Tag Archives: early christianity

Henri De Lubac on the Chasm Between Current and Patristic Thought

In Henri De Lubac’s book, History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen, he makes a brief comment in passing that I think often times is overlooked when comparing hermeneutical methods. The early church is working with an entirely different worldview and thought when it comes to Holy Scripture. It isn’t necessarily a method that we can just mimic but it is a whole approach when engaging the text. This is one of the chasms that we may or may not be able to cross when it comes to the oft times odd (to us) figural/allegorical/christological approach to reading scripture. There wasn’t history versus figural reading but rather it is all wrapped into one way of thinking about the text. This doesn’t mean they didn’t care about history or the historical nature of scripture (see Augustine’s Harmony on the Gospels) but they didn’t slice and dice the exegetical process like we do today.1

But as I looked in those works for the necessary information, the subject I had at first envisioned assumed a broader scope in my eyes. It was no longer a matter of measuring, in any given exegesis, the part allotted to the “letter” or to history., It was no longer even a matter solely of exegesis. It was a whole manner of thinking, a whole world view that loomed before me.2

Also see Hans Boersma in response to de Lubac’s observations,

Both in his book on Origen and in his other writings on spiritual interpretation, it would have been good to read more about what allowed both Origen and later Christian tradition to allegorize particular details of the biblical text….What was it, for example, that allowed the church fathers to see the lamb and the sheep mentioned in Isaiah 57:7 as a reference to Christ? What was it that enabled them to see Christ in the wisdom of Proverbs 8? These questions do have some urgency if spiritual interpretation is to avoid the common charge that it renders interpretation arbitrary and subject to the whims of individual interpreters. We might wish that de Lubac had touched on these kinds of questions.3

  1. I found the quotes by de Lubac and Boersma in Lang, T.J. Mystery and the Making of Christian Historical Consciousness. BZNW 219. Berlin; Boston: de Gruyter, 2015, 1-2. ↩︎
  2. De Lubac, Henri. History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007, 11. ↩︎
  3. Boersma, Hans. Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011, 147. ↩︎

Learning from John Calvin: Drinking Deeply from the Early Church

When we speak of Calvin’s use of the Church Fathers and advocating it as an example for us today it should be held up more than a mere example of using the Fathers in our exegetical papers, journal articles, and finding references in sermon prep.[1] No, to hold up others before us, such as Calvin, who drank deeply from the well of insight from the early church, means that we must also soak ourselves in their writings. Calvin didn’t merely begin writing about Galatians 4 and open up Logos Bible Software, find a reference to Galatians 4 in Chrysostom[2], and then cite him in a paper. No, he has already been reading the giants of the church and can use them as exemplars, disagree with them, or not use them at all. He has built up a mental repository that he can pull from in order to use them in his exegesis. His thought has already been previously shaped by reading them, which in turn influences his hermeneutics.[3]

This is just as much a call to myself as it is a call to everyone who sees the benefit of integrating the early church in our hermeneutical method. We will not grasp fully what they have to say to us by hunting down specific references and citing them in our studies. Let’s personally drink deeply from the literature of the fathers so we have our own minds shaped and expanded as we interpret in a present day situation.


  1. See my previous post “Thoughts and Notes on ‘Calvin as Bible Interpreter’”  ↩

  2. See Calvin, Jean. “John Calvin : preface to the Homilies of Chrysostom.” Hartford Quarterly 5, no. 2 (December 1, 1965): 19–26  ↩

  3. For a helpful introduction into Calvin’s hermeneutics see John Thompson’s article, “Calvin as Bible Interpreter” by McKim, Donald K (ed).John Calvin: Cambridge Companions to Religion. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press, 2004.  ↩

Early James Traditions

<img src="http://www.bookreviews.org/PublicImages/6406.jpg&quot; alt=

http://www.instapaper.com/e2?url=https://brianrenshaw.com/blog/2013/6/10/early-james-traditions&title=Early%20James%20Traditions

I have been writing a mini-series of Not by Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon by David Nienhuis. I have been summarizing his arguments throughout the book and giving basic initial thoughts and pushback.

In the second chapter of Nienhuis’ book he goes on to argue that the evidence used for an early dating of James are hypothetical at best and can better be explained by a second century date. He presents a strong case to at least give pause to dating James early. The strength of his case is the observetion that no church father explicitly cites James until Origen in the third century. He states that the “allusions” and “echoes” in writings previous to Origen are overstated based on the assumption that James was written at an early date[1]. This argument is strong given that the prominence of James’ the person was especially high. If this is the case then why do none of the writers explicitly state of a letter written by James or quote him directly? He also notes the many pseudepigraphal works that were on the rise at this time giving high praise to James the person but there is still no mention of any letter that he had written.

In Joseph Mayor’s commentary, he extensively cites many potential echoes and allusions to the letter of James but he does note that it is odd that a letter written so early does not gain canonical status until the third century (lxx) and that Origen is the first to explicitly cite James (lxxxi). Based on these types of arguments Nienhuis says that the burden of proof is on those who say James’ was written early to prove that these authors were referring to the letter of James and not visa-versa. He states that since the assumption that James is written early scholars then assume that later authors used similar language and themes of James.

One of the stronger arguments for a later writer using James is the author of Shepherd of Hermas’ use of δίφυχος. But Nienhuis argues that since “δίφυχος is used 19x, δίφθχεῖν 20x, and διφυχία 16x that this actually becomes a sub-theme of the book (120).” He goes on to say that “if we accept the notion that the Roman writers Hermas and Clement appealed to James as an authoritative source, we are then forced into the unlikely conclusion that the otter was a quotable authority in the Western church by the end of the first century but was somehow subsequently neglected for over 200 years (120).” That is to say why would James be extensively used by a book that was very popular (Hermas) then not be used in later writings?

One of my original questions in regard to Nienhuis thesis was how he would argue against the theory that James is using Jesus traditions in his letter. He argues that this doesn’t not necessarily necessitate an early date. Even until the second century Jesus’ sayings were still being used. Even the church fathers do not always explicitly quote from the Gospels but “echo” and “allude” to them. He says that the reason why Jesus is not explicitly quoted is that “James was not writing to Jews of the first-century synagogue; he was writing to a second-century Christian readership in order to promote the essentially Jewish underpinnings of Christian faith and practice (159).” By showing the importance of the Jewish Scriptures in the life of the Christian, the author follows in the steps of Jesus showing the moral and ethical understanding of the law is what should be followed and not the ritual aspects of it.

In the rest of the chapter he shows the rise of the person James throughout many other sources such as The Gospel According to the Hebrews, Hegesippus’ writings[2] (he makes extensive use of these), Iraneaus’ writings, Gospel of Thomas, and others.

He analyzes each work with 5 questions (122):

  1. How is James named in the text under review?
  2. What kind of authority is attributed to James in each text?
  3. How is his piety depicted?
  4. Some of the sources present James’ as a rather independent figure in relation to Jesus and the broader Christian movement. What standing does he have in these portraits?
  5. How is James’ murder depicted?

By asking these questions he hopes to give an understanding of the James tradition. By doing this he will be able to show “how the canonical letter of James fits into the broader depiction of his identity and character as it developed over the first two centuries (122).”

Overall, his argument so far is strong and needs to be reckoned with. In his introduction he notes that his thesis cannot be “airtight” because the unprovable nature of historical reconstruction but at least it should give us pause to reconsider the dating and authorship of James. Arguments from silence are always the best arguments but as Nienhuis points out the pervasiveness of the silence in light of the material about the person of James, should give us pause. I am looking forward to the final chapter because he will attempt to show the internal evidence for a “canon-conscious pseudepigraph” writing of James


  1. He interestingly notes that Jerome’s’ De virus illustribus was intended to show the Church was established on historical grounds and that he “anchored every other NT text in the authority of the historic, apostolic tradition” except James and 2 Peter. He says that “he (Jerome) lists traditions attributing Hebrews to Harnabas, Luke, or Clement; and on authority of Papias he explains that 2–3 John were written by John the elder and not the disciple of the Lord. The origins of James and 2 Peter, however, are left afloat in mystery. ↩

  2. His argument from Hegesippus using Wisdom 2 as a fulfillment to the murder of James the Just and its relation to James is strong. See pgs. 131–135, 150–152.  ↩

Sanctity of Life in the Didache

In the Apostolic Fathers reading group we are going through the Didache in February. In the passage for today we read 2:1–7 and part of verse 2 caught my eye. It reads “οὐ φονεύσεις τέκνον ἐν φθορᾷ· οὐδὲ γεννηθὲν ἀποκτενεῖς” (do not murder a child by abortion or commit infanticide). The Didache was one of the earliest non-canonical Christian writings written towards the end of the 1st century, which makes this one of the earliest explicit prohibition against abortion. Similarly, The Epistle of Barnabas, another early Christian writing dated after the destruction of the temple but before the rebuilding of the city in AD 132–135[1], says in 19:5 “οὐ φονεύσεῖς τέκνον ἐν φθορᾷ· οὐδὲ πάλιν γεννηθὲν ἀποκτενεῖς” (you shall not murder a child by abortion and again not commit infanticide).

Roman law stated that the embryo was part of the mother so therefore could be aborted by choice[2]. The early Christians would have been going against the norm for the sanctity of human life. Today’s battle for the sanctity of human life is not a new one but one that has been fought since the beginnings of Christianity. Let us continue to stand with our brothers and sisters who have gone before us in the todays fight for the sanctity of life.


  1. Holmes, Michael W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. 3 Rev Ed. Baker Academic, 2007, 373.  ↩

  2. Rasmussen, John A. “Abortion : Historical and Biblical Perspectives.” Concordia Theological Quarterly 43, no. 1 (Ja 1979): 19–25, 22.  ↩