Wednesday, April 19, 2006

St. John Chrysostom on How to Read Scripture

In Chrysostom's first homily on the statues, he does a homiletic tour de force, taking a simple and oft ignored passage "Drink a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thy often infirmities." from 1 Tim. 23, and preaching for an hour brilliantly on everything from the proper attitude to drink, the limits of fasting, why it is that the good suffer, to the problem of evil. It's wonderful stuff, as usual from St. John, but the reason why he does it is perhaps more interesting.

1 Tim. 23 is a minor verse, a little snippet of medical advice from St. Paul to St. Timothy. It seems to be merely a kind little personal detail brought into a letter, similar to my comments about the Green Bay Packers in conversations with my father-in-law. Can't we disregard it? St. John says that we cannot, since the whole of scripture is inspired, and takes it as his task to show that even such an uninteresting passage can contain great treasures.

Well then, let us employ the whole of our discourse upon this subject; and this we would do, not for the love of praise, nor because we study to exhibit powers of oratory (for the things about to be spoken are not our own, but such as the grace of the Holy Spirit may inspire); but in order that we may stir up those hearers who are too listless, and may convince them of the greatness of the treasure of the holy Scriptures; and that it is neither safe, nor free from peril, to run through them hastily. For if indeed a text so simple and obvious as this one, which seems to the multitude to contain nothing that need be insisted on, should appear to afford us the means of abundant riches, and openings toward the highest wisdom, much rather will those others, which at once manifest their native wealth, satisfy those who attend to them with their infinite treasures.

If one believes in the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, then nothing in it is boring or insignificant. Every passage is in the bible because God wants it to be. All is important, even the gastrointestinal advice.


Keith R said...

BTW, that's 1 Tim 5:23, not 1 Tim 23.

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