IssuesWithJohn.com
Origen’s Commentary on John

Origen’s Commentary on John

Origen’s Commentary on John: Highlights

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215 AD) was a Christian theologian and philosopher who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. A convert to Christianity, he was an educated man who was familiar with classical Greek philosophy and literature. According to Eusebius (the Christian historian of the fourth century), Clement of Alexandria spoke of John writing a “Spiritual Gospel” after Matthew, Mark, and Luke had already written about the “outward” matters related to Jesus. (Ecclesiastical History 6.14.7)  What could have Clement meant by “Spiritual” in contrast to the “outward” matters related to Jesus, other than meaning that John was intended to be more symbolic rather than a historical narrative? If Clement gives us any doubt to what contrast was being made, his successor, Origen, clarifies in the most explicit way in his commentary on John. 

Among Clement’s pupils were Origen. Origen of Alexandria (c. 185 – c. 253) was an early Christian scholar and theologian. He was a prolific writer who wrote roughly 2,000 treatises in multiple branches of theology. He has been described as “the greatest genius the early church ever produced.”  Origen, one of the most prolific church Fathers of the third century, clearly believed that John’s portrait of Jesus was more symbolic than a historical narrative, as elaborated in his commentary. Notable quotations are as follows:

 

 
 

THE DISCREPANCY BETWEEN JOHN AND THE FIRST THREE GOSPELS AT THIS PART OF THE NARRATIVE, LITERALLY READ, THE NARRATIVES CANNOT BE HARMONIZED: THEY MUST BE INTERPRETED SPIRITUALLY…. The truth of these matters must lie in that which is seen by the mind. If the discrepancy between the Gospels is not solved, we must give up our trust in the Gospels, as being true and written by a divine spirit, or as records worthy of credence, for both these characters are held to belong to these works. Those who accept the four Gospels, and who do not consider that their apparent discrepancy is to be solved anagogically (by mystical interpretation), will have to clear up the difficulty, raised above, about the forty days of the temptation, a period for which no room can be found in any way in John’s narrative… (Origen, Commentary on John, Book X, Ch 2) 

 

 

WHAT WE ARE TO THINK OF THE DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT GOSPELS… He, then, who takes the writings of these men for history, or for a representation of real things by a historical image, and who supposes God to be within certain limits in space, and to be unable to present to several persons in different places several visions of Himself at the same time, or to be making several speeches at the same moment, he will deem it impossible that our four writers are all speaking truth…  (Origen, Commentary on John, Book X, Ch 3)

 

 

SCRIPTURE CONTAINS MANY CONTRADICTIONS AND MANY STATEMENTS WHICH ARE NOT LITERALLY TRUE, BUT MUST BE READ SPIRITUALLY AND MYSTICALLY… In the case I have supposed where the historians desire to teach us by an image what they have seen in their mind, their meaning would be found, if the four were wise, to exhibit no disagreement; and we must understand that with the four Evangelists it is not otherwise. They made full use for their purpose of things done by Jesus in the exercise of His wonderful and extraordinary power; they use in the same way His sayings, and in some places they tack on to their writing, with language apparently implying things of sense, things made manifest to them in a purely intellectual way. I do not condemn them if they even sometimes dealt freely with things which to the eye of history happened differently, and changed them so as to subserve the mystical aims they had in view; so as to speak of a thing which happened in a certain place, as if it had happened in another, or of what took place at a certain time, as if it had taken place at another time, and to introduce into what was spoken in a certain way some changes of their own. They proposed to speak the truth where it was possible both materially and spiritually, and where this was not possible it was their intention to prefer the spiritual to the material. The spiritual truth was often preserved, as one might say, in the material falsehood… So much I have said of the apparent discrepancies in the Gospels, and of my desire to have them treated in the way of spiritual interpretation. (Origen, Commentary on John, Book X, Ch 4) 

 

SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE PASSOVER… A few points may be added in connection with the doctrines now under consideration, though it would require a special discussion in many volumes to treat of all the mystical statements about the law, and specially of those connected with the festivals, and more particularly still with the passover… For we ought not to suppose that historical things are types of historical things, and material things of material, but that material things are typical of spiritual things, and historical things of intellectual. (Origen, Commentary on John, Book X, Ch 13) 

 

DISCREPANCY OF THE GOSPEL NARRATIVES CONNECTED WITH THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE… Three of the Gospels place these incidents, which we supposed to be the same as those narrated by John, in connection with one visit of the Lord to Jerusalem. While John, on the other hand, places them in connection with two visits which are widely separated from each other and between which were various journeys of the Lord to other places. I conceive it to be impossible for those who admit nothing more than the history in their interpretation to show that these discrepant statements are in harmony with each other. If any one considers that we have not given a sound exposition, let him write a reasoned rejoinder to this declaration of ours(Origen, Commentary on John, Book X, Ch 15) 

 

 

THE STORY OF THE PURGING OF THE TEMPLE SPIRITUALIZED. TAKEN LITERALLY, IT PRESENTS SOME VERY DIFFICULT AND UNLIKELY FEATURES…  But I believe that in these words He indicated also a deeper truth, and that we may regard these occurrences as a symbol of the fact that the service of that temple was not any longer to be carried on by the priests in the way of material sacrifices, and that the thee was coming when the law could no longer be observed, however much the Jews according to the flesh desired it… that Jesus had come and had used His scourge to the people, to be dissolved and poured out, the sacred office (episcopate) being transferred to those from the Gentiles who believed, and the kingdom of God being taken away from the Jews and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits of it… If any one objects to this interpretation of the passage and says that it is only pure animals that are mentioned in it, we must say that the passage would otherwise have an unlikely air… To think, moreover, of the Son of God taking the small cords in His hands and plaiting a scourge out of them for this driving out from the temple, does it not bespeak audacity and temerity and even some measure of lawlessness?  (Origen, Commentary on John, Book X, Ch 16) 

 

 “If God set in the Church apostles and prophets and evangelists (gospellers), pastors and teachers, we must first enquire what was the office of the evangelist, and mark that it is not only to narrate how the Saviour cured a man who was blind from his birth, or raised up a dead man who was already stinking, or to state what extraordinary works he wrought; and the office of the evangelist being thus defined, we shall not hesitate to find Gospel in such discourse also as is not narrative but hortatory and intended to strengthen belief in the mission of Jesus.” (Origen, Commentary on John, Book I, Ch 5) 
 
THE NAME OF THE PLACE WHERE JOHN BAPTIZED IS NOT BETHANY, AS IN MOST COPIES, BUT BETHABARA. PROOF OF THIS. ATTENTION IS TO BE PAID TO THE PROPER NAMES IN SCRIPTURE, WHICH ARE OFTEN WRITTEN INACCURATELY, AND ARE OF IMPORTANCE FOR INTERPRETATION… We are convinced, however, that we should not read “Bethany,” but “Bethabara.” We have visited the places to enquire as to the footsteps of Jesus and His disciples, and of the prophets…Thus we see that he who aims at a complete understanding of the Holy Scriptures must not neglect the careful examination of the proper names in it. (Origen, Commentary on John, Book VI, Ch 5) 

About Origen

Here follows part of the account of the life of Origen by Dr. Crombie, professor of biblical criticism in St. Mary’s College, St. Andrew:

Origen, surnamed Adamantinus, was born in all probability at Alexandria, about the year 185 a.d. There seems no reason to doubt that his parents were Christian at the time of his birth. His father Leonides was probably, as has been conjectured, one of the many teachers of rhetoric or grammar who abounded in that city of Grecian culture, and appears to have been a man of decided piety. Under his superintendence, the youthful Origen was not only educated in the various branches of Grecian learning, but was also required daily to commit to memory and to repeat portions of Scripture prescribed to him by his father, and while under this training, the spirit of inquiry into the meaning of Scripture, which afterward formed so striking a feature in the literary character of the great Alexandrine, began to display itself. Eusebius relates that he was not satisfied with the plain and obvious meaning of the text, but sought to penetrate into its deeper signification, and caused his father trouble by the questions which he put to him regarding the sense of particular passages of the Holy Writ. 

The character of Origen is singularly pure and noble; for his moral qualities are as remarkable as his intellectual gifts. The history of the Church records the names of few whose patience and meekness under unmerited suffering were more conspicuous than his. The impression that his whole personality made upon those who came within the sphere of his influence is evidenced in a remarkable degree by the admiring affection displayed towards him by his friend Ambrose and his pupil Gregory. Nor was it friends alone that he so impressed. To him belongs the rare honor of convincing heretics of their errors, and of leading them back to the Church; a result which must have been due as much to the gentleness and earnestness of his Christian character, as to the prodigious reaming, marvelous acuteness, and logical power, which entitle him to be regarded as the greatest of the Fathers. 

It is singular, indeed, that a charge of heresy should have been brought, not only after his death, but even during his life, against one who rendered such eminent services to the cause of orthodox Christianity. But this charge must be considered in reference to the times when he lived and wrote. No General Council had yet been held to settle authoritatively the doctrine of the Church upon any of those great questions, the discussion of which convulsed the Christian world during the two following centuries; and in these circumstances, greater latitude was naturally permissible than would have been justifiable at a later period. Moreover, a mind so speculative as that of Origen, and so engrossed with the deepest and most difficult problems of human thought, must sometimes have expressed itself in a way liable to be misunderstood. But no doubt the chief cause of his being regarded as a heretic is to be found in the haste with which he allowed many of his writings to be published. Had he considered more carefully what he intended to bring before the public eye, less occasion would have been furnished to objectors, and the memory of one of the greatest scholars and most devoted Christians that the world has ever seen would have been freed, to a great extent at least, from the reproach of heresy?

Origen was a very voluminous author. Jerome says that he wrote more than any individual could read; and Epiphanius relates that his writings amounted to 6,000 volumes, by which statement we are probably to understand that every individual treatise, large or small, including each of the numerous homilies, was counted as a separate volume.

Origen, Commentary on John, Book I Excerpts 

Source: Origen Commentary on John, Book I, Roberts-Donaldson English Translation, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/origen-john1.html

5. ALL SCRIPTURE IS GOSPEL, BUT THE GOSPELS ARE DISTINGUISHED ABOVE OTHER SCRIPTURES

“Here, however, someone may object… and may say that the Acts and the letters of the Apostles came after the Gospels… To this, we must reply that it is the conviction of men who are wise in Christ, who have profited by those epistles which are current, and who see them to be vouched for by the testimonies deposited in the law and the prophets, that the apostolic writings are to be pronounced wise and worthy of belief, and that they have great authority, but that they are not on the same level with that “Thus sayeth the Lord Almighty.”

Consider on this point the language of St. Paul. When he declares that “Every Scripture is inspired of God and profitable,” does he include his own writings? Or does he not include his dictum, “I say, and not the Lord,” and “So I ordain in all the churches,” and “What things I suffered at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra,” and similar things which he writes in virtue of his own authority, and which do not quite possess the character of words flowing from divine inspiration…

If God set in the Church apostles and prophets and evangelists (gospellers), pastors and teachers, we must first inquire what was the office of the evangelist, and mark that it is not only to narrate how the Savior cured a man who was blind from his birth or raised up a dead man who was already stinking, or to state what extraordinary works he wrought, and the office of the evangelist being thus defined, we shall not hesitate to find Gospel in such discourse also as is not narrative but hortatory and intended to strengthen belief in the mission of Jesus.”

Thus, the Savior says, “Call no man Master upon the earth;” while the Apostle says that Masters have been appointed in the Church. These latter accordingly will not be Masters in the strict sense of the dictum of the Gospel. In the same way, the Gospel in the Epistles will not extend to every word of them when it is compared with the narrative of Jesus’ actions and sufferings, and discourses. No: the Gospel is the first fruits of all Scripture, and to these first fruits of the Scriptures we devote the first fruits of all those actions of ours which we trust to see turn out as we desire.

6. THE FOURFOLD GOSPEL. JOHN’S THE FIRST FRUITS OF THE FOUR. QUALIFICATIONS NECESSARY FOR INTERPRETING IT.

What a mind, then, must we have to enable us to interpret in a worthy manner this work (John), though it is committed to the earthly treasure-house of common speech, of writing which any passer-by can read, and which can be heard when read aloud by anyone who lends to it his bodily ears? What shall we say of this work? He who is accurately to apprehend what it contains should be able to say with truth, “We have the mind of Christ, that we may know those things which are bestowed on us by God.”

Origen, Commentary on John, Book VI Excerpts

Source: Origen Commentary on John, Book VI, Roberts-Donaldson English Translation, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/origen-john6.html

24. THE NAME OF THE PLACE WHERE JOHN BAPTIZED IS NOT BETHANY, AS IN MOST COPIES, BUT BETHABARA. PROOF OF THIS. ATTENTION IS TO BE PAID TO THE PROPER NAMES IN SCRIPTURE, WHICH ARE OFTEN WRITTEN INACCURATELY, AND ARE OF IMPORTANCE FOR INTERPRETATION.

“These things were done in Bethabara, beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.” We are aware of the reading which is found in almost all the copies, “These things were done in Bethany.” This appears, moreover, to have been the reading at an earlier time; and in Heracleon we read “Bethany.” We are convinced, however, that we should not read “Bethany,” but “Bethabara.” We have visited the places to inquire as to the footsteps of Jesus and His disciples, and of the prophets. Now, Bethany, as the same evangelist tells us, was the town of Lazarus, and of Martha and Mary; it is fifteen stadia from Jerusalem, and the river Jordan is about a hundred and eighty stadia distant from it. Nor is there any other place of the same name in the neighbourhood of the Jordan, but they say that Bethabara is pointed out on the banks of the Jordan, and that John is said to have baptized there. The etymology of the name, too, corresponds with the baptism of him who made ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him; for it yields the meaning “House of preparation,” while Bethany means “House of obedience.” Where else was it fitting that he should baptize, who was sent as a messenger before the face of the Christ, to prepare His way before Him, but at the House of preparation? And what more fitting home for Mary, who chose the good part, which was not taken away from her, and for Martha, who was cumbered for the reception of Jesus, and for their brother, who is called the friend of the Savior, than Bethany, the House of obedience? …
 
Thus we see that he who aims at a complete understanding of the Holy Scriptures must not neglect the careful examination of the proper names in it. In the matter of proper names the Greek copies are often incorrect, and in the Gospels one might be misled by their authority. 

Origen, Commentary on John, Book X Excerpts

Source: Origen Commentary on John, Book X, Roberts-Donaldson English Translation, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/origen-john10.html

2. THE DISCREPANCY BETWEEN JOHN AND THE FIRST THREE GOSPELS AT THIS PART OF THE NARRATIVE, LITERALLY READ, THE NARRATIVES CANNOT BE HARMONIZED: THEY MUST BE INTERPRETED SPIRITUALLY.

The truth of these matters must lie in that which is seen by the mind. If the discrepancy between the Gospels is not solved, we must give up our trust in the Gospels, as being true and written by a divine spirit, or as records worthy of credence, for both these characters are held to belong to these works. Those who accept the four Gospels, and who do not consider that their apparent discrepancy is to be solved anagogically (by mystical interpretation), will have to clear up the difficulty, raised above, about the forty days of the temptation, a period for which no room can be found in any way in John’s narrative; and they will also have to tell us when it was that the Lord came to Capernaum. If it was after the six days of the period of His baptism, the sixth being that of the marriage at Cans of Galilee, then it is clear that the temptation never took place, and that He never was at Nazara, and that John was not yet delivered up. Now, after Capernaum, where He abode not many days, the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and He went up to Jerusalem, where He cast the sheep and oxen out of the temple, and poured out the small change of the bankers. In Jerusalem, too, it appears that Nicodemus, the ruler and Pharisee, first came to Him by night, and heard what we may read in the Gospel. “After these things, Jesus came, and His disciples, into the land of Judaea, and there He tarried with them and baptized, at the same time at which John also was baptizing in AEnon near Salim, because there were many waters there, and they came and were baptized; for John was not yet cast into prison.” On this occasion, too, there was a questioning on the part of John’s disciples with the Jews about purification, and they came to John, saying of the Savior. “Behold, He baptizeth, and all come to Him.” They had heard words from the Baptist, the exact tenor of which it is better to take from Scripture itself. Now, if we ask when Christ was first in Capernaum, our respondents, if they follow the words of Matthew, and of the other two, will say, After the temptation, when, “leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea.” But how can they show both the statements to be true, that of Matthew and Mark, that it was because He heard that John was delivered up that He departed into Galilee, and that of John, found there, after a number of other transactions, subsequent to His stay at Capernaum, after His going to Jerusalem, and His journey from there to Judaea, that John was not yet cast into prison, but was baptizing in AEnon near Salim? There are many other points on which the careful student of the Gospels will find that their narratives do not agree; and these we shall place before the reader, according to our power, as they occur. The student, staggered at the consideration of these things, will either renounce the attempt to find all the Gospels true, and not venturing to conclude that all our information about our Lord is untrustworthy, will choose at random one of them to be his guide; or he will accept the four, and will consider that their truth is not to be sought for in the outward and material letter.

3. WHAT WE ARE TO THINK OF THE DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT GOSPELS.

We must, however, try to obtain some notion of the intention of the Evangelists in such matters, and we direct ourselves to this. Suppose there are several men who, by the spirit, see God, and know His words addressed to His saints, and His presence which He vouchsafes to them, appearing to them at chosen times for their advancement. There are several such men, and they are in different places, and the benefits they receive from above vary in shape and character. And let these men report, each of them separately, what he sees in spirit about God and His words, and His appearances to His saints, so that one of them speaks of God’s appearances and words and acts to one righteous man in such a place, and another about other oracles and great works of the Lord, and a third of something else than what the former two have dealt with. And let there be a fourth, doing with regard to some particular matter something of the same kind as these three. And let the four agree with each other about something the Spirit has suggested to them all, and let them also make brief reports of other matters besides that one; then their narratives will fall out something on this wise: God appeared to such a one at such a time and in such a place, and did to him thus and thus; as if He had appeared to him in such a form, and had led him by the hand to such a place, and then done to him thus and thus. The second will report that God appeared at the very time of the foresaid occurrences, in a certain town, to a person who is named, a second person, and in a place far removed from that of the former account, and he will report a different set of words spoken at the same time to this second person. And let the same be supposed to be the case with the third and with the fourth. And let them, as we said, agree, these witnesses who report true things about God, and about His benefits conferred on certain men, let them agree with each other in some of the narratives they report. He, then, who takes the writings of these men for history, or for a representation of real things by a historical image, and who supposes God to be within certain limits in space, and to be unable to present to several persons in different places several visions of Himself at the same time, or to be making several speeches at the same moment, he will deem it impossible that our four writers are all speaking truth. To him, it is impossible that God, who is in certain limits in space, could at the same set time be saying one thing to one man and another to another, and that He should be doing a thing and the opposite thing as well, and, to put it bluntly, that He should be both sitting and standing, should one of the writers represent Him as standing at the time, and making a certain speech in such a place to such a man, while a second writer speaks of Him as sitting.

4. SCRIPTURE CONTAINS MANY CONTRADICTIONS, AND MANY STATEMENTS WHICH ARE NOT LITERALLY TRUE, BUT MUST BE READ SPIRITUALLY AND MYSTICALLY.

In the case I have supposed where the historians desire to teach us by an image what they have seen in their mind, their meaning would be found, if the four were wise, to exhibit no disagreement, and we must understand that with the four Evangelists it is not otherwise. They made full use for their purpose of things done by Jesus in the exercise of His wonderful and extraordinary power; they use in the same way His sayings, and in some places they tack on to their writing, with language apparently implying things of sense, things made manifest to them in a purely intellectual way. I do not condemn them if they even sometimes dealt freely with things which to the eye of history happened differently, and changed them so as to subserve the mystical aims they had in view; so as to speak of a thing which happened in a certain place, as if it had happened in another, or of what took place at a certain time, as if it had taken place at another time, and to introduce into what was spoken in a certain way some changes of their own. They proposed to speak the truth where it was possible both materially and spiritually, and where this was not possible it was their intention to prefer the spiritual to the material. The spiritual truth was often preserved, as one might say, in the material falsehoodSo much I have said of the apparent discrepancies in the Gospels, and of my desire to have them treated in the way of spiritual interpretation.

13. SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE PASSOVER.

A few points may be added in connection with the doctrines now under consideration, though it would require a special discussion in many volumes to treat all the mystical statements about the law, and specially of those connected with the festivals, and more particularly still with the Passover… This, then, in brief, is the interpretation of the Passover sacrificed for us, which is Christ, in accordance with the view taken of it by the Apostles, and with the Lamb in the Gospel. For we ought not to suppose that historical things are types of historical things, and material things of material, but that material things are typical of spiritual things, and historical things of intellectual.

14. IN THE FIRST THREE GOSPELS THE PASSOVER IS SPOKEN OF ONLY AT THE CLOSE OF THE MINISTRY; IN JOHN AT THE BEGINNING.

We must not, however, fail to inquire into the statement that the passover of the Jews was at hand when the Lord was at Capernaum with His mother and His brothers and His disciples. In the Gospel according to Matthew, after being left by the devil, and after the angels came and ministered to Him when He heard that John was delivered up He withdrew into Galilee, and leaving Nazara He came and dwelt in Capernaum. Then He began to preach, and chose the four fishermen for His Apostles, taught in the synagogues of the whole of Galilee, and healed those who were brought to Him. Then He goes up into the mountain and speaks the beatitudes and what follows them, and after finishing that instruction He comes down from the mountain and enters Capernaum a second thee. Then He embarked in a ship and crossed over to the other side to the country of the Gergesenes. On their beseeching Him to depart out of their coasts He embarked in a ship and crossed over and came to His own city. Then He wrought certain cures and went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues; after this most of the events of the Gospels take place, before Matthew indicates the approach of the thee of Passover. With the other Evangelists also, after the stay at Capernaum it is long till we come to any mention of the Passover.

15. DISCREPANCY OF THE GOSPEL NARRATIVES CONNECTED WITH THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE.

“And Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves and the changers of money sitting; and He made a scourge of cords, and cast out of the temple the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the small coin of the changers, and overturned their tables, and to those who sold the doves He said, take these things hence; make not My Father’s house a house of merchandise. Then His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thy house shall eat me up.” It is to be noted that John makes this transaction of Jesus with those He found selling oxen and sheep and doves in the temple in His second work; while the other Evangelists narrate a similar incident almost at the end and in connection with the story of the passion…

 John, on the contrary, after giving an account nearly identical to this, as far as, “And Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep,” gives a second account of an ascent of the Lord to Jerusalem, and then goes on to tell of the supper in Bethany six days before the Passover, at which Martha served and Lazarus was at the table. “On the morrow, a great multitude that had come to the feast, having heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went forth to meet Him; and they cried, Hosanna, blessed be the King of Israel in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, having found a young ass, sat thereon, as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold thy King cometh, sitting on the foal of an ass.” I have written out long sections from the Gospels, but I have thought it necessary to do so, in order to exhibit the discrepancy at this part of our Gospel. Three of the Gospels place these incidents, which we supposed to be the same as those narrated by John, in connection with one visit of the Lord to Jerusalem. While John, on the other hand, places them in connection with two visits which are widely separated from each other and between which were various journeys of the Lord to other places. I conceive it to be impossible for those who admit nothing more than the history in their interpretation to show that these discrepant statements are in harmony with each other. If anyone considers that we have not given a sound exposition, let him write a reasoned rejoinder to this declaration of ours.

16. THE STORY OF THE PURGING OF THE TEMPLE SPIRITUALIZED. TAKEN LITERALLY, IT PRESENTS SOME VERY DIFFICULT AND UNLIKELY FEATURES.

When, therefore, the Savior finds in the temple, the house of His Father, those who are selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting, He drives them out, using the scourge of small cords which He has made, along with the sheep and oxen of their trade, and pours out their stock of coin, as not deserving to be kept together, so little is it worth. He also overturns the tables in the souls of such as love money, saying even to those who sell doves, “Take these things hence,” that they may no longer traffic in the house of God. But I believe that in these words He indicated also a deeper truth, and that we may regard these occurrences as a symbol of the fact that the service of that temple was not any longer to be carried on by the priests in the way of material sacrifices, and that the thee was coming when the law could no longer be observed, however much the Jews according to the flesh desired it. For when Jesus casts out the oxen and sheep, and orders the doves to be taken away, it was because oxen and sheep and doves were not much longer to be sacrificed there in accordance with Jewish practices. And possibly the coins which bore the stamp of material things and not of God were poured out by way of type; because the law which appears so venerable, with its letter that kills, was, now that Jesus had come and had used His scourge to the people, to be dissolved and poured out, the sacred office (episcopate) being transferred to those from the Gentiles who believed, and the kingdom of God being taken away from the Jews and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits of it. 

But it may also be the case that the natural temple is the soul skilled in reason, which, because of its inborn reason, is higher than the body; to which Jesus ascends from Capernaum, the lower-lying place of less dignity, and in which, before Jesus’ discipline is applied to it, are found tendencies which are earthly and senseless and dangerous, and things which have the name but not the reality of beauty, and which are driven away by Jesus with His word plaited out of doctrines of demonstration and of rebuke, to the end that His Father’s house may no longer be a house of merchandise but may receive, for its own salvation and that of others, that service of God which is performed in accordance with heavenly and spiritual laws. The ox is symbolic of earthly things, for he is a husbandman. The sheep, of senseless and brutal things, because it is more servile than most of the creatures without reason. Of empty and unstable thoughts, the dove. Of things that are thought good but are not, the small change. If any one objects to this interpretation of the passage and says that it is only pure animals that are mentioned in it, we must say that the passage would otherwise have an unlikely air… 

To think, moreover, of the Son of God taking the small cords in His hands and plaiting a scourge out of them for this driving out from the temple, does it not bespeak audacity and temerity and even some measure of lawlessness? One refuge remains for the writer who wishes to defend these things and is minded to treat the occurrence as real history, namely, to appeal to the divine nature of Jesus, who was able to quench, when He desired to do so, the rising anger of His foes, by divine grace to get the better of myriads, and to scatter the devices of tumultuous men; for “the Lord scatters the counsels of the nations and brings to naught devices of the peoples, but the counsel of the Lord abideth for ever.” 

18. THE ASS AND THE COLT ARE THE OLD AND THE NEW TESTAMENT. SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE VARIOUS FEATURES OF THE STORY. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN JOHN’S NARRATIVE AND THAT OF THE OTHER EVANGELISTS.

Now to see into the real truth of these matters is the part of that true intelligence which is given to those who can say, “But we have the mind of Christ that we may see those things which are freely given to us of God; “and doubtless it is beyond our powers… 

Now Jesus is the word of God which goes into the soul that is called Jerusalem, riding on the ass freed by the disciples from its bonds. That is to say, on the simple language of the Old Testament, interpreted by the two disciples who loose it: in the first place him who applies what is written to the service of the soul and shows the allegorical sense of it with reference to her, and in the second place him who brings to light by the things which lie in shadow the good and true things of the future. But He also rides on the young colt, the New Testament; for in both alike we find the word of truth which purifies us and drives away all those thoughts in us which incline to selling and buying. But He does not come alone to Jerusalem, the soul, nor only with a few companions; for many things have to enter into us before the word of God which makes us perfect, and as many things have to come after Him, all, however, hymning and glorifying Him and placing under Him their ornaments and vestures, so that the beasts He rides on may not touch the ground, when He who descended out of heaven is seated on them. But that His bearers, the old and the new words of Scripture, may be raised yet higher above the ground, branches have to be cut down from the trees that they may tread on reasonable expositions. But the multitudes which go before and follow Him may also signify the angelic ministrations, some of which prepare the way for Him in our souls, and help in their adorning, while some come after His presence in us, of which we have often spoken so that we need not now adduce testimonies about it. And perhaps it is not without reason that I have likened to an ass the surrounding voices which conduct the Word Himself to the soul; for it is a beast of burden, and many are the burdens, heavy the loads, which are brought into view from the text, especially of the Old Testament, as he can clearly see who observes what is done in this connection on the part of the Jews. But the foal is not a beast of burden in the same way as the ass. For though every lead of the latter be heavy to those who have not in themselves the upbearing and most lightening power of the Spirit, yet the new word is less heavy than the old. I know some who interpret the tied-up ass as being believers from the circumcision, who are freed from many bonds by those who are truly anti-spiritually instructed in the word; and the foal they take to be those from the Gentiles, who before they receive the word of Jesus are free from any control and subject to no yoke in their unbridled and pleasure-loving existence… 

The discrepancy we noticed in respect of Jesus’ journeys to Jerusalem, which the Gospel now in hand reports quite differently from the other three, as we have expounded their words, cannot be made good in any other way. John gives statements which are similar to those of the other three but not the same; instead of branches cut from the trees or stubble brought from the fields and strewed on the road he says they took branches of palm trees. He says that much people had come to the feast and that these went out to meet Him, crying, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” and “Blessed is the King of Israel.” He also says that it was Jesus Himself who found the young ass on which Christ sat, and the phrase, young ass, doubtless conveys some additional meaning, as the small animal afforded a benefit not of men, nor through men, but through Jesus Christ.’