Context, Context, Context: Athanasius’ Biblical Interpretation in Contra Arianos

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Abstract

This article examines Athanasius’ argument in his work Contra Arianos, focusing on the reasons for the order in which he addresses the biblical texts he considers. While the choice of which texts to discuss is dictated by the need to consider those texts that were evidently important in the Arians’ own exegetical arguments, the order in which Athanasius discusses them derives from his desire to begin with biblical texts that clearly describe the whole sweep of biblical redemption. Texts such as Philippians 2:5-11 and Hebrews 1-2 describe in some detail the movements of humiliation and exaltation which the Son undergoes as he becomes man, and thus these texts demonstrate the need to apply any given assertion about the Son either to his eternal existence as God or to his temporal existence as man. In such texts, the literary context-the subject of the passage itself-explicitly describes the broader redemptive context. As a result, these texts constitute the starting point from which to develop interpretive principles applicable to other biblical texts in which the redemptive context is not as obvious. The article concludes with reflection on the significance of Athanasius’ starting point: the story of redemption begins not with the Gospels or even with Genesis 1, but with the eternal relationship of Father to Son, a relationship we were created to share and redeemed that we might share it anew.

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