Monday, February 17, 2020

Eusebius, EH.6.23-25: Origen's Commentaries & Canon

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 6, chapters 23-25. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters describe Origen’s various commentaries on Scripture and on the canon of Scripture.

Chapter 23 notes that Origen’s commentaries on Scripture were instigated by his friend and patron Ambrose of Alexandria. Ambrose provided him with seven scribes and seven copyists, as well as girls “skilled in penmanship,” to write down his commentaries, in turn, as he dictated them.

Mention is made of Pontianus succeeding Urban in Rome, and Zebennus following Philetus in Antioch.

It is noted again how Origen came to Palestine and was ordained an elder in Caesarea, and how this led to controversy.

Chapter 24 traces various of Origen’s writings, noting how some were began while he was in Alexandria and completed after the left. These include his Expositions on the Gospel according to John and On Genesis. Other works are noted as having been completed in Alexandria, including his commentaries on the first 25 Psalms and on Lamentations, as well as the works On the Resurrection, De Principiis, and Stromateis.
Chapter 25 offers insights on Origen’s understanding of the canon.

It is noted that in his exposition on Psalm 1 he states that the OT consisted of 22 books, matching the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. A list is then given of these books, with a transcription of their Hebrew titles. Beyond these, there is mentioned the Maccabees.

Next it is noted that in his commentary on Matthew, he describes the four canonical Gospels, written in the order of Matthew-Mark-Luke-John and affirms the traditional view of their authorship.

And in his expositions on John, he discusses the NT epistles of Paul, and the epistles of Peter. It is noted that 1 Peter was acknowledged as genuinely Petrine, but some doubted the authenticity of 2 Peter. John is credited with the Apocalypse (Revelation) and 1 John, but questions are raised about the authenticity of 2-3 John. No mention is made of James or Jude.

Origen is cited as saying that Hebrews did not have Paul’s typical “rudeness of speech.” Origen said the thoughts of Hebrews were Pauline but not the style. He offers his famous assessment: “But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.” He also conveys traditions that suggest Clement or Luke as the author of Hebrews.


These chapters are helpful in sketching Origen as a Scripture commentator under the support of Ambrose of Alexandria. Especially valuable are his insights on canon in approving the standard Jewish OT canon (without the apocrypha) and the traditional NT canon, with questions raised about 2 Peter, and 2-3 John, while James and Jude are not mentioned. Of interest as well are his comments on the authorship of Hebrews.


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