Daniel Patte

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Daniel Patte (born 1939) is a French American biblical scholar and author. Patte has been Professor of Religious Studies and of New Testament & Early Christianity at Vanderbilt University since 1971.[1] He studied in both European and American schools: following his Baccalauréat in Philosophy (Grenoble, 1958) he received a Baccalauréat en Théologie (1960) from the Faculté de Théologie Protestante, Montpellier, France; Licence en Théologie, (équivalent to M.Th, 1964) from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and a Th.D. (1971) from the Jewish Christian Center at Chicago Theological Seminary. Patte is one of the most engaging biblical scholars, calling for an ethics of biblical interpretation that involves acknowledging the contextual character of any interpretation of the Bible, as his numerous books and articles indicate. In the 1970s-1980s Patte pioneered structural criticism in biblical studies, serving as a long time General Editor of Semeia, a journal published by the Society of Biblical Literature (1992–98). Patte also chaired programs of the Society of Biblical Literature, including on Semiotic and Exegesis, Romans Through History and Cultures, and, since 2007, Contextual Biblical Interpretation. With colleagues of the Society of Biblical Literature and of the American Academy of Religion involved in these programs, he envisioned and edited The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity (2010).


As one-time missionary and teacher in the Republic of Congo, and as a child of a Huguenot family who was part of the underground striving to help Jewish families flee from the Nazi Holocaust, Patte’s life, teaching and research have revolved around a theme of cross-cultural hermeneutics and “ethical interpretation” of the Bible. After reading the New Testament in terms of French existentialism (L’athéisme d’un Chrétien ou un Chrétien à l’écoute de Sartre), he studied Jewish hermeneutics as expressed in early Midrash, Targum, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Early Jewish Hermeneutics in Palestine). Patte continued to delve into theories of communication, structuralism, and semiotics (books on "Structural Exegesis"). Patte has paid special attention to The Religious Dimensions of Biblical Texts and, in particular, those of Paul's letters (Paul's Faith and the Power of the Gospel) and Matthew (The Gospel according to Matthew). His involvement as General Editor of Semeia: An Experimental Journal for Biblical Criticism of the Society of Biblical Literature (1992–98), and his concern for moral responsibility (Ethics of Biblical Interpretation) led him, in collaboration with theologians, church historians, and other biblical scholars from around the world, to a practice of "Scriptural Criticism" that accounts for the analytical-exegetical, hermeneutical-theological, and contextual choices any interpretation of the Bible involves. With this approach, he led this group in a study of the reception of Paul’s letters to the Romans throughout history and in present-day cultures around the world; Patte and the theologian Cristina Grenholm were co-editors of a book series, Romans through History and Cultures. Patte also illustrated the practice of Scriptural Criticism in The Challenge of Discipleship, The Gospel of Matthew: A Contextual Introduction for Group Study, and with seventy scholars around the world in the Global Bible Commentary.[2] He is the General Editor of The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity [3] that seeks to make understandable the complexity of present-day Christianity by clarifying the contextual character of Christian theological views, practices, and movements through history and cultures.

Biblical interpretation[edit]

Patte’s lifelong research and teaching crystallized in the emphasis on contextual biblical interpretations. He pioneered this approach in critical biblical studies, making significant impact not only on biblical scholarship but also on the laity and practical theology. This approach is concerned with the diversity of interpretations, their on-going conflicts, and with criteria for assessing the ethical value of interpretations. When one acknowledges that any interpretation necessarily includes three kinds of interpretive moves – a textual choice (foregrounding an aspect of the text, rather than others) and a theological/hermeneutical choice (privileging certain connotations of key concepts) framed by specific contextual concerns – any interpreter is faced with a choice among a plurality of reading possibilities, and therefore with ethical responsibility. Thus Patte’s pedagogy takes the form of round-table discussions as a procedure for discerning the relative value of different interpretations and for calling for a critical, communal evaluation of each and every interpretation. Each interpreter needs to assume the ethical responsibility for the effect that her/his choice of an interpretation has for people in her/his narrow or broader context. Far from promoting a naïve relativism (any reading goes) Patte advocates critically engaged interpretations that acknowledge the cultural and ethical value of interpretations.

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • L'Athéisme d'un Chrétien ou un Chrétien à l'écoute de Sartre. Nouvelles Editions Latines: Paris, 1965.
  • Early Jewish Hermeneutic in Palestine. Missoula: Scholars Press. 1975.
  • What Is Structural Exegesis? Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.
  • Structural Exegesis from Theory to Practice. Exegesis of Mark 15 and 16. Philadelphia: Fortress Press (with Aline Patte). 1978.
  • Pour une exégèse structurale. Paris: Le Seuil, 1978 (with Aline Patte).
  • Paul's Faith and the Power of the Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1983.
  • Paulo, Sua Fé e a Força do Evangelo. São Paulo: Ediçoes Paulinas. 1987.
  • Paul, Sa Foi, et la Puissance de l'Evangile. Paris : Le Cerf, 1985.
  • Preaching Paul. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1984.
  • The Gospel according to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew's Faith. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1987.
  • Structural Exegesis for New Testament Critics. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1990.
  • The Religious Dimensions of Biblical Texts: Greimas's Structural Semiotics and Biblical Exegesis. Semeia Studies Series. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1990.
  • Ethics of Biblical Interpretation: A Reevaluation. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1995.
  • Discipleship According to the Sermon on the Mount: Four Legitimate Readings, Four Plausible Views of Discipleship, and Their Relative Values. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International. 1996.
  • The Challenge of Discipleship: A Critical Study of the Sermon on the Mount as Scripture. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999 (reprinted, London & New York: T & T Clark International).
  • The Gospel of Matthew: A Contextual Introduction for Group Study. (with Monya Stubbs, Justin Ukpong, Revelation Velunta). Nashville: Abingdon. 2003.

Edited books[edit]

  • Reading Israel in Romans: Legitimacy and Plausibility of Divergent Interpretations. (with Cristina Grenholm), Romans Through History and Cultures Series Vol. 1. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000; re-printed, London & New York: T & T Clark International.
  • Engaging Augustine on Romans: Self, Context, and Theology in Interpretation. (with Eugene TeSelle) Romans Through History and Cultures Series, Vol. 2. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002; re-printed, London & New York: T & T Clark International.
  • Gender, Tradition and Romans. Shared Ground, Uncertain Borders. Vol. 5, Romans Through History and Cultures. London & New York: T & T Clark International, 2005 (with Cristina Grenholm).
  • Modern Interpretations of Romans Romans Through History and Cultures, vol 10. London & New York: T & T Clark International, (forthcoming) (with Cristina Grenholm).
  • A Global Biblical Commentary. Nashville: Abingdon, 2004.
  • The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity. Cambridge, U.K. and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Bibliography online

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel Patte, Vanderbilt University
  2. ^ Global Bible Commentary
  3. ^ The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity