Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Holy Bible

Is it Christian, to accept ONLY what the Holy Bible says?

The Interpretation of the Holy Bible

Agapios Matsagouras (†)

Certain brothers visited Abba Anthony and they quoted an excerpt from Leviticus.  The elder went into the desert, and Abba Ammon followed him secretly, knowing what his habit was.  The elder had wandered a long way off; he stopped to pray and began to call out loudly: “My God, send me Moses to explain the excerpt to me!” And a voice was heard, conversing with him. So, Abba Ammon said: “I heard the voice that was speaking to him, but I never learnt the meaning of the words.”

Once, the Abba Anthony was visited by certain elders and found Abba Joseph with him.  In his desire to test them, the elder quoted an excerpt from the Scriptures, and asked the younger visitors about the meaning of that excerpt.  Every one of them gave their reply, to the best of their ability. To each of them, the elder replied “You didn’t find it”.  Finally, he asked Abba Joseph: “What do you have to say about this excerpt?”  He replied: “I don’t know”.  Abba Anthony then said: “At least Abba Joseph has found the path, because he said ‘I don’t know’.”   (From the Gerontikon, Astir Publications, Athens  1999, page 15, para.25 and page 12, para.16.)


The texts of the Holy Bible – in this case the New Testament – are not simple, literary texts. They are, above all, ecclesiastic texts. The church composed these texts and only the Church is competent to interpret them authentically.

“Church” means the body of saints that are in communion with its Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. “Church” is the unity between the Head - Christ, and the saints – the members of His Body, according to the teaching of Paul the Apostle: “...for you are the body of Christ, and members of it...” (Corinthians I, chapter 12, Colossians 1:18, Ephesians, chapter 4)  According to the teaching of saint Simeon the New Theologian, members of the Body of Christ are the baptized and certain in faith Christians, who are organically united with the Head. Being the temples of the Holy Triune God, the saints are the carriers of Tradition, or, in other words, the incessant energy of the most Holy Spirit, which resides within the Church and directs it “towards every truth”.   (John, 16:13,  Jude’s Epistle, ch.3).

The New Testament (and the Holy Bible in general) being an ecclesiastic text, is consequently guarded within the bosom of the Church and is interpreted by it. Naturally, he various other knowledge (historical, literary, etc.) can prove useful and helpful, but it must be stressed that only those who have the Holy Spirit can interpret the teaching of the Apostles, simply because they have the exact same experience. These true interpreters of the Scriptures may be fishermen and illiterate, but the Holy Spirit illuminates them, so that they can comprehend the depth of this text.

”The entire Holy Bible is said to be divided into flesh and spirit, as if it were a spiritual person. And whoever says that the letter of the Scripture is the flesh and its meaning is the spirit, or the soul, would not be making a mistake.  And it is a wise man, who has deserted the perishable part and has abandoned himself entirely to the imperishable.

“To those who meticulously study the Holy Scriptures, the Lord appears to have two forms. One is common and more popular and visible to (not) many, and it is to these, that the phrase: ‘We saw Him and He had no beauty or fairness’ refers to. (Psalms 49, 14, 8) The other form is more mystical, and few attain it, only those who have already become identical to the holy apostles Peter and John, in whose presence the Lord was transfigured in a brilliance that supercedes the senses. In this form, he is ‘fairer more that all the sons of man’.” (Psalms 44,3)2

The authentic therefore interpretation of the Scriptures is a matter of spiritual living. Hossios Peter of Damascus writes: “And every writing and every word of God or certain Saint that refers to a tangible or intelligible creation, has a purpose hidden within it. And not only this, but also every human word. And nobody knows the thought within the chance saying, except only through a revelation.”  “….with humility and guidance by the experienced ones, learning though practice rather than through words, and not seeking those things that have been hushed by the Holy Scriptures at all…..And how can someone say that ‘I know the purpose of God that is hidden in the holy Scriptures, without the revelation of His Son?

Those who use secular wisdom and learning receive only a small portion of this knowledge, while those who possess spiritual knowledge, possess full knowledge: “Jacob’s well is the Scripture. The water is the divine knowledge that the Scripture contains. The depth of the well is the difficult approach to the scriptural enigmas…….the vessel used for drawing water (=learning), draws only a minute part of that knowledge and it leaves behind the total knowledge, which cannot be fathomed in any way. However, knowledge through Grace provides overall knowledge – and in fact, without any studies – of wisdom that is accessible by man, and which wells up, depending on the needs.4  

Saint Gregory Palamas repeatedly states that the holy Fathers are the unerring theologians of the Church. Those who reached the state of vision of the uncreated Light became united with It and acquired the “sure theologizing”.  He writes characteristically: “…the supernatural union with the supernatural light, by which alone the sure theologizing is possible….”5

As professor John Romanides explains: “From the Orthodox viewpoint, that which makes the text divinely inspired is not the original words themselves, but the interpretation of those words by those who have attained theosis; because, no matter how accurate the text may be to the original, in the hands of those without theosis and outside the Church, its interpretation will be worthless. Even if they were given the very manuscripts of the prophets and the apostles to read and to study, the grand mystery of piety will still remain concealed from them; this is because the text per se is not that which is divinely inspired. Only the author is divinely inspired, when having attained theosis; or, divinely inspired can be the writings pertaining to someone who attained theosis, provided these texts are interpreted by someone who has attained theosis.6

Nevertheless, the saints who “don’t know God’s every purpose for each thing or written word…” because “God is inapprehensible and His wisdom has no repletion.”
7.   “The one who is found in a state of theory, in theosis and divinely inspired, does not become an unerring philosopher or scientist, but an unerring theologian. He speaks unerringly about God, but he is not deemed unerring on the subject of the structure and the mysteries of the universe.”8

Consequently, the Holy Bible cannot be interpreted or approached independently of the Church’s Tradition. And the intellectual understanding of it is definitely not adequate, as it can also comprise a distortion of God’s word. Let’s not forget what Saint John of the Ladder wrote: “There are certain unclean demons, which, as soon as someone begins to study the Bible, reveal its interpretation. They especially enjoy doing this to the hearts of vainglorious people and moreso, to those with a secular education. Their goal is to entice them into heresies and blasphemous ideas, deceiving them very very gradually….”


1. ref. Archmandrite Ierotheos Vlachos, ‘The Revelation of God’, Holy Monastery of the Nativity of Theotokos publications, 1991, pages 72, 73.

2. Saint Maximus the Confessor, “1st Hundred (of addresses) to Thalassios, 91, 97, “Philokalia” in the modern Greek edition, volume 2, The Holy Mother’s Garden publications, 1988

3. ”Philokalia”, Papadimitriou publications, volume C, page. 96, 97.

4. Saint Maximus the Confessor, “4th Hundred (of various topics) to Thalassios”, 29.- “Philokalia” in the modern Greek edition, volume 2, The Holy Mother’s Garden publications, 1988, page 172.

5. Saint Gregory Palamas, Greek Patristic works, volume 2, page 182.

6. father John Romanides, “Dogmatic and Symbolic theology of the Orthodox Catholic Church”, vol.A, p.151

7. Hossios Peter of Damascus, ‘First Book’, Philokalia”, Papadimitriou publications, volume C, page 157.

8. Father John Romanides, ‘Critical view of the applications of theology’ in the «Minutes of the Second Convention of Orthodox Theology», page 434.

9. John of Sinai, “Ladder”, Address 26 ‘On Discernment’– Volume B, p. 36, Holy Monastery of the Paraclete, 1994 page 316.


Text: Agapios Matsagouras

Translation by A.N.

Greek text

Article published in English on: 12-9-2005.

Last update: 23-3-2011.