Book Review: How the Church Fathers Read the Bible

How the Church Fathers Read the Bible

A Short Introduction

Gerald Bray

Lexham, 2022 (ISBN: 978-1-68359-583-0, 194pp, £19.99)

The formularies of the English church make frequent reference to the Patristic writers but these sources are little known or understood today. This is in large part due to the unfamiliar manner in which many of the church fathers used and interpreted the Bible. Gerald Bray does valiant work addressing such incomprehension in this introduction to patristic hermeneutics.

The work begins with a brilliantly judged review of the state of biblical materials and studies in the early Christian centuries, noting the role of texts such as the Septuagint, Hexapla, and Masoretic Bible.  Bray continues to a consideration of the various modes of interpretation commonly used at the time, persisting in inviting the reader to enter the thought-world of the fathers. This world, riven by divides of language, theology, and political allegiance, saw the evolution of the church from Jewish to gentile majority, from contending with pagan philosophers to internal heresies, and from a minority sect to a state religion. Each such change brought new insights and views on biblical revelation such that the fathers, spanning over five centuries, represent an almost bewildering tapestry. 

Bray is helpful in curating this rich inheritance, dispelling various common misconceptions as he goes, such as around the patristic use of the apocrypha. Each chapter blends notes on contemporary patristic scholarship with Bray’s own valuable insights and closes with a summary of the main developments reviewed. A chapter of case studies on the reception history of a few select scriptural texts is supported by the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and illustrates the effects of contrasting allegorical, spiritual, and literal approaches. A parallel chapter of studies on individual authors might have been appreciated and could assist a future edition. 

Edward Keene, Little Shelford