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Who was Theodore of Mopsuestia?

Theodore of Mopsuestia
Question: "Who was Theodore of Mopsuestia?"

From AD 394–428, Theodore, also known as Theodore the Interpreter and Theodore of Antioch, was the bishop of Mopsuestia, a city approximately 12 miles east of Antioch in what is now Turkey. At that time, he was known as Bishop Theodore II. He is best known for his commentaries on the Bible, even though only a few of them remain in existence. His work greatly influenced the churches of the Eastern Empire and helped shaped Christian thought in the centuries following.

Theodore was born in Syrian Antioch to a wealthy, influential family. He became friends with John Chrysostom, who is regarded as one of the most prominent early church leaders. It was Chrysostom’s decision to become a monk that influenced his friend Theodore to do likewise.

For a time, Theodore enjoyed the monastic life. But then he met a girl, Hermione, and everything changed. He fell in love, left the monastery, and pursued thoughts of marriage. His friends were dismayed, calling it “Theodore’s fall,” which inspired Chrysostom to fire off two letters to him, pleading for his return to his calling. Those letters were the beginning of Chrysostom’s prolific writing career, and they were also effective in persuading Theodore to remain true to his vow of celibacy.

Theodore’s disappointment at his broken romance lingered for many years, but Theodore distracted himself by plunging into the Scriptures and learning from the great orators and philosophers of the day. He was ordained into the priesthood in the early 380s and eventually become the bishop of Mopsuestia. But his greatest passion was studying and recording the results of his study as books.

Theodore of Mopsuestia’s first foray into scholarly writing was his commentary on the Psalms, in which he concluded that most of them were not written by David. He also challenged the traditional understanding that many of the Psalms pointed to Christ. He wrote commentaries on many books of the Bible and concluded that the Chronicles and the Catholic deuterocanonical books were not inspired.

This conclusion, and some of Theodore’s other findings, met with objection later on in his life, and many of his ideas were denounced at the Council of Ephesus in 431. While Theodore had a brilliant mind and a keen understanding of the historical significance in Scripture, some of his conclusions veered into heresy. He was considered a universalist since he believed that everyone would eventually be saved.

Theodore died in 428 and was still held in high regard by most of his contemporaries. It was only years after his death that controversy erupted and the error in some of his teaching came to light. Only heaven knows whether or not Theodore of Mopsuestia was truly born again (John 3:3) or whether his passion for study was his real god. We can learn from his life that, no matter how devoted we may be to scholarship and biblical interpretation, nothing will make us right with God except faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 2:2; Titus 3:5).

Recommended Resource: Christianity Through the Centuries by Earle Cairns

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