Review: Genesis 1–11 (ACCS)

The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture is a cross-denominational effort to compile the best passages from the first millennium of Christianity, organized canonically (verse by verse). The series was painstakingly created using digital databases of the Greek and Latin Fathers, as well as some sources in Syriac and other languages. The result is a very readable, accessible compendium of quotations from a variety of Church Fathers.

The first volume is necessarily weighted towards the creation and Paradise (Adam and Eve) narratives. In fact, half of the volume covers Genesis 1–3; the second half covers Genesis 4–11.

The Value of ACCS

I found this book extremely useful. Here is why:

Last year, I decided to read every commentary I could find on Genesis. It was easy to get around 100 in English, from after 1700. Luther was difficult to find in English; Melanchthon is out of print and only in Latin. But I could find almost nothing in English from Church Fathers before 1500. It is beyond doubt many times more difficult.

I knew (and know) very little about Church Fathers. I could not afford a seminary education. It has been very difficult to get started from scratch, as a Pentecostal—sometimes Pentecostals act like the church started at Azusa Street. The only Church Father I hear about with any frequency is Augustine.

Eventually, I found four relevant works by Augustine, three of them in Latin. I was so excited that I made it through quite a bit of his commentary. And I saw references online to Ambrose’ On Paradise, Chrysostom’s Homilies on Genesis, Basil the Great’s Hexaemeron, Gregory of Nyssa’ works on creation, Ephrem the Syrian’s commentary on Genesis, and others.

Any one of these was not available online in a citable form or a reputable translation. Altogether, I was looking at hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to collect these important works (only 10 or 12 of them!), whereas I had spent almost nothing collecting 100+ English commentaries. Ironically, the original works would be in the public domain; but translated volumes from Church Fathers are both expensive and copyrighted.

After much difficulty, I noticed the Glossia Ordinaria, from the 12th century, but it does not name its primary sources, and I did not find Nicholas of Lyra very enlightening (and the Latin was a little cumbersome!). I wanted to read what Lyra had read!

The ACCS volume on Genesis 1–11 has opened up a wealth to me. After reading the whole volume, I have a very clear direction about which Church Fathers are the most important, readable, and interesting to me.

Patristic Interpretations of Genesis 1–11

Some of the interpretations are pretty boilerplate. In quite a few places, they preserve wisdom from Jewish interpretations of Genesis. Others are fresh, Christological readings of the Old Testament that I have never heard before despite reading quite a bit on Genesis.

For instance, the story of Noah’s ark was consistently regarded as a type of Christ’s salvation, down to the smallest details of the narrative.

Other interpretations were mere speculation or tradition, but even these were still interesting as they preserve for us the Fathers’ ways of thinking. Perhaps they should be regarded as cultural imbalances more than hermeneutical failures; our own cultures have their own ideological imbalance.

I am very much looking forward to reading other volumes from the ACCS and slowly piecing together a library of favorite patristic readings of the Bible, from the best works I discover through ACCS.

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