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Leclercq on Medieval Reading of Scripture

With a few other PhD students I have been reading through Jean Leclercq’s The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture. The book provides a helpful exposure to the monastic approach to God and Holy Scripture. The broad thesis in part is that to understand medieval theology and Christianity we must examine not only the scholastic tradition but also the meditative monastic traditions. The latter, with its focus on the journey to heaLeclercq Coverven and love for God, has a theology motivating it just as much as the more obvious scholastic theology.

I just finished Chapter 5 on “Sacred Learning.” It provides the best short introduction I’ve yet read on the basic approach of medieval exegesis, especially within the monastic tradition. Highlights include the discussion of why the Canticle of Canticles was the most commented upon book throughout the Middle Ages, the use of imagination, how the Old Testament was read as Christian Scripture, and the use of natural histories and medieval science books.

But most fascinating and revealing is his discussion of the monastic habit of meditative, prayerful, memory-driven exegesis (pp. 72-77). In short, Leclercq points out that the custom of recited, prayerful meditation on Holy Scripture (a spiritual mastication) resulted in the memorization of Scripture and the constant seeing of connections between words and phrases throughout the canon of Scripture. As a result, the reading of one verse leads by way of link-words to another passage and then to another, etc. in a rich tapestry of intra-canonical reading.

This observation does much to explain how and why medieval exegesis and commentary appears from our modern perspective to be haphazard and jumping all over the place. It is because of the very close attention to and meditation on the text, combined with a great reverence for God’s Words that medieval exegesis is so richly polyvalent but not apparently logical in its argumentation (especially monastic even more than medieval scholastic). This habitus or mode of meditative reading is a kind of “Exegesis by Concordance,” the concordance being stored in the mind and heart of the meditative, Scripture-memorizing reader.medieval reading

This connects with and confirms the importance of imaginative memory and memory storage techniques of the medieval readers that I have discussed in a previous post.

I am also reminded of Eugene Peterson’s excellent volume Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, which uses this idea of rumination as foundational. I’m fairly certain Peterson has read Leclercq because I’ve seen several striking similarities!

I am also struck by this thought — If this is true of medieval readers of Scripture, is it not remarkably similar to the Jewish custom and practice of memorizing, masticating, reciting, and meditating on Scripture, the very habit which we find occurring within Scripture itself? That is, does not this meditative, link-word habit do much to explain how the Old Testament authors refer to early parts of the Jewish Scriptures and how the New Testament authors employ the Old? I think it obviously does.

Tolle lege Leclercq!

A Question about Scholia for Any NT Textual Critics Out There…

medieval scholia ms of Aristotle

In this age of the necessity of narrow expertise, I am naturally inclined to think (and feel) more broadly and laterally. This is part personality, part intentionality to break out of the silo-intellectualism of Modernity.

One area in which I have a mere sophomoric level of training is textual criticism, but I do love it! I taught a PhD seminar on this last year which helped my understanding, but I’m aware of how little I know.

SO, I have a question for any readers out there who might know more about this area. Continue reading

My Recent Sojourn Sermons

I love to preach and am thankful for the honor to get to speak on a regular basis at my church, Sojourn East.

Per request, I thought it might be helpful to post here the links to the sermons I’ve delivered in the last few months:

Aaron Copland and Hermeneutics — Three Kinds of Listening/Reading

The great American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was famous for his musical compositions that express the sense and style of America in the 20th century. The two most famous examples are his Fanfare for the Common Man and Appalachian Spring, great pieces of Americana. (Though for some reason my very musical mother never liked Copland; unsure why.)

Copland, the “dean of American music,” was also well-known for his reflections on the nature and pleasure of listening to music, gathered up in his well-regarded book, What to Listen for in Music (1939).

In this book Continue reading

A few thoughts on Hillel’s kelal uferat and the Structure of the Sermon on the Mount

The ancient Jewish teacher Hillel (active ca. 30BCE to 10CE)  famously preserved seven principles or hermeneutical rules for teachers of Torah to help them  make systematic inferences based on the ancient text. Hillel did not make up these rules, of course, but his codification of them proved important and influential.

Rabbi Ishmael, a third-generation mishnaic teacher (ca. 100-170CE), expanded this list to 13 rules by taking Hillel’s fifth rule (the kelal uferat) and subdividing it into eight different groups.

It is this fifth rule, the kelal uferat — which means “from the general to the particular” — upon which I want to make a preliminary comment. I say “preliminary” because I hope to do more detailed research into this idea to make sure I am understanding it correctly.

From what I do understand I will simply observe Continue reading

Book Review: Matthean Sets of Parables by Peter Yaw Oppong-Kumi

I have just completed writing a brief “Book Note” for Religious Studies Review on Oppong-Kumi’s published Tübingen dissertation, Matthean Sets of Parables. The (not-yet-published) RSR review is necessarily very short (250 words) and can never do justice to a 400+ page book that has much to offer. So, I’m recording here a few reflections as well.

Continue reading

Creative Walking

This past week I had the joyous opportunity to teach a brand new course to our class of new PhD and ThM students at Southern. The class is entitled, “Foundations for Theological Study” and it focuses on issues of faith and scholarship and Christian epistemology. I’ll soon be posting various reflections on the textbooks I use for this class.

For now I want to mention just one small part of the best book from the class, A. G. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Method. Sertillanges, in a robust Thomistic way, emphasizes the necessarily embodiedness of our lives, including our lives as scholars and thinkers. As a result he offers a very thoughtful view of how to maintain balance in all of living, including the importance of periodic physical activity.

Along these lines my assistant found these helpful articles Continue reading

New TIS book forthcoming from Allen and Swain

Now this is a book that I am pumped up about! Michael Allen and Scott Swain are two very bright youngish evangelical theologians and this new book of theirs, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation, promises much.

Here is the info from Baker’s website:


Can Christians and churches be both catholic and Reformed? In this volume, two accomplished young theologians argue that to be Reformed means to go deeper into true catholicity rather than away from it. Their manifesto for a catholic and Reformed approach to dogmatics seeks theological renewal through retrieval of the rich resources of the historic Christian tradition. The book provides a survey of recent approaches toward theological retrieval and offers a renewed exploration of the doctrine of sola scriptura. It includes a substantive afterword by J. Todd Billings.

Introduction: Renewal through Retrieval
1. Learning Theology in the School of Christ: The Principles of Theology and the Promise of Retrieval
2. Retrieving Sola Scriptura, Part One: The Catholic Context of Sola Scriptura
3. Retrieving Sola Scriptura, Part Two: Biblical Traditioning
4. A Ruled Reading Reformed: The Role of the Church’s Confession in Biblical Interpretation
5. In Defense of Proof Texting
Afterword: Rediscovering the Catholic-Reformed Tradition for Today: A Biblical Christ-Centered Vision for Church Renewal by J. Todd Billings


New T&T Clark book and Intra-canonical Reading

Some day I hope to do a major project that explores how texts within the canon speak with other in dialogue — a kind of intra-canonical theological reading that moves beyond merely intertextual studies that seek to prove literary dependence. An example of this kind of intra-canonical dialogical would be exploring how the Gospel of Matthew and John’s Revelation together speak theologically, independent of any kind of arguments for their literary or historical dependence.

In light of my recurrent reflections on this idea, I was excited today to see the announcement of a new book exploring the relations of the Catholic Epistles and the Jesus Traditions. I don’t anticipate that this book is doing what I’m suggesting methodologically, but it looks to have some good essays exploring potential intra-canonical connections.

BOOK: James, 1&2 Peter, and Early Jesus Traditions, edited by Alicia Batten and John Kloppenberg


PART A: The Letter of James and Jesus Traditions
1. Q and James: A Source-Critical Conundrum
Paul Foster
2. Wholeness in James and the Q Source
Patrick J. Hartin
3. The Audience of James and the Sayings of Jesus
Dale C. Allison, Jr.
4. The Urbanization of Jesus Traditions in James
Alicia J. Batten
5. Stoicism, Social Stratification, and the Q Tradition in James: A Suggestion about James’ Audience
David A. Kaden

PART B: First and Second Peter and Jesus Traditions
6. Jesus Remembered in 1 Peter? Early Jesus Traditions, Isaiah 53, and 1 Pet 2.21-25
David G. Horrell
7. Early Jesus Tradition in 1 Peter 3.18-22
Duane F. Watson
8. The Gospels of Matthew and John in the Second Letter of Peter
Terrance Callan
9. The Testimony of Peter: 2 Peter and the Gospel Traditions
Gene L. Green
– See more at:

John Frame on variety of misunderstandings of Holy Scripture

In his published lectures, Perspectives on the Word of God, John Frame has a lucid little discussion of the three (!) different media through which God speaks/communicates:

  1. Event-Media — nature and general history; redemptive history; miracles
  2. Word-Media — the divine voice; God’s word through the prophets and apostles; God’s written word; preaching
  3. Person-Media — the human constitution; the example of Christian leaders; the presence of God himself

This is a helpful and balanced (tri-)perspective of how God communicates his Word with unity.

Frame goes on to note the potential imbalances that can occur by any group when one or more of these media are neglected or over-emphasized — the dangers of biblicism, historicism, and mysticism. There’s a powerful critique herein for every stripe of theologian:

“It is possible for an evangelical to be a ‘biblicist’ in the sense that he or she, purposely or not, tends to ignore event- and person-revelation; and we should be humble enough to accept such criticism, even from liberals, when it is rightly due. But it is also possible to be a ‘historicist,’ looking only at ‘event-revelation,’ and looking at it without the guidance of Scripture and the Spirit. Such a historicist will deny what Spirit-attested Scripture says about history. Or one may be a ‘mystic’ absorbed in the revelation given by the Spirit to our subjectivity, but ignoring Scripture and creation. But none of these positions — biblicism,  historicism, or cynicism — so understood, is biblically defensible.” (Perspectives, 34)


Reading the Gospels WiselyFor the past ten years I have been working on the hermeneutical issues of what the Gospels are and how we are to read them. I'm thrilled to be finally done with this book!

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Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of MatthewThe theme of heaven and earth is a much-overlooked aspect of the Gospel of Matthew. In this work, rising scholar Jonathan Pennington articulates a fresh perspective on this key interpretive issue, challenging both the scholarly and popular understandings of the meaning of Matthew's phrase, "kingdom of heaven." Pennington argues that rather than being a reverent way of referring to God as is typically assumed, "heaven" in Matthew is part of a highly developed discourse of heaven and earth language.

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