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Commentaries on Galatians--Philemon (Ancient Christian Texts) Hardcover – August 5, 2009
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Ambrosiaster ("Star of Ambrose") is the name given to the anonymous author of the earliest complete Latin commentary on the thirteen epistles of Paul. The commentaries were thought to have been written by Ambrose throughout the Middle Ages, but their authorship was challenged by Erasmus, whose arguments have proved decisive.
The commentaries, which serve as important witnesses to pre-Vulgate Latin versions of Paul's epistles, are noteworthy in several respects. Ambrosiaster was a careful and thoughtful interpreter, who made little use of allegory, though he employed typology judiciously. Writing during the pontificate of Damasus (366-384), he is a witness to Nicene orthodoxy and frequently comments on themes related to the Trinity, the consubstantiality of the Son, the problem of the unbelief of the Jews and the nature of human sinfulness. He had a keen eye for moral issues and often offers comments that reflect his knowledge of how the church had changed from the time of the apostles to his own day.
Here for the first time his commentaries on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon are made available in English, ably translated and edited by Gerald L. Bray.
Ancient Christian Texts are new English translations of full-length commentaries or sermon series from ancient Christian authors that allow you to study key writings of the early church fathers in a fresh way.
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About the Author
Gerald L. Bray (Ph.D., University of Paris--Sorbonne) is director of research for The Latimer Trust in London and a research professor at Samford University. He is the editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture volumes on Romans, 1-2 Corinthians and James--Jude as well as volume editor for We Believe in One God in the Ancient Christian Doctrine series.
- Publisher : IVP Academic; First edition. (August 5, 2009)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 188 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0830829040
- ISBN-13 : 978-0830829040
- Item Weight : 1.25 pounds
- Dimensions : 7 x 0.84 x 10 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #824,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ambrosiaster ("Star of Ambrose") was an anonymous author of the earliest complete Latin commentary on St. Paul's thirteen epistles. The commentary was written during the reign of Pope Damasus, which occurred from 366-384. Originally, these commentaries were attributed to St. Ambrose. However, it was Erasmus who shed doubt on the author being St. Ambrose, and he was later proven right. The Latin text differs from the Vulgate and is probably taken from the Bible version known as the Itala. In fact, it seems he was opposed to St. Jerome's efforts to revise the old Latin version. Ambrosiaster's commentaries do not search for hidden or allegorical meanings, but instead focus on the plain and simple. He is more interested in logical or literal meaning of the text. Knowing this, it clearly distinguishes him from St. Ambrose who was very interested in a higher, mystical meaning of Scripture.
At approximately 190 pages, the Commentaries on Galatians - Philemon volume is a lot thinner than I expected it to be, especially since it's counterpart is approximately 300 pages. It's not like there is a significant difference in number of Biblical chapters 45 (Romans and 1-2 Corinthians) vs 42 (Galatians-Philemon). This is not something the publisher could help, but just an observation. Each book of the Bible contains a preface by the author that range from one paragraph to one page. The commentary is verse-by-verse, meaning that each verse is followed by an explanation from Ambrosiaster on what the text means. I personally like Ambrosiaster's style/attitude. He is not above calling a group of people stupid, i.e., the Galatians, for turning their back on the true Gospel and accepting a false gospel. As in my last review, here are a couple of quotes from key verses in these Pauline epistles.
Galatians 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul is nailed to the cross of Christ because by walking in his footsteps he is not bound by any desire of the world. By living to God he appears to be dead to the world. There is nothing unclear in saying that Christ lives in the person who has been delivered from death by faith. By granting pardon for sin to someone who is worthy of death, Christ dwells in him, for it is by his help that such a person has been rescued from death.
Ephesians 2:8-10 - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
It is true that we must render all thanks to God who has given us his grace to recall sinner to live even when they are not looking for the true way. Therefore there is no reason for us to glory in ourselves, but rather in God, who has regenerated us to a heavenly birth through the faith of Christ, so that tested by the good works, which God has appointed for those who are already born again we may deserve to receive the things promised.
As one can see from these two quotes, Ambrosiaster is very intelligent and straightforward in his commentary. Though, I believe the price should be less than $60, given the size, I understand the price since it is an academic work. If you are a serious student of Biblical interpretation or interested in lesser known Latin commentaries on the works of St. Paul, this would make a great addition to your library.
The particular book sent to me was a collection of commentary writings by Ambrosiaster on Galatians-Philemon. I'm glad they made this mistake because it came in handy in a recent debate surrounding the resurgence of conversations around the ideas of hell and universalism thanks to Rob Bell's new book. Because it's hard to give a review of such a book, I'll illustrate it's worth through this story.
A few weeks ago at Scot McKnight's blog, Jesus Creed, I was reading one of the many posts on Love Wins and the ensuing conversation about hell, particularly the belief in eternal conscious torment. One particular commenter claimed that this idea and view of hell--eternal conscious torment--is a recent theological innovation. This person claimed it was the result of the Enlightenment and "modern" thinking.
As a ThM historical theology student I knew this was a highly ignorant thing to suggest and just plain wrong. Not only is the idea in Scripture, but I knew from my readings of primary sources in the early church that the church's belief in this idea of hell definitely stretches back to the patristics. I just happened to get Abrosiaster's commentary book a few days before, so I picked it up and went to 2 Thessalonians 1, where Paul comforts this early church community through their immense suffering and persecution. This is what he writes in 2 Th 1:4-10 (translation Ambrosiaster's, similar to the NIV):
"Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and afflictions which you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you are suffering--since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, which the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed."
Now look at Ambrosiaster's comments on vs 6-9:
"Since Paul says that evidence of God's righteous judgment appears both in the good and the bad he goes on to add: Since indeed God deems it just to render to everyone according to his works. What could be more just than that those who oppress good people in this world and frighten them with persecutions should in the future suffer what they inflict on others? Meanwhile, those good people will be in peace with the other saints who will come out of great tribulation and receive the eternal kingdom when Christ comes again from heaven with his heavenly host and ministering fire, to take revenge on the pagans who do no know that God is the Father of Jesus Christ and on the Jews who say they know God but do not believe the gospel of Christ which God the Father gave him to pass on to his servants. In the presence of the Lord and the glory of his majesty, fire will burn them all up, and they will pay the due penalty of eternal death. They will always be conscious and not completely unaware, for in some way the penalty itself will keep them in being until it to is consumed."
And vs 10:
"This has double meaning. Christ will come to punish the bad and glorify the good. He himself will appear bright and wonderful in those who believe in the example and faith of the apostles when they were crowned. The gospel will bear witness to them in the day of the Lord, for he will appear to be harsh toward unbelievers when they start to be afflicted by eternal punishment. The disciples' crown is their master's glory, and his truth is the punishment of unbelievers because they did not believe what was preached."
You can't get much clearer than this: patristic church leaders taught and held the belief of eternal conscious torment in hell for unbelievers.
Ambrosiaster wrote late 4th century, most likely written in the 370's before the first council of Constantinople in 381. By the end of the fourth century his commentaries had become a standard work of Latin biblical study and retained its influence even after the publication of the Vulgate. (xvi) We even know that he was read by Augustine, with several of his theological themes being traceable back to Ambrosiaster (xxi) His works were in wide circulation through the rest of the patristics and was widely admired and imitated throughout the Middle Ages, as well. (xxi)
What I like about this commentary series, particularly this work of Ambrosiaster, is it gives people in the 21st century a glimpse not only into the historical and cultural milieu of the time--such as a bit of the Arian controversy, worry over false teachers, Manichaeans, and pagan conversions of the time--but it also reminds us of what the Church has always believed--such as this example of Church teachings regarding judgment of unbelievers and eternal punishment.
As an academic I have a great interest in historical theology as it helps us understand the historical progression of the Christian faith and what factors--historical, cultural, sociological--helped influence that development. As a pastor I also have great interest in historical theology, because it reminds us of what the Church has always believed regarding what is central to the Christian faith. And given the massive upheaval in the Church right now regarding that very thing--what is central to the Christian faith--I think there is great value in books like ANCIENT CHRISTIAN TEXTS series' "Commentaries on Galatians-Philemon" by Ambrosiaster. They are highly readable translations of these original Latin and Greek texts with an introduction of the patristic father's life, theology, and legacy, along with their original translation of the text and commentary.
I would highly recommend this book and entire series for both students of history and pastors of the present in order to get a glimpse into an era long forgotten for the sake of our 21st century world.