Exploring the limits of literal exegesis: Augustine's reading of Gen 1:26

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Abstract

The author aims to examine Augustine's understanding of the literal and figurative approaches to interpreting scripture, using a single verse, Gen 1:26, as a lens to view his changing understanding of what “literal” meant over the course of thirty years of commentaries on the book of Genesis. In his earlier commentaries, he seeks to redeem the verse from the Manichaean charge of anthropomorphism by giving it an allegorical reading. Some years later, now ordained and on the road to being made a bishop, Augustine attempts a literal reading in the Incomplete Commentary on Genesis. In the complete Literal Commentary on Genesis 3.19, he furnishes a Trinitarian reading of “Let us make humankind to our image and likeness”. By the completion of his great manual on exegesis, De doctrina christiana, he displays a more complex attitude towards the interpretation of scripture: the reader has to determine whether a verse is meant literally or figuratively (or both).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-155
Number of pages12
JournalPacifica
Volume19
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Augustine of HIppo
  • exegesis
  • Christian scripture

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