Review: Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine


Summary of Contents

Augustine’s classic work, On Christian Doctrine, provides a foundation for biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, and homiletics for Christians throughout the ages.<note:Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D.W. Robertson, Jr. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberal Arts Press, 1958).> Comprised of four books, each containing brief chapters, On Christian Doctrine is a concise yet rich treatment on biblical studies. Book one covers topics such as: Bible interpretation (hermeneutics), studies on the doctrine of God (Theology Proper), the wisdom of God as revealed in the person of Christ, and the love of God and neighbor as the two chief commandments. Book two shifts gears into a discussion on what Augustine refers to as “signs” and how signs affect Bible interpretation. Augustine also touches on Bible translation, figurative language, canonicity, and a recommendation for studying the Scripture in the original languages. He goes deeper into discussions of dealing with what he refers to as “faulty interpretations” and “unknown words”, as well as a refutation of superstition and astrology. He also includes discussions on the usefulness of history, the natural sciences, and the arts in biblical exegesis.

Book three examines biblical exegesis and hermeneutics by evaluating punctuation and pronunciation of the Scriptures, as well as how to solve biblical ambiguities and interpret figurative expressions. Augustine lays out an extensive set of rules for biblical interpretation and exegesis concerning biblical commands and figurative language. Book four shifts into a discussion concerning rhetoric and how to apply what has been discussed in terms of biblical exegesis and hermeneutics in homilietics, including citing biblical examples of Christian rhetoric in the New testament. Augustine also includes discussions on different styles of speaking and offers advice concerning praying before speaking.

Evaluation

Augustine’s work is a true classic that has endured through the centuries. The wisdom Augustine offers readers in On Christian Doctrine is as applicable in modern times as it was when Augustine originally wrote the work. His advice concerning the studying of the Scriptures in the original languages, praying before speaking, and his overall discussion concerning biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, and homiletics is as timely and relevant for modern readers as it is timeless for readers throughout the ages.
Additionally, the four books are concise and can easily be read through a few sittings. The content of the books is far shorter than other more lengthy works on hermeneutics and homiletics, yet the material is as rich and rewarding. Because this work is an ancient work, the wording can at times be somewhat archaic (even for a reader who has grown up with the King James Version Bible!), especially his use of terms such as “signs”. However, reading the work reflectively allows the riches of this work to penetrate one’s spirit, and one can still enjoy the wisdom of this work even with its use of rather archaic language.

Contribution to Preaching

While the title of Augustine’s work is On Christian Doctrine, the work is not really a Systematic Theology or formal doctrinal work and should not be confused with other works in such a field. This is more of a set of handbooks on biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, and homiletics practical for preachers and less a technical discussion on Bible doctrines. Every pastor or student studying for expository preaching and hermeneutics should read this work. While concise and archaic in language at times, this work will greatly provide wisdom and insight into preaching and homiletics and a strong foundation in hermeneutics. Every pastor can benefit from the wisdom provided by Augustine in this work. It is a classic that will remain a timeless and timely nugget for ages.


About Nathan Parker

M Div Graduate, IT Consultant for Earth Networks, contributor at WeatherTogether and Focusing on the Mark Ministries, as well as anything else the Lord has in store for me! "Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him" -Charles Stanley