Posted by: chuckbumgardner | September 15, 2007

“The fathers hear and see where we tend to be deaf and blind.”

Christopher Hall, in Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (InterVarsity, 1998), draws on the work of Dale C. Allison, Jr. (Matthew, ICC) in suggesting that one advantage the early church fathers had over modern exegetes is their better personal knowledge of Scripture.  That is, they were immersed in the Word to a degree which is uncommon among today’s interpreters.

Several factors led to this greater familiarity, Allison suggests. The fathers “still had a small literary canon,” which I take to mean that they had fewer extrabiblical works which were significant to their ministry, and therefore they focused more on Scripture. They read Scripture aloud, and heard it read aloud. They had greater memorization skills, generally speaking.

All this leads Allison to suggest that when the Fathers hear an allusion to an OT passage in a NT passage, we ought to pay careful attention:

I have come to believe that if we find in Matthew or another NT book an allusion to the OT that the Fathers did not find, the burden of proof is on us; and if they detected an allusion which we — here I am thinking of modern commentaries — have not detected, investigation is in order. (Hall, 40)



  1. I remember being a “baby believer” and being astounded when told that many 1st century believers more or less had the Scriptures memorized. One of the guys who led me to Him pointed out that when paper isn’t a penny a sheet, your memory gets a LOT better. :^)

    It takes a terrible toll, too; how many fights go on over secondary writings and ignore the Gospels and Epistles? Yikes!

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