Preaching the Word with John Chrysostom (Bray)

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Puritanboard Clerk
Bray, Gerald. Preaching the Word with Chrysostom. Lexham Press.

If one were to survey Reformed and evangelicals' knowledge of church fathers, one would find Augustine at the top. Some might have heard of Athanasius. Chrysostom might get some mention because of his straightforward approach to the Bible. Gerald Bray explains why in this volume. It is a survey, perhaps even a snapshot, of Chrysostom’s scope and teaching.

Although John Chrysostom preached to the common man and largely avoided metaphysical speculations, it is a mistake to think he was a simple man. Like many of his time, he received a sophisticated education, even if he downplayed it at times. To him, Greek education was deficient in two respects: the philosophers were ignorant of true essence, and they were unable to communicate it to the common man.

Evangelicals find Chrysostom appealing because of his approach to the Bible. In his own context, the school in Alexandria favored the allegorical approach. By contrast, the school in Antioch, the school close to Chrysostom, favored a more literal approach. To the degree that the Antiochene school praised the literal and the Alexandrian the allegorical, Chrysostom, himself from Antioch, took a middle position. He did stress the literal, but he does not seem to have adopted the Christological positions of the Antiochene school.

On Creation

On Genesis 1, John takes “without form and void” to refer to the world as invisible, meaning without light. The firmament is the boundary line of the cosmic order. Bray does not develop the idea, but this sounds somewhat like Meredith Kline’s “two-register” view of heaven. On the creation of man John breaks with Greek thought and Christian interpretation, suggesting that “image” refers not to being but to function. In this he anticipated modern exegesis. On the other hand, he did not realize that image is synonymous with likeness. Chrysostom also gives a balanced perspective on the subordination debate. While Eve might be subordinate to Adam, she nevertheless shared in Adam’s task of subduing creation. She did not take a backseat.

Interpreting the Gospels
The fourth gospel makes a clear distinction between the being of God and his acts, safeguarding the pre-existence of the Son. Regarding salvation, John, like most of his Eastern contemporaries, likely held to synergist views on grace, but perhaps not for reasons we think he did. God invites men to salvation so they, too, can participate in the battle against the devil, even if the triumph is God’s alone.


Bray, rightly, I think, suggested that John’s christology was closer to Alexandria than to Antioch. I wish he would have given examples. I agree with Bray that Chrysostom was closer to Alexandria, and I suspect, but can only suspect at this point, that some of Chrysostom’s statements reflect a later miaphysitism than a strictly Chalcedonian approach. If Antioch leaned Nestorian and Alexandria miaphysite, and if John held to the Antiochene approach, then why is his Christology the way it is and how would that affect later understandings of Chalcedon’s two-natures doctrine?
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