How Important is the History of Biblical Interpretation to New Testament Interpretation?

I’ve a new book chapter coming out in Studies in the History of Exegesis (History of Biblical Exegesis 2: 12, ed. Mark W. Elliott, Raleigh C. Heth, and Angela Zautcke; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2022). The book features essays from various meetings of the SBL History of Interpretation section (led by Mark Elliott and Michael Legaspi) and divides into four sections: Matters of Approach, Early Exegetical Cases, Luther’s Exegesis 500 Years On and Early Modern Concurrences and Tensions in Exegesis.

My chapter sits in section 2. I employ the famous command to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” as a case study for answering the question set for the section: how important is the history of biblical interpretation (Auslegungsgeschichte) for the understanding of a New Testament text?

My argument is, in short, twofold: first, that at the exegetical level, the history of New Testament interpretation provides mixed results for New Testament interpretation. Second, at the hermeneutical level, that history offers richer benefits by raising questions about the parallels and discontinuities in the methods and motivations of ancient and modern reading cultures. To illustrate this second point, I provide an enlightening (for me at least) comparison of the exegesis of this command by Origen and Tertullian and by the renowned NT scholar Adela Yarbro Collins. The book will hopefully appear sometime in 2022.

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

How Have Commentators’ Understood Jesus’s Command to “Render to Caesar What is Caesar’s and to God What is God’s”?

This Sunday’s lectionary features the tribute passage, which appears in all three of the Synoptic Gospels and ends with Jesus’s famous words “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. I wrote a piece a few years back for Currents in Biblical Research which summarised the four main ways that contemporary commentators have read this saying. You can read the article for free, here.

Image: Jacek Malczewski, The Tribute Money (part of triptych) 1908, (Wikiart)

The Patron Saint of Restless Hearts

St Augustine, Fitzwilliam Museum (author’s photo)

Today is the feast day of St Augustine, the patron saint of restless hearts.

I have come to a greater appreciation of Augustine more recently through reading and re-reading Jamie Smith’s On the Road With St Augustine: A RealWorld Spirituality for Restless Hearts.

I’ve come back to many passages of the book. But there’s one I come back to the most:

I won’t pretend there isn’t something scandalous about his advice. Augustine will unapologetically suggest that you were made for God—that home is found beyond yourself, that Jesus is the way, the the cross is a raft in the storm-tossed sea we call “the world”. But what I hope you’ll hear in this is not a solution or an answer, not merely a dogmatic claim or demand. For Augustine, this was a hard-fought epiphany that emerged after trying everything else, after a long time on the road, at the end of his rope. The Christian gospel, for Augustine, wasn’t just the answer to an intellectual question (though it was that); it was more like a shelter in a storm, a port for a wayward soul, nourishment for a prodigal who was famished, whose own heart had become, he said, ‘a famished land’. It was, he would later testify, like someone had finally shown him his home country, even though he’d never been there before. It was the Father he’d spent a lifetime looking for, saying to him, ‘Welcome home’.

Location, Location: Does It Matter Where Church Services Happen During the Coronavirus?

The Problem

On 24th March, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York penned a joint letter in which they advised clergy not to enter churches to conduct services.

For some, this decision has spelled not only a missed opportunity but a dereliction of duty. Giles Fraser has complained that in abandoning its church buildings, the Church of England has retreated from public life. Fraser echoes Bishop Selby who has similarly registered his despondency over the church hierarchy’s decision to go beyond government advice. In doing so, Selby writes, those in positions of leadership

…seem to have accepted the idea that Christianity is a matter for the domestic realm, that our cathedrals and parish churches are just optional when useful and available, no longer the eloquent signs of the consecration of our public life and public spaces. The conviction that the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the places of beauty set apart is an “essential work” undertaken by “key workers” will have become a wistful “BC” [Before Coronovirus] memory. 

I take a very different view.

Continue reading “Location, Location: Does It Matter Where Church Services Happen During the Coronavirus?”

Patristics and Early Christianity

Two of my favourite early Christian authors: Origen and Tertullian (image from the Window of the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge)

In this page, I hope to post some thoughts and reflections on the work of early Christians.

You can read more about my work in patristics, the study of the work and thought of early Christians (“the church fathers, or patres) at my academia page here.

I have written about contemporary interpretations of the command to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” here.

And here, you can read my brief piece on the dating of the Gospel of Thomas.