I’m currently reading through John Breck’s Scripture in Tradition: The Bible and Its Interpretation on the Orthodox Church. In it, Fr. John lists 8 presuppositions of one coming to the Bible with a Patristic approach. I suspect that some will find them helpful, so here they are (some paraphrasing):
1. The ultimate referent of the expression “Word of God,” is neither the Bible or its exposition; it is the Person of the eternal Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity.
2. Therefore, Scripture has to be understood from a Trinitarian perspective. Inspired by the Spirit, the Scriptures reveal the person and work of the Son, who shows us the face of the Father, and enables communion with Him.
3. The witness of Scripture is the fruit of synergy or cooperation between God and the human author. As a theandric or divine-human reality Scripture contains elements that are historically, culturally and linguistically conditioned. Consequently it must be reinterpreted in every new generation of the Church’s life, under the inspirational guidance of the Holy Spirit.
4. The Word of God serves God’s purpose for the salvation of the world. Thus its interpretation is properly ecclesial, serving the mission of the Church. Exegesis has its ultimate end in communicating saving knowledge of God; accordingly,, the purpose of exegesis is essentially soteriolgical.
5. The Church holds that the New Testament writings are normative elements of Holy Tradition. This Tradition consists of both received witness (paradosis) and the personal contribution of the author. Scripture, inspired by and given authority by the Holy Spirit, is the canon or norm by which all true Tradition is determined. All Tradition is not contained in Scripture, BUT nothing constitutes authentic Tradition that contradicts the canonical Scriptures or is incompatible with them.
6. The relation between Old Testament and New Testament is one of Promise to Fulfillment. Historical events and prophetic words in Israel’s experience are figures or types of realities fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. Therefore the OT is to be interpreted typologically. This involves a double movement: from past to future (type to antitype), but also from the future to the past (the antitype being proleptically present in the type). Thus Scripture is endued with a “double sense,” both literal and spiritual, in that it already contains and to some degree manifests or reveals its eschatological fulfillment.
7. Scripture, according to the patristic vision, is uniformly and integrally inspired by the Holy Spirit. Therefore it can be interpreted according to the rule of exegetical reciprocity: any obscure biblical passage can be interpreted in light of another biblical passage which is more clear, irrespective of the author, date of composition or historical circumstances.
8. Finally, to interpret Scripture properly and to discern within its depths of truth, it is necessary for the exegete to interpret it from within. Scripture, in other words, prescribes a way of life— “Christ in us” in the apostle’s terms. This means life lived in conformity with the Scriptures: with their moral injunctions, but also with their spiritual vision. We cannot truly understand the Word of God, the Holy Fathers insist, unless we make that Word our own and commit ourselves to it with faith and with love.