The Interpretation of the Bible

Michael D. Coogan

in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version

Published in print February 2007 | ISBN: 9780195288803
Published online April 2009 |
The Interpretation of the Bible

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As the article on New Testament interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures indicates, Christian interpretation of scripture has already begun in the New Testament writings. The New Testament writers developed two of the interpretive approaches that remained central to Christian biblical interpretation until the rise of modern historical criticism: (1) a christocentric focus, that is, a tendency to interpret Hebrew Bible texts, especially prophetic texts, as referring to Christ; and (2) typology, the recognition of a person or event in the Hebrew Bible as a type or figure of Christ or Christian salvation. A third approach, allegory, was also present in rudimentary form.

In order to understand the development of early Christian interpretation, it is important to consider the contexts within which and the purposes for which Christians interpreted the scriptures. Teaching and pastoral care of Christian communities was one important focus, and much early interpretation occurs in the context of sermons and pastoral letters (e.g., the letters of Ignatius [ca. 35‐ca.107 ce] and the homilies of Melito [d. ca. 190]). Missionary activity and Christian apologetics (the defense of Christianity before pagan detractors) provided a quite different context. In this situation the biblical writings had to be interpreted to an audience which often found these texts crude and out of keeping with the intellectual tastes of Greek‐speaking culture. Thus there was a strong impetus to interpret the scriptures in a way that would enhance their intellectual respectability. For this purpose Christian apologists used the tradition of allegorical interpretation that had been developed within Greek philosophical circles as a means of interpreting Homer and the other early Greek poets. Even before the rise of Christianity, the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 bce‐42 ce) had undertaken a detailed allegorical interpretation of Jewish scriptures, and Philo's influence upon the Alexandrian school of Christian interpreters was profound.

Chapter.  5259 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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