Nov 25, 2012

figures in the Early schools of exegesis

Usually, the two main schools of exegesis are thought of as centering in Alexandria, Egypt and Antioch, Syria.

Alexandrian exegesis goes all the way back to Philo, a Hellenized Jew who interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures in an allegorical way. In the third century, Origen of Alexandria would take this method to new heights. Origen was brilliant and his allegorical method became increasingly popular.

He laid out its main precepts in a book called 'First Principles.' In this work, Origen said there could be several layers of meaning and that only the most spiritual could discern the deepest or spiritual meaning. Further, Origen said context matters little, and not only can phrases be atomized, but words can be singled out as well and given meanings having no connection to the word behind or in front of them. The main place to utilize this method was where something being said was illogical, contradictory, or unworthy or God.

Unfortunately, this usually meant that whenever Scripture contained an idea that ran contrary to Neoplatonism, for Neoplatonic thought heavily influenced Origen and many churchmen of his day. Even more sober minded exegetes such as Athanasius, Ambrose, and Augustine would quite often allegorize texts with no hesitation. Many of the commentaries from the ancient church period which are still extant utilize a predominantly Alexandrian hermeneutic.

Antioch was a place where a more down to earth approach was utilized. This method is often called the grammatical-historical method. Those of the Antiochene School focused upon the context, the historical setting, the cultural background, and the grammatical meaning of a passage.

John Chrysostom was probably the most popular preacher from this school. He and others, such as Theodore, criticized the Alexandrian school for being whimsical. To them, that method enabled one to say whatever one wished the text to say, and there was no way to truly defend any given interpretation over another because it was so arbitrary and unpredictable.

Some Antiochene exegetes, such as one who was dubbed “The Interpreter”, incensed many by limiting the number of Messianic psalms and types, for example. Interestingly enough, Antiochene Christology also differed in its emphasis than Alexandrian Christology. Nestorius, for one, may have been an unfortunate example of this.

Thankfully, though, Antioch acted as helpful counterbalance to Alexandria and eventually the methods developed by John and his contemporaries would be utilized later for great effect by the Protestant Reformers.

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