Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pulpit Review: Ancient Christian Texts

Scheck, Thomas P., Translator. Edited by Christopher A. Hall. Gerald L. Bray and Thomas C. Oden, Series Editors. Origen: Homilies on Numbers (Ancient Christian Texts). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009. 196 Pages. Cloth. $60.00. (P)

How many commentaries on the book of Numbers do you have on your shelf? Two are on mine.

This volume in the ACT series is a creative and unique way to add to your commentary toolbox and engage in some historical theology.

All too often, theological works of previous generations are ignored. My brothers, this should not be!

"Origen of Alexandria (185-254), one of the most prolific authors of antiquity and arguably the most important and influential pre-Nicene Christian theologian, was a man of deep learning and holiness of life. Regrettably, many of his works are no longer extant, in part due to the condemnation of his ideas by the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553. The condemnation, however, took little account of his historical circumstances and the tentative nature of his speculations. The anathemas were more likely directed toward sixth-century Origenist views than to the views of Origen himself, though clearly he expounded some views that would be judged unacceptable today.

"Origen's numerous homilies provide the oldest surviving corpus of Christian sermons and shaped exegesis for succeeding centuries. With Jerome he was one of the early church's great critical and literal exegetes. Devoutly he sought to develop a spiritual exegesis of the Old Testament grounded in the revelation of Jesus Christ. The Homilies on Numbers presented here offer a splendid example of his spiritual interpretation of Old Testament texts. He asks, What foreshadowing, what warning, what instruction, what encouragement, reproof, correction or exhortation, do we find in the narratives of Numbers for our benefit as Christians?

"Here, based on Baehren's critical Latin text, is the first English edition of these homilies, ably translated with explanatory notes by Thomas P. Scheck" (publisher's website).

Yes. This is a first English edition of these sermons. Did I get your attention?

Origen's homilies are peppered with "this reminds me of" moments, though without those specific words. Most folks call them allegories. I can see the danger involved, and do not wish to deny its threat to a literal understanding of Scripture, but much criticism of Origen has come about because of what his later editors and students said, and when Origen is quoted out of context. Sure enough, he says enough things that would not pass for orthodox in his day or ours, but this edition of extended writing by Origen should serve his reputation and today's Church very well.

We look forward to more volumes in Ancient Christian Texts.

Blessed are those who will reach this summit of blessedness; blessed are those who have climbed to these heights of merits, and blessed is our God, who has promised these things 'to those who love him.' These are the ones who are truly numbered by God in the sacred Numbers, or rather, they themselves are those whose 'hairs of their head have been numbered,' by Jesus Christ our Lord, 'to whom is the lgory and the power in the ages of ages. Amen.'

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.