Reading: Origen's Method Of Biblical Interpretation

This is a little excerpt from Origen's Commentary of Matthew. I have interposed a few comments along the way.

Selections from Origen's Commentary on Matthew 

The material which follows has been drawn from Christian Classics Ethereal Library ( In it we find the pastoral thinking of the Alexandrian teacher. After so many centuries (these were written in about 260) these words still speak to us with a teacher/pastor's love. 

1.  The Parable of the Tares:  the House of Jesus.

"Then He left the multitudes and went into His house, and His disciples came unto Him saying, Declare to us the parable of the tares of the field.” When Jesus then is with the multitudes, He is not in His house, for the multitudes are outside of the house, and it is an act which springs from His love of men to leave the house and to go away to those who are not able to come to Him.  Now, having discoursed sufficiently to the multitudes in parables, He sends them away and goes to His own house, where His disciples, who did not abide with those whom He had sent away, come to Him.  And as many as are more genuine hearers of Jesus first follow Him, then having inquired about His abode, are permitted to see it, and, having come, see and abide with Him, all for that day, and perhaps some of them even longer.  And, in my opinion, such things are indicated in the Gospel according to John in these words, "On the morrow again John was standing and two of his disciples.” And in order to explain the fact that of those who were permitted to go with Jesus and see His abode, the one who was more eminent becomes also an Apostle, these words are added:  "One of the two that heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.” And if then, unlike the multitudes whom He sends away, we wish to hear Jesus and go to the house and receive something better than the multitudes, let us become friends of Jesus, so that as His disciples we may come to Him when He goes into the house, and having come may inquire about the explanation of the parable, whether of the tares of the field, or of any other.  And in order that it may be more accurately understood what is represented by the house of Jesus, let someone collect from the Gospels whatsoever things are spoken about the house of Jesus, and what things were spoken or done by Him in it; for all the passages collected together will convince anyone who applies himself to this reading that the letters of the Gospel are not absolutely simple as some suppose, but have become simple to the simple by a divine concession; but for those who have the will and the power to hear them more acutely there are concealed things wise and worthy of the Word of God.

So in the first paragraph of this section, Origen points out that there are various levels of intimacy with Jesus. We do well to ponder that! So many of us can become too busy to be close to Jesus and welcomed into his house.

2.  Exposition of the Parable.

"After these things He answered and said to them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man.”  Though we have already, in previous sections, according to our ability discussed these matters, none the less shall we now say what is in harmony with them, even if there is reasonable ground for another explanation.  And consider now, if in addition to what we have already recounted, you can otherwise take the good seed to be the children of the kingdom, because whatsoever good things are sown in the human soul, these are the offspring of the kingdom of God and have been sown by God the Word who was in the beginning with God, so that wholesome words about anything are children of the kingdom.  But while men are asleep who do not act according to the command of Jesus, "Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation,” the devil on the watch sows what are called tares--that is, evil opinions--over and among what are called by some natural conceptions, even the good seeds which are from the Word.  And according to this the whole world might be called a field, and not the Church of God only, for in the whole world the Son of man sowed the good seed, but the wicked one tares,--that is, evil words,--which, springing from wickedness, are children of the evil one.  And at the end of things, which is called "the consummation of the age,”5167 there will of necessity be a harvest, in order that the angels of God who have been appointed for this work may gather up the bad opinions that have grown upon the soul, and overturning them may give them over to fire which is said to burn, that they may be consumed.  And so the angels and servants of the Word will gather from all the kingdom of Christ all things that cause a stumbling-block to souls and reasonings that create iniquity, which they will scatter and cast into the burning furnace of fire.  Then those who become conscious that they have received the seeds of the evil one in themselves, because of their having been asleep, shall wail and, as it were, be angry against themselves; for this is the "gnashing of teeth.” Wherefore, also, in the Psalms it is said, "They gnashed upon me with their teeth.” Then above all "shall the righteous shine,” no longer differently as at the first, but all "as one sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Then, as if to indicate that there was indeed a hidden meaning, perhaps, in all that is concerned with the explanation of the parable, perhaps most of all in the saying, "Then shall the righteous shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” the Savior adds, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear,” thereby teaching those who think that in the exposition, the parable has been set forth with such perfect clearness that it can be understood by the vulgar, that even the things connected with the interpretation of the parable stand in need of explanation.

Origen in paragraph two begins to lay out for us his understanding of the interpretation of the Parable of the Tares. Notice that at the end of the paragraph, he says that things connected with the proper interpretation need to be explained. That is what he goes on to do in the paragraphs which follow this one. We are going to skip now to paragraph 5.


5.  The Field and the Treasure Interpreted.

And here we must inquire separately as to the field, and separately as to the treasure hidden in it, and in what way the man who has found this hidden treasure goes away with joy and sells all that he has in order to buy that field; and we must also inquire--what are the things which he sells.  The field, indeed, seems to me according to these things to be the Scripture, which was planted with what is manifest in the words of the history, and the law, and the prophets, and the rest of the thoughts; for great and varied is the planting of the words in the whole Scripture; but the treasure hidden in the field is the thoughts concealed and lying under that which is manifest, "of wisdom hidden in a mystery,” "even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.” But another might say that the field is that which is verily full, which the Lord blessed, the Christ of God; but the treasure hidden in it is the things said to have been "hidden in Christ” by Paul, who says about Christ, "in whom are the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.”  The heavenly things, therefore, even the kingdom of heaven, as in a figure it is written in the Scriptures--which are the kingdom of heaven, or Christ--Himself the king of the ages, are the kingdom of heaven which is likened to a treasure hidden in the field.

You might have noticed as you read this that Origen is drawing us toward an understanding of the Scriptures that include what is called a mystical interpretation - that is how do we see Christ in the pages of the Word of God?  Origen was a teacher who worked with the idea that there are three levels in Scripture. The first is the literal. That is what the text says as a work of literature. Second is the moral or mystical in which we read the Scriptures to see in them the person and work of Jesus as the Word of God become flesh to be the Savior of humanity. The third level is the allegorical. Origen seems to have preferred this level since it gave him the ability to freely interpret many of the passages in the Scriptures as stories of the relationship between God and his people, between Christ and the Church, his bride.


6.  The Exposition Continued.

And at this point you will inquire, whether the kingdom of heaven is likened only to the treasure hidden in the field, so that we are to think of the field as different from the kingdom, or is likened to the whole of this treasure hidden in the field, so that the kingdom of heaven contains according to the similitude both the field and the treasure hidden in the field.  Now a man who comes to the field, whether to the Scriptures or to the Christ who is constituted both from things manifest and from things hidden, finds the hidden treasure of wisdom whether in Christ or in the Scriptures.  For, going round to visit the field and searching the Scriptures and seeking to understand the Christ, he finds the treasure in it; and, having found it, he hides it, thinking that it is not without danger to reveal to everybody the secret meanings of the Scriptures, or the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ.  And, having hidden it, he goes away, working and devising how he shall buy the field, or the Scriptures, that he may make them his own possession, receiving from the people of God the oracles of God with which the Jews were first entrusted. And when the man taught by Christ has bought the field, the kingdom of God which, according to another parable, is a vineyard, "is taken from them and is given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,”--to him who in faith has bought the field, as the fruit of his having sold all that he had, and no longer keeping by him anything that was formerly his; for they were a source of evil to him.  And you will give the same application, if the field containing the hidden treasure be Christ, for those who give up all things and follow Him, have, as it were in another way, sold their possessions, in order that, by having sold and surrendered them, and having received in their place from God--their helper--a noble resolution, they may purchase, at great cost worthy of the field, the field containing the treasure hidden in itself.

This is just a little taste of the method of Origen in his work as interpreter of Scripture. His works are worthy of our consideration!

Last modified: Thursday, August 9, 2018, 1:10 PM