The Value of Really Old Commentaries

Of the various commentaries I use while studying Scripture and writing sermons, I keep going back to some of the very old ones. I very much enjoy the commentaries of Chrysostom, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, and so on. These ancient commentaries have spiritual insight into the text that many modern technical commentaries miss. There is a place for technical and exegetical commentaries, but sometimes the textual details get in the way of seeing other nuances in the text. If you are one to frequently use commentaries, I highly recommend getting some ancient commentaries. They help us interpret Scripture with the ancient Christian church, and they also help us see some wonderful interpretations of Scripture we might otherwise miss.

I recently studied the story of Jesus healing the woman with a 12-year blood flow and raising Jarius’ 12-year-old daughter from the dead (Mark 5:21-43). Among other commentaries, I used the IVP Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and Aquinas’ Catena Aurea. Here are some helpful insights on Mark 5:21-43 from those commentaries.

This woman, who was celebrated and known to all, did not dare to approach the Savior openly nor to come to Him because, according to the law, she was unclean; for this reason, she touched Him behind and not in front, for that she dared not do, but only ventured to touch the hem of His garment. It was not, however, the hem of the garment but her frame of mind that made her whole. (Chrysostom)

But He asked, Who touched me? Although He knew her who touched Him, that He might bring to light the woman, by her coming forward, and proclaim her faith, and lest the virtue of His miraculous work should be consigned to oblivion. It goes on, And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? But the Lord asked, Who touched me, that is in thought and faith, for the crowds who throng Me cannot be said to touch Me, for they do not come near to Me in thought and in faith. (Pseudo-Chrysostom)

The woman with the hemorrhage had spent all that she had on doctors. Hungering and thirsting, her spirit had died within her. Having lost everything she possessed, because her life was wasting away within her, she cried out to the Lord in anguish. Her touch on the hem of his garment was the cry of a believing heart. In this she is the figure of the assembly of God gathered from all nations. (Jerome)

In the midst of her conflicting thoughts, she sees a way, her sole way of salvation. She would secure her healing by stealth, take in silence what she dares not ask for, guarding her respect and modesty. She who feels unworthy in body, draws near in heart to the physician. In faith she touches God. With her hand she touches his garment, knowing that both healing and forgiveness may be bestowed on this stratagem, undertaken due to the demands of modesty, and not as she otherwise would have preferred. She knew the gain she sought by stealth would cause no loss to him from whom she took it.… In an instant, faith cures where human skill had failed through twelve years. (Peter Chrysologus)

But this man [Jairus] was a ruler of the synagogue and versed in the law. He had surely read that while God created all other things by his word, the man had been created by the hand of God. He trusted, therefore in God that his daughter would be recreated and restored to life by that same hand which, he knew, had created her.… He who laid hands on her to form her from nothing once more lays hands upon her to reform her from what had perished. (Peter Chrysologus)

These quotes are found in the following commentaries:

Oden, Thomas C., and Christopher A. Hall, eds. Mark (Revised). Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Thomas Aquinas. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Mark. Edited by John Henry Newman. Vol. 2. Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1842.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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