Book Reviews

The Twelve Prophets

Alberto Ferreiro, editor Downers Grove, IL 2003-10-21

The publication of this book, as part of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series, provides a helpful compendium of expositions from the early church. Because hermeneutical horizons have changed over the past two thousand years, this volume becomes a useful vantage point for new vistas. For this reason The Twelve Prophets will be a valuable addition to the libraries of those with interests in the history of interpretation.

The volume devotes approximately thirty pages to each of the twelve Minor Prophets. For each of the twelve the editor gives a brief introduction to the book’s historical-cultural context. The commentary proper offers selections from various writers, including, among others, Chrysostom, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Jerome, Augustine, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Basil the Great, and Gregory the Great. Predictably pride of place goes to Chrysostom. Unfortunately the editor has not included introductory material on the selected authors. Perhaps he feels interested readers can readily obtain that information in other sources.

The commentary transports the reader into a world impacted by Platonic philosophy and permeated by allegorical-Christological exegesis, a method that is not intentionally employed much anymore. Thus the commentary shows that interpretive methods often reflect current worldviews.

Interpretations by the church fathers in this commentary often border on the bizarre. Unfortunately they paid little attention to or were unaware of the Sitz im Leben of the texts on which they commented. They often wrested biblical texts from their literary context. Their hermeneutical method, while labeled Christological by their modern supporters, is actually arbitrary and violates the basic linguistic principles that govern meaningful communication. If interpretations such as these are valid, then language has no guidelines and one can make the Bible say anything he wants.

The commentary has value as an introduction to the teachings of the early church. However, rather than being an aid for exegesis, it may be more suited for illustration and for the history of interpretation. Nevertheless the Christological focus it employs reminds readers that Christ fulfills the Scriptures, though not necessarily in the manner asserted by these ancient commentators.

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