Cyril of Alexandria on Reading Scripture Christologically

A quote from Cyril which comes after he explores the similarities and differences between Jesus and Jonah:

“Thus just as bees in the field, when flitting about the flowers, always gather up what is useful for the provision of the hives, so we also, when searching in the divinely inspired Scriptures, need always to be collecting and collating what is perfect for explicating Christ’s mysteries and to interpret the Word fully without cause for rebuke.”
– Cyril of Alexandria, Fragment 162; MKGK 205

Cyril of Alexandria’s “Canon within the Canon” – What is yours?

Cyril of Alexandria was the church father who argued tirelessly for an orthodox Christology which could genuinely call Mary the Theotokos. He struggled against Nestorius, who allegedly attempted to inappropriately distinguish between the actions and experiences of the divine Son of God and the human Jesus. Against this teaching, Cyril fought to the death to preserve the unity of the divine and human in the Incarnation. For Cyril, the perfect union of God and Man in the Incarnation was the heart of soteriology – the truth of how God has saved humanity.

When one reads Cyril they find that he has a collection of “pet texts” that he references often in order to explain key passages of Scripture or to defend certain doctrines. For Cyril, his “go-to” texts consisted of John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:14-17, and (as I argued in my thesis) Romans 5:14. It’s not hard to see why – all of these verses emphasize the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God and its salvific implications. Thus, no matter what text or doctrine Cyril is dealing with, a quick and steady reference to these texts helps put the issue in his overall theological context. As an example, see my post on Cyril’s theological reading of Luke 10:23-24.  

I wonder if this practice, of developing a “canon within the canon” of sorts, is a helpful example for Christians wishing to faithfully interpret Scripture and understand key doctrines. In fact, I would suggest that most Christians already (perhaps subconsciously) interpret Scripture and various theologies in this fashion.

I know that I have a few “go-to texts” that I immediately think of when pondering exegetical or theological issues: John 1:14-18, Hebrews 1:1-4, Galatians 1:3-4, and Philippians 3:20-21. Those who know me can easily see why/how these texts work in my thinking: I consistently emphasize Jesus as the clearest and fullest picture of God (John 1:14-18 and Hebrews 1:1-4), I also have a fairly apocalyptic eschatology (Galatians 1:3-4), and I think Christians should focus more on the future resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:20-21). Thus, one of my first questions when thinking through an exegetical or theological issue is often: “How does this fit with an understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus as the perfect revelation of God’s character and will?”

I’m interested in whether you have some “pet texts,” what they say about your theology, and whether you think that this practice is ultimately helpful or harmful. So:

 Do you have “key texts” which function for you as a “canon-within-a-canon”? 
What do you they say about your theology?
What dangers are there to employing such an approach to exegesis/theology?

Cataclysmic’s Favorite Books of 2013

Here are some of our top reads from 2013:

Chad Chambers (@ChambersChad)

Favorite Book – T.F. Torrance, Incarnation – not just my favorite book of this year but my favorite book in many years. Hope to read Atonement soon.

Favorite New Book – E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes

Better the Second Time – Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, The Spirit of Adoption

For the Fun of It – Stephen King, Doctor Sleep

Jessica Parks (@mrsjessparks)

Favorite Book – Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross

Favorite New Book – T. Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible

Favorite Patristic Writing – Melito of Sardis, On Pascha

Favorite OT Book – Ellen F. Davis, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament

Mike Skinner (@mike_skinner)

Favorite Book – William C. Placher, Narratives of a Vulnerable God: Christ, Theology, and Scripture

Favorite Theological Book – Jeff McSwain, Movements of Grace: The Dynamic Christo-Realism of Barth, Bonhoeffer, and the Torrances

Favorite “Sermon-Fodder” Book – Lee C. Camp, Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World

Favorite Patristic Writing – Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ

Michelle Mikeska (@M_Mikeska)

Favorite Book – Ed. Dallas Lee, The Substance of Faith and other Cotton Patch Sermons by Clarence Jordan

Favorite Book on Revelation – Michael J. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into New Creation

Favorite Book on Pedagogy – Ed. David S. Cunningham, To Teach, To Delight, and To Move: Theological Education in a Post-Christian World (Seeks to use rhetoric as a meaningful way to teach theology in a postmodern context)

Favorite NT Intro Book – Ben Witherington III, Invitation to the New Testament: First Things

What were your favorite reads of 2013?

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Human Nature, As Victorious In Him, Wins The Crown

From Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on Luke 4:1-2,

Come therefore and let us praise the Lord, and sing psalms unto God our Saviour: let us trample Satan under foot; let us raise the shout of victory over him now he is thrown and fallen: let us exult over the crafty reptile, caught in an inextricable snare: let us too say of him in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “How is the hammer of all the earth broken and beaten small! Thou art found and hast been taken, because thou stoodest against the Lord.” For of old, that is before the time of the advent of Christ the Saviour of all, the universal enemy had somewhat grand and terrible notions about himself: for he boastfully exulted over the infirmity of the inhabitants of the earth, saying, “I will hold the world in my hand as a nest, and as eggs that are left I will take it up: and no one shall escape from me or speak against me.” And in very truth there was no one of those upon earth who could rise up against his power; but the Son rose up against him, and contended with him, having been made like unto us. And therefore, as I said, human nature, as victorious in Him, wins the crown. And this in old time the Son Himself proclaimed, where by one of the holy prophets He thus addresses Satan; “Behold, I am against thee, O corrupting mountain, that corruptest the whole earth.”

Adam, Jesus, and the Divine Economy (1)

I’m currently writing my Master’s thesis on Cyril of Alexandria’s exegesis of Romans 5:12-21 and his use of the Adam-Christ typology throughout the rest of his writings.  As I’ve studied Cyril, I’ve been struck by how important the parallel between Adam & Jesus is throughout many of his works.  In turn, I’ve been increasingly thinking about the relationship between Adam & Christ and its implications for our theology.

Cyril is of course inspired to utilize this typology by the theological work of the Apostle Paul.  In three texts in the New Testament, Paul places Adam & Jesus in a typological relationship: Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, and 1 Corinthians 15:42-49.  There are two questions that stand out to me regarding this theme in the Pauline literature: 1) To what extent is Paul influenced by this theological connection? and 2) What does Paul wish to achieve by making these parallels?

I’d like to start a series of blog posts in which I explore the answers that various scholars (including Cyril) have given to the above questions.  Along the way I’ll try to tease out some of my own thoughts as well.  We’ll start with the first question:

 To what extent is Paul influenced by his view of the Adam-Christ typology?

Gordon Fee lays out three possible ways of answering this question:*

1)  The “Minimalist” Position

  • Believes that the Adam-Christ typology should only be found in the three texts where Paul explicitly mentions it.

2) The “Maximalist” Position

  • Finds that the Adam-Christ typology is an implicit theme in much of Paul’s thought & can be found underneath the surface of many other texts.

3) The “Middling” Position

  • Acknowledges that the Adam-Christ typology might be in play outside of the three explicit texts, but cautions against attempting to detect it everywhere.

What do you think?  How important was this typology for Paul’s theology?  Is it something that he has deeply considered and that forms a foundation for much of his theology or is it simply something he formulates ad hoc on occasion in his letters?  Is there a middle ground where we might be able to land between these two poles of opinion?

Comment and let me know what you think.  In my next post, I’ll survey some of the interesting thoughts that N.T. Wright has offered on the matter.

* Fee, Gordon D., Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 513. [Available on Amazon.]