8 Principles of Biblical Interpretation from Irenaeus

irenaeusThe following are 8 principles of biblical interpretation from St. Irenaeus of Lyons (second century AD). Which do you find most intriguing and/or helpful?

  1. The rule of truth (the conviction that God speaks through Scripture and the Spirit).
  2. Logical coherence and aesthetic fitness (requiring both analysis and imagination).
  3. Fulfillment of prophecy in Christ and recapitulation in and through Christ, who gathers and sums up all things under one head.
  4. Eschatology (a teleological awareness oriented toward the consummation of all things).
  5. Moving from what is certain to what is obscure (not the other way around).
  6. The moral integrity of the interpreter (which especially includes epistemic humility).
  7. An awareness of historical context (to the best of one’s ability).
  8. Grammar matters for interpretation.

Irenaeus faults his Gnostic interlocutors for breaking every one of these principles.

Source: Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

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3 Responses to 8 Principles of Biblical Interpretation from Irenaeus

  1. jwheels says:

    I like all of these rules in principle, but an over-emphasis on 1, 3, and 4 without proper attention to 5 and 7 has led to some very sincere yet bizarre interpretations. As such I would add a ninth point: balance of all of the above.

  2. e_janet_warren@yahoo.ca says:

    Actually what I find most intriguing is the fact that he even wrote on hermeneutics and how relevant it still is, and in fact not that different from contemporary hermeneutical writings!

  3. Thanks. I’m sharing this with my class, who have wondered if postmodern resistance to one true interpretation of Scripture is the equivalent to early church approaches to hermeneutics, which clearly included more than just a historical-grammatical approach to Scripture.

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