Origen on Scripture (Theology Class #3)

Origen, Commentary of the Gospel of John.

Origen is discussing the nature of Scripture. In this text one finds lots of issues raised (and positions on those issues taken) which have recurred over and over countless times in the history of the church, for example:

–    Section 4, “The Study of the Gospels is the First Fruits Offered by These Priests of Christianity.” The primacy of the four Gospels as the “first fruits of the Scriptures.” Origen clarifies that in one sense the epistles of the NT are not properly called “Scripture,” since when Paul says things like, “I say, and not the Lord” and “so I ordain in all the churches,” etc. Also when Paul says “Every Scripture is inspired and profitable by God” he is probably not referring to his own writings. The four Gospels are the first fruits of the Scriptures for Origen in that they are the first which are offered to God, after the whole has become ripe.

–    Section 5, “All Scripture is Gospel; But the Gospels are Distinguished Above Other Scriptures” and Section 6, “The Fourfold Gospel.” John’s Gospel is the First Fruits of the Four. Qualifications Necessary for Interpreting It.”  the primacy of John as the “first fruits of the Gospels.” Origen thinks this is the case in light of two considerations: first, that, while the other Gospels discuss Jesus genealogically, John gives us a picture of God the Word before all genealogy and indeed before all time; second, that John summons us to an intimate commitment to Christ in that we must follow the Beloved Disciple in lying “on Christ’s breast and [receiving] from him Mary to be … mother also.”

–    Section 7, “What Good Things are Announced in the Gospels.” How the Gospel announces and delivers good things. When a believer hears the Gospel, “it brings him a benefit and naturally makes him glad because it tells of the sojourn with men, on account of men, and for their salvation, of the first-born of all creation, Jesus Christ.”

–    Section 8, “How the Gospels Cause the Other Books of Scripture also to be Gospel.” The nature of the Old Covenant Scriptures. Origen teaches that the four canonical Gospels reveal the gospel of salvation in the other books of Scripture. When Christ “sojourned with men and caused the Gospel to appear in bodiy form … [he] caused all things [in the “Old Testament”] to appear as Gospel…. He opened the way for all who desired it … to understand what things were true and real in the law of Moses, of which things those of old worshipped the type and the shadow, and what things were real of the things narrated in the histories which ‘happened to them in the way of type,’ but these things ‘were written for our sakes, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.’

–    Section 9, “The Somatic and Spiritual Gospel.” Analogies between old covenant (“the law”) and the new covenant (“the Gospel”). [Note: I think that this hermeneutic instinct is important for de Lubac, whose hero is Origen.] Origen seems to extrapolating by analogy from old covenant to new covenant. In both, there is a “not-yet” component: just as “the law contains a shadow of the good things to come,” so also “the Gospel teaches a shadow of the mysteries of Christ.” Based on this, Origen concludes another analogy: just as, for Jews it was necessary to be faithful to their Jewishness  (ie, “to be a Jew”) both outwardly (by circumcision) and inwardly (“in secret” … this must go along with “circumcision of the heart”), so also for the Christian it is necessary to be faithful to one’s “Christianness” both outwardly (Origen sees this as baptism) and inwardly (“in secret”).

–    Section 10. “How Jesus Himself is the Gospel.” Origen is saying here, quite simply, that Jesus is the content of Gospel Proclamation. He himself is the good news; he is the promised good things. He is the resurrection; he is the glad tidings.

–    Section 11. “Jesus is All Good Things; Hence the Gospel is Manifold.”

I am attempting to summarize all our readings in our “Theology: God & Creation” class class at SSW. For the list of texts we are reading, see here.

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