Homilies on Genesis: 1-17

Homilies on Genesis: 1-17

Homilies on Genesis: 1-17

Homilies on Genesis: 1-17


This translation makes available for the first time in English one of the most significant Old Testament commentaries of the patristic period. St. John Chrysostom's extant works outnumber those of any other Father of the East; in the West, only Augustine produced a larger corpus. Of Chrysostom's more than 600 exegetical homilies, however, only those on the New Testament have previously been translated into English.

The Genesis homilies, his richest Old Testament series, reveal a theologian, pastor, and moralist struggling to explain some of the most challenging biblical material to his congregation in Antioch. He admonishes them to "apply yourself diligently to the reading of Sacred Scripture, not only when you come along here, but at home," encourages spiritual discourse, and frequently envisages them leaving church reminiscing on the day's sermon. While critical exegetical details go without mention and Chrysostom was limited to the Greek version of the Old Testament in his studies, his oratory has been judged golden and his theology profound. He was a preacher satisfied with commenting on Scripture with his moral purpose always to the fore.

Chrysostom studied the Scriptures with Diodore of Tarsus, a distinguished exegete known from fragments of his commentaries on Genesis and Psalms, and a polemic style developed from his pastoral concern to protect his congregation from the dangerous influences of fourth-century Antioch. Most importantly, he shared the Antiochene school's insistence on the literal sense of Scripture and their unwillingness to engage in allegorical interpretation. As such, his Genesis homilies constitute a milestone in the history of biblical interpretation.

This first of several volumes on Genesis contains homilies 1-17, delivered in Antioch before Chrysostom moved to Constantinople in 398. Robert C. Hill's thorough introduction highlights Chrysostom's significance as a scriptural commentator and provides the basis for an interesting comparison with modern commentators, such as Von Rad and Speiser.


On what follows the verse, "'Let us make a human being in our image,'" and against those who ask, Why were the wild beast created? and, What good comes from their being made? and to prove that this most of all shows regard for the human being and God's unspeakable love.

To begin (76B) by an analogy with hardworking farmers. Whenever they see a rich pasture with great depth of soil, they sow the seed liberally and give it their constant and undivided attention, surveying the scene each day in case somewhere some useless thing capable of damaging the seeds should thwart the efforts they have put into it. Now, in exactly the same way we too have seen your spiritual hunger and your great readiness to listen, and each day we have been exerting ourselves to have the thinking of the Holy Scriptures enter your mind; we have also shown to you what can harm this spiritual seed, lest you be caught out and the sound teaching of the dogmas be undermined by the assaults of people endeavouring to infiltrate the Church's dogmas with notions from their own reasoning. (76c) To you falls the task of scrupulously safeguarding what has been entrusted to you and preserving the memory of it intact so that you can follow with ease the sequel. You see, if the present opportunity is not taken for us to go rather deeply into the meaning, and for you to develop your understanding, now that it is the season of Lent, now that our limbs are more nimble for swimming and our mental vision sharper, without the hindrance of the evil current of luxury, but with our spirit strengthened against drowning, when on earth will it be possible for us to achieve it? When luxury, drunkenness and gluttony are rampant, and the evils they spawn?

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