Authored by: Peter W. Martens

The Routledge Companion to Early Christian Thought

Print publication date:  December  2009
Online publication date:  December  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415442251
eBook ISBN: 9780203864517
Adobe ISBN: 9781135193430


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Sacred writings left an indelible mark upon pre-Nicene Christianity. These writings were energetically copied by scribes, translated into several languages, and widely disseminated throughout Christian networks. They were read and expounded upon in the setting of the liturgy, studied privately, and on occasion examined with a keen scholarly eye. Despite their fluid boundaries, these Scriptures were unmistakably woven into the oral and written discourses of early Christianity. There are hints that early Christians committed parts of these writings to memory, and the surviving literature from this period abounds in allusions, paraphrases, quotations, re-tellings, and explicit interpretations of Scripture. While such direct interpretation (reference to a passage followed by its analysis) was usually episodic, the two leading scriptural scholars in our period, Hippolytus and Origen, inaugurated a long-standing literary genre characterized by such interpretation: the commentary. This vigorous interest in the Scriptures flowed from an overarching conviction: that these writings mapped religiously. The Scriptures were thought to express the Christian message of salvation and guide those who read and heard them well along the journey of salvation. The earnestness with which these writings permeated the church’s mission of catechesis, moral exhortation, and advanced instruction; the zeal with which they were marshaled into the arena of competing interpretations and religious debate; and the precision with which they were targeted by imperial persecution: all point to the divine or holy status Christians ascribed these writings.

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