Episodes 29 & 30: Origen on Understanding Holy Scripture

You can find Episode 29, “On the Science of Reading the Bible” here, and Episode 30, “Moses My Servant is Dead” here.

Origen on figuring out variations in the text of the Septuagint.

I have tried to solve the problem of the variants in the different copies of the Old Testament by checking one version against another. When I was uncertain of the Septuagint reading because the various copies did not tally, I settled the difficulty by consulting the other versions and bringing the passages in question into line with them. When I found a passage that was not in the Hebrew, I marked it with an obelus, as I did not dare to omit it altogether. In other cases, I put an asterisk to show that the passage was not in the Septuagint but was in the Hebrew text and had been added from other Greek versions,

On the non-Pauline epistles.

Peter left one Epistle which is certainly genuine and perhaps another—its authenticity has been questioned. And what about the man who rested on Jesus’ breast? John left a Gospel, of course. . . . He also wrote the Apocalypse . . . He left an Epistle, consisting of a very few lines only. He may also have written two others.

“The style of the work called the Epistle to the Hebrews, lacks the simplicity characteristic of the Apostle’s: St. Paul admits that he is rough in his speech, whereas the Epistle is typically Greek in the artistry of its style. . . . The thought expressed in it, however, is sublime and not at all inferior to the works which are undoubtedly by the Apostle. … If I had to give an opinion, I should say that the thought was the Apostle’s but that the phrasing and composition came from the person who wrote the Apostle’s teaching down. Any Church, then, that regards this as one of Paul’s Epistles is to be congratulated; for it can be no accident that the early Christians handed it down under Paul’s name. But who actually wrote the letter God alone knows.

On Typological Interpreation

We who belong to the Church accept Moses, and with good reason. We read his works because we think that he was a prophet and that God revealed himself to him. We believe that he described the mysteries to come, but with symbols and in figures and allegories, whereas before we ourselves began to teach men about the mysteries, they had already taken place, at the time appointed for them. It does not matter whether you are a Jew or one of us; you cannot maintain that Moses was a prophet at all unless you take him in this sense. How can you prove that he was a prophet if you say that his works are quite ordinary, that they imply no knowledge of the future and have no mystery hidden in them? The Law, then, and every¬ thing in the Law, being inspired, as the Apostle says, until the time of amendment, is like those people whose job it is to make statues and cast them in metal. Before they tackle the statue itself, the one they are going to cast in bronze, silver or gold, they first make a clay model to show what they are aiming at. The model is a necessity, but only until the real statue is finished. The model is made for the sake of the statue, and when the statue is ready the sculptor has no further use for the model. Well, it is rather like that with the Law and the Prophets. The things written in the Law and the Prophets were meant as types or figures of things to come. But now the Artist himself has come, the Author of it all, and he has cast the Law aside, because it contained only the shadow of the good things to come [Hebr. x. i], whereas he brought the things themselves.

For fear you should think that what I have said is difficult to prove, I will ask you to consider it in detail. Jerusalem was at one time a great city, a royal capital, with a famous temple built in God’s honour. But then he who is God’s real Temple came, he who said of his body: “Destroy this temple” [John ii. 19]; and the mysteries of the Heavenly Jerusalem began to be revealed. The earthly Jerusalem was therefore destroyed when the heavenly one appeared, and as Christ’s flesh was God’s real temple, not one stone of the temple at Jerusalem was left on another [Mark xiii. 2 etc.]. At one time there was a high priest to purify the people with the blood of bulls and goats, but when the true High Priest came and sanctified those who believed in him with his own blood, the other ceased to exist; there was no room for him any¬ where. At one time there was an altar and sacrifice was oft’ered on it, but all that ceased when the true Lamb came and offered himself as a Victim to God, since it had been prescribed for a time only. So, to return to the image used above, it is evident that all these things were like clay models made to suggest the contours of the finished statue; they were all images of the truth to come. That is why divine Providence so arranged it that the city itself and the temple and all those other things should be destroyed. For if they still existed and someone who was still a child or a little one where his faith was concerned saw it, he might be dazzled by the sacrificial rites and the sequence of liturgical formulae and be led astray by the sight of such a variety of forms. But God was watching over our weakness. He wanted his Church to grow, and therefore he did away with all those things, so that when we were faced with the fact of their disappearance, we should not be slow to believe in the truth of what they had preceded and prefigured.

We must consider the death of Moses, for if we do not realize in what sense he is dead, we shall not be able to see in what sense Jesus is King. Well, you can see that Jerusalem has been destroyed and the altar put out of use. There is no sacrifice anywhere now, no burnt- offering, no libation; nowhere are there priests or high priests, nowhere levites celebrating the liturgy. \ou can see that all that has come to an end, and therefore you may say that Moses, God’s servant, is dead. You never see people now coming three times a year before the Lord, offering gifts in the Temple, killing the paschal lamb, eating unleavened bread, offering- first-fruits or consecrating their first-born to the Lord. You can see that they have stopped all those observances, and so you may say that Moses, God’s servant, is dead. But you can also see that the nations are no-w coming to the faith and that Churches are growing up. Altars are no longer moist with the blood of beasts; they are hallowed by Christ’s precious blood. Priests and levites do not now administer the blood of goats and bulls; by the grace of the Holy Spirit they dispense the word of God, In view of this, then, you may say that Jesus has taken over the leadership that Moses had—not Jesus the son of Nun but Jesus the Son of God. You can see that Christ our Paschal Victim has been sacrificed and that we are eating the un¬ leavened bread of purity and honest intent [i Cor. v. 7]. You can see that the good soil of the Church is yielding a thirtyfold, sixtyfold, hundredfold harvest [Matt. xiii. 8] of widows, virgins and martyrs. You can see the stock of Israel increasing, the race of those who were born not of human stock, nor from nature’s will or man’s, but from God [John i. 13]. The sons of God were once scattered abroad, but now you can see them gathered together as one. And where God’s people once celebrated the sabbath by refraining from their ordinary labours, they now do it by refraining from sin. All this you can see, and therefore you may say that Moses, God’s servant, is dead and Jesus, God’s Son, holds the power.

The Eschatological Sense of Scripture

For winter is now past. . . the flowers have appeared in our land . . . the voice of the turtledove is heard. The soul is not made one with God’s Word,” he says, “until the winter and the storms—the passions and the vices—have been dispelled and she has ceased to be disturbed and tossed about by every wind of doctrine [Eph. iv. 14]. When everything like that has gone from her and the storm of her desires has left her, the flowers of virtue will blossom in her and she will hear the voice of the dove. She will hear, that is to say, his words of wisdom who dispenses the word to the perfect, the wisdom of the Most High God, hidden in the mysteries. That is what is meant by the word ‘dove’.” That is the first meaning, the one concerned with Christ’s words to the soul to whom he has “shown himself and his teaching, urging her to go out of herself so as to be rid of her bodily senses and no longer immersed in the things of the flesh. But Christ is also talking to the Church. He is using the cycle of the seasons to represent the entire lifetime of this world. By winter he means the time when the Egyptians were smitten by hailstones and other plagues, the time when Israel itself was brought low because it had resisted the Lord. But now that through Israel’s sin salvation has been granted to the Gentiles, Christ calls to the Church and says: ‘Rise up and come to me.’ The wicked had been overtaken by the winter and we had been kept in ignorance by it, but all that is over now. Any moment now the voice of the dove—God’s wisdom, that is—will sound on the earth; any moment now it will say: ‘I myself that spoke, behold I am here’ [Isa. lii. 6]. Flowers—the peoples that believe, the nascent Churches—are now to be seen on the earth. The vines, we are told, are in flower and are full of fragrance. The youngest of the Churches on the face of the earth may be called vines, for the prophet says: ‘ The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel’ [Isa. v. 7]. And they are said to be in flower when they first come to the faith.


About Gary Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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4 Responses to Episodes 29 & 30: Origen on Understanding Holy Scripture

  1. Brittany V.S. says:

    Dr. Jenkins, in a previous podcast you had a great description of the Alpha and Omega. It wasn’t beginning and end, it was something else.. principal?..

  2. Gary Cyril Jenkins says:

    Brittany, it is Principle and Goal (telos or purpose). In the Apocalypse of St. John, Christ says both, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Principle (Arche) and Goal (Telos).

  3. Jeremy Krider says:

    Dr. Jenkins, your name was given to me by Tony Blair. I will soon begin my ThD dissertation at Evangelical and am interested in finding a committee member who can assist with an orthodox perspective on my topic.

    If you are interested and available, I would like the chance to discuss this with you. My working dissertation question is stated as thus: How might new and unique research [e.g., neuroscience and trauma research] regarding human beings, as well as ancient wisdom, provide greater healing for the fragmentation and enmeshment of persons and society at large, both in this life and in the unseen telos of the ages?

    My research will thus be aimed at the restoration of humanity in its various aspects in Christ. I look forward to your response, and I appreciate your time and consideration. Any recommendation for another committee member would also be greatly appreciated.


  4. Joseph says:

    Dr. Jenkins,

    Can you give a specific reference for the quotations under the section “On Typological Interpretation?” Many thanks!

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