Tertullian and the Interpretation of Scripture

We . . . do not take the parables as sources of doctrine, but rather we take doctrine as a norm for interpreting parables. (Tertullian On Purity 9.1)



8 comments so far

  1. derekryanbrown on

    “We . . . do not take the parables as sources of doctrine” – I’m okay with that.
    “but rather we take doctrine as a norm for interpreting parables.”=grrr.

  2. Josh on

    Maybe I need more context from crazy Uncle Tertullian, but doesn’t that put us into a funny position to Scripture? Sure, the parables are difficult, but shouldn’t they then function the way other difficult passages function? Maybe . . . shaping, challenging, and correcting our doctrine?

    Wanted to put a plug in while I’m here – I am now blogging-ish . For the young adult group that I’m pastoring, so the topics come from our context and are intended for the group. But, thoughts on church, community, Bonhoeffer so far. Another way to keep tabs on us here in Boise. Blessings!

  3. jeffreimer on


    Hey, thanks for the alert. I’ll put it on my feed list.

    The link in the post above should give you the context you are looking for.

    The whole thing really is just a way of re-asking the question of authority and interpretation. Would you rather interpret Scripture by the godless principles of the Enlightenment or by the light of the tradition of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, whose head is Jesus Christ?

  4. Josh on

    Oh yes – blasted, buggered, godless Enlightenment. Sorry, I missed my cue initially. I guess I was thinking that since Tertullian was pre-Enlightenment, that wasn’t the point of the post, but I can see how the Enlightenment infested interpretation even then. Bloody Enlightenment.

  5. jeffreimer on

    Actually it’s just the opposite. I mean Tertullian interprets Scripture (in this case the parables) according to doctrine (the tradition of the church), as opposed to much modern interpretation, which claims an “objective” or neutral reading free from “traditional” biases (but which is really based on the godless principles of the Enlightenment). Make better sense now?

  6. derekryanbrown on

    Of course, if I may interject, one runs into difficulty when the doctrine(s) of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church is based on fundamentally flawed and/or historically inaccurate readings of the scriptures themselves. So choosing between the lens of either the church or the Enlightenment is not straightforward. Both can lead one to theological peril.

  7. Ben on

    Derek’s point is precisely why humility and dialogue is so important between the various ‘camps’. Also, I think that the entire supposed schism between the church and the Enlightenment may be entirely false. Sure, the thinkers coming out of the Enlightenment read scripture in ways different from previous tradition (and were often provocative), but many (or at least some) of the thinkers considered themselves part of the Church (even if in a position of radical critique). Take Wellhausen for example. Or, more recently, Marcus Borg. Thus, why can members of the Church (in a concrete or more abstract way) not question and challenge other members of the Church (alive or dead) so as to further knowledge of the triune God and his kingdom? So long as the dialogue is conducted with humility and honesty, I see no problem with this. Both dialogue partners simply need to realize that they are not the only ones with something to offer.

    (Also, I admit to being a blog-lurker thus far. Sorry.)

  8. jeffreimer on

    Ben and Derek,

    All blog-lurkers welcome!

    Thanks for your comments. I don’t have much time to reply, but I am with you, Ben, that humility is needed for dialogue, and I admit to having been intentionally provocative (and un-nuanced) in my previous comments.

    I’m going away for the weekend and won’t likely have time to reply, but let me say that while I agree with your sentiments, I disagree with most of the substance. That is, while I don’t deny the faith of many scholars that provide radical rereadings of Scripture, I think there is a massive difference in the philosophical tradition of the Enlightenment and earlier traditions of Scriptural interpretations, and not all traditions are created equal. More later!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: