Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Ancient Christian Texts



Jerome. Thomas P. Scheck, Editor. Thomas C. Oden and Gerald L. Bray, Series Editors. Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets, Volume 2 (Ancient Christian Texts). Downers Grove: IVP Academic/InterVarsity Press, 2017. 412 Pages. Cloth. $60.00/$54.00 on sale.  https://www.ivpress.com/commentaries-on-the-twelve-prophets-vol-2

Eusebius of Caesarea. Jonathan J. Armstrong, Translator. Joel C. Elowsky, Editor. Thomas C. Oden and Gerald L. Bray, Series Editors. Commentary on Isaiah (Ancient Christian Texts). Downers Grove: IVP Academic/InterVarsity Press, 2013. 332 Pages. Cloth. $60.00/$54.00 on sale. https://www.ivpress.com/commentary-on-isaiah

Cyril of Alexandria. David R. Maxwell, Translator. Joel C. Elowsky, Editor. Thomas C. Oden and Gerald L. Bray, Series Editors. Commentary on John, Volume 1 (Ancient Christian Texts). Downers Grove: IVP Academic/InterVarsity Press, 2013. 375 Pages. Cloth. $60.00/$54.00 on sale. https://www.ivpress.com/commentary-on-john-vol-1

Cyril of Alexandria. David R. Maxwell, Translator. Joel C. Elowsky, Editor. Thomas C. Oden and Gerald L. Bray, Series Editors. Commentary on John, Volume 2 (Ancient Christian Texts). Downers Grove: IVP Academic/InterVarsity Press, 2015. 394 Pages. Cloth. $60.00/$54.00 on sale. https://www.ivpress.com/commentary-on-john-vol-2

We return to the IVP Academic Series Ancient Christian Texts for this review.


Jerome (c. 347-419/20), one of the West's four doctors of the church, was recognized early on as one of the church's foremost translators, commentators, and advocates of Christian asceticism. Skilled in Hebrew and Greek in addition to his native Latin, he was thoroughly familiar with Jewish traditions and brought this expertise to bear on his understanding of the Old Testament. Beginning in 379, Jerome used his considerable linguistic skills to translate Origen's commentaries and, eventually, to translate and comment on Scripture himself. 

Jerome began writing commentaries on the twelve minor prophets in 392 while preparing his Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. After completing Nahum, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Habakkuk, he was interrupted in 393 by the Origenist controversy, after which he became a vocal critic of Origen of Alexandria. He finished his commentaries on Jonah and Obadiah in 396. These seven commentaries are available in the ACT volume Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets, Volume 1.

We reviewed Volume 1 of Jerome's Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets last July: http://lhplbr.blogspot.com/2017/07/lutheran-book-review-titles-for-july.html

The Origenist controversy and his commentary on Matthew occupied Jerome's time for the next several years. He finally completed his commentaries on the rest of the twelve prophets in 406. This volume, edited by Thomas Scheck, includes those final five commentaries on Zechariah, Malachi, Hosea, Joel, and Amos.


Throughout these commentaries, Jerome refers frequently to the work of previous commentators, and his spiritual exegesis relies heavily on the exegetical work of Origen - though he acknowledges that "I have not followed them in everything." Jerome hears in these texts God's judgment and mercy not only on Israel but especially on the Christian community. In Amos, for example, he says that "whatever we have said about Judah refers to the church." He wrestles especially with the scandalous message of Hosea, which he refers to as drowning with Pharaoh during the crossing of the Red Sea. But he trusts that "the ways of the Lord are the reading of the Old and New Testament, the understanding of the holy Scriptures."


By sharing the wisdom he received from these biblical texts, Jerome's magisterial commentaries help us walk more faithfully in God's ways.

(Publisher's Website)

This 2017 volume includes Jerome's extant commentaries on Zechariah, Malachi, Hosea, Joel, and Amos.


The Volume Editor's Introduction assesses Jerome's exegetical method and most important contributions to biblical studies (xv). Julian criticized Jerome for not being careful enough (xviii). Such criticism was also that of Augustine, who criticized Jerome's "exegesis" (xxxi). Erasmus enters the debate in 1516 (xxxix). Erasmus' influence, including inaugurating a Jerome renaissance that same year, led to the Council of Trent enshrining "Jerome's Latin Vulgate as the authoritative text of the Bible of Roman Catholicism" (xl).


One of the surprises Christian readers find in some translations of Zechariah 3 is "Jesus the high priest…clothed with filthy garments…" (18) "Joshua" is a more well-known translation here. The Christian application of the text (with contrast) is clear in the final paragraph of commentary on 1-5b (19-20). By chapter 14, Jerome explains 1-2 with help from Josephus and Tacitus (98).

I appreciate the time and attention given to good footnotes. Note 36 on 119 draws our attention to Erasmus' appeal to Malachi 1:2-5 in his attempt to refute Luther's De servo arbitrio. I stand with Luther and Malachi.


The Lord calling His people is something in common between Hosea 1:10-11 (158) and Hosea 2:16-17 (167). Jerome's explanation of "Baal" is interesting.


The Editor sees Cicero as one of the philosophers (265 note 35) alluded to in Jerome's commentary on Joel 1:4. Quintillian (266 note 41) is referenced on the same verse.


Pages 287ff will give preachers illustration ideas for Joel 28-32a for Pentecost Day.


Readers should note Editor footnote 295 on page 297 with regard to chiliasm.

The next ACT volume was published in 2013.


Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 260--ca. 340), one of the early church's great polymaths, produced significant works as a historian (Ecclesiastical History), geographer (Onomasticon), philologist, exegete (commentaries on the Psalms and Isaiah), apologist (Preparation for and Demonstration of the Gospel) and theologian. His Commentary on Isaiah is one of his major exegetical works and the earliest extant Christian commentary on the great prophet. Geographically situated between Alexandria and Antioch, Eusebius approached the text giving notable attention to historical detail and possible allegorical interpretation. But above all, employing the anologia fidei, he drew his readers? attention to other passages of Scripture that share a common vocabulary and theological themes, thus allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Here, for the first time in English, Jonathan Armstrong provides readers with a highly serviceable translation of Eusebius's notably difficult Greek text, along with a helpful introduction and notes.

(Publisher's website)



Though Eusebius was not the first Christian commentator on Isaiah, "Eusebius's work is the first Christian commentary on Isaiah to have survived antiquity" (xxvi).


Eusebius brings John 6:46 to bear on Isaiah 6:1 (27). 7:14 is clearly Christological: "But then you, O house of David, after you received a sign of a good omen from the Lord, you appealed to him and named him Emmanuel. For he who has such a surname will procure salvation for you: believe and obey what he commands" (36).


Commentary on 42:15: In speaking of the mountains and hills, he alludes to the rulers of the people, and the grass refers to their sin. He threatens to raze to the ground their vanity and the arrogance of those who rule over them and to dry up their grace. Because these things are said concerning them—that is, the teachings that were once abundantly supplied to them like rivers—he says I will turn into islands. And yet also there will be areas among them that become stagnant for lack of spiritual water, so that they become comparable to marshlands, and he says I will dry up these places (214).

The editor notes a supercessionist tension in Eusebius's exegesis of Chapter 49 (245 note 34).

Preachers will appreciate extensive commentary on Isaiah 52 and 53. Consider the Christology of this comment on 52:13: "But this servant or slave of God, who was 'filled' with all 'wisdom' and understanding, contained the Word of God in himself" (261). Also this on justification in 53:11-12: "For 'the spirit of wisdom and understanding rested on him' in order that the intelligent might be perfected and the worthy might be justified because he justifies them" (265).

The  volume editor is LCMS. From www.csl.edu:

Dr. Joel Elowsky is a professor of Historical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
Elowsky has been a faculty member since 2014. He is the director of the Seminary's Center for the Study of Early Christian Texts and also is a researcher for the Center for Early African Christianity at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

His interests and areas of expertise include early church studies, history of exegesis, mission work and African Christianity.

He earned a Master of Philosophy (2008) and Ph.D. (2009) from Drew University in Madison, N.J. After studying at Westfield House in Cambridge, England, and Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, he transferred to Concordia Seminary, where he received a Master of Divinity (1990) and Master of Sacred Theology (1992). He received a bachelor's degree from Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Mich. (1985).

He served as associate professor of theology at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon (2010-14), as an adjunct professor of religion at Drew University (2000-04); and later as research director of The Center for Early African Christianity at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. (2009-14).

Elowsky's first call was with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod SELC District as a mission developer in Galloway Township, N.J. (1992-2000). He served as operations manager/research director for Thomas Oden's 29-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (IVP) from 2000-10, which has been translated into at least seven languages. While serving in that capacity he also served vacancies at Trinity Lutheran Church in Morris Plains, N.J.; Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Montville, N.J.; and Our Savior Lutheran Church in Fairlawn, N.J.

Since 2004 he has been part of the ecumenical group, Evangelicals and Catholics Together. He also has served as a participant in dialogs between evangelicals and the Vatican, delivering a paper there on Scripture and tradition in 2010. He also is a board member of the Chinese Academic Consortium and a member of the International Patristics Society and the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL). He serves as the president of the Institute for Classical Christian Studies, which has ties with Yale University. He also has lectured extensively in Africa as a researcher and lecturer for the Center for Early African Christianity formerly housed at Eastern University and now located at Yale, where he continues to lecture in Africa on behalf of Concordia Seminary.

He initiated two other publication series: the five-volume Ancient Christian Doctrine and the 14-volume Ancient Christian Texts, as well as the Ancient Christian Devotional.

He has edited or authored numerous books and articles including:

  • John 1-10 in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol IVa  (InterVarsity Press, 2007)
  • John 11-21 in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol IVb (InterVarsity Press, 2007)
  • We Believe in the Holy Spirit in Ancient Christian Doctrine Series, Vol. 4 (InterVarsity Press, 2009)
  • Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity, 3 Volumes, 5000 pages. Eds. Angelo DiBerardino, Thomas C. Oden, Joel C. Elowsky, James Hoover (InterVarsity Press, 2014)
  • Cyril of Alexandria:  Commentary on John, Vol II. trans. David Maxwell, ed. Joel Elowsky, Ancient Christian Texts Series (InterVarsity Press, 2012 and 2015)
  • "Exodus in the Fathers" in The Book of Exodus: Composition, Reception and Interpretation. Thomas B. Dozeman, Craig A. Evans and Joel N. Lohr, eds. Part of the Formation and Interpretation of Old Testament Literature Series  (Brill, 2014) "Alexandrian Theology and Contemporary African Thought" in A New History of African Christian Thought: From Cape to Cairo, edited by David Ngong (Routledge, 2016)

Elowsky has finished working on a translation of Athanasius' Letter to Marcellinus, which is published as an e-book with ICCS Press, and also was used in the Africa Study Bible. He is currently working on an Encyclopedia of Early African Christianity to be published by the same publisher, which will be a condensation and selective editing of the larger Encyclopedia of the Early Church with new articles germaine to the African church.

Elowsky's wife, Joy, plays organ for Seminary chapel services and also assists in conducting the Seminary Chorus. She is an organist at Glendale Lutheran Church in St. Louis. The Elowskys have two sons and a dog named Hubert. When not traveling or teaching, Elowsky likes to spend time sailing in northern Michigan.

Early church studies
History of exegesis
Mission work
African Christianity

Between 2013 and 2015 ACT implemented a slight change in format. Previously, all footnotes for a page were included between double lines that covered the whole bottom of each page. The difference is seen clearly when examining both volumes of Cyril's Commentary on John. The second volume shows the new format: footnotes for each column are listed between double lines for that column.

It's pretty cool to see another LCMS face alongside St. Cyril! 

From www.csl.edu:

Dr. David R. Maxwell is the Louis A. Fincke and Anna B. Shine Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

A faculty member since 2004, he also is professor of Systematic Theology. He received his Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. (2003); a Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Seminary (1995, 1997); a Master of Arts from Washington University in St. Louis (1995); and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas in Austin (1991). He was ordained at Trinity Lutheran Church in Elkhart, Ind. (2003).

At the Seminary, he teaches courses in systematic theology, patristics, history of exegesis and Latin. His primary research interest is the early church, particularly the Christological controversies of the fourth through sixth centuries. He also works in the field of patristic exegesis and recently produced a translation of Cyril of Alexandria's Commentary on John (InterVarsity Press). He is currently working on a translation of Cyril of Alexandria's commentaries on Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Hebrews.

He has delivered a number of presentations on Lutheran identity, both in the United States and in Indonesia. He plays the organ regularly in church and at the Seminary. In conjunction with playing the organ, he has written on the theological symbolism in the organ music of J.S. Bach, particularly Bach's "Clavierübung III," which is based largely on Luther's catechism hymns.

History of exegesis
Cyril of Alexandria


Why read these two volumes from Cyril of Alexandria? Consider this from the General Introduction: 


"It is ironic that our times, which claim to be so fully furnished with historical insight and research methods, have neglected these texts more than scholars in previous centuries who could read them in their original languages.        This series provides indisputable evidence of the modern neglect of classic Christian exegesis: it remains a fact that extensive and once authoritative classic commentaries on Scripture still remain untranslated into any modern language. Even in China such a high level of neglect has not befallen classic Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian commentaries (ix).


The Translator's Introduction reminds us: 


"Cyril's polemics against the Jews are directed primarily against their refusal to believe that Jesus is God by nature" (xviii). Of Luther the same could be said. "Cyril divides the commentary into twelve books [e.g. xxvii], and the books are further divided into chapters…" (xix) "Books 7 and 8 of the commentary have been lost, except for fragments that have been preserved in various catenas on the Gospel of John" (xxi). "….the view that Antioch and Alexandria represent such a sharp dichotomy between two exegetical methods that are fundamentally opposed to each other has largely been discredited" (xxii).


Readers new to ACT will appreciate the Translator's Advice for Reading (xxiv). For example:


Do not skip Cyril's citation of Scripture in an attempt to "get to the point." Cyril's handling of Scripture is the point.

See Cyril do theology using syllogisms (John 1:9; Read pp. 52-57 to better understand pp. 43-52).

Book Two begins with what we call John 1:29 (75).


Cyril's explanation of 2:19 covers nearly a column and makes reference to Matthew 12:39-40, Psalm 35:11, and Psalm 27:12 (94). His commentary on Nicodemus in 3:1-2 is a worthy illustration of the double-minded man of James 1:8 and Psalm 86:11. 

"Nicodemus is quite ready to believe, but since he is overcome by an unhealthy regard for others and does not ignore other people's opinion, he refuses to be forthright and divides his mind in two. He 'cripples' his intention and is weak 'in both knees,' as it is written, [1 Kings 18:21] pressed by the argument of his conscience that he should believe because of the surpassing quality of the miracles but estimating that the loss of his leadership of the people is intolerable since he was a 'leader of the Jews.' Thinking that he can both preserve his reputation with them and secretly be faithful, he makes the darkness of the night a coworker in his scheme, and he comes to Jesus. And by coming in secret, he is convicted of being double-minded" (96).

Remember hearing "The Holy Things for the Holy Ones" from Dr. Nagel in class or the title pages of Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries? Don't miss the phrase in an extended commentary (276-289) on 7:24 (287, 287 note 354).


Between 2013 and 2015 ACT implemented a slight change in format. Previously, all footnotes for a page were included between double lines that covered the whole bottom of each page. The difference is seen clearly when examining both volumes of Cyril's Commentary on John. The second volume shows the new format: footnotes for each column are listed between double lines for that column.


Volume 2 picks up with Book Six/John 8:44.


Cyril finds 9:2-3 a perfect text (22ff) in order to better explain Exodus 20:5-6 (26, known to Lutherans as the Close of the Commandments in the Small Catechism).


For notes on the missing Books 7 and 8, see 71, and 72-114. One section in these missing books is 12:3-40 on the Jews. Cyril says, 

"This statement, however, applies not to all [the Jews] but only to the unbelievers. Many of them believed after all" (110-11; cf. Translator's Introduction, both volumes).

Need a fresh yet ancient sermon illustration for Holy (Maundy) Thursday? See 13:34 (137ff). Easter Season preaching will benefit from reading Cyril on 14:16-17 (178ff), 14:25-26 (197ff), and 15:26 (245ff). Jesus makes Genesis 1:26 clear in 17:6-8 (279). Where would Cyril stand on the filioque? Consider note 158 on 296. Good Friday preachers will welcome reading 350ff on 19:30.


Calvinists will cringe to read Cyril on 20:19-20: 

"Let no one say, 'How did the Lord enter unhindered with his solid physical body when the doors were locked? Rather one should realize that the divinely inspired Evangelist is not speaking of someone like us, but of him who is enthroned with God the Father and who easily accomplishes whatever he wishes…" (364)

On 20:21-23, Cyril comments on absolution: 

"The Spirit bearers forgive sins in two ways, at least as I understand it. They invite to baptism those to whom baptism is due because of the purity of their life and their tested allegiance to the faith, while they hinder and exclude from divine grace those who are not yet worthy. Or another way they forgive and retain sins is that they rebuke the children of the church who are sinning and they forgive those who repent, just as Paul handed over the fornicator in Corinth 'for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit might be saved' and admitted him into fellowship once again 'so that he might not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow,' as he says in his epistles. So when the Spirit of Christ who is in us performs the actions that belong to God alone, how could the Spirit not be by nature God, since he is naturally invested with the glorious honor of the divine nature and has authority over the holy law?" (372). One notes that Luther borrowed from this section in explaining The Office of the Keys.

I found the concluding paragraph of the commentary (on 21:25, 386) to be linguistically and theologically elegant:

"The multitude of the divine signs, he says, is vast, and the catalog of his deeds is clearly innumerable. But these have been taken from many thousands since they are able to bring the most profit to the hearers. Let the one who is teachable and loves instruction not blame the author of this book, he says, if he did not record the rest. Indeed, if every individual accomplishment had been recorded with nothing left out, the immeasurable multitude of books would have filled the world. We maintain that , as it is, the power of the Word has accomplished more than enough. Anyone may see that thousands of miracles were accomplished by our Savior's power. The preachers of the Gospels, however, wrote down the more glorious ones, it seems, and the ones that could strengthen the hearers in an incorruptible faith and give them instruction in morality and doctrine. That is so they might be glorious in the orthodox faith and adorned all over with works that aim at reverence. Then they might greet the heavenly city and be joined to the church of the firstborn and so enter the very kingdom of heaven in Christ, through whom and with whom be glory to God the Father and with the Holy Spirit forever. Amen."

Consider adding both volumes of Cyril to your commentary library.


Cyril of Alexandria (ca. 378-444), one of the most brilliant representatives of the Alexandrian theological tradition, is best known for championing the term Theotokos (God-bearer) in opposition to Nestorius of Constantinople. Cyril's great Commentary on John, offered here in the Ancient Christian Texts series in two volumes, predates the Nestorian controversy and focuses its theological firepower against Arianism. The commentary, addressed to catechists, displays Cyril's breathtaking mastery of the full content of the Bible and his painstaking attention to detail as he offers practical teaching for the faithful on the cosmic story of God's salvation.

David R. Maxwell provides readers with the first completely fresh English translation of the text since the nineteenth century. It rests on Pusey's critical edition of the Greek text and displays Cyril's profound theological interpretation of Scripture and his appeal to the patristic tradition that preceded him. Today's readers will find the commentary an indispensable tool for understanding Cyril's approach to Scripture.

(Publisher's website)



This review brings us up-to-date on all extant volumes of Ancient Christian Texts. We reviewed all volumes of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Ancient Christian Dogmatics, and to date, only one volume of Reformation Commentary on Scripture. We hope to review supplemental AC paperbacks, future ACT volumes, and wish to be considered to review volumes of RCS.


Rev. Paul J Cain is Senior Pastor of Immanuel, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School and Immanuel Academy, a member of the Board of Directors of the Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education,Secretary of the Wyoming District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a member of its Board of Directors, Wyoming District Education Chairman/NLSA Commissioner, and Editor of Lutheran Book Review. He has served as an LCMS Circuit Visitor, District Worship Chairman and District Evangelism Chairman. A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Rev. Cain is a contributor to Lutheran Service Book, Lutheranism 101, the forthcoming LSB Hymnal Companion volumes, and is the author of 5 Things You Can Do to Make Our Congregation a Caring Church. He is an occasional guest on KFUO radio. He has previously served Emmanuel, Green River, WY and Trinity, Morrill, NE. Rev. Cain is married to Ann and loves reading and listening to, composing, and making music. 

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