The epistemology of the mid-fourth-century Christian scholar in Persia, Aphrahat, presumes that the human mind and the task of biblical interpretation are caught up in a dynamic experience of Christian spiritual transformation. In short, for the Persian Sage, good Bible interpretation requires nothing less than the total person—inner and outer, in community and before God. In Aphrahat’s Demonstrations, we encounter a scholar who not only presents this remarkably integrated set of ideals but is also an impressive practitioner of them.
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In mid-fourth-century Persia, the Christian scholar Aphrahat asserted, ‘humility begets wisdom and discernment.’ Aphrahat’s epistemology presumes that the human mind and the task of biblical interpretation are caught up in a dynamic experience of Christian spiritual transformation. Intellectual activities such as reading, learning, reasoning, discussion, and teaching are necessarily moral acts, grounded in and partly constituent of the process of saving transformation in which the Christian intellect is engaged. The well-formed intellect will be a fund of praiseworthy moral action in the Christian’s life, but it will also be well-formed partly as a result of such moral action. Virtuous inner dispositions—such as a genuine desire for truth, humility, an awareness of one’s limitations, open-mindedness, and generosity—must cohere with virtuous interpretive practices—such as the careful and disciplined handling of biblical evidence, participation in respectful discourse, communal investment and accountability, teaching, prayerful self-examination, an openness to correction, and the embodiment of biblical interpretation in life. Practice of the ascetic lifestyle support these virtues, conforming them to the specific contours of Christian thought.
JW Childers is Associate Professor of Early Church History in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He has a DPhil in Syriac Studies from the University of Oxford and specializes in the literature and history of Oriental Christianity.