Recently I’ve been re-reading Christopher A. Hall’s fine book, Reading the Scripture with the Church Fathers (IVP Academic, 1998). By “Church Fathers” Hall means the leaders of the Christian church in the first several centuries of her existence, two of which are Athanasius (295-373) and Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 329-390).
Early in the book, Hall draws attention to these two leaders in order to illustrate what was true of the church fathers in general: they believed that the serious study of Scripture ought to take place within the community of the church, and that it required regular progress in Christian character. To put it in a principle, Christian community and progressive sanctification form the atmosphere for right interpretation.
Consider the following quote: “Neither Athanasius nor Gregory envisioned exegesis or theology as the academic activity of biblical scholars or theologians divorced from the life of the church or personal spiritual formation. Rather, the fathers believed, the best exegesis occurs within the community of the church. The Scriptures have been given to the church, are read, preached, heard and comprehended within the community of the church, and are safely interpreted only by those whose character is continually being formed by prayer, worship, meditation, self-examination, confession and other means by which Christ’s grace is communicated to his body.
“That is to say, the fathers argue that any divorce between personal character, Christian community and the study of Scripture will be fatal for any attempt to understand the Bible. This holistic, communal approach is surely a methodology that warrants a close investigation in our highly individualistic, specialized, segmented world” (page 42).