January 26, 2024

Fr. John Romanides as a Professor of Dogmatics at Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston (5 of 8)

c. Divine Inspiration and the Interpretation of Holy Scripture

"The highest way of knowing God is the vision of God's glory. The writers of Holy Scripture either saw the glory of God (directly) or they wrote on behalf of other people who saw the glory (indirectly).

The purpose of Holy Scripture is educational. Seeing the glory of God is a phenomenon, because it is an experience that transcends human reason (although the human mind understands, that in this experience it truly partakes of the glory of God); it transcends human categories of logic and illumines his nous. Consequently, the person who was illumined by this experience is usually in a position to teach the people about God, about His glory.

Thus, those who read Holy Scripture have indirect knowledge of God, which comes through the writings of the Prophets, Apostles and Saints. The direct way of knowing the glory, i.e. by sight, did not stop with the Apostles, but continued under the Fathers, who directly saw the glory of God (and even today there are ascetics, who see the glory of God by vision). Because many Fathers have seen the glory of God, that is why they are called Divinely Inspired in the troparia of the Church."

"Man must be gradually taught about the glory of God, and the purpose of all the teaching of the Church, which includes Holy Scripture, is the vision of the glory of God, especially in this life. (Some Fathers declare that whoever does not see the glory of God in his life on earth will end up in Hell). All the actions of God are done by the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. The terms "begotten" and "proceeds" refer to the essence and not to the energy of God; therefore these terms are incomprehensible to man.
There are three theories about Divine Inspiration:

1. Literal dictation (revelation of words), prevailing in the West. In a blind way God dictated. But there are many problems. If God dictated, how can there be scientific errors?

2. Understanding according to Ethical Inspiration. The liberal Protestants (Harnack and Schleirmacher) say that the Prophets and the Apostles had some inspiration like the poets.

3. The understanding or teaching of the Fathers, according to which no words are revealed, but he who sees the glory of God writes about it because of the need of the people to learn about it (often a Prophet who saw the glory of God does not write, but he simply teaches and a disciple or listener writes down what the Prophet says). It is related to the vision of the uncreated Light and how man must attain it. The Fathers pay attention to the meaning and not the words."

"There are three ways of interpreting Holy Scripture: 1. The literal way (by the letter), 2. The allegorical way, and 3. The typological way. 90% of patristic thought is dominated by the typological method. In Alexandria during the time of Origen and Clement of Alexandria, the allegorical method prevailed, but finally it was submitted to the typological method. Few today interpret allegorically.

1. The Literal Interpretation: The literal method of interpreting the Holy Scriptures follows literal inspiration (dictation of words). Those who adhere to this method look to the accounts of Holy Scripture, to its precision. According to them, things happened exactly as they were written. God is the master of science without scientific errors, and the real science of the world is found in Holy Scripture, because God dictated it to the letter. E.g. How did God create the world? See the first two chapters of Genesis, which scientifically refer to the creation of the world under God.

2. The Allegorical Interpretation: Many Theologians of Alexandria tried to overcome the literal interpretation, because they saw many obstacles in it; e.g. the Old Testament mentions the fact that Elijah (the Prophet of God), slaughtered 400 priests of Baal; also the Jews were sent to the Promise Land by God, but not only did they conquer the land, they also slaughtered many people. The gentile converts were scandalized by these stories of the Old Testament and thus tried to apply the allegorical interpretation to the Old Testament, instead of the literal interpretation. The allegorical interpretation reduces the historical value of the Old Testament, and according to it the Old Testament was written as a parable for the sake of illiterate people. He who is a philosopher does not delve into external things, but penetrates into the apparent and reaches the real teaching of the Old Testament.

This method of interpretation was also used by the ancient Greeks during the 3rd century BC. When the Skeptics and the Sophists attacked the teachings of mythology (of Homer), they began to interpret mythology allegorically (it became the personification of God's energy, as, for example, Athena is the wisdom of God).

The first Jew who used the allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament was Philo the Jew. He, for example, gave the following interpretation of an Old Testament narrative. Jacob fell asleep with his head on the stone because he was trying to find the truth. According to the allegorical interpretation, the stone was the truth from the intelligible world, and through it Jacob was enlightened. The influence of Platonic philosophy on Philo's thought is very clear.

The Alexandrian school (of Origen and Clement) used the allegorical interpretation, which had received a great influence from Platonic Philosophy. But the Fathers use the typological interpretation, which prevails in the troparia of the Church. According to the Fathers, the Mosaic law is not immutable, it is not a revelation of immutable things, but rather a teacher of Christianity. That is why there was no confusion in the thought of the Fathers because there were deficiencies in the Law or in the spiritual state of the Old Testament (e.g. Solomon had 200 wives); they knew well that this law is not immutable, but a teacher. Christianity surpasses the Mosaic law and goes higher.

During the 2nd century BC, when the Jews came into contact with the Greeks (from 331-141 under Greek rule), the Pharisees were influenced by the Greek Philosophers, one of which was the belief that the Mosaic law is immutable. According to Platonic Philosophy, if the law of nature is violated (such as justice, which is an innate or natural law), it is blasphemy and is punished. Thus, this philosophy greatly influenced the thinking of the Jews and finally the Pharisees began to teach that the Mosaic law is immutable and that it cannot be violated. This teaching lasted until the time of Jesus, and we see the Pharisees dealing with scripture (the Law) as if it were a philosophical book. It was recently demonstrated that the Pharisees were a Philosophical heresy, and even that they accepted the garb of the Greek Philosophers. The Pharisees use the allegorical interpretation method of the ancient Greeks, and for this reason it was very difficult for them to accept the teaching of Christ, the Apostles and the Apostolic Synod.

3. The Typological Interpretation: The Fathers of the Church follow this method of interpreting the Holy Scriptures, which follows the following line: a historical event of the past becomes a type of God's action in Israel. This historical event is real (the allegorical interpretation is omitted), and is used as a type or example of how God will act in another historical event in the future.

We take, for example, the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt: then the Jews crossed the Red Sea, now baptism is done by water; then the Jews were saved by water (sea) and clouds, now we are saved by water and the Holy Spirit; then the Jews were saved from Pharaoh, now we are saved from the devil. In both cases the same thing happens, salvation, although the cases are different.

Also, the Apostle Paul uses the Typological Interpretation as follows: The manna of the Old Testament is the divine Eucharist of the New Testament. Salvation is discussed in both cases. So, every historical event of the Old Testament is a type of God's action. Thus, we have a combination of the Old and New Testaments. Often, the interpretations according to the Typological Method seem excessive, but this does not matter."


Become a Patreon or Paypal Supporter:

Recurring Gifts

Contact Form


Email *

Message *