There are many reasons why Christians should study the church fathers. Among the top of them: the growing popularity of theological interpretation. The more familiar one is with the work of the fathers, the better equipped they will be to appreciate and practice theological interpretation. So what does it look like when a church father interprets scripture “theologically”? Cyril of Alexandria, delivering a homily on Luke 10:23-24, provides a good example.
Luke 10:23-24 reads:
“Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’” [NRSV]
This statement from Jesus comes directly after he has sent out the seventy-two disciples and they have successfully joined him on his Kingdom-mission, casting out demons and healing the sick. Cyril frames his interpretation with this question: what exactly did the disciples see so as to merit being called blessed?
“They saw that God the Word, who was in the form of God the Father, had become flesh for our sakes. They saw Him who shares the Father’s throne, dwelling with us, in our form, that by justification and sanctification He might fashion us after His own likeness, imprinting upon us the beauty of His Godhead in an intellectual and spiritual manner. And of this Paul is a witness, who writes: “For as we have bee clothed with the image of the earthly, we shall also be clothed with the image of the heavenly” meaning by the earthly man, Adam, the first created, but by the heavenly, the Word Who is from above, and Who shone forth from the substance of God the Father, but was made, as I said, in our likeness… For through Him and with Him we have received the name of sons, being ennobled, so to speak, by His bounty and grace. He who was rich shared our poverty, that He might rase man’s nature to His riches. He tasted death upon the tree and the cross, that He might take away from the midst the offense incurred by reason of the tree (of knowledge), and abolish the guilt that was thereby, and strip death of his tyranny over us. We have seen Satan fall, that cruel one broken, that haughty one laid low, him who had made the world submit to the yoke of his empire stripped of his dominion over us, him in contempt and scorn, who once was worshipped, him who seemed a god, put under the feet of the saints, him who rebelled against Christ’s glory, trampled upon by those who love Him.
Cyril’s interpretation of the passage is informed by placing Jesus’ statement in the theological context of the Incarnation and its salvific effects. He does so by quoting 1 Corinthians 15:29 and invoking the Adam-Christ typology. In this context, the disciples’ victory over the forces of Satan are indications of the redemptive nature of the Incarnation.
Christ, as the Second Adam, is undoing the curse of Genesis 3. The disciples are finding themselves being transferred out of Satan’s domain, in which they were once held captive in Adam, and now being given the ability to overcome the enemy. Thus, when the disciples “see” both Jesus and their Kingdom-work, they are seeing the Incarnation and its salvific effects. Cyril also interprets 1 Corinthians 15:29 as a reference to deification, the belief that salvation consists of humans sharing in the divine life and beauty of the Triune God (the “Godhead”). Thus, the disciples’ victories over Satan are also indicative of the work of deification that results from the Incarnation – the disciples are blessed with the privilege of seeing (and experiencing) the firstfruits of this work.
Cyril’s interpretation is not likely to be arrived at through the classic historical-grammatical hermeneutical model. There is little in the text which would naturally direct a reader to reference 1 Corinthians 15:29 or the Adam-Christ typology (perhaps a canonical interpretation might be led in that direction because of the reference to Satan and his defeat). Yet, it is an explicitly Christian interpretation of the text, both orthodox and edifying. If Christians do believe that Christ is the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 45-49), then surely it is appropriate to understand the disciples’ victory over Satan as an indication of Christ’s successful undoing of Adam’s curse.
What do you think of Cyril’s interpretation of Luke 10:23-24?
What do you think are the benefits, and possible weaknesses, of theological interpretation?
 Defined by Stephen Fowl as “the practice whereby theological concerns and interests inform and are informed by a reading of Scripture.” (The Theological Interpretation of Scripture, xiii)