The Fathers on Psalm 39

This post is part of an ongoing series offering translations of various early Church father’s commentaries on the Psalms.

Psalm 39

And now, LORD, for what do I wait?

You are my only hope.

From all my sins deliver me;

let me not be the taunt of fools.

I am silent and do not open my mouth

because you are the one who did this.

Take your plague away from me;

I am ravaged by the touch of your hand.

You chastise man with rebukes for sin;

like a moth you consume his treasures.

Every man is but a breath.

Selah

Listen to my prayer, LORD, hear my cry;

do not be deaf to my weeping!

For I am with you like a foreigner,

a refugee, like my ancestors.

Turn your gaze from me, that I may smile

before I depart to be no more.

Athanasius: “If you are in need and want to pray on your own behalf as you see your enemy closing in—for at that time one has good reason to be on guard against such people—and you want to arm yourself against him, sing Psalm 39.”[1]

Diodore of Tarsus: And now, LORD, for what do I wait? You are my only hope: for my part, I realize you are responsible both for my being and for my existing, and I await help from you, still not beaten black and blue by other people for such untoward desires. From all my sins deliver me: it is you who are able to do this and free me from the misfortunes besetting me. Let me not be the taunt of fools. He resumes what was being said by him in the introduction, by fools referring to the person boasting and uttering loud threats with a poor conception of human nature, and hinting at Saul and those of his company. While they taunted and threatened in this fashion, what of me? I am silent and do not open my mouth because you are the one who did this: for my part, I realized that this happens to me with your permission, and I waited longer in the knowledge that I would receive help from the same quarter from which came also the allowance of my suffering. Take your plague away from me; I am ravaged by the touch of your hand: for this reason, then, I beg of you also relief from the difficulties, since from you also comes the permission for me to suffer. You chastise man with rebukes for sin: admittedly, I realize that all your scourging proves to be for a person’s training and betterment; it is not as thought you were indifferent to human beings in allowing them to suffer, instead preferring to improve their souls, as it were. Hence he goes on, like a moth you consume his treasures: thus you winnow it and purity it of its sins with the scourging. Every man is but a breath: but all those failing to understand this are fools in not realizing the reason for the permission, and so are alarmed and worried. Listen to my prayer, LORD, hear my cry: for my part, on the contrary, aware as I am of the reason, I beseech you to apply correction commensurate with my ability in order that the excess of sufferings not prove my undoing and not a lesson for my betterment. Do not be deaf to my weeping! He then states the reason as well. A refugee, like my ancestors: I shall not live long enough to match such awful punishment; rather, I must accept punishment commensurate with the limits of my life. Hence he goes on, Turn your gaze from me, that I may smile before I depart to be no more: lighten my misfortunes, then, Lord, since death is at hand to snatch me away and bring me to my undoing, where corrections will make no impact on me.[2]

Pseudo-Athanasius: When he heard that his enemies were reviling him and he knew that he was being chastised by God—I am silent and do not open my mouth because you are the one who did this—he endured the insult with humility of mind. You chastise man with rebukes for sin; like a moth you consume his treasures. Every man is but a breath. Listen to my prayer, LORD, hear my cry; do not be deaf to my weeping! For I am with you like a foreigner, a refugee, like my ancestors. But he asks that he teach him if there exists for him a life of uselessness and exile according to the measure of the expiation of his sin. Take your plague away from me; I am ravaged by the touch of your hand. And at the same time he prays to God to remove from him the torments and Turn your gaze from me, that I may smile before I depart to be no more to give him rest, so that he may go down to death in confidence.[3]


[1] Benjamin Wayman. Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms (Brewster, M.A.: Paraclete Press: 2014), 73.

[2] TLG 6 Καὶ νῦν τίς ἡ ὑπομονή μου; Οὐχὶ κύριος; Καὶ ἡ ὑπόστασίς μου παρὰ σοῦ ἐστιν. Ἀλλ’ ἐγώ, φησίν, καὶ αὐτοῦ τοῦ εἶναι καὶ αὐτοῦ τοῦ ὑπάρχειν σε ἐπίσταμαι αἴτιον, καὶ ὑπομένω τὴν παρὰ σοῦ βοήθειαν, ἔτι οὐ συμφυρόμενος τοῖς λοιποῖς ἀνθρώποις κατὰ τὰς τοιαύτας ἀτόπους ἐπιθυμίας. Ἀπὸ πασῶν τῶν ἀνομιῶν μου ῥῦσαί με. Αὐτὸς γάρ, φησίν, δύνασαι καὶ τοῦτο ποιῆσαι καὶ ἀπαλλάξαι με τῶν ἐπικειμένων συμφορῶν. Ὄνειδος ἄφρονι ἔδωκάς με. Ἀναλαμβάνει τὰ ἐν τοῖς προοιμίοις αὐτῷ λεγόμενα. «Ἄφρονα» δὲ καλεῖ τὸν μεγαλαυχοῦντα καὶ μεγάλα ἀπειλοῦντα καὶ οὐ στοχαζόμενον τῆς ἀνθρωπείας φύσεως· αἰνίττεται δὲ τὸν Σαοὺλ καὶ τοὺς μετ’ αὐτοῦ. Ἀλλ’ ἐκεῖνοι μέν, φησίν, οὕτως ὠνείδιζον καὶ ἠπείλουν· ἐγὼ δὲ τί; Ἐκωφώθην καὶ οὐκ ἤνοιξα τὸ στόμα μου, ὅτι σὺ ἐποίησας. Ἐγὼ δέ, φησίν, ἐπιστάμενος ὅτι κατὰ συγχώρησιν σὴν ταῦτά μοι συμβαίνει, πλέον περιέμενον εἰδὼς ἐκεῖθεν ἥξειν μοι τὴν βοήθειαν ὅθεν καὶ τὸ ἐνδόσιμον τοῦ παθεῖν. Ἀπόστησον ἀπἐμοῦ τὰς μάστιγάς σου· ἀπὸ γὰρ τῆς ἰσχύος τῆς χειρός σου ἐγὼ ἐξέλιπον. Διὰ τοῦτο οὖν, φησίν, παρὰ σοῦ αἰτῶ καὶ τὴν ἀπαλλαγὴν τῶν χαλεπῶν, παρ’ οὗ καὶ τὸ πάσχειν ἐν συγχωρήσει μοί ἐστιν.  Ἐν ἐλεγμοῖς ὑπὲρ ἀνομίας ἐπαίδευσας ἄνθρωπον. Καίτοι γε, φησίν, ἐπίσταμαι ὅτι πᾶσά σου μάστιξ ἐπὶ παιδείᾳ καὶ βελτιώσει γίνεται ἀνθρώπου. Οὐ γὰρ ὡς ἀμελῶν τῶν ἀνθρώπων συγχωρεῖς αὐτοῖς πάσχειν, ἀλλ’ ὡς βελτιῶσαι τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν προῃρημένος. Ὅθεν ἐπιφέρει· Καὶ ἐξέτηξας ὡς ἀράχνην τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ. Οὕτω γάρ, φησίν, αὐτὴν λεπτύνεις καὶ ἐκκαθαίρεις τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων διὰ τῶν μαστίγων. Πλὴν μάτην ταράσσεται ἄνθρωπος. Ἀλλ’ οἱ μὴ τοῦτο ἐπιστάμενοι, φησίν, ὅσοι τῶν ἀφρόνων εἰσίν, τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς συγχωρήσεως οὐκ εἰδότες, θορυβοῦνται καὶ ταράσσονται. Εἰσάκουσον τῆς προσευχῆς μου, κύριε, καὶ τῆς δεήσεώς μου ἐνώτισαι. Ἀλλ’ ἐγώ, φησίν, εἰδὼς τὴν αἰτίαν, σὲ παρακαλῶ σύμμετρον δοῦναι τὴν παιδείαν τῇ δυνάμει τῇ ἐμῇ ἵνα μὴ τὸ ὑπερβάλλον τῶν παθημάτων ἀναίρεσις τοῦ εἶναί μοι γένηται καὶ οὐ παίδευσις εἰς βελτίωσιν. Τῶν δακρύων μου μὴ παρασιωπήσῃς. Εἶτα καὶ τὴν αἰτίαν λέγει· Ὅτι πάροικος ἐγώ εἰμι παρὰ σοὶ καὶ παρεπίδημος καθὼς πάντες οἱ πατέρες μου.  Οὐ γὰρ διαιωνίζω, φησίν, εἰς τὸ ζῆν ἵν’ ἐξαρκέσω πρὸς τοσαύτην τιμωρίαν, ἀλλ’ ἐν μεμετρημένῳ τῷ βίῳ μεμετρημένην ὀφείλω καὶ τὴν παιδείαν ὑπομένειν. Διὰ τοῦτο ἐπάγει·   Ἄνες μοι ἵνα ἀναψύξω πρὸ τοῦ με ἀπελθεῖν καὶ οὐκέτι οὐ μὴ ὑπάρξω. Ἐπικούφισόν μοι οὖν, φησίν, τὰς συμφοράς, δέσποτα, ἐπειδὴ ὁ θάνατος ἕτοιμος ἐξαρπάσαι καὶ εἰς ἀναισθησίαν με καταστῆσαι, ἔνθα λοιπὸν ἡ παιδεία ἀνόνητός μοι.

[3] Syriac CSCO 387, SYRI 168 V, pg 25. Cx. PG 27:189-190 for Latin and Greek.

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The Fathers on Psalm 27

This post is part of an ongoing series offering translations of various early Church father’s commentaries on the Psalms.

Psalm 27

The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom should I fear?

The LORD is my life’s refuge;

of whom should I be afraid?

When evildoers come at me

to devour my flesh,

These my enemies and foes

themselves stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,

my heart does not fear;

Though war be waged against me,

even then do I trust.

One thing I ask of the LORD;

this I seek:

To dwell in the LORD’s house

all the days of my life,

To gaze on the LORD’s beauty,

to visit his temple.

For God will hide me in his shelter

in time of trouble,

He will conceal me in the cover of his tent;

and set me high upon a rock.

Athanasius: “If your enemies violently attack you and become a crowd like soldiers camped against you, looking down on you as through you were not anointed—and for this reason they want to fight—do not cower in fear, but sing Psalm 27.”[1]

Diodore of Tarsus: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? A cry befitting triumphant warriors, mentioning also the one responsible for the victory. Light and salvation was well put: tribulation caused the Israelites to live in darkness, as it were, whereas the Lord’s support proved a light and help to them. The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  The phrase of whom shall I be afraid? is said by way of admiration: What will be found so powerful in intrigue, he is saying, as God is powerful in helping? When evildoers assail me, uttering slanders against me, my adversaries and foes, they shall stumble and fall. Having referred to the victory in the introduction, he states these two clauses by way of narrative. Lest he seem to be given thanks needlessly, he introduces as well the reason for thanksgiving in the words, When some enemies assembled against me who were so fierce and unrelenting as even to take a piece of me, as it were, then in particular I clearly sensed God’s help, with their fall and conquest. So what is the result now? If a fortress were constructed against me, my heart would not fear; if war broke out against me, I would still hope in it, by in it meaning in help, of which I already had experience, and on account of which I dread no other battle array. So I dread nothing with such help affording me shelter. One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after. One thing meaning grace and beneficence. What was it? That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. A pious soul, that of blessed Hezekiah, showed that he thanks God most of all for not severing connections with the temple and with piety. Now, this was his principle request; the one concerning his salvation was second. To behold the beauty of the Lord, and inquire in his temple. You granted me this further request, Lord: having saved me and made me superior to the enemy, you granted me also the place in which I might utter sentiments of thanksgiving. Because he hid me in his tabernacle on the day of my troubles: from his temple (the meaning of in his tabernacle) I had shelter and help. He kept me in hiding in his tabernacle. By in hiding he means as if in hiding: Though conducting many searches for me, he is saying, the enemy did not find me, thanks to Gods sheltering me. He set me high on a rock. Again he omits the phrase as if, his meaning being, You set me high as if on a rock. You see, since the multitude of the Assyrians advanced on him like waves, and a rock in particular naturally resists the waves, he used the example of the rock to imply, He made me superior to a huge multitude, his purpose being for the waves to suggest the uprisings of the enemy.[2]

Pseudo-Athanasius: This psalm contains a boast in the Lord against enemies and a request for blessings with confession. Before being anointed, he indicates that when by the Spirit of God he foresaw that he would be anointed as king and fall into temptation, he bound his loins with fortitude and stood powerfully firm against them despite the opposing powers, being encouraged by the enlightenment of God. When evildoers assail me, uttering slanders against me, my adversaries and foes, they shall stumble and fall. When they drew near to destroy, they received what they supposed they would inflict. One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. But I, he says, made one request from the Lord: that I might see his splendor and visit his holy temple and ever dwell therein. By it I was made worthy of salvation and—For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent, he will set me high upon a rock—was exalted on the rock, Christ.[3]


[1] Benjamin Wayman. Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms (Brewster, M.A.: Paraclete Press: 2014), 37.

[2] TLG 6. Κύριος φωτισμός μου καὶ σωτήρ μου· τίνα φοβηθήσομαι; Ἐπινικίοις πρέπουσα φωνή, μηνύουσα καὶ τὸν αἴτιον τῆς νίκης. Καλῶς δὲ εἶπε καὶ «φωτισμὸς» καὶ «σωτήρ»· ἡ γὰρ θλίψις ὡς ἐν σκοτίᾳ διάγειν ἐποίει τοὺς Ἰσραηλίτας, ἡ δὲ ἀντίληψις τοῦ κυρίου φῶς αὐτοῖς ἐγένετο καὶ βοήθεια. Κύριος ὑπερασπιστὴς τῆς ζωῆς μου· ἀπὸ τίνος δειλιάσω; Θαυμαστῶς τὸ «ἀπὸ τίνος δειλιάσω;». Τί γάρ, φησίν, εὑρεθήσεται οὕτω δυνατὸν εἰς ἐπιβουλὴν ὡς ἔστι δυνατὸς εἰς βοήθειαν ὁ θεός; Ἐν τῷ ἐγγίζειν ἐπ’ ἐμὲ κακοῦντας τοῦ φαγεῖν τὰς σάρκας μου, οἱ θλίβοντές με καὶ οἱ ἐχθροί μου αὐτοὶ ἠσθένησαν καὶ ἔπεσον. Τὰ προοίμια εἰπὼν ἐπὶ τῇ νίκῃ, τούτους τοὺς δύο στίχους ὡς ἐν διηγήματι λέγει. Ἵνα γὰρ μὴ δόξῃ μάτην εὐχαριστεῖν, καὶ τὴν αἰτίαν παρατίθεται τῆς εὐχαριστίας καί φησιν· ὁπηνίκα συνῆλθον γὰρ ἐπ’ ἐμέ τινες ἐχθροὶ οὕτως ὠμοὶ καὶ ἀνήμεροι ὥστε μου, εἰ οἷόν τε, καὶ τῶν σαρκῶν ἀπογεύσασθαι, τότε μάλιστα τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ βοήθειαν εἶδον ἐναργῶς, ἐκείνων μὲν ἐκπεσόντων, ἡμῶν δὲ νενικηκότων. Τί οὖν ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν; Ἐὰν παρατάξηται ἐπἐμὲ παρεμβολή, οὐ φοβηθήσεται  καρδία μου· ἐὰν ἐπαναστῇ ἐπἐμὲ πόλεμος, ἐν ταύτῃ ἐγὼ ἐλπίζω.  «Ἐν ταύτῃ» ἵνα εἴπῃ· τῇ βοηθείᾳ, ἧς ἤδη πεῖραν ἔλαβον, δι’ ἣν οὐδὲ ἄλλην παράταξιν πλείονα δέδοικα. Σκεπαζούσης οὖν με τῆς τοιαύτης βοηθείας οὐδὲν δειλιάσω. Μίαν ᾐτησάμην παρὰ κυρίου, ταύτην ζητήσω.  «Μίαν ᾐτησάμην» ἀντὶ τοῦ χάριν καὶ εὐεργεσίαν. Ποίαν ταύτην; Τὸ κατοικεῖν με ἐν οἴκῳ κυρίου πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς μου. Εὐσεβὴς ψυχή, ἡ τοῦ μακαρίου Ἐζεκίου, ἔδειξεν ὅτι πλέον διὰ τοῦτο εὐχαριστεῖ τῷ θεῷ ὅτι τοῦ ναοῦ καὶ τῆς εὐσεβείας οὐκ ἐξέπεσεν. Οὗτος δὲ ἦν αὐτῷ ὁ πλέων λόγος, ὁ δὲ τῆς αὐτοῦ σωτηρίας δεύτερος. Τὸ θεωρεῖν με τὴν τερπνότητα κυρίου καὶ ἐπισκέπτεσθαι τὸν ναὸν τὸν ἅγιον αὐτοῦ. Τοῦτό μοι, φησί, πλέον ἐδωρήσω, δέσποτα, ὅτι σώσας καὶ τῶν πολεμίων ἀνώτερον ποιήσας ἐχαρίσω μοι καὶ τὸν τόπον ἐν ᾧ τὰς εὐχαριστηρίους ἀφήσω φωνάς. Ὅτι ἔκρυψέ με ἐν σκηνῇ αὐτοῦ ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κακῶν μου. Καὶ γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ ναοῦ αὐτοῦ, φησί—τοῦτο γὰρ λέγει «ἐν σκηνῇ αὐτοῦ»—, ἔσχον τὴν σκέπην καὶ τὴν βοήθειαν. Ἐσκέπασέ με ἐν ἀποκρύφῳ τῆς σκηνῆς αὐτοῦ. «Ἐν ἀποκρύφῳ» ἵνα εἴπῃ· ὡς ἐν ἀποκρύφῳ· οὕτω, φησί, πολλὰ ζητήσαντες περὶ ἐμοῦ οἱ πολέμιοι οὐχ εὗρόν με, τοῦ θεοῦ σκεπάζοντος. Ἐν πέτρᾳ ὕψωσέ με. Πάλιν λείπει τὸ ὡς· βούλεται γὰρ εἰπεῖν· ὡς ἐν πέτρᾳ ὕψωσάς με. Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ δίκην κυμάτων ἐπῆλθεν αὐτῷ τὸ πλῆθος τῶν Ἀσσυρίων, πέτρα δὲ μάλιστα πέφυκεν ἀντέχειν τοῖς κύμασιν, ἵνα εἴπῃ ὅτι πολλοῦ πλήθους ἀνώτερόν με πεποίηκεν, τὸ ὑπόδειγμα τῆς πέτρας εἶπεν, ἵνα καὶ τὰ κύματα ἤγουν τὰς ἐπαναστάσεις τῶν πολεμίων μηνύσῃ.

[3] Syriac, CSCO 387, SYRI 168 V, pg 17. Cx PG 27:147-150 for Latin and Greek.

The Fathers on Psalm 22

This post is part of an ongoing series offering translations of various early Church father’s commentaries on the Psalms.

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

Why so far from my call for help,

from my cries of anguish?

My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;

by night, but I have no relief.

Athanasius: “Psalm 22 describes the nature of the death from the lips of the Savior himself…. When he speaks of hands and feet being pierced, what else is meant than the cross? After presenting all these things, the Psalter adds that the Lord suffers these things not for himself, but for our sake.”[1]

Diodore of Tarsus: For a start, therefore, some commentators thought the opening and the rest apply to the Lord, since the verse in the text O God my God, attend to me: why have you abandoned me? was spoken by the Lord; but it is not possible that the rest is recited on the part of the Lord. In fact, it goes on: Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? David’s meaning is this: Lord, be reconciled to me and do not abandon me any further; instead, attend to me, even if my faults put me far from being saved by you (the phrase the words of my groaning meaning the failings themselves). Nevertheless, be faithful to yourself, do not case an eye on the magnitude of the sin but on the magnitude of your loving-kindness. Then the following even still more clearly applies to David than to the Lord—namely—O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Cast your eye on this, Lord, that both by day and by night I cry aloud to you, and when not heard I am led to entertain foolish thoughts—not that I claim you have no providence for human affairs, knowing the reason why I am not heard, the cause being sin. How does this or the rest of the psalm apply to Christ?[2]

Pseudo-Athanasius: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? The psalm is sung by Christ as in the person of all humanity. It narrates what he endured from the Jews when he bore the cross for our sake. O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest. He asks that the Father turn his face to us, and remove from us sin and the curse and teach us to be humble-minded, just as he was humbled for our sake.[3]


[1] Benjamin Wayman. Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms (Brewster, M.A.: Paraclete Press: 2014), 3.

[2] TLG 6. Εὐθὺς οὖν τὸ προοίμιον, ἐπειδὴ κατὰ τὴν λέξιν αὐτὴν εἴρηται καὶ παρὰ τοῦ κυρίου τὸ Ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός μου, πρόσχες μοι, ἱνατί ἐγκατέλιπές με  νομίζουσί τινες καὶ τὸ ἑξῆς ἁρμόζειν· οὐκέτι δὲ συγχωρεῖ λέγεσθαι ἐκ προσώπου τοῦ κυρίου τὸ ἑξῆς. Ἐπάγει γάρ· Μακρὰν ἀπὸ τῆς σωτηρίας μου οἱ λόγοι τῶν παραπτωμάτων μου. Ὃ γὰρ βούλεται εἰπεῖν ὁ Δαυεὶδ τοῦτό ἐστιν ὅτι δέσποτα, καταλλάγηθί μοι καὶ μὴ ἀποστρέφου με τοῦ λοιποῦ, ἀλλὰ πρόσχες μοι, εἰ καὶ μακράν με ποιεῖ τὰ πλημμελήματά μου τῆς παρὰ σοῦ σωτηρίας. Τὸ γὰρ «οἱ λόγοι τῶν παραπτωμάτων μου» ἀντὶ τοῦ αὐτὰ τὰ παραπτώματα λέγει. Ἀλλ’ ὅμως, φησί, σὺ σαυτὸν μίμησαι, μὴ πρὸς τὸ πλῆθος ἀποβλέψας τῆς ἁμαρτίας ἀλλὰ πρὸς τὸ πλῆθος τῆς σῆς φιλανθρωπίας. Εἶτα καὶ τὸ ἑξῆς ἔτι σαφέστερον ἁρμόζει τῷ Δαυεὶδ μᾶλλον ἢ τῷ κυρίῳ. Τί γάρ; θεός μου, κεκράξομαι ἡμέρας, καὶ οὐκ εἰσακούσῃ, καὶ νυκτός, καὶ οὐκ εἰς ἄνοιαν ἐμοί. Καὶ πρὸς τοῦτο γάρ, φησίν, ἀπόβλεψον, δέσποτα, ὅτι καὶ ἐν ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ἐν νυκτὶ ἐπιβοῶμαί σε καὶ μὴ ἀκουόμενος οὐκ εἰς ἀνοήτους ἐκφέρομαι λογισμούς, οὐδὲ λέγω μὴ προνοεῖν σε τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων, ἀλλ’ οἶδα τὴν αἰτίαν δι’ ἣν οὐκ ἀκούομαι, τὴν τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὑπόθεσιν. Τοῦτο δὲ ποῦ ἁρμόζει τῷ Χριστῷ ἢ τὸ ἑξῆς τοῦ ψαλμοῦ;

[3] Syriac CSCO 387, SYRI 168 V, pg 14-15. CX. PG 27: 131- for Latin and Greek.

Book Review: How We Got the New Testament (Porter)

How We Got the New Testament (Porter)The question “How did we get the New Testament?” continues to underlie many contemporary theological issues, for rarely do we discuss the social concerns of our day without recourse to the words of Jesus, the Biblical narrative, or history of Christianity. Understanding the history of the New Testament, then, may not only demonstrate the integrity of the New Testament but may also include ramifications for how to understand the entire Bible-worldview more holistically and accurately. Whether you are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Mainline Protestant, or Evangelical, understanding how the New Testament came into being perseveres as an important foundation for Christian faith today. In this vein, Stanley E. Porter has written How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, Translation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. 222pgs.), a guide to how the Christian New Testament came into existence and how understanding this process can enliven contemporary expressions of Christianity. Continue reading

The Importance of Syriac Christianity

Ancient Syriac ManuscriptDiversity is fascinating. The world is a big (big) place, full of all sorts of people, places, and ideas. And while certain schools of thought have elevated “diversity” to a buzzword demanding de-institutionalization and the destruction of truth claims, the term does not have to be used in such disproportionate ways. In the historic Christian Church, for example, there has been much faithful diversity–faith and practice that differs according to people, place, and culture, but all faithful in proclaiming Christ as risen from the dead. Unfortunately, American Christians are often either generally unaware of forms of Christianity different than their own or they are staunchly convinced that such people aren’t Christians. While this post isn’t about addressing that particular issue, I do want to briefly note that this perspective has often carried over into considerations of ancient Christianity as well. Continue reading

Scripture in Ephrem’s Madrashe

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syriac Christianity.
Ephrem the Syrian

Ephrem the Syrian

While most analysis of Syrian madrashe has focused on its metrical form, authorship, origins, and liturgical setting, comparatively little attention has been paid to the contents of the madrashe. To form a fully contextualized understanding of Syrian madrashe, additional attention should be paid to the theological nature and contents of madrashe, especially its relationship to scripture. Finally, the particular manner in which Ephrem “rewrites” scripture for his community of faith is worthy of additional attention, as this feature of his writing points to the need for study on how madrashe employ and co-opt scripture. The essay which follows reflects on the place and function of scripture in Ephrem’s madrashe. Continue reading

Investigation and Scripture

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syrian Christianity.

Investigation and Scripture in Ephrem’s Hymns on Faith 1-9

Open BibleEphrem scholar Jeff Wickes contextualizes the Hymns on Faith as essentially belonging to the post-Nicaea “homoean” camp that remained anti-subordinationist while problematizing the language of Nicaea.[1] This characterization, I believe, proves most helpful for explicating Ephrem’s theology. Here we see that Ephrem’s unique perspective and approach to this stage of the Christological controversies demonstrates his attempt to reset the paradigm of the debate. For Ephrem, theological investigation needs to be done appropriately—there is a certain way to “do” theology. The Hymns on Faith are therefore not just a critique of subordinationist Arian theology, but of a way of doing theology.[2] This reflection examines Hymns on Faith 1-9, arguing that the Christian scriptures serve as Ephrem’s formative theological paradigm and the basis for all proper investigation of God. Continue reading

A Brief Introduction to Ephrem the Syrian

“The greatest poet of the patristic age and, perhaps, the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.” — Robert Murray

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Over the next several weeks, Pursuing Veritas will be running a series on reflections on the theology and hymns of St. Ephrem of Nisibis (often called Ephrem the Syrian). Before launching into these discussions of Ephrem’s theological mind and literary genius, however, I felt it prudent to offer a brief historical introduction to Ephrem. There are two primary reasons for this: first, because while some Christians may have heard Ephrem’s name associated with early Christianity before, few actually know much about the fourth century poet. And second, Ephrem’s context—ancient Syria—is somewhat different than the typical “Greco-Roman” culture that may be safely assumed for engaging most other early Christian writers. Continue reading

Syrian Clothing Terminology and the Goal of the Christian Life

Aramean-Edessa_AbgarThe use of “clothing terminology” by early Christians offers an opportunity to investigate the development of an important theological metaphor, one that would become rife with Christological implications by the fourth century. While Paul certainly employed clothing imagery in several of his letters (one immediately thinks of Romans 13, 1 Corinthians 15, and Ephesians 6), Syrian Christianity seems to have found a particular affinity for this theme. This is especially true for early Syrian documents like the Song of the Pearl and Odes of Solomon, which enhance clothing terminology and connect it with their respective theological teleologies, their understandings of the goal of the Christian life. This reflection will note several uses of clothing imagery in these early Syrian Christian writings before briefly exploring how these concepts may be developed by a later Syrian thinker, Ephrem of Nisibis. Continue reading