Genesis 1-11. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament 1

By Andrew Louth, ed.
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (2001). lii + 204 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
13.1 (Spring 2002) : 134-136

 Ultimately, the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS) will comprise 28 volumes covering both OT and NT. It targets the patristic period of church history (approximately A.D. 95-749). Computer digital research and storage techniques were employed in an innovative fashion to identify the Greek and Latin texts composed by early Christian writers who referred to specific biblical passages. The search went beyond the patristic commentaries on biblical books so that as comprehensive a selection of texts as possible would result. Obviously, only a miniscule amount of the total data could be employed in ACCS. The general editor for the series is Thomas C. Oden, Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology at Drew University. ACCS was conceived in the same room where Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible was produced by Drew professor James Strong in the 1880s (xxxiii).

Three goals characterize ACCS: (1) to renew preaching in the classical tradition of Christian exegesis, (2) to encourage lay study of Scripture with input from the early history of the church, and (3) to increase scholarly investigation of patristic biblical interpretation (xi). The intent, therefore, is to provide a valuable resource for laity, pastors, and academics. As a carefully selected collection of the interpretive thinking of early Christian preachers, commentators, and theologians, ACCS “seeks to offer to Christian laity what the Talmud and Midrashim have long offered to Jewish readers” (xvi).

Since only a select number of patristic citations can be published in such a limited series, principles of selection guide the editors in the process. Those principles regulate preferences for “passages that have enduring relevance, penetrating significance, crosscultural applicability and practical applicability” (xxii), as well as for passages that exhibit the power to persuade, need no secondary explanation, and avoid idiosyncratic interpretations. Preference is also given to passages from sources previously disregarded. A balanced representation of geographical regions is sought as well as the inclusion of “the voices of women such as Macrina, Eudoxia, Egeria, Faltonia Betitia Proba, the Sayings of the Desert Mothers, and others who report the biblical interpretation of women of the ancient Christian traditions” (xxiii). Selections are also chosen that will contribute to effective preaching today.

In addition to a general introduction for the series, each volume includes an introduction for that particular volume. The special introductions present patristic views regarding authorship of that portion of Scripture, the significance that portion had for the early church fathers, and the challenges involved in editing the patristic materials in preparing that volume. In this volume that included a detailed explanation of problems involved in the Greek Septuagint translation of Genesis 1–11 (xl-xlvi). Each volume of ACCS includes cumulative chronological lists and biographical sketches of the church fathers cited in all volumes released to the date of the volume being consulted. Judicious footnotes provide clarification and additional references for research. Although the original searches were conducted in the Latin and Greek sources, dynamic equivalent English translations of the selected texts have been produced for inclusion in ACCS (xxxii).

Each Scripture pericope is provided with a heading followed by the RSV translation of that section of verses. However, because the Septuagint was the OT of choice in the early church, patristic citations represent that ancient version. Thus, in the production of this volume on Genesis 1–11, it was necessary to note the variations of RSV (based upon the Hebrew text) from the Greek Septuagint. Following the annotated translation, a brief overview is provided to summarize the comments that follow from the patristic sources. The overview is a very handy means of locating specific citations.

This volume takes readers on an informative journey back into the time of the early church and allows them to sit at the feet of the church fathers as they wax eloquent on the early chapters of Genesis. The significance of these chapters for biblical theology is reinforced by exposure to the patristic comments. Either due to editorial choices or due to absence of any patristic contributions, certain questions commonly asked about Genesis 1–11 fail to be mentioned: When did Satan fall? From where did Cain obtain a wife? Did sacrifice originate when God slew animals in order to provide skin tunics for Adam and Eve?

From the patristic selections in this volume, the reader will find many gems of ancient Christian interpretation. Ephrem the Syrian (fl. A.D. 363-373) discussed the involvement in creation of all three persons of the Trinity (6), indicated that the grasses and trees when they were created had the appearance of age (15), declared that the tunics of skin reminded Adam and Eve of their own mortality (98), and believed that the Flood destroyed all the earth except paradise (141). Chrysostom (fl. A.D. 386-407) argued that Moses had received the revelation concerning creation directly from God (3), insisted that the rivers of Eden were literal rivers (58), and recorded that believers were baptized naked in his day (72). According to Clement of Alexandria (fl. A.D. 190-215) Adam was the first prophet (69). Irenaeus (fl. A.D. 180-199) identified the “seed of the woman” in Gen 3:15 with Christ (90-91). Origen (fl. A.D. 200-254) taught that Christian martyrs would be shown by Jesus how to “pass through the cherubim and the flaming sword” into paradise (102). Both Jerome (fl. A.D. 375-420) and Augustine (fl. A.D. 387-430) recognized the discrepancies between the Hebrew and the Septuagint in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and sought to resolve them text critically and theologically (121-22).

Andrew Louth, editor of this first OT volume, is one of two Eastern Orthodox contributors to the series. He is professor of patristic and Byzantine studies at Durham University in England. Readers of TMSJ will be interested in knowing that John Sailhamer and Steven McKinion (brother of TMS graduate Randy McKinion) are among the evangelical participants in ACCS (xviii). Every student of Genesis 1–11 will benefit greatly from time spent mining the patristic sources so readily available in this important volume of ACCS. This reviewer awaits the remaining 13 volumes of the OT with eager anticipation.