Euagelio (that we cal gospel) is a greke worde,
and signyfyth good, mery, glad and joyfull tydings,
that maketh a mannes hert glad,
and maketh him synge, duance and leepe for ioye.
– William Tyndale in his “Prologue to the New Testament”
~ Quoted in Michael Bird’s The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (p. 1)
The idea of imitation of biblical characters has been a lost art in many areas of Christianity. I recently read and reviewed a book by Jason Hood, Imitating God in Christ, which argues that the church should return back to its roots and see the profitability of imitating biblical characters. In one section he argues that throughout Christianity imitation has played a major role in teaching and preaching.
I am currently reading through Origen’s homilies on Luke and came across a short section where Origen states that one of the functions of scripture is imitation.
In Homily 11 (Luke 1:80–2:2), Origen begins explaining Luke 1:80, which says, “And the child grew and became strong in spirit.” Throughout he explains a couple of different ways that the word “grow” functions in scripture. Once sense is the “corporeal, that is, when the human will contributes nothing (44).” But the other sense is “spiritual, that is, when human effort is the cause of the growth (44).” Taking these small quotations out of context it may seem that Origen is saying that only human effort is involved in spiritual growth. But later in this homily he states, “human nature is weak. It needs divine help to become stronger…What forces can strengthen it? The Spirit, of course (45).” For Origen, “the athlete of God” needs to train with the power of the Spirit for the Christian life.
Origen then argues that Scripture is not just an historical record of events related to John the Baptist. He states:
We should not think that, when Scripture says, ‘He grew and was strengthened in spirit,’ what was written about John was just a narrative that does not pertain to us in any way. It is written for our imitation. We should take ’growth in the sense we have explained, and be multiplied spiritually (45)."
Holy Scripture is not just a historical record. It is also not solely a historical record that theologically points us to Christ. Is it both of these? Yes. Is one of the primary functions of Scripture to point believers and unbelievers to the Messiah who has come to bring heaven on earth and make all things new (Lk. 24:13–35)? Yes. But we also must not lose sight that Holy Scripture also points us to imitate the lives of godly men and women. Let us follow Origen and the early church in our reading of Scripture and see the profitability of imitating the lives of the characters in Scripture.
See other posts related to Origen’s homilies on Luke:
Daniel Gurtner has a helpful essay in the most recent issue of Bulletin for Biblical Research (BBR), titled “Interpreting Apocalyptic Symbolism in Matthew.” The goal of the essay is to outline a methodology for interpreting “apocalyptic symbolism in Matthew” (I would say after reading the essay this could be applied to the other Gospels as well). After briefly summarizing the apocalyptic interpretation in Matthew he concludes that some, such as David Sim, place too much emphasis on “Matthew’s community”. While recognizing that apocalyptic literature typically arises out of an oppressed community he argues that Matthew’s gospel is not an apocalypse but rather a bios with apocalyptic imagery woven in. It is better to understand Matthew’s use of apocalyptic to “convey the meaning of history more profoundly than would be possible from a straightforward narrative” (544). Therefore, one loses sight of the reason Matthew is using apocalyptic writing when they tried to establish a community in which Matthew is writing in.
Gurtner says that the one aspect that is similar in all types of apocalyptic writing is symbolism. Since symbolism is present in post apocalypses (literary genre) and other genres that contain apocalyptic language (i.e. the Gospels) then this should be the interpreters entry into studying the apocalyptic writing of the Gospels. In order to identify and interpret these symbols he uses the interpretive methods G.K. Beale uses in understanding Revelation:
- When the symbol is not clearly identified by the author the interpreter must look at a “known commonplace association of a picture” (shared corpus)
- If the first option is not identifiable the interpreter should look at the “literal subject itself” (534). Gurtner notes that symbolic does not necessarily mean nonliteral. He gives the example of the exodus and the resurrection. Both events are highly symbolic (exodus = salvation/deliverance) but they are both understood to be literal events.
The rest of the essay provides an example using Gurtner’s interpretation of the tearing of the temple veil in Matthew. He has already done many studies ( dissertation, essay in JETS) but the purpose of this essay is to show the methodology of his interpretation rather than shed new light on the text.
Not having much history with apocalyptic writing I found this essay helpful as an entrance into the world of apocalypticism in interpreting the symbolic nature of the writing. The essay is worth a read as a helpful example of working through an apocalyptic writing within the Gospel narrative.
Chris Wright’s book “The Mission of God’s People” is the one of the best books I have read on the mission of the church. His work is a refreshing oasis in a area of study that is wrought with false dichotomies and primacy in “social justice” over “evangelism” and vice versa. This book is a holistic approach to the mission of God’s people. His approach is a biblical theology of “why the people of God exist and what it is they are to do in the world…what is the mission of God’s people?” and he does this by wading through an ocean of biblical texts pulling from both testaments to present a biblical theology of the purpose of the church. His focus ranges from asking what is the gospel to presenting a case for the place of ecological care in the church. The range of topics is done in a succinct but thorough manner throughout the book. Wright successfully answers the opening question, “who are we and what are we here for?”
- A biblical theological approach to understanding the mission of the church. Rather than starting with the Great Commission passages Wright follows the story of the Bible showing the mission of the church
- A Christian approach to ecological care. This is the best argument I have read on the Christian importance of ecological care. Part of his argument involves Psalm 148 and he argues that if all of God’s creation is to give praise to God and humans destroy his creation then we are taking praise from God.
- A holistic view of the gospel against an individualistic approach. Wright beautifully states, “Thus, in what is arguably Paul’s most eloquent summary of the identity of Christ and the scope of the gospel, he proclaims that all things in the universe have been created by Christ, are being sustained by Christ, and will be reconciled to God by Christ through the blood of his cross. That is the breathtakingly universal scope of the reign of God through Christ. And that, says Paul, is the gospel (Col. 1:15 – 23 – read and relish this great passage again!). And only after the survey of the cosmic significance of Christ, his church, and his cross does Paul move to the personal reconciliation of believers“
Overall the church should have a holistic approach to missions. The idea of primacy of evangelism or social justice is not seen in the bible rather both are weaved together. Just as a table needs legs and a top the mission of the church is caring for physicial needs along with spiritual needs.