For Christians, the Holy Bible is the standard for faith and obedience. Understandably, the interpretation of these Scriptures has been the principal activity of the church since its foundation. In The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture Michael Graves presents a sweeping introduction to the thoughts and perspectives of early church fathers in this field, knowing that “Many of their beliefs about Scriptures prove to be not only helpful but even essential for contemporary Christians who want to read Scripture and hear its divine message” (3). Working on the basis that the idea of inspiration and interpretation were knit tightly together (2), Graves presents these early father’s views through some simplified and uniform categories.
The many quotations and analyses Graves presents bring to life church history on Scriptures. In spite of the astounding number of footnotes, quotations, and summaries of the early fathers, The Inspiration is remarkably readable. Graves’ writing makes accessible this weighty and potentially controversial subject. With clear language, a pleasant tone, and a friendly approach to criticism, Graves shows the views of the early fathers to be both powerful and practical to laypersons, students, and pastors. Far from a blanket of acceptance, Graves presents both the high’s and low’s of the early church and how they should affect the modern church (highlighted especially in the concluding chapter 7).
The Inspiration is separated into topical chapters such as “Usefulness” (chapter 2) and “Agreement with Truth” (chapter 6). Across these broad subject headings, Graves presents twenty more detailed propositions derived from the early church. The clearness of this presentation allows the chapters and sections of The Inspiration to standalone or read straight through. Here are highlights from the chapter pertaining “Usefulness”: Basil’s understanding of the Scriptures as a remedy to the soul (18), Origen’s thoughts on the benefit of merely hearing the Scriptures (20-21), and Augustine’s perspective on numerology (25). In chapter four “Mode of Expression,” The proposition entitled “God is Directly and Timelessly the Speaker in Scripture” (70-75) presents excellent examples of the benefits and dangers derived from a “divine author only” perspectives which minimizes the text’s “occasion of revelation.” Associated historically with the more allegorical method of interpretation, the insights from the “dive author only” perspective find application to modern spiritual method(s) that would benefit from a more stringent ad litteram (literal sense) approach.
For modern readers, the chapter on “Historicity and Factuality” (chapter five) certainly provides the strongest set of challenges to current thought. Origen teaches “it is common for genuinely historical stories to have some impossible elements woven into them” (84). Antiochene interpreters teach “the book of Job contains factious speeches” (86). And the section on the Scriptures not having “Errors in Its Facts” (87-92) presents a wonderful introduction to pre-modern thinking which may be encouraging to present day Christians—though shocking.
Ultimately, The Inspiration provides a refreshing looking at the Bible through the eyes of the early church. Graves provides an outstanding and unthreatening introduction to the expansive and enjoyable world of inspiration and interpretation. Students of God’s word will enjoy interacting with the thoughts of the early fathers and find themselves challenged to reconsider modern conclusions when speaking about Biblical inspiration.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Joshua Torrey is a New Mexico boy in an Austin, TX world. He is husband to Alaina and father to Kenzie & Judah and spends his free time studying for the edification of his household. These studies include the intricacies of hockey, football, curling, beer, and theology. You can follow him @AustinPreterism and read his theological musings and running commentary of the Scriptures at The Torrey Gazette.