Westminster Seminary California
Building the Minister’s Library: Church History
John G. Bales


The noted Lutheran theologian, Gerhard Ebeling, wrote a provocative essay entitled, “Church History is the History of the Exposition of Scripture.”[1] The essay attempts to locate the place of church history within the broader study of theology, defining its relationship to it. While Ebeling’s definition of “exposition” or interpretation embraces a “wide range of manifestations,” the idea that church history is essentially a study of the interpretation of the witness of Jesus Christ is intriguing. According to Ebeling, church history is what has been written and proclaimed about Jesus Christ based upon the Scriptures. This includes, but is not limited to, commentaries on the books of the bible. 

One particular, growing area of interest in church history today is the history of exegesis.

Below are ten books to help a person begin to study the fascinating development of the principles and methods of exegesis. Naturally, it would be more beneficial to read original sources (I’ll recommend some in the next blog), but for beginners, it might be helpful to familiarize oneself with the major contributors, significant terms, favorite texts and ongoing issues.

Ackroyd, Peter R., Christopher Francis Evans, G. W. H. Lampe, and S. L. Greenslade. The Cambridge History of the Bible. Cambridge: University Press, 1963.

De Lubec, Henri. Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998.

Froehlich, Karlfried. Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church. Sources of Early Christian Thought. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

Hauser, Alan J., and Duane Frederick Watson. A History of Biblical Interpretation. 2 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2003-2009.

Kannengiesser, Charles. Handbook of Patristic Exegesis: The Bible in Ancient Christianity. The Bible in ancient Christianity, v. 1-2. Leiden: Brill, 2004.

Margerie, Bertrand de. An Introduction to the History of Exegesis. Petersham, Mass: Saint Bede's Publications, 1991.

Muller, Richard A. and John L. Thompson, eds. Biblical Interpretation in the Era of the Reformation. Essays Presented to David C. Steinmetz in Honor of His Sixtieth Birthday.  Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.

Preus, James S. From Shadow to Promise: Old Testament Interpretation from Augustine to the Young Luther. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969.

Saebø, M. (ed.) Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The History of its Interpretation. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1996.

Simonetti, Manlio. Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church: An Historical Introduction to Patristic Exegesis. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994.

Smalley, B. The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages. 3rd rev. ed; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983.

[1] Ebeling, Gerhard. In The Word of God and Tradition: Historical Studies Interpreting the Divisions of Christianity. Tr. S. H. Hooks. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1968, pp. 11-32.