Orthodox Rules of Biblical Interpretation

Following are the Nine Rules of Orthodox Biblical Interpretation promulgated in 1786 by Platon, Metropolitan of Moscow, rector of the Moscow Ecclesiastic Academy:

1.) Open the literal meaning, and where it is dark because of translation or an ambiguity in the language, explain it in such a way that no passage is left which students cannot understand, apart from the very rare texts which are too complex to comprehend.

2.) Interpret spiritual and mysterious meanings, especially in the Old Testament, in those passages where such meanings are transparently concealed. In doing this, one has to be cautious so as not to do this with force. Thus, one ought not to seek out a secret meaning where there is none (or where one is forced, as is noticeable with many interpreters), but where links and the parallel passages follow directly from the words. Interpret spiritual and mysterious readings in agreement with the best interpreters.

3.) For a better understanding of dark passages, find and link the parallel passages, for this will make comprehension easier, since what is said in one place is often said ambiguously and briefly in another place, and despite the similarity between the two texts, the one differs in terms of a more detailed and clearer account.

4.) In interpreting Scripture, do not forget to conclude with the moral teachings flowing from the text. Formulate it with great regard.

5.) In interpreting the books of the Old Testament Prophets, indicate clearly when and in which circumstances their prophecies were fulfilled in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

6.) Where passages of Holy Scripture seem to contradict each other, explain these texts in agreement with published sources that contain general agreement.

7.) Wherever passages are found from which some false conclusions were drawn and which subsequently led to schisms or heresies, one is obliged to clearly indicate the right and true meaning of these passages, and to invalidate the opinions and arguments of heretics and schismatics.

8.) Where passages of Scripture are found to which human wisdom might make objections, such objections must not be hidden. Instead, allow them to be seen in a clear and satisfactory form.

9.) On the part of the teacher, it is critical to consult the Church Fathers, to read scrupulously the best Church teachers and interpretors, to know Church history well, and, above all, to beseech often and diligently the Father of Light to open the eyes toward understanding the wonders in His Law.

Adapted from Alexander Negrov, Biblical Interpretation in the Russian Orthodox Church (Mohr Siebeck, 2008), pp 61-62.


13 thoughts on “Orthodox Rules of Biblical Interpretation”

  1. It really is! It’s more of a history of biblical interpretation in the Russian Orthodox Church, starting with the Kievan period and running up through the Synodal period, to 1917, with mention of stuff going on a little bit later. So it’s more of a history than a detailed investigation. The author is a former Orthodox, now Protestant, so there are occasional slips in his objectivity, but overall he’s remarkably objective in describing the development. Somewhat charming is his obvious Russian origins: there are some odd misuses of indefinite and definite articles! It’s a very good book. I’ll write a longer description when I’m done. I’m in the middle of a chapter which is a case study of Archbishop Vasili Bogdashevskii. Very interesting!

  2. No problem. I hope you enjoy it. I just ordered by own translation from Lulu.com as a birthday present from my wife to me. I have to say lulu did a good job. Not great, but not bad either. Once I finish Ezekiel I’ll send it to you. Take care.

    God always bless.

  3. Kev…

    Does the author live in the USA or in Russia? Is he native Russian from the rodina or is he a diaspora Russian? These are not unimportant. In the rodina, many of those turned astray by the Proddies or Papists are returning to the Church.


  4. I’m not sure, Vara. I’ll have to look in the preface when I get home. My impression was that he’s no longer in Russia. That could be mistaken, of course.

    He’s obviously well-versed in Orthodox theology, and presents it without detraction. Only in one of the earlier chapters did I detect a mild apologetics for Protestant Biblical scholarship, such as it is.

    It’s a very good book. I’ll write a full review on it soon. As you know, much of Orthodox writing before the Revolution occurred in a plethora of theological journals rather than in monograph form. These have generally been ignored by those researching the development of today’s Russian Orthodox Biblical Studies. Negrov has thankfully not followed suit, and has based his investigations on those various journals. So he must’ve done a great deal of research in Russian libraries, as I’m sure most of these resources aren’t available elsewhere. It’s fascinating stuff!

  5. Vara, I finally remembered to check the Preface. The book is the result of his doctoral work at University of Pretoria, and the Preface is closed with “St Petersburg, 2007”, and he’s certainly in Russia now. There are no details of his position there or on the dust jacket, but a quick search brings up that he is the Rector of the “St Petersburg Christian University”, “one of the leading Evangelical academic institutions in Russia” (see here, where there is also a photo of the author). So, he would seem to be a native Russian, returned to Russia after studies abroad (including, according to the Preface, a stint as a fellow at SVS!).

  6. I will be going to Indonesia soon with several others for an OCMC short-term mission at the end of this month. One of the topics that I am to teach is “The Bible: Comprehension, Interpretation, and Understanding.” I am a former Evangelical that earned a Fuller Seminary M.Div. Any suggestions for me from any of you out there?

    Here’s my email address: rccij2013@gmail.com

    1. Unfortunately, I only just saw your message, Richard. It’s likely too late to suggest anything. Orthodox interpretation is displayed in the hymnography, especially, even moreso than in direct commentary (which is sparse, for the Old Testament books especially). Close attention must be paid to the Septuagint’s readings, which often differ quite a bit from the Masoretic Hebrew ones. Then the usage of various passages in various feasts, in conjunction with a reading of the hymns for that day, will give some better clues to understanding how each passage was read. Additionally, information on various of the Odes may be gained from any of the canons composed for use, as they were formerly intended to be a sort of poetic commentary on the Odes (all of which are Biblical, mostly Old Testament, passages). I’m unaware of a comprehensive treatment, but with the right books at hand, one would be able to fruitfully investigate.

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