Tag Archives: Literal Interpretation of Scripture

Orthodox Church quotes about the literal interpretation of the Scriptures

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: [L]et us consider whether is harder, for a man . . . to rise again from the earth, or for a man in the belly of a whale . . .

Jonah and the Whale 3“[L]et us consider whether is harder, for a man after having been buried to rise again from the earth, or for a man in the belly of a whale, having come into the great heat of a living creature, to escape corruption. For what man knows not, that the heat of the belly is so great, that even bones which have been swallowed moulder away? How then did Jonas, who was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, escape corruption? And, seeing that the nature of all men is such that we cannot live without breathing, as we do, in air, how did he live without a breath of this air for three days? But the Jews make answer and say, The power of God descended with Jonas when he was tossed about in hell. Does then the Lord grant life to His own servant, by sending His power with him, and can He not grant it to Himself as well? If that is credible, this is credible also; if this is incredible, that also is incredible. For to me both are alike worthy of credence. I believe that Jonas was preserved, for all things are possible with God Matthew 19:26; I believe that Christ also was raised from the dead; for I have many testimonies of this, both from the Divine Scriptures, and from the operative power even at this day of Him who arose—who descended into hell alone, but ascended thence with a great company; for He went down to death, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose [Matthew 27:52] through Him.”Book Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem

+ St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 14.18, Catechetical Lectures

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St. John of Damascus: . . . Nor are the saints whom we glorify fictitious. . . .

Icon of St. John of Damascus“Possibly a contentious unbeliever will maintain that we worshiping images in our churches are convicted of praying to lifeless idols. Far be it from us to do this. Faith makes Christians, and God, who cannot deceive, works miracles. We do not rest contented with mere colouring. With the material picture before our eyes we see the invisible God through the visible representation, and glorify Him as if present, not as a God without reality, but as a God who is the essence of being. Nor are the saints whom we glorify fictitious. They are in being, and are living with God; and their spirits being holy, the help, by the power of God, those who deserve and need their assistance.”

+ St. John of Damascus, Treatise on Images

St. John of Kronstadt: When you read a worldly magazine or newspaper . . . you easily believe in everything in it. . . .

Newspaper“When you read a worldly magazine or newspaper, it is light and agreeable reading, you easily believe in everything in it. But if you take up a religious publication or book to read, especially one relating to church matters, or sometimes when you begin reading prayers? You feel a weight upon your heart, you are tormented by doubt and unbelief, and experience a sort of darkness and aversion. Many acknowledge this. From what does it proceed? Of course, not from the nature of the books themselves, but from the nature of the readers, from the nature of their hearts, and chiefly from the Devil, the enemy of mankind, the enemy of everything holy: ‘he takes away the word out of their hearts’ (Lk. 8:12). When we read worldly books, we do not touch him and he does not touch us. But as soon as we take up religious books, as soon as we begin to think of our amendment and salvation, then we go against him; we irritate and torment him, and therefore he attacks us and torments us on his side. What can we do? We must not throw aside the good work, the reading or prayers that are profitable to our souls, but we must patiently endure and in patience save our souls.”

+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ [paperback]  or  [hardback]

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St. Gregory of Nyssa: . . . so as to accord in the faith set forth by the Lord of the whole Scripture . . .

Icon of St. Gregory of Nyssa” …and that we might receive the teaching concerning the transcendent nature of the Deity which is given to us, as it were, ‘through a glass darkly’ from the older Scriptures,—from the Law, and the Prophets, and the Sapiential Books, as an evidence of the truth fully revealed to us, reverently accepting the meaning of the things which have been spoken, so as to accord in the faith set forth by the Lord of the whole Scripture, which faith we guard as we received it, word for word, in purity, without falsification, judging even a slight divergence from the words delivered to us an extreme blasphemy and impiety.”

— St. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius

St. Maximos the Confessor: The sacred Scripture, taken as a whole, is like a human being . . .

Icon of St. Maximos the ConfessorThe sacred Scripture, taken as a whole, is like a human being.  The Old Testament is the body and the New is the soul, the meaning it contains, the spirit. From another viewpoint we can say that the entire sacred Scripture, Old and New Testament, has two aspects: the historical content which corresponds to the body, and the deep meaning, the goal at which the mind should aim, which corresponds to the soul. If we think of human beings, we see they are mortal in their visible properties but immortal in their invisible qualities.

So with Scripture. It contains the letter, the visible text, which is transitory. But it also contains the spirit hidden beneath the letter, and this is never extinguished and this ought to be the object of our contemplation. Think of human  beings again. If they want to be perfect, they master their passions and mortify the flesh. So with Scripture. If it is heard in a spiritual way, it trims the text, like circumcision.

Paul says: `Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.’ [2 Cor. 4:16] We can say that also of Scripture. The further the letter is divorced from it, the more relevance the spirit acquires. The more the shadows of the literal sense retreat, the more the shining truth of the faith advances. And this is exactly why Scripture was composed.

— St. Maximos the Confessor

St. Gregory the Theologian: We however, who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to the merest stroke and tittle . . .

Icon of St. Gregory the Theologian“We however, who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to the merest stroke and tittle, will never admit the impious assertion that even the smallest matters were dealt with haphazard by those who have recorded them, and have thus been borne in mind down to the present day: on the contrary, their purpose has been to supply memorials and instructions for our consideration under similar circumstances, should such befall us, and that the examples of the past might serve as rules and models, for our warning and imitation.”

— St. Gregory the Theologian

St. Clement of Rome: Ye have searched the Scriptures, which are true . . .

Icon of St. Clement of Rome

“Ye have searched the scriptures, which are true, which were given
through the Holy Ghost; and ye know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them”

— St. Clement of Rome, 1 Clement 45:2-3

St. Augustine: . . . I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. . . .

Icon of St. Augustine of Hippo“For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.”

— St. Augustine, Letter to St. Jerome, 1:3

St. Basil the Great: . . . There are those truly who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures . . .

Icon of St. Basil the Great“I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others. There are those truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own ends. For me grass is grass; plant, fish, wild beast, domestic animal, I take all in the literal sense. ‘For I am not ashamed of the Gospel’ [Romans 1:16].

‘And there was evening and there was morning: one day.’ And the evening and the morning were one day. Why does Scripture say ‘one day the first day’? Before speaking to us of the second, the third, and the fourth days, would it not have been more natural to call that one the first which began the series? If it therefore says ‘one day,’ it is from a wish to determine the measure of day and night, and to combine the time that they contain. Now twenty-four hours fill up the space of one day — we mean of a day and of a night; and if, at the time of the solstices, they have not both an equal length, the time marked by Scripture does not the less circumscribe their duration. It is as though it said: twenty-four hours measure the space of a day, or that, in reality a day is the time that the heavens starting from one point take to return there. Thus, every time that, in the revolution of the sun, evening and morning occupy the world, their periodical succession never exceeds the space of one day.”

— St. Basil the Great, Hexaemeron, Homily 2

St. John of Kronstadt: When you doubt in the truth . . .

Icon of St. John of Kronstadt“When you doubt in the truth of any person or any event described in Holy Scripture, then remember that ‘all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,’ as the Apostle says, and is therefore true, and does not contain any imaginary persons, fables, and tales, although it includes parables which everyone can see are not true narratives but are written in figurative language. The whole of the Word of God is single, entire, indivisible truth; and if you admit that any narrative, sentence, or word is untrue, then you sin against the truth of the whole of Holy Scripture and its primordial Truth, which is God Himself. ‘I am the truth,” said the Lord; ‘Thy word is truth,’ said Jesus Christ to God the Father. Thus, consider the whole of the Holy Scripture as truth; everything that is said in it has either taken place or takes place.”

— St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ