Dale Allison observes how the patterns of most commentaries privilege recent works over older sources. Rather, he says the history of interpretation invites serious consideration for the following reasons. “Such history is intrinsically interesting in and of itself.” “It instills … Continue reading
Dale Allison provides a general rule of thumb, which he follows when interpreting a text of Scripture. We stand in the great line of interpretive tradition and why must we limit our sources to modern-critical works when there are hundreds of years of material preceding such works.
Whenever I am working on a particular passage, I make sure that, at some point, in addition to pawing through the unmanageable stack of contemporary critical literature, I find out what Origen and at least half a dozen other church fathers thought of it. I then check out Albert the Great and Aquinas and another medieval source or two; after which time I look at Calvin, Grotius, Matthew Poole, and several additional commentaries from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.
I think it prudent always to keep an eye on the past and not to limit our teachers to those who just happen to be alive or have recently passed on. Current exegetical work is part of a much larger body of literature, and why should we limit the number of our teachers? The more the better, and the more the merrier. My experience in any case is that we should be able to bring out of libraries not only treasures new but also treasures old. (250)
Dale C. Allison, Jr. “What I have Learned from the History of Interpretation.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 35, no. 3 (Fall 2008): 237–50.
Dale Allison reflects on the balanced approach of research. It is not merely listening to the old, it is not merely listening to the new; rather, why should we limit the treasure trove of sources? In “Reading Matthew through the Church Fathers”, Allison says the following:
I am not the exegetical equivalent of a political or cultural conservative who prefers the company of the deceased. On the contrary, I eagerly go to the new books shelves of my library every week. I am simply urging that it is foolish to imagine that the part is somehow greater than the whole. Current exegetical work is part of a much larger body of literature, and why should we wish to limit the number of our teachers? The more the better. 
He continues to add:
When we do enlarge our horizon to take in the Fathers, our respect for them likewise enlarges. It is not just that we may find them theologically edifying or spiritually uplifting or homiletically useful but that their exegesis, even judged by our own very different interests and standards, sometimes hits a target that we have missed. The Fathers are of course full of bad judgments and dated opinions on all sorts of matters, and they were ignorant of all sorts of things now known, most notably perhaps the Jewish context to the New Testament writings. And of course they had prejudices we cannot tolerate. But then all this will likewise be the future’s verdict upon us, and we like to think that we still have some useful things to say. I submit that it is the same with the church fathers, and that sometimes we may move forward by going backwards. [130–31]
Allison provides great balance and propriety when utilizing ancient and novel literature. Both are needed, both are useful, both are plagued with inadequacies. But the Father’s sometimes provide a richer vision and interpretation of the biblical text that, sometimes, modern and post-modern readers have missed.
Dale C. Allison Jr., “Reading Matthew Through the Church Fathers,” in Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 130–31.
Dale Allison provides an exemplary analysis of historical interpretation and New Testament studies. In “Reading Matthew through the Church Fathers” (Studies in Matthew, 117–31), he says the following about historical analysis and the modern reader:
They (Church Fathers) were, in so many ways, closer to the first-century Christians than we are. Unlike most of us, they lived and moved and had their being in the Scriptures…They were accordingly attuned to hear things that we no longer hear, things which we can only see after picking up concordances or doing word searches on our computers. I have come to believe that if we find in Matthew or another New Testament book an allusion to the Old Testament that the Fathers did not find, the burden of proof is on us; and if they detected an allusion which modern commentators have not detected, investigation is in order.
Dale C. Allison Jr., “Reading Matthew Through the Church Fathers,” in Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 119.