Her-meneutic

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world (Hebrews 11:1-2)

Well, I’ve written several posts now and it’s occurred to me that while I explained on the home page what my purpose was with this blog, I haven’t really outlined what my guiding hermeneutic, or principle of interpretation, is. As we all know (or we should) there is no such thing as a neutral, unbiased, ‘plain’ interpretation of Scripture; we all stand somewhere, and operate with conscious and unconscious assumptions, and the more we can make the unconscious ones conscious, the better, or at least more transparent, our interpretation will be.

You may have noticed already that I have a leaning towards making the female characters of the Bible, and a woman-centred understanding of key passages, more visible. I make no apology for this: the Bible is vastly skewed towards male stories and male perspectives, but there is no need for us to make it more so than it already is, and there are many neglected female stories and perspectives that we can rescue. We may also note that, especially in Luke’s account, Jesus seems to go out of his way to include women both in his actions and in his parables. As a lifelong woman myself, I feel passionate about pointing this out! My hermeneutic is very much a hermeneutic, not so much a hermeneutic.

But if there is one verse (well, two really), that encapsulates my chosen approach to Scripture, this is it. Indeed, I could actually boil it down to what I consider the most important word in this sentence, the one in the middle: ‘but’. Why not ‘and’? Because what I think the anonymous author of Hebrews is saying, is that a) revelation is progressive, so new revelations may supersede or expand upon older ones, and b) Jesus, the supreme revelation of God, relativizes every other form of biblical revelation, so that since Jesus, no other part of the Bible can be read independently of his life, death and resurrection.

This is a very Anabaptist hermeneutic, though I think I was unconsciously using it long before I was consciously Anabaptist (in fact when I began to discover Anabaptism, it was not so much a new understanding, as a realization that I had already been Anabaptist for 20 years but didn’t know that was what I was). For the Anabaptist interpreter (and that means ordinary church members, not just academic theologians), Jesus is the hermeneutical key, the lens through which we view the rest of the Bible. This is much more than just searching for predictions and foreshadowings of Christ in the Old Testament; it is using the life and teaching of Jesus as a yardstick to assess any interpretation of other Scriptures, both OT and NT: if an interpretation appears to contradict the actions and teachings of Jesus, it is probably wrong.

The use of ‘but’ here says to me that while there is continuity between OT revelation and God’s self-disclosure in Jesus, there is also a radical discontinuity: ‘You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…’. And we must always balance that continuity with that discontinuity, otherwise we descend into legalism, Christendom compromises, and the error of the Galatians, who thought that salvation was by grace, but sanctification by law.

So that’s my stall set out, and I hope you will continue to buy from it. I shall continue to write here, whether anyone reads me or not. But if you do read, please do let me know what you think – it can be quite lonely sending little satellites out into cyberspace and never hearing back!

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About veronicazundel

I'm a professional writer and amateur mother, and belong to the only (so far) non-conservative, English-speaking, Mennonite church in the UK. I live in north London with my husband, adult son and a fat fluffy cat. I eat Marmite on matzo crackers every morning.
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4 Responses to Her-meneutic

  1. I like your wordplay here, Veronica. Hermeneutic and exegesis are two words I find difficult to understand, even though I have been a lifelong dictionary-reader. Sue

  2. lindamarielofton says:

    I tend to use either/or thinking much too often. (It’s very “western” of me, I think….) Of late I’ve been trying to have a mindset of both/all.

    I may not be making any sense, but did want you to know that I’m reading!

  3. Very well put, Veronica! I like your (a) and (b). Indeed, if an interpretation appears to contradict the actions and teachings of Jesus, it is probably wrong.

  4. marionpitman says:

    Yes, that sounds about right.

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