Origen’s Spiritual Interpretation of the Story of Lot and his Daughters

Origen’s Origen Picturespiritual level of meaning refers to truths found in scripture that were only discernible after the coming of Christ.  Quite frequently they deal with the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant and why Jews failed to recognize the significance of Christ’s coming.  Origen’s spiritual level of interpretation often comes in the story-as-symbol form that we see in his moral level of interpretation.

Origen begins his discussion of the spiritual meaning of the story of Lot and his daughters by dismissing a spiritual interpretation which said that Lot represented Jesus and that the two daughters represented the two Testaments.[1]  Origen rejects this because of its lack of coherence.  If Lot represents Christ then one would have to say that Christ’s descendants, like the Ammonites and the Moabites, would not be able to enter the church of the Lord until the third or fourth generation (cf. Deut. 23:3).  Such a conclusion would be absurd.  So Origen suggests that Lot represents the Law.[2]  Lot’s wife represents the Jews who escaped from Egypt during the Exodus but looked back at the simple things they enjoyed in Egypt and wanted to go back.  Since the people looked back, the Law left them behind.

Next, Origen explains the spiritual significance of Zoar, a city which was small and yet not small.  Here Zoar also represents the Law.  It is small when the Jews interpret it on a purely literal level and observe the Sabbaths, the new moons, circumcision, and the food laws.  It is not small when it is understood on a spiritual level.

Origen next moves to Lot’s ascension of the mountain.  Just as Lot ascended the mountain, so the Law was embellished by the building of the temple.  But the temple became a den of thieves and this is why Lot and his daughters dwelled in a cave.

Origen then goes on to identify Lot’s daughters with the two sisters mentioned in Ezekiel 23:4, which represent Judah and Samaria, making Judah and Samaria the daughters of the Law.  The efforts of the two daughters to get their father drunk is compared to the Jews covering up the spiritual knowledge of the Old Testament.  The Law never intended to beget children who only understood the Law literally.  These children, like the Ammonites and the Moabites, will never enter the church of the Lord unto the third or fourth generation or forever (cf. Deut. 23:3).  The number three (i.e. third generation) was given because of the Trinity, the number four (i.e. the fourth generation) was given because of the gospels, and forever was added to indicate the time up to when the fullness of the Gentiles would believe.

What can we say about Origen’s spiritual interpretation of this text?  First, Origen is right to note a parallel between Lot’s wife looking back at Sodom and the Israelite’s looking back with longing on their life in Egypt.  One could even argue that this allusion was actually intended by the author of this text, given the fact that Genesis was written to function as scripture for later Israelites.  However, it is unnecessary to say that Lot represents the Law in this case, though such an attribution makes sense given the salvation-historical character of Origen’s spiritual level of interpretation.  Perhaps this insight is better understood to belong to the moral meaning of this text.

Second, although Origen’s interpretation of Zoar is creative, spiritually insightful, and even poetic, it is based on a misunderstanding of the text: “it is not small” is a question in Hebrew – it should be translated “is it not small?” – rather than a statement.

Third, Origen was right to reject the identification of Lot with Jesus and his two daughters with the two testaments.  However, his identification of Lot with the law, the daughters with Israel and Judah, and the mountains with the temple is also problematic.  There is no reason to connect Lot with the law or the mountains with the temple.

In terms of moral application, it is more likely Lot is used as an example of what happens when the Israelites interact too closely with the inhabitants of the land: they will have more of and impact on you than you will have on them.  The behavior of Lot’s daughters testify to that fact.  Lot and his daughters probably flee to the cave to protect themselves from the destruction that was taking place behind them or simply for shelter.  There is a verbal connection between this cave and the den of thieves of Jeremiah 7 and the gospels but there is no reason to make this connection here.  The identification of the daughters with those who only interpret the Law literally is somewhat arbitrary.  The lesson that is to be learned from the daughters is a moral lesson rather than a spiritual one.

Origen’s interpretation of the numbers three and four is likewise arbitrary. Origen justifies this type of interpretation by pointing to Galatians 4:24-31, where the Apostle Paul uses the story of Sarah and Hagar to illustrate the difference between those who try to remain with the Old Covenant after Christ has come and those who have embraced the New.  The difference between what Paul is doing and what Origen is doing is that Paul’s comments were not made in the course of preaching on the book of Genesis.  Paul was simply using the language of Genesis to illustrate a point he was presently trying to make.[3]  Paul also avoids trying to make every detail of the book of Genesis fit into the new narrative that he had created.  Although it is important to look for the spiritual level of interpretation, not every text was meant to speak about the things Origen would like them to speak about.

Origen’s methods for interpreting and appropriating the text of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture are much like the character of Lot in the story of Lot and his daughters: it is somewhere between the perfect and the doomed.  Origen rightly emphasizes the importance of the literal meaning of the text but his own interpretation of the literal meaning is often distorted by his training in Greek philosophy, by mistakes that were made in the Septuagint’s rendering of the Hebrew text, and by simple exegetical mistakes.  Origen rightly emphasizes that the Old Testament should be used to give moral guidance for Christians today but his commitment to this truth often led him to find lessons that are too far removed from the plain-sense meaning of the text.  In the same way, Origen rightly points out that the Old Testament contains truths that have only now become apparent through the coming of Christ. but this belief caused him to find teachings that may be true in themselves but are difficult to justify.  Like Lot’s wife, if our hearts become too attached to Origen’s exegesis we ourselves may end up sharing her fate and never move on to the mountains of insight actually intended by the Spirit.  But if we reject the spirit of Origen’s interpretation, we may end up like Lot’s daughters.

Nevertheless, Origen gives us great insight into how the text of the Old Testament speaks to the church today.  Moreover, he is an example for the church today because he never ceased to struggle to find meaning in the Old Testament for Christians.  Origen struggled with the text and would not let it go until he received a blessing; he kept on struggling until, through the text, he met face to face with God.  Origen is both a positive and negative example of what it means to appropriate the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.  So, when learning at his feet, the church should test everything, hold on to the good and avoid every kind of evil, and leave behind what is doomed and, in hope, move on toward what is perfect.

Mark Francois


[1] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 117-18.
[2] This is followed in the text by a fascinating note from Rufinus that explains that the identification of Lot with the law is legitimate because, even though the word for law in Latin is feminine, the word for law in Greek is masculine.
[3] Cf. James Barr, Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), 70. “The business of the New Testament is not primarily to tell what the Old Testament really means, but to declare a new substance which for the Old was not yet there, although it was understood that it had prophesied its future coming.  The task of the New Testament was not primarily to interpret the Old, but to interpret that new substance.  It is more correct to say that the Old Testament was used to interpret the situations and events of the New.  In spirt of the massive use of the Old Testament  and its network of meaning, the New Testament is more like creative literature than lie exegesis.”
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Origen’s Literal Interpretation of the Story of Lot and His Daughters

OrigenIn the introduction to his fifth homily on the book of 1 Samuel, Origen makes the following observations about the usefulness of stories interpreted on the literal level: “There are stories that do not touch us, and there are others that are a necessary basis for our hope.  I say ‘stories,’ because we have not yet arrived at elevated interpretations useful to every person who knows how to make them or who hears them.  Among stories there are some that are useful to everyone, some not to everyone.  Take for example, the story of Lot and his daughters (Gen. 19:30-8): if it teaches something useful in an elevated sense, God knows, as does that person who has received the gift of grace to expound these matters.  As for the usefulness of the story itself, it would take quite a search to find it!  Indeed, what profit can I find from the story of Lot and his daughters?[1]

In many ways, the question that Origen asks at the end of this quotation is essentially the question that he asks for all three levels of interpretation: “What profit can I find from the story of Lot and his daughters?”  In this quotation, Origen seems to be suggesting that the story of Lot and his daughters is not useful to Christians when interpreted exclusively on the basis of the literal sense.  Any possible benefit from this story, it would seem, would have to be found on the moral or spiritual levels.  This does not mean, however, that Origen placed no value on the literal meaning of the text.  Origen’s point is that the story by itself is incapable of edifying believers without careful theological reflection.  Origen recognizes the simple fact that this story, like most stories in the Old Testament, does not explicitly state how believers can benefit from it.  The problem is compounded by the fact that the story was written before the coming of Christ, which means that any specifically Christian interpretation or application would lie well beneath the surface-level meaning of the texts.

Despite these caveats, Origen expends a great deal of effort trying to come to terms with the literal meaning of this text.  Origen does this because the moral and spiritual levels of interpretation are based on the literal level of interpretation.  This principle applies both to Origen’s interpretation as well as to Celsus’s interpretation of the story.  On the literal level, Celsus saw a level of immorality that far exceeded similar immorality found in Greek sources.  Celsus concluded that Lot’s sexual relations with his daughters met with divine approval in the book of Genesis and that Lot and his daughters were presented as models to emulate.[2]  These conclusions go beyond the literal meaning of the text and are somewhat analogous to Origen’s moral level of interpretation.  Celsus uses this as evidence for the mendacity of Judaism and Christianity.  Origen is quick to point out, however, that Celsus’ moral interpretation is based on a misunderstanding of the literal level of the text.  So the literal level of interpretation is vital for a proper understanding of the moral and spiritual levels of the text.

Origen’s literal level of interpretation may be examined under five headings, each corresponding to a major interpretive issue that Origen discovered in the literal level of the text: (1) Why was Lot was rescued from Sodom? (2) Why did Lot flee to Zoar rather than to the mountains? (3) Why was Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt? (4) Why did Lot’s daughters commit incest with their father? and (5) Why did Lot say that Zoar was small but not small?[3]  Each of these issuess will be discussed in turn according to Origen’s exegesis in Contra Celsum and his fifth homily on the book of Genesis and will be critiqued, when necessary, according to a close reading of the biblical text.

So, firstly, why was Lot rescued from Sodom?  According to Origen, Lot was rescued from Sodom because of the hospitality he showed to the angels who were sent to destroy the city.[4]  Origen knew from 2 Peter 2:6-9 and from Abraham’s prayer in Genesis 18:16-33 that Lot was a righteous man.[5]  However, the only evidence for Lot’s righteousness in the book of Genesis is the hospitality he showed toward the angels.  So Origen concluded that Lot was rescued because of the hospitality he showed toward strangers while the Sodomites were destroyed because they closed their doors to strangers.

Later on, however, Origen attributes Lot’s rescue to Abraham’s intercession rather than to Lot’s personal character.[6]  This tension in Origen’s explanation may be explained as follows.  First, when Origen attributed Lot’s rescue to the hospitality he showed to strangers it was in the context of an exhortation to his hearers not to close their doors to strangers.  So Origen emphasized the role played by Lot’s hospitality in his rescue to drive home the application he was making for his audience.  Second, the two explanations that Origen gives for why Lot was rescued from Sodom are grounded within the text itself.  While it is true that the biblical narrator attributes Lot’s rescue to the intercession of Abraham (Gen. 19:29), it is also true that God would not have rescued Lot if he had not been a righteous man since Abraham’s intercession was grounded on the belief that there were righteous people in the city (Gen. 18:23).  Origen seems to acknowledge both truths in the way he words his explanation: “For even the fact that he escaped from Sodom, as the Scripture indicates, belongs more to Abraham’s honor than to Lot’s merit.”[7]  It is not a matter of one explanation being true and the other explanation being false; it simply means that one explanation has priority over the other.  The angels went down to see if the outcry made against Sodom was true but they also went down to see if there were any righteous people in the city in answer to Abraham’s prayer.[8]  Lot was the only one they found.  So the reasons Origen gives for why Lot was rescued from Sodom, though worded somewhat clumsily for rhetorical effect, accurately represent the reasons given in the text itself.

The second issue Origen deals with is why Lot fled to Zoar rather than to the mountains.[9]  According to Origen, Lot fled to Zoar because he did not deem himself worthy to flee to the mountains.[10]  Origen’s explanation is based on his interpretation of Psalm 121:1 where the Psalmist says, “I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?”  For Origen, only the perfect –in the case of Psalm 121, the Psalmist – can look to the mountains for God’s help.[11]  Lot was “somewhere in the middle between the perfect and the doomed” because he was not wicked enough to perish with the inhabitants of Sodom but he was not righteous enough to flee right away to the mountains to dwell with Abraham.[12]  If Lot had been righteous, he would never have departed from Abraham (Gen. 13:1-13) and he would never have chosen to live in Sodom (Gen. 13:10-13).  Furthermore, even though Sodom was once like the paradise of God, it fell through sin and became like the land of Egypt (Gen. 13:10).  Thus it was impossible for Lot to go directly from the sinfulness of Sodom to the mountains reserved for the righteous.  So Lot humbly asked the angels to allow him to flee to Zoar, which lies somewhere between Sodom and the mountains.

Although Origen’s explanation seems to go beyond the literal level of the text, it should be remembered that Origen believed that Scripture ultimately had only one author so passages from one book could be used to illuminate the meaning of passages in other books.  Origen is using the literal meaning of Psalm 121:1 to illuminate the literal meaning of this passage.  Thus, Origen’s appeal to Psalm 121:1 remains on the literal level and is something quite different from his moral and spiritual levels of interpretation.

However, Origen’s explanation is not justified by a close reading of the story itself or of Psalm 121:1.  In Psalm 121:1 the Psalmist is looking for help to come from the mountains but, in Genesis 19, Lot was told to flee to the mountains.  Lot’s request to flee to Zoar rather than to the mountains was motivated by fear and lack of trust in God rather than piety.  The angels told Lot to flee to the mountains so he would not be swept away (Gen. 19:17).  But Lot said, “No, my lords, please!  Your servant has found favour in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life.  But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die” (Gen. 19:18-19).  Lot failed to recognize that God was in control of the disaster that was about to overtake Sodom and that he was more concerned with rescuing him than he was with destroying the city.  The words the angels spoke to Lot concerning Zoar would have been true had he fled to the mountains instead: “But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it” (Gen. 19:22).

Origen’s explanation also runs into serious difficulties when one considers that the sinful actions of Lot’s daughters took place when they were in the mountains.  If only the perfect can find their help in the mountains then the actions of Lot and his daughters are difficult to explain.  This difficulty may be mitigated somewhat by Origen’s understanding of why Lot’s daughters committed incest with their father.  But this will be discussed further on.

There are also difficulties with Origen’s explanation of Genesis 13:10.  Origen takes this verse to mean that Sodom was once morally pure like the conditions that prevailed in the Garden of Eden but that it plunged into wickedness and became like the land of Egypt.  However, Genesis 13:10 makes it clear that the region surrounding Sodom was like the garden of the LORD and like the land of Egypt because the land was well watered.

Despite these difficulties, Origen’s explanation does capture something true about the character of Lot as he is depicted in both the Old and the New Testaments.  He was “somewhere between the perfect and the doomed.”  Although he was a righteous man who “was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:8), the “dwellings of Sodom” should not have pleased him.[13] As we will see later on, Lot’s decision to dwell in Sodom would have devastating consequences for him and his family.

The third issue that Origen deals with is why Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt.  Origen notes that, while Lot was fleeing from Sodom, the two angels commanded him not to look backward on the destruction that was consuming Sodom.  But Lot’s wife violated the “imposed law” and, as a result, was transformed into a pillar of salt.[14]  When Origen looks at the punishment that was given to Lot’s wife for looking backward, he considers the punishment to be somewhat excessive.  Simply looking backward at Sodom and the terrifying destruction that was consuming it does not seem to be a crime worthy of being punished by death.  Origen is probably right to see a deeper meaning to the death of Lot’s wife.  This will be discussed further when we look at Origen’s moral level of interpretation.

The fourth issue that Origen deals with is why Lot’s daughters committed incest with their father.  As was stated earlier, Celsus objected to this story because the actions of Lot’s daughters were worse than the Thyestian sins.  Celsus is referring to the story of Atreus and Thyestes in Greek mythology.[15]  Thyestes and Atreus were sons of Pelops, the king of Pisa.  Thyestes committed adultery with Atreus’s wife and tried to usurp Atreus’s throne.  Atreus retaliated by killing three of Thyestes’s children and by serving them to him as food without his knowledge.  When Atreus revealed what he had done, Thyestes consulted an oracle to see how he might get his revenge.  The oracle said that he could get his revenge by producing a child through his own daughter.  So Thyestes slept with his daughter and his daughter bore a son who eventually killed Atreus and gave the kingdom over to Thyestes.  Celsus considered the incest committed by Lot’s daughters to have been worse than the incest committed by Thyestes, presumably because Lot’s daughters were proud of what they had done.[16]

Origen defends the actions of Lot’s daughters by appealing to Greek philosophy.[17]  The Stoics believed that actions could be good, bad, or indifferent.  The determining factor in whether or not an action is good or bad is its motivation.  The Stoics believed that it was morally indifferent for a man to commit incest with his daughter if the rest of the human race had been destroyed.  Origen argues that Lot’s daughters were doing the same thing.  They had heard that the world would end by fire so, when they saw the fire that was raining down on Sodom, they believed that they were the only human beings to survive.  So, out of necessity, they slept with their father so that the human race would not be destroyed.  Scripture neither applauds nor condemns the daughters’ actions.  Stoic philosophy would then seem to justify the actions of Lot’s daughters.

In his fifth homily on Genesis, Origen makes a similar argument to defend the integrity of the story.  He begins by pointing out that Lot did not participate in the incest willingly by that he was deceived by his daughters and taken by stealth.[18]  Since he did not consent to what his daughters did he was not guilty of lust or in taking pleasure in his daughters’ actions.  Origen notes that the text itself seems to excuse him when it says that he did not realize when his daughters lay down or when they arose (Gen. 19:33, 38).   But Origen notes that Lot was not totally free from guilt because his daughters would not have been able to carry out their plans if he had not first become drunk.  Lot is “somewhere between the sinners and the just”[19] or, as he said earlier, “somewhere in the middle between the perfect and the doomed”[20] because he descended from the same family as Abraham but took up residence in Sodom.  It is in this context that Origen states that Lot was saved more for the sake of Abraham than for his own merit.[21]

Origen’s evaluation of Lot’s culpability in the actions of his daughters seems to fit with the evidence found in the biblical text.  Origen is a close reader of the biblical text so he is aware that the narrator does not want to present Lot as being a willing party to his daughters’ actions.  But the narrator also wants to make it clear that Lot was somehow responsible for what his daughters had done.  Origen is right to point out that Lot’s daughters would not have carried out their plans if he had not become drunk.  But the text seems to go further than this and suggest that Lot’s daughters would never have formulated such a wicked plan if Lot had not taken up residence in Sodom.  Lot believed that he could keep himself from being contaminated by the sinfulness of Sodom but he did not realize the effect that living in Sodom had on his wife and children.[22]  This is suggested by the ominous parenthetical clause in Genesis 13:13.  After noting that Lot had pitched his tent near Sodom the narrator states that the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning in grievous ways against the LORD.  Later Israelites who read this story were probably supposed to learn from the story of the consequences of associating too closely with the people who lived in the land they were about to enter (Cf. Deut. 7:1-6).  Particularly relevant is Moses’s command in Deuteronomy 7:3-4: “Do not intermarry with them.  Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.”  Although the book of Genesis says nothing about Lot’s daughters turning to other gods, it is clear that, having escaped the fire that rained down on Sodom, they took all that was wicked and shameful about Sodom with them.[23]  This evaluation will have implications for how Origen’s defense of Lot’s daughters should be viewed.

Next, Origen moves on to discuss the culpability of Lot’s daughters for their actions.  Origen’s discussion in his homily is quite similar to the discussion found in Contra Celsum but his arguments from Greek philosophy are missing.  However, even though Origen’s philosophical arguments are not explicitly stated, they clearly lie beneath Origen’s evaluation of the two daughters.  He begins his discussion by saying that it is important to consider the intentions of Lot’s daughters.  This goes back to the distinction that the Stoics made between good, bad, and indifferent actions based on a person’s intentions.  Origen argues that the daughters believed that the end of the world had come and that they did not know that it was only Sodom and the surrounding region that had been destroyed.  They had seen their mother killed and fire raining down on the city.  They had heard about the destruction that occurred during the time of Noah and believed themselves to be in a similar situation.  Thus they believed that it was their responsibility to repopulate the earth.[24]  The evil that would have been caused by not perpetuating the human race would have been more evil than deceiving their father and committing incest with him.  Indeed, their deception was somewhat commendable because Lot would have been tormented had he knowingly committed this sin.  Origen goes so far to say, though he hesitates, that Lot’s daughters were nobler than some Christian women because they did not continue to have sexual relations with their father once they had conceived while many Christian women continue to have sexual relations with their husbands even after they have conceived.[25]  So Origen acknowledges that what they did was wrong but he notes that their guilt was somewhat mitigated by the evil they believed would have taken place if they had not done so.

Although Origen’s discussion of the actions of Lot’s daughters has much to commend it, a closer reading of the text would seem to indicate that the motivations of Lot’s daughters were much more sinister.[26]  When Lot’s older daughter said to the younger daughter that “there was no man in the land to come to them as is the custom throughout the earth” (Gen. 19:31, my translation), there is no reason to think that she believed that the world had come to an end and that the only way to perpetuate the human race was through her father.  She knew that Zoar had been spared the destruction that overtook Sodom and the angels made it clear that the destruction was only intended for the cities in the plain (Gen. 19:13, 17).  When she said that there was “no man on the earth,” as Origen understood it, she meant that there was no one in the vicinity to become their husbands.  It should be noted that the older daughter prefaced her words by saying “our father is old,” which probably means that her father would have been unable to secure husbands for her and her sisters as was the custom in that day.[27]  The two daughters did not get their father drunk to spare his conscience but to make him do unconsciously what he would never have done while sober.  It would not be unjust to consider their actions as constituting an act of rape.  Although Celsus may in fact have been right when he said that the actions of Lot’s daughters were worse than the Thyestian sins, the text does not present these actions as something to be emulated but as something to be avoided.  These are the consequences that happen when the righteous choose to make their dwelling with the wicked.

The final interpretive issue that Origen deals with in his interpretation of the story of Lot and his daughters is why the text says that Zoar is small but not small (Gen. 19:20).  This is an obvious contradiction when the verse is read in this way.  Drawing from Plato’s Republic, Origen says that a city can be small and not small because the lives of a great number of people are held together in one place.[28]  Origen also sees a deeper meaning in these words but this will be discussed further on when we look at Origen’s spiritual level of interpretation.  Origen’s explanation is creative but unnecessary.  The second part of Lot’s statement should be construed as a question because the Hebrew text begins with the interrogative marker.  The text would then read, “Look!  This city is close enough for me to flee to and it is quite small.  Let me escape to there.  Is it not quite small?” (Gen. 19:20, translation mine).  Lot mentions the smallness of the city twice in order to convince the angels that sparing the small number of people in this city would be a small price for allowing him to flee there.  So Origen’s interpretation of the literal level is simply based on a misunderstanding.


 

[1] Origen, “Homily 5 on 1 Samuel,” 200.

[2] p. 206-7.  p. 220. “For the Word does not want us to emulate those who did these things in respect of their physical acts, as they are commonly supposed, but

[3] Origen’s excursus on the eschatological fate of Sodom will not be discussed because it is a digression from his exegesis of the story of Lot and his daughters.

[4] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 112.

[5] Origen does not mention these passages but it is safe to assume that they were influential in his thinking.

[6] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 115.

[7] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 115.

[8] For Origen’s explanation for the apparent ignorance of God toward Sodom’s sin see Homily IV, 110.  Origen sees this as God giving the people of Sodom an opportunity to repent, an opportunity which only Lot took.

[9] The Septuagint, followed by the Vulgate, transliterates in the Hebrew word ṣôʿar as sēgōr.  This is because the Hebrew letter ayin used to represent two Proto-Semitic phonemes, one of which sounded similar to the Greek letter gamma.  When the Septuagint of Genesis was translated, these two phonemes were still distinguished.  Zoar, the form found in most English Bibles, is based on later pronunciation.  For the sake of simplicity, we will use the form found in English Bibles.

[10] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 112-13.

[11] See above for a discussion of what Origen means by the perfect.

[12] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 112-13.

[13] “Homily 5,” 112-13.

[14] “Homily 5,” 114.

[15] For the story of Atreus and Thyestes see Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, trans. Robin Hard (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 145-46.

[16] This can be seen in the names given to their sons.

[17] Origen, Contra Celsum, IV.45, 220-21.

[18] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 114-16.

[19] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 115.

[20] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 113.

[21] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 115.

[22] Cf. Origen’s statements about the effect that Sodom had on Lot (“Genesis Homily V,”115).  “Drunkenness deceives him whom Sodom did not deceive.  He whom the sulphurous flame did not burn is burned by the flames of women.”  This will be discussed further in the section on Lot’s moral interpretation of the story.

[23] Cf. C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume I, The Pentateuch, trans. James Martin (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1872), 237.  “If it was not lust, therefore, which impelled them to this shameful deed, their conduct was worthy of Sodom, and shows quite as much as their previous betrothal to men of Sodom, that they were deeply imbued with the sinful character of that city.”  Some recent commentators have viewed the actions of Lot’s daughters more favourably but this seems to go against the grain of the text and the message that Israel would likely have taken from this story.  Modern interpreters need to recognize, with Origen, that the authors of the biblical text and those responsible for incorporating this story into scripture had a moral purpose in mind and not just an historical.

[24] This interpretation seems to have been quite prevalent during the Patristic period in both Jewish and Christian writings.  See, for example, Ephrem the Syrian, “Commentary on Genesis,” in Ephrem the Syrian: Selected Prose Works, trans. Edward G. Matthews, Jr. and Joseph P. Amar, ed. Kathleen McVey (FOTC 91; Washington, D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1994), 162 and footnote 398.

[25] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 117.

[26] One of the difficulties with interpreting motivations in Biblical narrative is they are rarely spoken of explicitly.  Cf. Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, OTL, rev. ed., trans. John H. Marks (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972); trans. of Das erste Buch Mose, Genesis, 9th ed. ATD 2-4 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1972), 223.  “As in the case of all these narrative, in spite of the coarse material, the emphases are always nicely put, and no judgment is expressed concerning the happenings.  The reflective reader must make his own judgments.”

[27] Cf. Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (WBC 2; Waco: Word, 1987), 61.

[28] Origen, Genesis, Homily V,“ 118, n. 31.

Origen’s Moral Interpretation of the Story of Lot and his Daughters

As we saw in a previous post, Origen’s moral level of interOrigen Picturepretation deals with practical lessons that can be learned from the text that go beyond the literal level of meaning.  These lessons are specifically meant for Christians but they do not depend for their application on the coming of Christ.  Sometimes Origen states the moral principle simply and directly but at other times he states the moral principle symbolically using the details of the story, often in terms of the soul’s struggle to choose between the spirit or rational faculty and the flesh.  In his exposition of the story of Lot and his daughters, Origen draws several moral applications.  We will examine each of these in turn, evaluating whether or not they are legitimate lessons that can be drawn from the story.  We will also examine the issue of whether or not the moral level of interpretation is a legitimate tool that can help the church appropriate the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

The first lesson that Origen draws from the story of Lot and his daughters is the need for Christians to show hospitality toward strangers.  Origen makes it clear that the only reason why Lot and his family were saved was because he showed hospitality to the angels who came to the city.  He makes it equally clear that the people of Sodom were destroyed because they failed to show hospitality.  Lot’s hospitality proved to the angels that he was righteous whereas the lack of hospitality shown by the people of Sodom proved that the outcry that was made about their wickedness was true.[1]  According to Origen Christians should imitate Lot in showing hospitality to strangers lest they fall under the same judgment that befell the people of Sodom.

This first lesson seems to be a legitimate moral principle that can be taken from this text.  Even though Origen overstates his case somewhat when he says that the only reason why Lot was because of the hospitality he showed toward the angels, Lot’s hospitality does play an important role in demonstrating that he was righteous, which ultimately led to his rescue through the intercession of Abraham.  Christians can learn the importance of being kind to strangers and that hospitality is a mark of true righteousness.[2]  The New Testament itself picks this up in the book of Hebrews when it encourages Christians to entertain strangers because some have entertained angels without even being aware of it (Heb. 13:2).  The mentions of Lot’s hospitality in scripture was not written for its own sake but was meant to be an example for us even today (cf. Rom. 4:22-23).

The second lesson that Origen derives from this story is the importance of fleeing sin and pursuing righteousness.[3]  Lot’s wife, who looked back toward Sodom when it was being destroyed, represents the flesh, which causes souls that are pursuing salvation to look back toward vice and the pleasures of sin.  Lot, on the other hand, represents the rational understanding because the rational understanding can look beyond the momentary pleasures of sin and pursue salvation, which is by far better.[4]  Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt because salt represents the prudence that was lacking in her character.

Origen extends this moral application near the end of his homily to include other events that took place in the story.  Christians should learn that even after escaping the flames of this world and the fires of the flesh and even after climbing up the mountain of knowledge, pride and vainglory, represented by Lot’s daughters, could still be lingering within.  Christians should therefore be on their guard lest they fall prey to them unawares and produce children that, like the Ammonites and Moabites, cannot become part of the people of God.  By “children” Origen means the results that come from vainglory and pride.  On the contrary, Christians should seek to produce “children” in the Spirit because the one who sows to the Spirit reaps everlasting life.  Rather than embracing vainglory and pride, Christians should embrace wisdom and thus live lives worthy of God.

This type of story-as-symbol application (allegory) is quite different from the moral application given in the previous example.  Rather than deriving simple moral principles from the plain-sense meaning of the text, this type of application produces its own narrative that bears little resemblance to the plain-sense meaning of the text.  There are two main problems with this type of application, as with all allegory.  First, regardless of how compelling this alternative narrative might be, there is no reason to believe that this alternative narrative was intended by God or by the human author.  The symbolic meanings that Origen gives to the text are somewhat arbitrary.  Why should Lot’s daughters represent vainglory and pride?  Why not lust?  In the end, the alternative narrative may be  interesting or even edifying but it is ultimately a story of Origen’s own making.  The second problem is that this alternative narrative lacks coherence and consistency.  If Lot’s daughters represent vainglory and pride, why did the angels tell Lot to take them with him?  Lot would have been better off to leave them in Sodom.  The same thing could be said about Lot’s wife, who represents the flesh.  Perhaps he should have encouraged her to look back at Sodom so that the flesh could be mortified and he would be unhindered in scaling the heights of the knowledge of God.  This lack of consistency speaks strongly against divine or authorial intent and reveals the ad hoc nature of Origen’s use of symbolism.   That being said, there may be some validity to Lot’s wife being identified with the flesh.  However, rather than interpreting the story symbolically, it would be much better to focus on the plain-sense meaning of the text and suggest that Lot’s wife turned back because she was swayed by the flesh.  This still moves beyond the plain-sense meaning of the text because the text does not reveal why she turned back but it is consistent with the plain-sense meaning of the text.

The final lesson that Origen derives from this text on the moral level is that women should follow the example of Lot’s daughters and only engage in sexual intercourse for the sake of producing children.  Once they had conceived children, Lot’s daughters no longer engaged in sexual intercourse with their father.  Origen chastises Christian women for continuing to have sexual relations with their husbands even after they have become pregnant.  For Origen, sexual union is only appropriate when there is a chance for producing children.  Sexual intercourse for any other reason is to lower human beings to the level of unthinking animals.

While it is true that one of the main purposes of sexual union is to produce children, the Apostle Paul also makes it clear that sexual union is a marital duty quite apart from the purpose of producing children.  The only reason why a husband and wife should cease to fulfill this duty is when they have agreed to devote themselves to a short period to prayer (1 Cor. 7:5).  The Apostle Paul also teaches that sexual union between husband and wife is a means for combating sexual temptation (1 Cor. 7:1-7).  Origen’s views on sexual union  seem to be based more on Greek asceticism than on the clear teaching of scripture.[5]  Like the previous lesson, this story-as-symbol application is both arbitrary and inconsistent, revealing it to be a story of Origen’s own making rather than something that can legitimately be derived from scripture.

In conclusion, the problem with Origen’s moral level of application is not so much the concept but the way it is carried out.  When Origen stays close to the plain-sense meaning of the text his moral application can be quite insightful.  However, his story-as-symbol approach breaks down under closer examination.  Moral application goes beyond the plain-sense meaning of the text but, to be legitimate, it needs to be consistent with the plain-sense meaning of the text and with moral values and duties that are clearly expected of Christians elsewhere in scripture.  When this is done, the church will discover that the Old Testament is useful for teaching, correcting, reproof, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).


[1] Sodom’s lack of hospitality came in the form of trying to attack the angels who had entered the city.

[2] Note that Paul includes hospitality among the qualities that should characterize the overseers of the church (1 Tim. 3:2).

[3] Origen, “Genesis Homily V,” 114.

[4] Cf. 4 Maccabbees.

[5] This would appear to be the reason why Origen refrains from deriving moral application for husbands and wives from the Song of Solomon.

Origen’s Moral and Spiritual Levels of Interpretation

Origen PictureOrigen’s moral level of meaning refers to practical lessons that can be learned from biblical texts which go beyond the literal meaning but do not depend for their application on the coming of Christ or the inauguration of the New Covenant.[1]  Sometimes these lessons take the form of exhortations to imitate or not to imitate the actions of the characters found in the biblical text.[2]  Other times the details of the story are interpreted symbolically to refer to principles God’s people should live by or to refer to the struggle that takes place in the soul between the flesh and the spirit.[3]  It should be remembered that, although the moral lessons Origen derives from the text do not depend on the coming of Christ for their applicability, this does not mean they were applicable to unbelievers.  Rather, Origen’s point is that the lessons learned on the moral level are applicable on either side of the cross.  Unlike the spiritual level, the moral level of meaning was not hidden from believers until the coming of Christ.

The most important level of meaning for Origen is the spiritual level.[1]   The New Testament refers quite frequently to the fact the Old Testament only contained the shadows of the realities that were to come with the coming of Christ (Heb. 8:5).  These truths were hidden for long ages past but have now been revealed through the coming of Christ (Rom. 16:25-27).  They were hidden from the rulers of this world but were destined for the glory of New Testament believers before the world began (1 Cor. 2:7-8).  The great stories of the Old Testament were not written merely for the sake of its first hearers; they were written for the sake of those who would live after the coming of Christ (1 Cor. 10:11).  That is not to say, of course, that these stories were fictional or merely symbolic.  Rather, the Word chose historical events to be recorded in scripture that could be harmonized with the truths intended by the Spirit so that, when Christ had finally come, these truths would be made known and could edify those who were able to “search out” the “deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10).[2]  But, until then, these truths would be hidden in the pages of scripture, concealed from the multitude.  The Word did this so that believers would not be overwhelmed by the intensity of the truths that were being communicated.  But this was done in such a way that even the bowl that concealed the light could still make the room shine brightly.  Thus, even the literal level of meaning could be edifying.[3]

But it is the spiritual level of meaning that is capable of bringing souls to perfection “through the rich and wise truth about God.”[4]  These truths include teachings about God, teachings about the work and nature of the Son, the origin of souls and of higher and lower beings, and other similar subjects.[5]  As can be seen in Origen’s exposition of the story of Lot and his daughters, Origen’s spiritual level of meaning also includes teachings about the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant and how the shadows of the Old Covenant portray the realities of the New.  These truths, in particular, are important for understanding how Origen appropriates the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

According to Origen, some parts of scripture do not have a literal meaning but only a moral or spiritual sense.[6]  Although the Word tended to use historical events to communicate spiritual truth, sometimes the historical events did not entirely correspond to the spiritual truths the Word wanted to communicate.  As a result, the Word sometimes wove into the stories events that did not actually happen or content which could not possibly be understood on a literal level.[7]  Although it is difficult to understand precisely what Origen means by this, it seems most likely that, with one or two exceptions,[8] Origen is referring to figurative language such as metaphor, anthropomorphism, anthropopathism, metonymy, synecdoche, hyperbole, parable, and so on.[9]  These things are not true when taken literally but are only true when understood figuratively.  These were added to the text so that believers could look beyond the literal meaning of the text and be drawn to its deeper meanings.[10]  In many ways, Origen takes the literal meaning of the text much more seriously than interpreters do today.[11]

In addition to these three levels of meaning, Origen also refers more broadly to the difference between the literal and non-literal meanings of the biblical text.  The literal meaning in this schema may be equated with the literal meaning in the three-level schema but the non-literal level of meaning encompasses Origen’s moral and spiritual levels of meaning as well as the meaning of figurative language in general.  Some passages in Origen can be confusing because he frequently uses the term “spiritual” to refer to all non-literal levels of meaning.  However, the two-schema meaning of the word “spiritual” is easy to identify because it will only be contrasted with the literal level of meaning and not the moral.

 

Origen’s Literal Level of Interpretation

OrigenOrigen refers to his own exegetical methods quite frequently throughout his works but he speaks about them most clearly in the fourth book of his most controversial work, On First Principles.  Origen was keenly aware that without proper exegetical method, Scripture was in danger of being radically misunderstood, a danger which Origen believed was realized in the biblical interpretation of non-Christian Jews and heretical Christian groups.[1]  Indeed, it was improper exegetical method that was at the root of Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and was the catalyst for his crucifixion.[2]  Likewise, it was faulty exegetical method which caused the heretics to believe that the God of the Old Testament was different and less perfect than the God of the New.  So for Origen, exegetical method was of vital importance.

The root and foundation of Origen’s exegetical method was his belief in the divine inspiration of both Old and New Testament scripture, interpreted within the context of the church and in harmony with the faith as it was handed down by apostolic succession.[3]  The fundamental reason why scripture is misunderstood is because it is interpreted exclusively on the literal level without taking into account its spiritual or non-literal meaning.[4]  However, even when its potential for meaning beyond the literal level is recognized, it is still necessary to interpret scripture according to divine intentionality.  In other words, without proper exegetical method, the interpreter may discover levels of meaning not intended by the Spirit.  It is to these exegetical methods that we now turn.[5]

Origen believed that scripture should be interpreted according to three levels of meaning.  Origen claims to derive this principle from Proverbs 22:20-21, which in the Septuagint says, “Moreover, you shall write these things down for yourself in a threefold way on the breadth of your heart, for counsel and knowledge…so that you may answer those who question you with true words.”[6]  These three levels of meaning correspond in broad terms to the needs Christians have on the various stages of their spiritual journey: the literal level is for the simple Christian, the moral level is for those who have made some spiritual progress, and the spiritual level is for those whom Paul refers to as the perfect (2 Cor. 2:6-7), that is, spiritually mature Christians who are capable of receiving solid food and understanding the deeper things of God (Heb. 5:13-14; cf. 2 Cor. 2:10).[7]  Origen sometimes refers to these three levels of meaning, by analogy, to the tripartite nature of human beings: the body (literal), the soul (moral), and the spirit (spiritual).[8]  Each of these will be discussed in turn (the moral and spiritual in a later post).

The literal level of meaning refers to the surface level of the biblical text without regard for figurative language or figurative meaning.  For Origen, figurative language and figurative meaning belong to the same category: they are simply two points on a scale extending all of the way from the metaphorical to the mystical.  This can be somewhat confusing for the modern reader because figurative language is usually considered to belong to the plain sense meaning of the biblical text.[9] But for Origen, if an interpreter is unwilling to accept the mystical they should also be unwilling to accept the metaphorical – both represent interpretations that go beyond the literal meaning of the text.  This accounts for much of Origen’s torturously literal interpretations of certain biblical passages in his discussion of the figurative meaning of scripture.[10]

Origen’s literal level of meaning may be sub-divided into three categories.  First, some passages deal with issues that are immediately relevant for believers today even when interpreted on the literal level.  For example, the story of the Witch of Endor might suggest that believers who have departed from this life are under the control of a demon.[11]  This concern can be dealt with simply by looking at the literal meaning of the text more carefully.  Second, some passages contain literal meanings that edify.  These usually come in the form of commands that clearly should be obeyed on a literal level such as the command not to kill or the command not to steal.[12]  Third, some passages simply convey information that, without the aid of moral or spiritual interpretation, is not edifying.  The story of Lot and his daughters is included in this final category on the literal level.[13]  All three types of literal meaning are important for Origen and form the basis for his non-literal interpretation of scripture.[14]


[1] Ibid, On First Principles, IV.2.1.

[2] Origen, On First Principles, IV.2.1, 269-70.

[3] Ibid, On First Principles, IV.2.1-2, 269-73.

[4] Ibid, On First Principles, IV.2.  As will be seen below, Origen is not consistent in his use of terms.  Here, Origen is not referring to the spiritual level of interpretation per se but to any interpretation that moves beyond the literal level.

[5] Origen makes it clear that his approach to interpreting scripture applies to the New Testament as well as to the Old.  But since this paper is concerned with Christian appropriation of the Old Testament, Origen’s method of interpretation will be viewed from the context of how it applies to Old Testament texts.

[6] Translation mine.  Origen’s remarks are found in On First Principles IV.2.4, 275-76.

[7] See also Origen’s development of these principles from the Shepherd of Hermas (On First Principles IV.2.4, 276-77).

[8] Origen, On First Principles, IV.2.5, 277-78.

[9] This is why some biblical scholars prefer to use the term “plain sense” rather than “literal sense” because the term “literal,” which for many does make room for figurative language, is so frequently misunderstood.  See, e.g., John Barton, The Nature of Biblical Criticism (Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), pp. 69-116.  See also the insightful discussion of James Barr in “The Literal, the Allegorical, and Modern Biblical Scholarship,” JSOT 44 (1989): 3-17.

[10] Origen, On First Principles, IV.3.1-3, 288-293.

[11] Origen, “Homily 5 on 1 Samuel,” in Origen, trans. Joseph W. Trigg (ECF; London/New York: Routledge, 1998), 200.  “But, nonetheless, because the story of Saul and the necromancer touches all of us, it contains truths at the level of the story.  Who, after departing from this life, would care to be under the control of a demon?”

[12] Origen, On First Principles, IV.3.4.

[13] See the quotation from Origen’s fifth homily on the book of Samuel given further below.

[14] Cf. Henri Crouzel, Origen, trans. A. S. Worrall (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 61.  “Normally the literal sense is the source of the spiritual sense: if that were not so there would only be an arbitrary sense whose relation with what the Scripture says would be merely extrinsic.  It is Origen’s practice to explain the literal meaning, however briefly, as he does for every verse of the Song of Songs, before going on to the spiritual meaning.”

The Significance of Origen for Appropriating the Old Testament as Christian Scripture

OrigenThe books of the Old Testament contain many stories that interpreters find difficult to appropriate as Christian Scripture.  Some texts seem too remote from our present context to be relevant, some texts seem to be at odds with the principles of grace, love, and forgiveness that are so prominent in the New Testament, and some texts are simply difficult to understand quite apart from our struggle to appropriate them as Christian Scripture.

But despite these difficulties, the church – right from the very beginning – has affirmed the place of the Old Testament as an indispensable and non-negotiable portion of Christian Scripture.[1]  The church believed that all scripture was inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16); the church believed that the books of the Old Testament were relevant for Christian faith and practice (Rom. 4:23-24; 15:4; cf. 1 Cor. 10:6, 11); and they condemned in the strongest terms those who did not recognize the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament and those who believed that the God of the Old Testament was different than the God of the new.[2]

However, the mere acceptance of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture did not solve the problems associated with appropriating it as Christian Scripture.  The church has found it extremely difficult to appropriate the message of the Old Testament for Christian readers and hearers.[3]  In many ways, these challenges have remained the same throughout church history and the lessons that have been learned, both positive and negative, need to be appropriated by the church today.  While it is true that the accumulated wisdom of the centuries has not led the church to perfection, the church can learn a great deal from its past as it presses forward in its continual struggle to understand the relevance of the Old Testament for Christians today.

One of the most significant figures in the church’s struggle to appropriate the Old Testament as Christian Scripture is Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-254 C.E.).  Origen is, at the same time, one of the most influential and most controversial figures in the history of Christian interpretation and Christian theology.  Hans Urs von Balthasar, commenting on Origen’s eventual condemnation by the church, describes his legacy as follows:

[W]hile the jar was breaking into a thousand pieces and the name of the master was being overwhelmed and stoned, the fragrance of the ointment was coming forth and “filling the whole house.”  For there is no thinker in the Church who is so invisibly all-present as Origen….[His] is a voice that drives straight through everything, always pushing on, without fanfare and without fatigue, almost, it seems, without an obvious goal, possessed almost to the point of insanity, and yet with a cool, unapproachable intellectual restraint that has never again been equaled.[4]

While many interpreters would prefer to sweep the broken pieces under the rug and allow the fragrance from the ointment to dissipate in the wind, Origen’s significance for Christian appropriation of the Old Testament cannot be underestimated or ignored.

In this regard, I would like to explore the lessons that can be learned, both positive and negative, from Origen as he interprets of the story of Lot and his daughters from a Christian point of view.   I have chosen this story in particular because Origen is often accused of depreciating the value of the literal meaning of the biblical text[5] and Origen himself stated that “it would take quite a search” to find the usefulness of the story of Lot and his daughters when interpreted exclusively on the literal level.[6]  This will give us opportunity to see in detail how Origen sought to find in this story something that could be appropriated by believers on the other side of the cross.  I will begin by describing Origen’s exegetical methods as he describes them in On First Principles.[7]  Next I will analyze Origen’s interpretation of the story of Lot and his daughters by comparing his interpretation to a close reading of the biblical text.  Throughout this analysis I will draw lessons, both positive and negative that can be learned from Origen’s method of interpretation for contemporary appropriation of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

Part 2 – Origen’s Exegetical Method (next week).


[1] This does not mean that Christians were fully agreed on the extent of the canon or the text of books whose content in the Septuagint varies considerably from its content in the Masoretic Tradition.  See Lee Martin McDonald, The Biblical Canon: It’s Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Peabody, Massachussets: Hendrickson, 1995), 208.  “[T]here can be no question that the OT Scriptures were viewed by the earliest church as an authoritative source for Christian faith and life, even though the boundaries of the canon had not yet been fully decided.”

[2] For the role played by heretical sects in the formation of the church’s views on the Old Testament see John Barton, Holy Writings, Sacred Text: The Canon in Early Christianity (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 35-62.

[3] For an excellent history of this struggle in the Patristic period see the various essays included in Magne Sæbø(ed.), Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation.  Volume I: From the Beginnings to the Middle Ages (Until 1300) (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996).

[4] Hans Urs von Balthasar (ed.), Origen: Spirit & Fire.  A Thematic Anthology of His Writings, trans. Robert J. Daly (Washingdon, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984), 2.

[5] See, in particular, R. P. C. Hanson, Allegory and Event (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002;  repr., Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1959).

[6] Origen, “Homily 5 on 1 Samuel,” in Origen, trans. Joseph W. Trigg (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 200.

[7] Origen, On First Principles, trans. G. W. Butterworth with an introduction by Henri de Lubac (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1973).

First Blog Post

Origen

For my first ever blog post, I would like to explain the title of this blog. The title of this blog comes from Origen’s commentary on the book of Genesis where he describes Lot as being somewhere between the perfect and the doomed. On the one hand, he was tormented in his soul because of the lawless deeds that he heard and saw in Sodom (2 Peter 2:8). On the other hand, his character allowed him to take up residence in the dwellings of Sodom.

Back in 2010 I used this tension as a major theme for a paper I wrote on Origen’s interpretation of the story of Lot and his daughters in his commentary on Genesis and in Contra Celsum. My conclusion was that Origen’s interpretation was somewhere between the perfect and the doomed. On the one hand, Origen exemplifies what it means to wrestle with the text in order to understand it as Christian scripture. On the other hand, many of his remarks on the literal, moral, and spiritual levels of the text cannot hold up under closer scrutiny.

My hope is that this blog will show my own personal struggle to read the Old Testament in its own historical and theological integrity and, at the same time, to faithfully read it as Christian scripture according to the rule of faith. If writing this blog helps me toward that end, it will have served its purpose. If it helps anyone else toward that same end, it will have gone beyond my greatest expectations.

I will try to blog at least once a week, reflecting on the work I am currently doing as I finish my final comprehensive exam and move on to my dissertation proposal and on other theological topics that I encounter during the week as I read scripture, minister in the church, and read or hear what other people have to say. And hopefully, the appearance of the blog will improve as I learn how to do this better!

Mark Francois