Christian bishop and Church father; born and educated at Antioch; died at Mopsuestia about 429; teacher of Nestorius and Theodoret, and the foremost exegete of the school of Antioch, which was represented also by Lucian, Diodorus, and several others. In that school the historical interpretation of the Old Testament, which was at variance with the allegorical hermeneutics of Origen, had become the rule; and in this, the only rational and adequate exegesis, no one in antiquity was greater than Theodore, who, therefore, is in perfect harmony with modern methods of interpretation.

Commentary on the Psalms.

The early maturity of his friend Chrysostom impressed Theodore to such an extent that he, after a crisis in his life, early devoted himself to the study of the Bible, and at the age of twenty published his commentary on the Psalms, his most important work from a Jewish and an exegetical point of view. As a priest in Antioch Theodore sided with Diodorus and with Flavian, likewise a famous exegete; and he waged an active warfare against Arians, Apollinarians, and other heretics (Theodoret, "Historia Ecclesiastica," v. 39), although there is no mention of Jews in the long list of those whom he opposed. The fame which he acquired secured for him the bishopric of Mopsuestia, which he retained for the remainder of his life. After his death his works, like those of Diodorus, were declared heretical by the Fifth Ecumenical Council on the ground that he had interpreted the Psalms "in Jewish fashion."

None of the Church Fathers equaled Theodore either in accurate grammatical and historical hermeneutics or in originality of view. His commentaries are free from rhetoric and homiletics; but this very fact gives them value in the eyes of modern exegetes. He is, moreover, rigid in his interpretations, since he systematically avoids symbolisms and allegories. He is the chief authority, the "interpreter" par excellence, for the Syrian Nestorians. The boldness of his hermeneutics is astonishing; and in his criticism he is centuries ahead of his time.


Theodore was the author of numerous works, the titles of forty-one volumes by him being mentioned by Assemani; and to these works must be added several written in Syriac (Assemani, "Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana," ii. 478). His chief works of Jewish interest are his commentaries on the Psalms, on Job, on Canticles, and on the Twelve Minor Prophets, as well as his five books against the allegorists; the latter work, now lost, probably contained his principles of exegesis.

Although Theodore made the mistake, which Jerome alone avoided, of interpreting the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew, he knew that the text of the former was sometimes corrupt; and he therefore examined it critically, having recourse to the Syriac version, to Aquila, to Theodotion, and, above all, to Symmachus (Stade's "Zeitschrift," vi. 265). Diestel alleges that Theodore knew neither Syriac nor Hebrew, and consequently lacked the fundamental knowledge necessary for exegesis, but Baethgen has proved that his commentaries show a certain knowledge of Hebrew, and that he was familiar with the curt lapidary Hebrew style which becomes incomprehensible when imitated in Greek. It must be confessed, nevertheless, that his knowledge of Hebrew was faulty, and that he relied far too much on the text of the Septuagint. His brother Polychronius, who was an adherent of the same school, was far superior to him in knowledge of Hebrew; but Theodore was the more important exegete.

Views on Prophecy.

Theodore interpreted most of the Psalms historically, holding, however, that David's prophetic gifts enabled him to foretell future events and to identify himself with them. He carried the idea of prophecy too far, however; for in his opinion it consisted merely in the ability to foretell events, embracing the immediate as well as the far distant future. But, though he refers much (in the Psalms) to the future, he confines his references to Jewish history, alluding but seldom to Jesus, which is the more remarkable since his was the period of the wildest allegorical and typological interpretation. He considers that Jesus is referred to in only three of the Psalms, namely, viii., xlv., and cx., to which may possibly be added, on the basis of other indications, lxxxix. and cxviii.; but not in xxii. nor in lxxii., which at most, he thought, might be interpreted typically in so far as Solomon, like Jesus, was a prince of peace. For seventeen psalms he offers no historical explanation, while he holds that references to David and his time occur in nineteen, to Jeremiah in one, to the Assyrian in twenty-five, to the Chaldean in sixty-seven, and to the Maccabean period in seventeen. This feature of his commentary is of especial importance as showing the keenness and soundness of his criticism. Not less noteworthy is the courage with which he rejects the authenticity of the superscriptions to the Psalms, which, he declares, were added by ignorant scribblers who could not be too severely censured.

He absolutely denied, moreover, that the Old Testament contained any references to the Son of God or to the Trinity, while any interpretation of Zech. ix. 9, 10 as applicable to Jesus was, in his view, evidence of extreme ignorance, since this passage, like Amos ix. 10, 11 and Micah v. 2, referred rather to Zerubbabel. The Song of Solomon he regarded as a secular epithalamium; and the Bookof Job he considered a mixture of fact and fiction. It was a cardinal maxim of Theodore's that the authors of the Old and New Testaments were equally endowed with the mysterious gift of the Holy Spirit (commentary on Neh. i. 1).

Views on Inspiration.

Three degrees of inspiration were recognized by Theodore, although he gave no clear definition of them, asserting, for example, that David had the gift of the spirit (on Ps. lxxxi. 3, τῇ τοῦ πνεήματος χάριτι), yet regarding him in all other respects as a prophet. According to Theodore, Solomon had the gift of wisdom only, not that of prophecy; this view shows the influence of Jewish tradition, which accepted a similar gradation as existing in the three groups of the canonical Scriptures.

Although Baethgen has advanced the hypothesis that Theodore's works contain other traces of Talmudic tradition, such as the view advocated by him in his commentary on Ps. lv. that the son of Simon, and not the son of Onias III., built the temple at Leontopolis, no deductions can be drawn from such meager data. In his theories concerning the superscriptions in the Psalter and the Maccabean portions of that book, Theodore showed himself a decided opponent of tradition. The orthodox Church, however, could not endure the candor of his exegesis; and consequently only fragments of his commentaries have survived, namely, of that on the Psalms (part of which exists in a Syriac version), of that on the Twelve Minor Prophets, and of those on various books of the New Testament (see Baethgen's "Studies" in Stade's "Zeitschrift," v.-vii.)

  • Fabricius-Harles, Bibliotheca Grœca, x. 346-362 (list of the works of Theodore);
  • Migne, Patrologia Grœca, lxvi. 647-696 (incomplete collection of the fragments);
  • Corderius, Expositio Patrum Grœcorum in Psalmos, ii., Antwerp, 1643-46 (the catena of Theodore on the Psalms);
  • Sieffert, Theodorus Mopsuestenus Veteris Testamenti Sobrie Interpretandi Vindex, Königsberg, 1827;
  • Fritzsche, De Theodori Mopsuesteni Commentariis in Psalmos, etc., Halle, 1836;
  • idem, De Vita et Scriptis Theodori Mopsuesteni, 1836;
  • Water, De Theodoro Prophetarum Interprete, Amsterdam, 1837;
  • Wegnern, Theodori Antiocheni . . . Quœ Supersunt Omnia, i., Commentarius in Duodecim Prophet. Minores, Berlin, 1834;
  • L. Diestel, Gesch. des Alten Testaments in der Alten Kirche, pp. 129-133, Jena, 1869;
  • E. Sachan, Theodori Mopsuestiani Fragmenta Syriaca, Leipsic, 1869;
  • I. P. de Barjean, L'Ecole Exégétique d'Antioche, pp. 36-39, Paris, 1898;
  • Harnack, Dogmengeschichte, 3d ed., ii. 78;
  • Kihn, Theodorus von Mopsuestia und Junilius Africanus als Exegeten, 1880;
  • Smith-Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography, iv. 934.
T. S. Kr.
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