Friday, August 3, 2012

The Church Fathers' Advantage

Often times the church Fathers, namely the ones who spoke and wrote Greek, do not get enough cred. for their interpretations of Scripture; and sometimes even get a bad wrap due to some of their types of interpretation techniques.

A friend who is now researching patristics for a PhD at SLU (Saint Louis U) once made me aware of a point concerning Greek-patristics that, today, I was reminded of by Stephen Neill in The Interpretation of the NT.  The point made was, as legendary British scholar Brooke Foss Westcott often pointed out,
"Origen, Athanasius, and Chrysostom used Greek as their own language a thing that none of us can ever do, and therefore had an instinctive knowledge of the language such as no foreigner can ever possess"  Neill continues, "As a freshmen I once heard Sir John Sheppard remark in a lecture: 'None of us knows enough Greek to say what that means'." (98). 

Neill notes in a balanced way that the Fathers had their own shortcomings and biases, but he still concludes, "They stood far nearer than we to the time and the world of the originals..." (99).

As a NT scholar, this is a helpful point to be reminded of in a time that Jewish and Hellenistic backgrounds are winning the day (and, somewhat, rightfully so), that is Patristic studies should be remembered as a key to the text of the NT as well.

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