Book Review: What Is The Bible?

What Is The Bible?:  The Patristic Doctrine Of Scripture, edited by Matthew Baker and Mark Mourachian

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Edelweiss/Fortress Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

As someone whose thinking and writing is often related to the thinking of the Church Fathers like Origen and others [1], I find myself more drawn to this book than many contemporary believers are likely to be.  This does not mean I am in full agreement with the ideas discussed in this book, but rather than I find a look backward a good sign.  If the authors do not go far enough back in looking at previous eras of the church and their practice and doctrine, back to the biblical times before the dualism of Christianity and biblical law that is so intense in much Christian and Jewish discourse, they at least go far enough where I feel I can engage this book’s viewpoints in a friendly fashion, at least that we are speaking a similar language that is influenced by both the Bible as well as the Hellenism of many of the Church Fathers discussed here.  Whether or not the approach of the authors of the essays in this book ever become popular, this book is certainly worthwhile for those who are sensitive to the Bible and history and to their contemporary relevance for believers of a reflective and meditative and even mystical bent.

The eleven essays of this book take up a bit more than 200 pages worth of material and are divided into two unequal sections.  The first seven essays contain a discussion of the methods and approaches towards the Bible of the Eastern Church Fathers who were most closely associated with both Alexandrine and Antiochian Christianity and are most well-known in Orthodox circles.  The last four essays look at contemporary approaches to the Bible and its study and application that have been undertaken in conscious imitation of the methods and approaches of early Church Fathers.  Among the former class of essays is an attempt to rehabilitate Origen among contemporary Bible students, a reflection on the doctrine of scripture of Saint Serapion of Thmius, the incarnational hermeneutic of Saint Ephrem the Syrian, an essay on John Chrysostom, a discussion of the moderate approach of three obscure Gaza desert fathers of the sixth century AD, and an essay about Saint Maximums the Confessor.  Among the latter essays are a look at the axis and scope of Georges Florovsky’s neopatristic synthesis, a case study of the approach of scripture by Justin Popovic, T. F. Torrence’s revival of patristic hermeneutics as a way of overcoming contemporary dualisms, and a brief and critical history of modern higher criticism that I wholeheartedly appreciated.

If anything in the preceding paragraph sounded interesting to you, you will likely find much to enjoy in this book.  Admittedly, this book is written at people with a firm interest in the history of Hellenistic Christianity in the first millennia or so of the Christian era.  The ideal target audience are those who are dissatisfied with the stale and weak approach to the Bible that is taken by contemporary higher critics of the German school and their imitators who have adopted the errors of their teachers and followed in them–a tendency that no one is immune to–and who are willing to appreciate and adopt the approaches of earlier “precritical” eras of the Church where there was a belief in the unity of Scripture as well as the unity of truth in general, without the physical-spiritual or historical-spiritual dualisms that are so common in contemporary discussions.  The authors and the Church Fathers they obviously think highly of are aware of the tensions between a high view of scripture and contentions over its interpretation, a high view of tradition as well as a firm grasp of human frailty, and a desire to look to the past as a way of solving the problems of the present in order to seek a better and more glorious future.  If I am not in full agreement with these essays, I see myself as someone who, like them, seeks to recover what is best about tradition and see the past experience of fellow believers as a resource that we should not neglect when dealing with the seemingly intractable problems of contemporary thought, while also retaining the insight that understanding requires us to practice what we believe.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Book Review: What Is The Bible?

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Testament of Devotion | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  4. Pingback: Origen And the Weariness Of Many Books: Part One | Edge Induced Cohesion

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