiosity. I was simply a modernist snob. In the last decade or so, my way of thinking has been changed greatly as I've gained new appreciation for ancient faith and wisdom. Regardless of historical-critical insights, which I still value, I’ve come to appreciate the way the Early Church—those closest to at least the New Testament events—viewed the Bible.
In fact, when I am studying or preparing to preach or teach a passage, as part of my overall process, I first look at two kinds of commentaries before any others. First, I look at background commentaries to try to understand the context and cultural issues associated with the text (I’ll save discussion of this for a later blog post). Second, I look to see how the Early Church interpreted the passage. It doesn’t mean that I have to agree with the interpretation, but I want to see traditional understanding of a passage that is often neglected in modern historical-critical expositions.
Years ago, if I wanted to see what the Church Fathers had to say about a biblical text, I had to consult multiple sources, scanning Scripture indexes. That changed with the introduction of editor Thomas C. Oden’s excellent Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS). These 29 volumes save me hours of time that would be spent scouring multiple sources, thanks to a cross-denominational team of scholars who have done the patristic research for me. With every passage of the Bible, I find the wisdom and insights of dozens of Early Church writers gathered in one place with sources appropriately cited in case I want to read the original context.
ACCS features the voices of nearly 200 individuals and anonymous documents from the first eight centuries of Christianity. Every source is hyperlinked to a section of “Biographical Sketches & Short Descriptions of Select Anonymous Works” which is helpful in keeping these ancient sources separate. Following the biographicsl sketches is a “Timeline of Writers of the Patristic Period” which helps in understanding the chronological context of the ancient contributors.
If you don’t already have the Ancient Christian Commentary Series in your Accordance Library, I strongly urge you to consider adding it not only to your selections of commentaries, but also to your steps in preparation as well.
Related to ACCS are two other sources I’ll briefly mention. Ancient Christian Doctrine, which originally published in five volumes, is the most thorough examination of the Nicene Creed I’ve ever seen. To get a look at Ancient Christian Doctrine in Accordance, be certain to read Abram Kielsmeier-Jones’ review, "IVP’s 5-Volume Ancient Christian Doctrine in Accordance" at his website.
Finally, as we are close to the beginning of another new year, we often take the time to renew our commitments to reading the Bible. For 2016, why not do something a little bit different by choosing Ancient Christian Devotional (3 volumes) to incorporate readings from the Bible with ancient wisdom from the Church Fathers. Designed as a weekly devotional rather than one for daily use, Ancient Christian Doctrine uses the readings and cycles of the Revised Common Lectionary with commentary from the Early Church. Meet the New Year with the Church Fathers!
Last week, I read a blog post which called for Christian theologians to focus anew on articulating the doctrine of the Trinity in response to recent challenges. In recent years, many Christians from non-liturgical traditions have shown renewed interest in more liturgical forms of worship. Modern society's can't-stop-for-breath pace has many people looking for ways to achieve greater simplicity, a deeper sense of community, a more thoughtful spirituality, and a more profound appreciation of the sacred. These are all areas where contemporary Christians can benefit from greater familiarity with the early church fathers. After all, they were the ones who first articulated Christianity's central teachings, established the church's liturgical practices, and wrestled with how best to live out their faith in the world.
Of course, the challenge of looking to the early fathers for guidance is knowing where to begin. The most familiar collection of their writings is a whopping 38-volumes! Few of us have the time or wherewithal to work our way through that body of literature systematically, and while Accordance's powerful search capabilities now make it easy to explore, it can still feel like you're visiting an alien world of unfamiliar people and ideas.
Thankfully, there are now some helpful resources to guide you in your discovery of the early church fathers. Not long ago, I blogged about the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS), which arranges excerpts of patristic teaching into a running commentary on the text of the Bible. I compared the experience of reading this commentary to "attending a group Bible study and listening to the interplay of different perspectives." Consult this commentary a few times and you'll come to admire the fathers' Scriptural knowledge and exegetical skill—even if you don't always agree with their take on a passage.
The ACCS can give you various fathers' commentary on specific passages of Scripture, but two brand new resources offer a more topical introduction to the fathers.
Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, by Christopher Hall, offers a fascinating look into how the church fathers wrestled with the difficult theological controversies of their day. I started reading it the other day and frankly couldn't put it down. Hall goes beyond merely discussing historical theology; he manages to reveal the principle motivations and concerns of the people involved. The result is that one begins to see them not as esoteric philosophers discussing obscure points of theology, but as dedicated pastors who felt compelled to articulate what they understood to be the teaching of the apostles and of the Bible. In short, they become more human, and far more three-dimensional.
Worshiping with the Church Fathers, written by the same author, does much the same thing with respect to worship, prayer, and the sacraments. I haven't read as much of this one yet, but Hall's discussion of "the sacramental mysteries" in Chapter One is extremely helpful, not only for understanding the fathers, but also for understanding the way various Christian traditions differ in their view of the sacraments. After the sacraments, Hall turns to the fathers' teaching on prayer and personal discipline. The latter section deals with the desert fathers and early monastic movements, and from the bits I've skimmed looks absolutely fascinating.
In both of these books, Hall acts as a guide to the early fathers, helping modern readers understand where those early Christians were coming from. Hall is an effective guide precisely because he himself does not come from a tradition which places much emphasis on church history. As he puts it in Learning Theology with the Church Fathers:
The model of exegesis I had received and practiced as a young Christian was a highly individualistic affair. … I was shockingly unaware of the Christians who had read, pondered and interpreted these texts before me.
In other words, because Hall understands the assumptions of those who know little about the fathers, he does an excellent job of communicating the fathers' importance in a way they can understand and appreciate.
As you can see, I'm pretty excited about these resources. The contemporary church can learn much from the early church, and these new resources make it easier than ever to do so.
If you'd like to begin exploring the early church fathers yourself, all the resources I've just mentioned are on sale from now through March 15th. Be sure to take advantage of the discounted prices.