A Meaning Worthy of God: Origen and Biblical Integrity in a Pre-Constantinian Age


The increased interest as of late in the patristic period is not without reason. In an age when theologically diverse opinions exist, it is natural to seek some justification for our beliefs in the work of those who have gone before us. The writings of Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers have been of immense value in current debates, particularly in those surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity. [1] Yet when dealing with doctrine, inevitably we must examine the patristic usage of Scripture. In fact, almost all patristic literature is in some way concerned with interpreting the Bible. [2] The hermeneutics of Athanasius and the Cappadocians surely merit the attention it has received, but what of Origen, their predecessor. [3] It is without doubt that Origen had great impact on them, or else the Cappadocians Basil (the Great) and Gregory Nazianzen would not have wasted their time compiling the Philocalia, an anthology of Origen’s writings. But, of course, the question today is, “Are his writings compelling and relevant for us on the edge of the twenty-first century?”

It will be the purpose of this paper to: first, attempt a brief review of Origen’s era, to determine if indeed he writes in a theologically diverse age; second, examine Origen’s view of Scripture, to determine if he has anything to say to those concerned with biblical integrity; and third, explore the implications of Origen’s view of Scripture, to determine how his biblical view leads to his understanding of integrity.

Origen’s Age - Theologically Diverse

Origen, born c. 185 in Egypt, came from an age that did not experience the benefits of Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge. In fact, it was a time when belief in Christianity could result in martyrdom, since the Christian process of spiritual conversion was hostile to the pagan religions of the Empire. The Empire, therefore, viewed Christianity as a threat to the state, and often expressed its own hostility towards Christianity in a violent fashion. Origen’s father, a Christian, was killed during the persecution in Alexandria in 202. Origen, too, even as a young boy, had a longing for martyrdom. According to Eusebius of Caesarea:

[H]is (Origen’s) one ambition was to come to grips with danger and charge headlong into the conflict. Indeed, he was within a hair’s breadth of arriving at the end of his days, when for the benefit of mankind the providence of Almighty God used his mother to defeat his ambition. She first appealed to him in words, begging him to spare his mother’s feelings for him; then, when the news that his father had been arrested and imprisoned filled his whole being with a craving for martyrdom, and she saw that he was more determined than ever, she hid all his clothing and compelled him to stay at home. [4]

Benjamin Drewery remarked that, here, “one is reminded of the felon who walked to the gallows under an umbrella, lest he should catch cold!” [5]

Despite the threat of martyrdom, Origen nonetheless found it quite important to engage his culture. In fact, Origen was certainly the greatest thinker of his day, always writing to convince others of “the importance of Christian life and why a person should become a Christian.” [6] His great work Contra Celsum (Against Celsus) was a reasoned answer to the attacks of the pagan philosopher, Celsus, who criticized the exclusive claims of Christianity as well as the doctrine of the Incarnation in his True Discourse. Certainly, many of Origen’s theological works, particularly the De Principiis (On First Principles) need to be seen as apologetic attempts to speak to the educated Greco-Roman culture around him, made up of its menagerie of pagan philosophies, mystery cults, Gnostic groups and oriental religions. [7] His methodology was not defined by the culture, but by mission to the culture. And he was successful at this venture, because he made constant reference to pagan philosophies. The Alexandrian school at which Origen was the instructor (dubbed the “first Christian University” by Drewery [8]) attracted not only Christians but pagans, as well.

Nor was Origen a stranger to Christian sects and heresies. Much of his biblical work (which we will examine shortly) had in mind the Marcionites, who believed that “the Christian Gospel was wholly a Gospel of Love to the absolute exclusion of Law.” [9] This of course implied that the God of the Old Testament (the Creator God or Demiurge) had nothing to do with the God of Jesus Christ. Origen attempted to maintain the integrity of the Bible by showing how the Creator God and the Redeeming God are one and the same. [10] Other heretics that Origen opposed include the Anthropomorphites, who took literally the anthropomorphisms that the Bible attributes to God and the soul and therefore pictured God as corporeal. [11] From Crouzel’s description, the “Great Church” was full of gnostic sects, Marcionites, Montanists, Modalists, Adoptionists, and Chiliasts, just to name a few. [12] Origen’s situation may not have been as bad as Athanasius’, where Origen contra mundum could be used, but it was certainly a theologically diverse time, even within the “Great Church”.

Despite the theological diversity of his time, the argument might be made that Origen’s era, one of violence and martyrdom, is not one like ours at all, given that Christianity is considered to be irrelevant to the world, by those both outside and inside the church. If only someone would be martyred for their faith in our day and age, someone might say. If they’d only pay attention to us. Yet, with the great abuses of Chrisitan religious rights in the world today, [13] we must remember that Christianity is a global religion, and Origen’s insights may be more relevant than we realize here in the irrelevant West. For, as we shall see, the life of faith will make an impact on the world and on us, whether we notice it or not.

Origen’s View of Scripture

Now we come to the heart of the matter. Just how much of a biblical scholar was Origen? We can gather that Origen was not merely a philosopher, as some of his critics would argue, but was actually a trained grammarian. [14] Unfortunately only fragments survive of Origen’s famous Hexapla. This massive work was a compilation of the Old Testament [15] with the Hebrew text in one column [16], a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew in another, and then the four Greek translations of Aquila, Symmachus, the Septuagint and Theodotion, all paralleled accordingly. [17] But Origen was more than an editor. The main body of his work was made up of commentaries and homilies on books of the Bible, all of which generally expounded the biblical texts line by line. [18] It was the exposition of the Scriptures that was, as one scholar put it, “the centre of his life.” [19] And Origen was extremely prolific. Epiphanius claimed that Origen produced approximately six thousand volumes during his career! [20] No doubt a slight exaggeration, but his output was vast and covered most of the biblical books.

But why his explicit attention to the letter of the text? For Origen, every jot and tittle was important, since each word was the very word of God. In this sense, Origen had a very high view of Scripture. The Bible was indeed inspired, and, as Henri Crouzel pointed out, Origen thought of it as being rather like a dictation from the Holy Spirit. [21] The Bible, then, could not be treated like any other human book. There was nothing useless in Scripture, since the Holy Spirit, as the author of the Bible, would not give us anything useless. Therefore, everything in Scripture had meaning. [22] The Origen scholar Ronald Heine pointed out, “We will not understand the way Origen reads the Bible if we miss this basic point, that it is always the Holy Spirit who speaks in the text of the Bible.” [23]

We must notice, however, that Origen’s idea of inspiration is quite different from what may be considered a modern fundamentalist approach to Scripture. For one thing, Origen did not believe that the inspiration of the Scriptures guaranteed the accuracy of the historical and scientific information in the Bible. [24] In fact, even to produce certainty on almost certain events was extremely difficult. Origen wrote in his famous tract, Contra Celsum, “[W]e must say that an attempt to substantiate almost any story as historical fact, even if it is true, and to produce complete certainty about it, is one of the most difficult tasks and in some cases is impossible.” [25] To Origen, there were obvious discrepancies, such as the difference in chronology and geography concerning the story of Jesus cleansing the temple. [26] Yet, since the Scriptures are inspired by the Spirit, they cannot contain errors, and at three different times in his commentaries Origen “explicitly states that inspiration implies freedom from error.” [27]

But how can the Scriptures be free from error, even if inspired by the Holy Spirit, when they contain such obvious problems? For Origen, the apparent distortion of historical information is not necessarily the result of some scribal or other literary error, but purposefully put into the text by the Holy Spirit as a reminder that we must not depend on the purely historical reading. Origen writes:

[T]he divine wisdom has arranged for certain stumbling-blocks and interruptions of the historical sense to be found therein, by inserting in the midst a number of impossibilities and incongruities, in order that the very interruption of the narrative might as it were present a barrier to the reader and lead him to refuse to proceed along the pathway of the ordinary meaning: and so, by shutting us out and debarring us from that, might recall us to the beginning of another way, and might thereby bring us, through the entrance of a narrow footpath, to a higher and loftier road and lay open the immense breadth of the divine wisdom. [28]

What may appear as errors to us are intended by the Holy Spirit, to call the reader’s attention to “the impossibility of the literal sense”, and therefore signal the need for “an examination of the inner meaning.” [29]

The “inner meaning” of Scripture, then, is what the Spirit intends to communicate in the words of the Bible, and it is the job of the interpreter to seek this “spiritual” meaning. The “method” employed by Origen is the same used by philosophers “to find symbolic meaning in the texts of Homer and the other poets” [30] - the allegorical method. [31] Before we begin to criticize Origen too harshly for his appropriation of this “method”, we must realize that allegory is a device already in use when Origen begins writing his expositions of Scripture. In a fragment of a commentary on Psalm 68.13, [32] Origen tells us that “Some people say that the lots and feathers are the Old and New Testaments; others the practical and contemplative life; others knowledge of corporeal and incorporeal substances; others the knowledge of God and of Christ who was sent by him.” [33] Allegory is in the air of Origen’s era, if you will. Origen’s usage of allegory is, for him, an example of Christianity “spoiling the Egyptians”, or, in this case, spoiling Greek philosophy. [34] But it is important for us to realize that Origen does not accept allegory on the merits of the philosophers, but rather, by “practicing” allegory, Origen thinks he stands in the tradition of the apostle Paul.

Indeed, according to Origen, it is Paul who taught the Church how to interpret the books of the Law. In Origen’s fifth homily on Exodus, Origen explains that the Jews read the story of the departure of the Israelites from Israel literally. He writes:

The Jews...understand only this, that “the children of Israel departed” from Egypt and their first departure was “from Ramesse” and they departed from there and came “to Socoth,” and “they departed from Socoth” and came “to Etham” at Epauleus next to the sea. Then, next, they understand that there the cloud preceded them and the “rock” from which they drank water followed; and furthermore, they crossed the Red Sea and came into the desert of Sina.

Let us see, however, what sort of rule of interpretation the apostle Paul taught us about these matters. Writing to the Corinthians he says in a certain passage, “For we know that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all were baptized in Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. And they drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.” Do you see how much Paul’s teaching differs from the literal meaning? What the Jews supposed to be a crossing of the sea, Paul calls a baptism; what they supposed to be a cloud, Paul asserts is the Holy Spirit... [35]

We are to apply this kind of rule of interpretation in a similar way in other passages, as well, since we are to read the Bible the way Paul did, in order to cultivate “the seeds of spiritual understanding received” from him. [36]

Origen appeals to a whole series of Pauline texts as evidence for this type of interpretation. [37] And, from these texts, Origen draws out the principle that is later called “interpreting Scripture by Scripture.” This principle, according to Heine, “was a common procedure among exegetes of all types in the ancient world. It was used by the Greek grammarians to interpret Homer, by philosophers to interpret Aristotle or Plato, and by Hellenistic Jews such as Philo, but also by the rabbis, to interpret the Old Testament.” [38] In fact, Origen claimed to have learned this principle from a Jewish teacher. [39]

How, then, are we taught by the Spirit in Origen’s view? “By comparing one text with another.” [40] If it is truly the Spirit who speaks in all the texts of the Bible, then we arrive at the meaning for a text “by comparing other Biblical texts containing similar terminology” so that it is the Spirit speaking in the auxiliary texts which teach us the meaning of the text in question. [41] As Origen writes in his work On First Principles, “[F]or indeed we are taught out of scripture itself how we ought to think of it.” [42]

As we have seen, Origen is deeply concerned with the grammatical quality of the text. But allegory has been criticized for its “easy” decision of allegorizing a text if it proves too difficult. Origen himself warns against the dangers of allegorizing in a way that does not do justice to the original meaning of words in context. In his Treatise on the Passover (Peri Pascha), Origen criticizes those who are “rashly attempting to interpret things written in Hebrew without first knowing the Hebrew meaning.” [43] The situation that warrants such a criticism is over the Greek word for “passover”. Origen writes:

Most of the brethren, indeed perhaps all, think that the passover (pavsca) takes its name from the passion (pavqo_) of the Savior. Among the Hebrews, however, the real name of this feast is not pavsca but fas - the three letters of fas and the rough breathing, which is much stronger with them than it is with us, constituting the name of this feast which means “passage” (diavbasi_). For since it is on this feast that the people come out of Egypt, it is thus called fas, that is, “passage” (diavbasi_). Because it is not possible in the Greek language to pronounce this word the way the Hebrews do, since the Greeks are unable to pronounce fas with the stronger breathing in force among the Hebrews, the word was Hellenized: in the prophets it is called fasek, and when Hellenized more completely, the word becomes pavsca. And should one of us in conversation with Hebrew people too rashly mention that the passover takes its name from the suffering of the Savior, he would be ridiculed by them as one totally ignorant of the meaning of the word. [44]

From this quotation, we see that Origen does not want allegory to totally distort the historical and grammatical, giving the words an improper meaning. Allegory, then, is not a substitute for historical criticism. But it is true for Origen that we are to search for the spiritual meaning in the text, for it is through this spiritual meaning that the Bible becomes accessible in new historical contexts, in which the hearer of the word actually has a true meeting with the Logos of God. [45]

We see, then, that Origen is deeply concerned with the relevancy of God’s word to his own time and place, because it is always relevant to all times and all places. Put simply, the Scriptures are where we meet Christ, so that the interpretation of Scripture must not point to itself, but to Him in whom all things were made, in whom is our salvation. Christ is literally the exegesis of both the Old and the New Testaments. [46] Origen, in his Treatise on the Passover, makes a fascinating connection with the lamb at Passover mentioned in Exodus 12.8-9, [47] the Scriptures, and Christ. He writes:

If the lamb is Christ and Christ is the Logos, what is the flesh of the divine words if not the divine Scriptures? This is what is to be eaten neither raw nor cooked with water. Should, therefore, some cling just to the words themselves, they would eat the flesh of the Savior raw, and in partaking of this raw flesh would merit death and not life - it is after the manner of beasts and not humans that they are eating his flesh - since the Apostle teaches us that the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor.3.6). If the Spirit is given us from God and God is a devouring fire (Deut.4.24; Heb.12.29), the Spirit is also fire, which is what the Apostle is aware of in exhorting us to be aglow with the Spirit (Rom.12.11). Therefore the Holy Spirit is rightly called fire, which it is necessary for us to receive in order to have converse with the flesh of Christ, I mean the divine Scriptures, so that, when we have roasted them with this divine fire, we may eat them roasted with fire. For the words are changed by such fire, and we will see that they are sweet and nourishing. [48]

The Scriptures, inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit, bring us to Christ, the very Word of God. In summary, then, we quote the Origen scholar Karen Torjesen: “Origen’s doctrine of Scripture would read as follows: Scripture is nothing other than the teachings of Christ; the divinity of Scripture is nothing other than the divine power and effectiveness of these teachings. The inspiration of Scripture is nothing other than the divine origin of these teachings.” [49]

Origen and Biblical Integrity

But what, for Origen, is the ultimate end of all this study of Scripture? It is to bring its hearer/reader to conversion. Origen never reads Scripture merely as disinterested study. Rather, the interpretation of Scripture is “a participation in the divine pedagogy, a process that purifies, instructs, and transforms the person whom scripture addresses.” [50] For Origen, it is not enough that someone is convinced that the teachings of Jesus are true, because the power of the teachings is such that it should compel its hearers “to change their way of life and become adherents and dedicated followers of the truth. This latter point is how the task of teaching was understood in antiquity, an ideal effectively realized only by the Christians.” [51] Biblical integrity, then, is really about living a life of integrity, or, as Origen would say, a life of virtue. Hearing the Word is one thing, but knowing the Word is quite another.

It is in this knowing the Word that a life of virtue is possible, for the Word is all virtue. John Clark Smith comments, “True virtue...is absolute for Origen. There are no grades of growth. However, there is a path toward that virtue, and this is popularly called virtue. In other words, there is no place for vice; there is only more and more virtue.” [52] Just as the Lord is, according to Origen, “total virtue, animated and living,” [53] so we become like Him as we move in virtue towards Him, who is that very virtue by which we move. Christ is each of the virtues absolutely, so in that what we do is righteous and holy, we share with Christ.

Not everyone in this movement with and to Christ is in the same location, however. As Origen writes, “[W]e partake of the true Lamb according to our capacity to partake of the Word of God.” [54] This is not to say that those who partake in the Lamb to a lesser extent do not partake of the Lamb truly. Perhaps it is helpful to view this distinction as Origen does, as a difference between salvation and conversion. Salvation is given before conversion is completed. As Smith writes, “Salvation is possible even for the one of little faith, but conversion continues.” [55] Origen remarks:

The true conversion, therefore, is to read the old [books], to see those who were justified, to imitate them, to read those [books] to see those who were reproached, to guard oneself from falling into those reproaches, to read the books of the New Testament, the words of the apostles; after reading, to write all these things into the heart, to live in accordance with them, lest a ‘book of divorce’ is also given to us. [56]

We have now come full circle from our present discussion of Scripture, for not only is Scripture the very center of belief, it is also the very center of behavior. If Scripture plays such an important role in both knowing and doing, a tremendous burden (or blessing?) is placed on the exegete, which therefore implies that the essential task of exegesis is decisively organized around “the figure of the hearer/reader.” [57] Exegesis, then, becomes for Origen an essential process of redemption for the soul. Origen is no stranger to the immensity of this task. In his Dialogue with Heraclides, Origen’s ambivalence concerns a question asked him by a student. He writes:

I am worried about speaking; I am worried about not speaking. For the sake of the worthy, I want to speak so as not to be guilty of defrauding of the Word those able to hear it. Because of the unworthy, I hesitate to speak...so as not to throw holy things to dogs and cast pearls before swine. It was for Jesus alone to know how to distinguish among his hearers between those without and those within, and thus to speak to those outside in parables and to explain the parables to those who came into his house....I hesitate to put off speaking, and when I do speak I change my mind again. What is it I really want? To treat the matter in a way that heals the souls of my hearers. [58]

We can gather from these comments that, for Origen, a sign of a true teacher is one who will morally improve his or her listeners. [59] The one who sees in Scripture a meaning worthy of God will explain this to others, not only in words, but in deeds.


Origen is someone with a deep concern for not only the salvation of the hearers of the Word, but for their conversion, so that they become doers of the Word. It is the movement towards the end, which is Christ, that is the main concern, rather than a continuous perfect condition without sin. [60] And it is in and through the very words of Scripture that we are brought into the presence of Christ.

Before ending, however, I could not help but wonder what Origen would say to us about biblical integrity in a theologically diverse age on the edge of the twenty-first century. No doubt he would encourage us to not forget the spiritual reading of Scripture, since Scripture is both fully human and fully divine as Christ is. And it is by means of the human that we get to the divine. Since this is the process that the Incarnation manifested, it gives the human that much more worth, rather than depreciating it. I am sure he would also encourage us to continue to “spoil the Egyptians”. We must engage the culture if we hope to keep the conversation going. And that means bringing the Word to where people are in their cultural situation. If we lament our lack of a soapbox to stand on in our culture, we must remember that the teachings of Christ turned the world upside-down in Origen’s time, and it can (and probably from Origen’s view, is) doing the same in ours. But our current situation as culturally unacceptable in the eyes of the world is, in a sense, unimportant. We must simply strain onward towards Christ.

As Eusebius writes in his Ecclesiastical History, Origen left us “messages full of help for those in need of comfort.” [61] This message, for Origen, is Christ, for He is our help, He is our comfort. Although there may be disagreements with Origen, we can certainly appreciate him as someone who gave the things of God, that is, Scripture and the human life, “a meaning worthy of God”. [62]


[1] See The Forgotten Trinity: The Report of the B. C. C. Study Commission on Trinitarian Doctrine Today (London: British Council of Churches, Inter-Church House, 1989); T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988); John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985); Colin Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991).

[2] Joseph Trigg, Biblical Interpretation (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1988), 11. Trigg later notes, “Origen’s work was the single most significant influence on the later development of Patristic biblical interpretation, not only in Alexandria, but in the church as a whole.” Trigg, 26.

[3] T. F. Torrance, in his recent collection of essays on patristic hermeneutics hardly mentions Origen. Perhaps he thinks his essay on Clement of Alexandria encompasses all that is best (or worst) in Origen, as well. See T. F. Torrance, Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995). Torrance, however, does give Origen credit for being the first “to discern the philosophical significance of [the] reversal of Aristotelian and Stoic concepts, in establishing the connection between the transcendence of God and the rationality of nature, thus delivering the universe from being shut up in the futility of being unable to offer any explanation of its own rationality.” T. F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 12.

[4] Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine VI.2, trans G. A. Williamson (New York: Penguin Books, 1989), 180. Origen’s wish for a true testing of his faith was fulfilled in 250 during the persecution of Decius, when Origen was “imprisoned and subjected to prolonged torture, which he survived only a few years.” “Origen,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Third Edition, eds. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 1193. Origen’s ascetical writing, Exhortation to Martyrdom, was written during the persecution of Maximin in 235. See Alexandrian Christianity, trans. John Oulton and Henry Chadwick (London: SCM Press, 1954), 388-429.

[5] Benjamin Drewery, Origin and the Doctrine of Grace (London: The Epworth Press, 1960), 1-2.

[6] John Clark Smith, The Ancient Wisdom of Origen (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1992), 15.

[7] Was Origen a Platonist? The answer is yes - what else would he have been? But it must be stressed that Origen was not interested in converting people to Platonism (or any other philosophical system), but rather was interested in converting people to Christ. In fact, an argument can be made that whenever Origen was talking about philosophy, he was criticizing it.

[8] Drewery, 2.

[9] “Marcion,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Third Edition, ed. E. A. Livingstone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 1034.

[10] Origen was not the only one to challenge Marcion and his followers. The defenders of orthodoxy against this heresy include Irenaeus of Lyons, Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian at Carthage and Hippolytus at Rome. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1034.

[11] Henri Crouzel, Origen, trans. A. S. Worrall (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 155.

[12] Crouzel, 153-156.

[13] See Paul Marshall, Their Blood Cries Out (Word Publishing, 1997).

[14] Gerald Watson, “Origen and the Literal Interpretation of Scripture,” in Scriptural Interpretation in the Fathers: Letter and Spirit, eds. Thomas Finan and Vincent Twomey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 80.

[15] Eusebius, however, writes that the Hexapla consisted of the Psalms, with no mention of the complete Old Testament. Eusebius, VI.16, p. 194.

[16] Eusebius commented, “So meticulous was the scrutiny to which Origen subjected the Scriptural books that he even mastered the Hebrew language, and secured for himself a copy, in the actual Hebrew script, of the original documents circulating among the Jews.” Eusebius, VI.16, p. 193.

[17] “Scholars are not agreed on the motives that led Origen to undertake such a gigantic task: to facilitate the controversy of the Christians with the Jews by showing the former the text which the latter accepted; to recover, behind the various mistakes of the copyists the primitive text of the Septuagint by choosing variants from the other versions, or even through the literal translation of Aquila and the more literary one of Symmachus to try to get back to the primitive Hebrew text itself.” Henri Crouzel, 41.

[18] Much of Origen’s work was destroyed after he was condemned (some argue quite unfairly) as a heretic at the Fifth Ecumenical Council. We still have 279 homilies on a variety of books such as Genesis, Judges, Jeremiah, the Song of Songs, as well as the Gospel of Luke.

[19] Watson, 78.

[20] C. Bammel, “Origen’s Pauline Prefaces and the Chronology of His Pauline Commentaries,” Origeniana Sexta (Origen and the Bible) (Leuven: University Press, 1995), 495.

[21] Crouzel, 71.

[22] Origen gives as a proof of the Holy Spirit’s authorship of the Bible the rapid spread of Christianity. He writes, “Now we can see how in a short time this religion has grown up, making progress through the persecution and death of its adherents and through their endurance of confiscation of property and every kind of torture. And this is particularly wonderful since its teachers themselves are neither very skillful nor very numerous.” Origen, On First Principles, trans. G. W. Butterworth (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1936), 258.

[23] Ronald Heine, “Reading the Bible with Origen,” in The Bible in Greek Christian Antiquity, ed. Paul M. Blowers (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), 132.

[24] Heine, 132.

[25] Origen, Contra Celsum I.42, trans. Henry Chadwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 39.

[26] The Synoptics (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48) compared with The Gospel of John (2:13-25).

[27] Robert M. Grant, The Earliest Lives of Jesus (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1961), 54. According to Karen Jo Torjesen, the basic criticism of Origen by the seventeenth century is not that his allegories are fanciful, but rather that his interpretations depreciate history. Karen Jo Torjesen, Hermeneutical Procedure and Theological Method in Origen’s Exegesis (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1985), 2.

[28] On First Principles, IV.II.9, p. 286.

[29] On First Principles IV.II.9, p. 287. Origen, however, at his time was condemned by many for a too literal reading of Scripture, to the point of self-emasculation. Eusebius wrote, “Origen did a thing that provided the fullest proof of a mind youthful and immature, but at the same time of faith and self- mastery. The saying ‘there are eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake’ he took in an absurdly literal sense, and he was eager both to fulfil the Saviour’s words and at the same time to rule out any suspicion of vile imputations on the part of unbelievers. For in spite of his youth he discussed religious problems before a mixed audience. So he lost no time in carrying out the Saviour’s words, endeavouring to do it unnoticed by the bulk of his pupils.” Eusebius, VI.8, p. 186. It should be noted that most Origen scholars find this story in Eusebius to be highly spurious.

[30] Heine, 135.

[31] Perhaps “method” is the wrong term to use in association with Origen’s usage of allegory, for as Torjesen writes, “Allegory, understood as method, appears to make the claim of being an instrument or technique for research. But as a scientific method it fails to conform to canons of method - objectivity, consistency, repeatability. The problem with allegory is that it is an utterly unscientific method for interpreting Scripture.” Torjesen, 2.

[32] “[T]hough they stay among the sheepfolds - the wings of a dove covered with silver, its pinions with green gold.” (RSV)

[33] Origen, quoted in R. P. C. Hanson, Allegory and Event: A Study of the Sources and Significance of Origen’s Interpretation of Scripture (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1959), 133.

[34] Porphyry, who claimed to know Origen as a young man, targets Origen’s method of interpretation in his treatise against the Christians. Porphyry writes, “In their eagerness to find, now a way to reject the depravity of the Jewish Scriptures, but a means of explaining it away, they resorted to interpretations which cannot be reconciled or harmonized with those scriptures, and which provide not so much a defence of the original authors as a fulsome advertisement for the interpreters. ‘Enigmas’ is the pompous name they give to the perfectly plain statements of Moses, glorifying them as oracles full of hidden mysteries, and bewitching the critical faculty by their extravagant nonsense...This absurd method must be attributed to a man whom I met while I was still quite young, who enjoyed a great reputation and thanks to the works he has left behind him, enjoys it still. I refer to Origen, whose fame among teachers of these theories is widespread.” Porphyry, quoted in Eusebius, VI.19, p. 196.

[35] Origen, Homily V on Exodus, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 71, trans. Ronald E. Heine (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 1982), 276.

[36] Origen, Homily V on Exodus, 277.

[37] Romans 7:14 - “For we know that the law is spiritual.”; I Corinthians 2:10-16 - “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”; I Corinthians 9:9-10 - “For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop.”; I Corinthians 10:11 - “These things happened to them as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.”; II Corinthians 3:6 - “[W]ho has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”; II Corinthians 3:15-16 - “Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”; Galatians 4:24 - “Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants.” (NRSV)

[38] Heine, 136.

[39] It is worth quoting Trigg at length concerning Origen’s usage of allegory as a means to confront the Jews as well as the heresies of his day. He writes, “Allegory enabled him (Origen) to appropriate the Old Testament from the Jews by giving even the most arcane provisions of the Law a Christological interpretation. It also enable him to purge the Bible of the morally offensive elements which estranged the Gnostics and to demonstrate to pagans that it contained teachings consistent with the deepest insights of Greek philosophy. Since prejudice against the supposed barbarities of Scripture often made Gnosticism more appealing to classically educated persons than was orthodox Christianity, the two latter concerns often merged. Origen won over his patron, Ambrose, from Gnosticism by means of his allegorical interpretation much as the allegorical interpretation of a later Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, weaned the classically educated young Augustine from Manichaeism.” Trigg, 25-26.

[40] Text in C. Jenkins, ed., “Origen on I Corinthians,” Journal of Theological Studies (Old Series) 9 (1908): 240.

[41] Heine, 137.

[42] Origen, On First Principles IV.II.4, p. 275.

[43] Origen, Treatise on the Passover, Ancient Christian Writers, Vol. 54, trans. Robert J. Daly (New York: Paulist Press, 1992), 27-28

[44] Origen, Treatise on the Passover 1, p. 27.

[45] Trigg finds some modern philosophical tendencies approving of allegorical interpretation. He writes, “Paul Ricoeur refers sympathetically to Patristic interpretation; allegory helps resolve what he calls the first and second moments in the hermeneutical problem that faces us today, the relation between the Old and the New Testaments and the mutual adjustment of the interpretation of the book and the interpretation of life.” Trigg, 51.

[46] Concerning the unity of the Old and New Testament, Origen thinks the usage of allegory is more than just reading the New Testament meaning back into the Old Testament. Torjesen writes, “When Origen speaks of the unity of the two Testaments he is not giving instructions on interpretation. The most that can be deduced from these passages (concerning the unity of the two Testaments) is that the subject matter of both Testaments is Christ. If he wanted to make a hermeneutical principle out of the unity of the two Testaments he would need to say that the exegetical movement from letter to spirit is a movement in both Testaments from Christ concealed in the letter to Christ revealed in the spiritual sense.” Torjesen, Hermeneutical Procedure, 7-8.

[47] They are to eat the flesh the same night, roasted with fire, and they are to eat unleavened bread with bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled with water, but roasted with fire, the head with the feet and the entrails. (Apparently Origen’s translation)

[48] Origen, Treatise on the Passover 26-27, pp. 41-42. Later in the same treatise, Origen writes, “His flesh and blood...are the divine Scriptures, eating which, we have Christ; the words becoming his bones, the flesh becoming the meaning from the text, following which meaning, as it were, we see in a mirror dimly (1 Cor.13.12) the things which are to come, and the blood being faith in the gospel of the new covenant.” Origen, Treatise on the Passover 33, p. 45.

[49] Karen Jo Torjesen, “’Body,’ ‘Soul,’ and ‘Spirit’ in Origen’s Theory of Exegesis,” Anglican Theological Review LXVII: 1, 288.

[50] Trigg, 24. Origen writes in On First Principles, “For we have been overcome and conquered, we who come from the nations and are as it were the spoils of his victory, we who have bowed our necks to the yoke of his grace.” Origen, On First Principles IV.I.5, p. 263.

[51] Torjesen, “’Body,’ ‘Soul,’ and ‘Spirit’ in Origen’s Theory of Exegesis,” 287.

[52] John Clark Smith, The Ancient Wisdom of Origen (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1992), 94.

[53] Origen quoted in Smith, 113.

[54] Origen, Treatise on the Passover 30, p. 43.

[55] Smith, 107.

[56] Origen quoted in Smith, 137.

[57] Torjesen, Hermeneutical Procedure, 12.

[58] Origen, Dialogue with Heraclides 15, Ancient Christian Writers, Vol. 54, trans. Robert J. Daly (New York: Paulist Press, 1992), 69.

[59] Smith, 135.

[60] Smith, 127.

[61] Eusebius, VI.39, p. 209.

[62] Origen, On First Principles IV.II.9, p. 287.

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