Concordia Theological Quarterly
Volume 74:3-4 July/October 2010
Patristic Exegesis: Reading Scripture in the Eucharistic Gathering
James G. Bushur ................................................................................. 195
The Church's Scripture and Functional Mardonism
Daniel L. Gard ..................................................................................... 209
Enjoying the Righteousness of Faith in Ecclesiastes
Walter R. Steele ................................................................................... 225
Amos's Earthquake in the Book of the Twelve
R. Reed Lessing ................................................................................... 243
The Apostolic Councils of Galatians and Ads:
How First-Century Christians Walked Together
Arthur A. Just Jr ................................................................................. 261
Philemon in the Context of Paul's Travels
John G. Nordling ................................................................................ 289
The Lord's Supper in the Theology of Cyprian of Carthage
Robert J.H. Mayes ............................................................................... 307
The Authoritative Status of the Smalcald Articles
David J. Zehnder ................................................................................ 325
The Ordination of Women and Ecclesial Endorsement of Homosexuality:
Are They Related?
John T. Pless ........................................................................................ 343
CTQ 74 (2010): 195-208
Reading Scripture in the Eucharistic Gathering
James G. Bushur
I. An Enlightened Reading?
"Hunting truth is no easy task; we must look everywhere for its
tracks."l With these words, Basit the fourth-century bishop of Caesarea,
introduces his work On the Holy Spirit. These words reveal a hermeneutic
that guides Basil's approach to the Spirit's divinity and governs his
reading of the Scriptures. Theological truth is neither something the
ignorant stumble upon by accident, nor an obvious object that everyone
recognizes. Rather, theological truth must be hunted. The hunter is neither
an unbiased observer nor a disinterested spectator. The skilled hunter
already knows what he seeks; he enters the woods with a definite
prejudice, that is, with a preconceived notion of what to look for in the
hunt. The skilled hunter knows not only his prey-its shape, color, and
form - but also the signs and patterns of its existence. He recognizes the
impressions in his surroundings that signify its hidden presence. For Basil
of Caesarea, the reading of the Scriptures will bear no fruit unless the
reader's senses have been trained in what to look for in the Scriptures.
Basil's statement caused no controversy in the fourth century; indeed,
such a perspective was taken for granted in the ancient church by both
orthodox and heretical readers. Basil's statement does, however, express
precisely the kind of perspective that has received severe critique among
modernist readers.2 Beginning with the Enlightenment, the reading of the
Scriptures has been subjected to a scientific discipline, and above all else
the scientific method has sought to eliminate the biases and prejudices of
1 St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, trans. David Anderson (Crestwood, NY: St.
Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1980), 16.
2 Cf. especially Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of
Theology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983); Peter SchouIs, 111e Imposition of Method
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980); Isaiah Berlin, The Great Ages ofWestern Philosophy, vol.
4: The Age ofEnlightenment (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1957).
James G. Bushur is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Concordia
Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. He recently defended his dissertation,
"Divine Providence and the Interpretation of Scripture in the Teaching of
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons," and was awarded a Ph.D. by Durham University in
the United Kingdom.
196 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010)
the scientist. At the heart of the Enlightenment was the conviction that the
scientific method is the one and only way to a firm, unshakable, and secure
truth. The scientific method grounds this truth in the object of its study
and, therefore, claims to offer an "objective truth." The adjective
"objective" refers to the kind of truth that consists in those facts that reside
in the object itself-its substance and its observable existence. The scientific
method offers a distinctly material truth - one that can be measured,
quantified, and systematized; it offers a truth that is independent of any
observation and external to all human engagement. The scientist claims to
be a tabula rasa, one who has cleansed his senses - the tools that enable
scientific observation-of all preconceptions and prejudices in order to
allow the object to speak for itself.
The scientific method began as a necessity for the natural sciences and
for the study of objects that existed outside of humanity. It is, however, the
distinctive character of the Enlightenment that the method of discovery in
the natural sciences became the method of choice for the discovery of all
truth in every area of study, whether in other sciences or in the
humanities.3 The causes of this rise to prominence are perhaps many;4 a
chief cause, however, must be a distrust of church hierarchies and the
apparatus of tradition as a viable avenue for the delivery of truth. For
Enlightenment thinkers, tradition consisted in a prejudice that prevented
objects from speaking for themselves; tradition was the means by which
objective data had been distorted by biased, self-serving, and
unenlightened interpreters. This assumption was well received by many
Protestant theologians, for whom the language of tradition betrayed
The Enlightenment's rejection of tradition, however, was more
profound than that of most Protestant reformers. The Lutheran articulation
of sola scriptura was originally an attempt to preserve the ancient and
authentic tradition of the early church. For the early Lutherans, the true
tradition consisted in the person of Christ himself, who was handed over
by the Father, in the Spirit, for the salvation of the world. The true tradition
3 For this discussion, I am indebted to Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery.
4 Louth, Discerning the Mystery, 8, mentions the simple seductiveness of scientific
5 Cf. Adolf von Harnack, What is Christianity?, trans. Bailey Saunders (Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1986), 268-281. Here Harnack offers a mainly positive evaluation of
Protestantism, especially its rejection of "all formal and external authority in religion ...
all traditional arrangements for public worship, all ritualism" (278), and finally,
"sacramentalism" (279). Harnack's search for the original element of Jesus' message is
clearly colored by an anti-catholic, anti-tradition prejudice.
Bushur: Reading Scripture in the Eucharistic Gathering 197
is identified precisely with the gospel itself enacted at the church's font,
pulpit, and altar. In other words, while specific teachings of the medieval
church were rejected, tradition as an avenue or method by which truth is
transmitted remained largely intact.
While Protestant reformers sought to correct false traditions, the
Enlightenment took a more pessimistic view and sought a more wholesale
rejection of tradition itself. Tradition as the act of transmission in which
Orrist is handed over by the Father in the Spirit through the kerygmatic and
sacramental life of the church was hopelessly biased. Tradition as an
avenue for truth was tainted by human involvement and could not be
trusted; the church's catechesis could claim no objectivity and, therefore,
no scientific validity. 1£ the authentic meaning of the Scriptures was to be
discovered, then original texts had to be quarantined from the prejudices
of the church's sacramental life and subjected to a more objective and
scientific reading. Historical criticism claimed to offer just such a reading.
Tradition as the path by which scriptural meaning is carried from the past
into the present was replaced by a "scientific" method. Instead of the
transmission of truth through the church's mystagogy, historical criticism
claimed the ability to access ancient texts without the biased mediation of
The development of a scientific method by which ancient documents
and cultures could be studied encouraged the study of the Bible apart from
the church's sacramental life. The Bible was moved from the lectern,
pulpit, and altar into the library and lecture hall of academia. Scientific
methods promised to expose the objective meanings hidden in ancient
texts and to define the "kernel" of Christian truth.6 Such a "kernel" of truth
could only be exposed if the superfluous husk were stripped and cast
aside. Miracles, supernatural events, authoritative doctrines, and mystical
rituals were all victims of the historical critic's shucking of the Christian
cob. For such modernist readers, the miraculous narrative of the Bible was
merely a metaphor authored by an ancient, non-scientific, and
superstitious humanity. The modernist reader sought to use scientific
methods to trace metaphorical literature to the natural religious "feeling"
that lay within the consciousness of the author. Through the historical
6 Cf. Harnack, What is Christianity?, 55, who emphasizes the importance of "the
historian's task of distinguishing between what is traditional and what is peculiar,
between kernel and husk." The kernel Harnack seeks is that which is peculiar to Jesus'
message, while the traditional is the external husk that can be discarded.
198 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010)
critical method, the reader sought to accomplish an "imaginative leap"7
over the wall of ecclesial tradition into the mind of first-century authors
hopelessly in bondage to unenlightened ways of thinking.
The influence of the Enlightenment is revealed not only in the
historical critic, but also in the fundamentalist, whose critique usually
points to the naturalism of modernist readers as itself a prejudice
producing a biased interpretation. In other words, it could be said that, for
fundamentalists, the historical-critical reading is not "scientific" enough.
Despite their disagreements, historical-critical and fundamentalist readers
share an important assumption. Seduced by the successes of the natural
sciences, they both value the scientific method and seek to employ it in
their reading of the Bible. Both seek to uncover an "objective truth" that
inheres in the material text-a truth independent of the reader and visible
to anyone, whether pagan or Christian. For the fundamentalist, the
objective truth is limited to the text itself and the historicity of the events it
narrates. Such an objective, material, and historical truth can be defined
and summarized by any reader regardless of personal faith. A relationship
to the church or engagement with its tradition is no longer necessary to
read and understand the Bible. Fundamentalists thus tend to restrict the
inspiration of the Scriptures to the original author and the production of
the text, while for the New Testament and the early fathers the doctrine of
the Spirit's inspiration applied more broadly to both the production of the
text and its reception in the church.s For fundamentalist readers,
inspiration allows the text to be seen as an immediate revelation of God
independent of the subjectivity of its transmission through human writers
and hearers. Inspiration functions as a way of protecting sacred texts from
tradition, that is, from the unenlightened prejudices of its original hearers .
• 7 Cf. Louth, Discerning the Mystery, 12-35, where he uses this language to describe
the Romantic method for interpreting ancient cultures. Louth roots this method in
Voltaire and Spinoza. Voltaire's "good sense" (Ie bon sens) accepted what was credible
according to modem man's sensibilities, but rejected the incredible. Spinoza, however,
calls the reader to refrain from a hasty rejection of the incredible. Louth writes, "Spinoza
called for an act of imaginative conjecture whereby we try to see the world through the
eyes of the ancients who describe a world that seems so strange to us" (12). Thus, for
Spinoza, when one encounters what is credible to our modem sensibilities, it can simply
be accepted. When, however, one encounters what is incredible (miracles, etc.), then the
reader, rather than discard it immediately, attempts to imagine the natural religious
feeling or idea that underlies the metaphor. For Louth, this progression continues in the
Romantics, who applied Spinoza's "imaginative leap" to every text and author
regardless of its credibility.
81 Cor 2:6-16 is an example of a text in which the Spirit is as active in its hearing as
he is in its production.
Bushur: Reading Scripture in the Eucharistic Gathering 199
While fundamentalist readers are content with the text itself, liberal
readers recognize the human subjectivity, prejudice, and bias inherent in
the Bible. Historical~critical readers recognize that scriptural texts exist as
acts of tradition, which colors their form and meaning. In order to access
the truly scientific kernel of the Christian message, a kernel independent of
the prejudices of an unenlightened humanity, the historical critic seeks to
move behind texts to the religious feeling or consciousness of the writer.
Both historical~ritical and conservative readers thus employ the scientific
method to acquire an objective meaning in the Bible. This objective
meaning is defined in two ways. First, it is untainted by human
subjectivity and the apparatus of tradition. Both parties possess a
fundamental distrust of the later church, treating its councils, traditions, and
rituals as external husks that hide the pure kernel of the Christian message.
Second, the objective meaning is independent of the reader. For both critics
and conservatives, the meaning of the text is confined to the past; meaning
is located in the purity of the text's original production. The discovery of
such an original meaning demands a reader with a blank slate, a reader
emptied of biases who can let the original message speak for itself.
Much more could be said about the effects of the Enlightenment on the
reading of the Bible. Our brief journey can be summarized in two points.
First, the scientific conquest of the humanities and the reading of sacred
texts changed the ontology of the Bible itself. Since the Enlightenment, the
Bible ceased to be the living communication of God for his church and was
interpreted as a material artifact testifying to the religious sensibilities of
an ancient culture. Second, the application of the scientific method to the
reading of the Scriptures has changed the position and role of the reader.
The scientific method depends upon the objective and external position of
the scientist, and so its adoption places the reader outside the text; the
meaning of the Bible is objective in the sense that the reader has no
involvement or engagement with it. The enlightened exegete purges his
eyes of all prejudices and sees only what is objective, historical, and sure;
mystical, spiritual, and devotional readings are excluded a priori.
II. Patristic Exegesis: Eucharist as Natural Habitat for the Bible
For the early Christians, the reading of the Bible was a liturgical act.
The gathering of the church in a certain place to enact the Eucharist was the
condition for the reading of the Bible.9 "And on the day called Sunday,"
9 The church defined dynamically as the gathering of the baptized for the Eucharist
is a hallmark of early Christian literature. See 1 Cor 11:17-20, 33; Didache 9.4; and
Ignatius of Antioch, Eph. 4-5; Magn. 7; Phld. 8.
200 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010)
writes Justin Martyr, "all who live in cities or in the country gather
together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of
the prophets are read, as long as time permits ...." (1 Apol. 67). For Justin,
Baptism incorporated one into that gathering where the Scriptures were
read and the Eucharist was given. As the condition for the reading of the
Bible, the ecclesial gathering established a fundamental unity between the
reading of the Scriptures and the administration of the Lord's Supper.
Neither the Eucharist nor the Scriptures could be engaged properly
without the other. This interdependence is evident at the end of Luke's
Gospel. In Luke 24, Jesus' "opening" «')LUVOLYW) of the Scriptures (24:32) is
associated with the "opening" of the disciples' eyes (24:31) in the breaking
of the bread so that they can see Jesus; it also accompanies the "opening"
of the disciples' minds (24:45) so that they can understand the Scriptures.1o
The gathering of the church is the assembly of the baptized-those whose
minds and eyes have been opened by the Spirit.
For the early Christians, the Eucharist reverses the first sin and
challenges the devil's claim that his food will open the eyes of humanity.
Early Christians noted the role of the physical senses in the fall of
mankind. In turning his face toward the devil, Adam experienced a dulling
of the senses; he had eyes but could not see, ears but could not hear. It was
as if sinful man could only see in two dimensions; the spiritual, divine
dimension could no longer be sensed, seen, or experienced. As Maximus
the Confessor, a seventh-century defender of Chalcedon, puts it:
Adam did not pay attention to God with the eye of the soul, he neglected
this light, and willingly, in the manner of a blind man, felt the rubbish of
matter with both his hands in the darkness of ignorance, and inclined and
surrendered the whole of himself to the senses alone. Through this he
took into himself the corruptive venom of the most bitter of wild beasts,
and did not benefit from his senses apart from God. (Difficulty 10.28)
For the early Christians, the eucharistic gathering of the baptized consisted
in those whose senses had been retrained to see and hear the theological,
christological, and spiritual dimensions present in, with, and under the
Scriptures. The baptismal and eucharistic life was thus indispensable for
10 In Luke 24, three "openings" occur. First, in 24:31, the eyes of the Emmaus
disciples are opened in the breaking of the bread. Second, in 24:32, the Emmaus
disciples comment on how their hearts burned as Jesus" opened" the Scriptures to them.
Finally, in 24:45, Jesus "opened their minds to understand the Scriptures." For Luke, the
opening of the tomb is only recognized in the church, where Christ is revealed in the
Scriptures and the meal to open-minded disciples. It is perhaps significant that the
opening of the eyes in the meal precedes the understanding of the Scriptures.
Bushur: Reading Scripture in the Eucharistic Gathering 201
the reading of the Scriptures and was intended to shape the way such texts
were heard. Conversely, the Scriptures were likewise indispensable for the
church's participation in the Lord's Supper and were meant to influence
the way it was received.ll
How did the reading of the Bible and the administration of the Lord's
Supper affect one another within the liturgical gathering of the church? For
the ancient church, the eucharistic gathering was the place in which the
Scriptures could live and move and have their being. The sanctuary was
the habitat in which the Bible could roam most naturally, in prayer, praise,
love, and eucharistic fellowship. Reading the Scriptures in the academy is
like observing wild animals behind bars in the safety of a zoo. Reading the
Scriptures in the liturgical assembly, on the other hand, is like interacting
with the same animals on safari. In the manmade prison, the lion can be
observed without fear of consequence; it can be studied objectively; even
little children turn their backs on such a lion and happily walk away. On
safari, however, in its natural habitat, the lion is engaged on a completely
different level; the lion is experienced in accordance with the fear, awe,
and humility it inspires. The observer cannot remain objective, but must be
conscious of his own vulnerability. In the same way, the historical critic
reads the Bible in the classroom objectively, that is, without personal
engagement. In the academy, the Bible loses its teeth and its danger; it can
be read without fear and without consequence to one's life. In contrast, the
eucharistic assembly allows the Bible free rein to rebuke, inspire, correct,
judge, and create. Such a gathering, therefore, is the context in which the
Scriptures are heard properly and according to their true purpose. In other
words, the eucharistic gathering is the home in which the Scriptures can be
themselves-the living Word of the Father received in the Spirit.
III. Irenaeus: Baptism, Virgin Birth, and the Ebionites
What is new about the New Testament? What precisely is the change
that is effected between the covenant made with Moses and the new
11 It is the eucharistic assembly as the condition for the reading of the Scriptures
that allows Ignatius of Antioch to make his famous rebuke. Some Judaizing opponents
were saying that "they do not believe it in the Gospel unless it is found in the archives
[OT]." Ignatius retorts, "But for me, the archives lOT] are Jesus Christ and the inviolable
archives are his cross and death and resurrection and the faith that comes through him"
(Phld. 8). Two components are expressed in Ignatius's statement. First, the Scriptures are
identified with Christ himself; second, they are identified with the evangelical narrative
of Christ's passion. The Scriptures thus have both ontological and narrative dimensions,
which for Ignatius are rooted in the eucharistic gathering where the Scriptures are read
(narrative dimension) and the Lord's Supper is administered (ontological dimension).
202 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010)
covenant in Jesus' blood? These questions express the fundamental issue
that confronted early Christians. Yet the struggle to answer such questions
was not limited to the realm of hermeneutical theory or philosophical
discussion; rather, such questions were felt at the very heart of the church's
life and consisted in her struggle to understand her own Christian identity.
No one could undergo Baptism in the ancient world without experiencing
a fundamental break with his past-his family, his pagan or Jewish
heritage. Yet how was such a break, the experience of such a discontinuity,
to be understood?
Irenaeus entered this struggle for Christian identity in the latter half of
the second century. He engaged this theological debate with an impressive
pedigree: he was catechized by the famed martyr Polycarp, who was
himself a disciple of the apostle John. Following a violent and brutal
persecution around AD 177, Irenaeus became the new bishop of Lyons and
governed its congregations through the end of the second century. His
episcopal tenure was defined principally by his struggle with the heresies
of Valentinus and his successors. In his magnum opus, however, the five
books collected under the title Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus engages not only
Valentinian and Marcionite teachings but also the distinctive character of
the Ebionite perspective.l2
The Ebionites were the second-century children of Paul's opponents;
they represented a Christian Judaism that refused to ascribe any change or
development to the Mosaic Law. The Ebionites preached Christ as a
repristinating figure who restored the Torah to its pristine purity. In this
context, the Ebionite hostility toward the virgin birth becomes
understandable. The Ebionites asserted the generation of Jesus in the
normal way through the natural union of Joseph and Mary. The Ebionite
rejection of the virgin birth, however, proceeded not from a skeptical
mind, but from a larger theological agenda. The virgin birth represented a
fundamental change, and therefore distortion, of God's original intent
manifested in creation, marriage, and natural generation.13 From the
12 This work has come down to us chiefly in Latin translation, only isolated
fragments remaining in the original Greek, to which I have referred here wherever
possible. The translation used is that of Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut in The
Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to AD 325, 10 vols., ed. Alexander
Roberts and James Donaldson, 1885-1887 (Repr. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers,
1994), vol. 1.
13 O. the insightful discussion of Peter Brown, The Body and Society (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1988), 61-64. Brown points out that in the second century,
Judaism and Christianity were experiencing "an irreparable parting of the ways," a
Bushur: Reading Scripture in the Eucharistic Gathering 203
Ebionite perspective, humanity was defined in its original purity as a
stable genealogy, in which fathers generate children through women.
Humanity is intended by God to proceed from the marital union and its
procreative power.14 The Ebionites rejected the virgin birth because it
contradicted the early chapters of Genesis. Their rejection amounted to a
stubborn refusal to ascribe any change to God's original relationship with
humanity or any real newness to the New Testament.
On the other hand, the Valentinian interpretation of the virgin birth
followed a fundamentally different path. While Ebionite teaching refused
to allow any newness to infiltrate the natural order of human generation,
Valentinians and Marcionites employed the virgin birth to exclude the
material flesh from Christ's spiritual identity. Thus, Irenaeus describes
such interpreters as those "who allege that he (the Word) took nothing
from the Virgin" (!!110EV £LAl1