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Christ the Key: My Developing Jesus Hermeneutic

*Sorry about the formatting with this post, I copy and pasted this one from another former blog of mine, and it translated to WordPress in this compressed form (as far as the paragraph breaks.
I have been seeking a hermeneutic, or a way beyond the impasse created by my move to what Gibson and Muller have called a principial & intensive method of biblical interpretation  (in reference to Barth on their part, no less). I have become disenchanted, over the past few years, with the hermeneutical framework (but not all of the ways) that I was trained in through both Bible College and Seminary; that is, theLiteral, Grammatical, Historical method. Certainly, though, I cannot, nor do I want to fully abandon the Grammatical, Historical, and Canonical realities that make up the shaping of what we call the Bible. So in other words, I have been in some personal conflict when it comes to my theory of hermeneutic; wanting to affirm a methodologically and principled way of reading scripture, in Christ. And on the other hand, not also wanting to reject the historical and canonical aspects of scripture that repose in it its Christic shape; so I want to continue to use the grammar, the syntax, the lexical, and the canonical markers of scripture that serve instrumentally to point beyond themselves to the deep reality they signify, in Christ.
In this seeking of mine, I have been reading Jens Zimmerman’s Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation. And unlike T. F. Torrance’s book Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics (which I thoroughly benefited from, of course, especially in serving the purpose in providing a general theory of hermeneutics that, indeed seeks to present a truly principled christocentric hermeneutic); Zimmerman’s book, and brief development of Luther (thus far in my reading of his chapter on Luther’s hermeneutic) has help to affirm the way that I want to proceed by being principially Christic in my biblical exegesis, and at the same time understanding that withinthis theoretical hermeneutical framework; that there is a viable way to employ all of the philological tools that one ought to employ when engaging the text of scripture, which isspecial literature.
The following two quotes from Zimmerman on Luther’s approach to biblical interpretation are the ones thus far that I have benefited from the most in my pursuit to provide some denouement to my, as of late, hermeneutical angst.
[I]t follows that the subject matter of the Bible, the good news of God’s love for humanity shown in the incarnation, cannot be understood through historical research alone. Nor in contrast to the historical school of the nineteenth century is historical distance a problem. The historical distance is nullified (not bridged) by the Word, which first created history and then was spoken into history. Luther concludes that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to make the incarnate Word present to the reader. Thus for Luther; a hermeneutics adequate to interpret the subject matter of the Bible is based on the unity of “Christ, Word, and Spirit” (EE, 365). Luther’s theory differed from a theory of verbal inspiration, for he insisted on a word behind the word that requires from the reader constant revisions in interpreting the written letter. . . . [59]
 In light of this, it is no surprise that someone like my friend, Matt, a Lutheran, is also a Barthian; for the above sketch of Luther’s hermeneutic sounds very much so like Barth’s (and T.F. Torrance’s, no less) approach to understanding the written word as it continually, and ever anew proximate the Living Word in whom the written and proclaimed word find their reality and orientation. As Karl Barth (I believe in his CD I/1) describes this, there is both the ‘outer-logic’ and ‘inner-logic’ of Scripture (playing off the Reformer’s perspicuity ‘outer/inner’ clarity dialectic); such that the written letter (outer logic) remains stable, our understanding of that is provisional and ever changing as we understand more and more the One, the Word, to whom this written word points (this is the ‘inner-logic’ according to Barth … and the reason that ‘theological exegesis’ should be understood as the norm for biblical interpretation).
Here is the second quote that again helps assuage and also confirm me in my own movement forward as a theological/Christological exegete of Holy Scripture; Zimmerman summarizes:
To sum up, for Luther, “the Word of God in the cosmic sense was the eternal Christ, and as the Word of God in the New Testament was essentially the historical Christ. Given his doctrine of the Word, it was logical for Luther to see Christ and the cross as the central theme of God’s redemptive word”…. Luther’s systematic Christological hermeneutic principle does not mean, however, that he simply read his opinion into the text; the assiduous use of all philological aids available at his time in his sermon and lecture preparation demonstrates Luther’s desire to develop theology from the text. That is not to say, of course, that sometimes his vivid imagination saw Christ in the text where modern scholarship does not. However, respected strands of contemporary scholarship have come to agree in principle with Luther’s reading of Paul and the plausibility of the Pauline assertion that Jesus the Christ is the fulfillment of Torah and the messianic promises in Isaiah pertain to his redemption and vindication of humanity … [Jens Zimmerman, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics, 59-60]
 As Zimmerman developed in an earlier iteration of his chapter on Luther; for Luther there is no understanding the historical word of scripture without the Word of Faith breathing life into the history as it is conjoined in Christ as he is the point and purpose of creation and creation’s history unfolded toward and in Christ. If this is the case, the words of scripture cannot have meaning or signification if they are abstracted from their reason for being as they are taken up in Christ. And yet, more constructively, this is exactly how higher-critical and historist approaches to biblical interpretation (some of which I have been discussing in previous posts, whether on the ‘Liberal’ side or the ‘Fundamentalist/Evangelical’ side) have colluded in their adumbration of the text of scripture (adumbrated because these ‘critics’ have place scripture into a pretext of their own construction, one that doesn’t have eyes to see and ears to hear, because if it did, these critics would understand that they can’t understand the text without understanding that it’s all about Jesus).
And so, since this post is now just over the reported attention span of blog readers (which is a 1,000 words, max.); I will close this post. Maybe you can appreciate a little better, then, where I am at in my own development; and maybe you can see why I have jettisoned my beloved LGH and even Dispensational hermeneutical theory.
PS. I am, at the end of the day, really quite pragmatic when it comes to all of this stuff; meaning that I have one principle that guides the way I proceed:“Jesus is the Key”. So, if it is Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth, John Calvin, my child-hood Sunday school teacher, or whoever else; if anyone or anyway serves my principle that ‘Jesus is the key,’ then I am willing to at least listen and test whether what one particular or another teacher communicates actually contributes to this principle or, instead, whether they quench this principle. Luther, and Zimmerman’s constructive reading of Luther is helpful towards my principle. That said, the only way we can really know if someone is helpful towards affirming my principle is to truly understand what said teachers really taught and thought; for this is the only way we can potentially benefit from their stated christocentrism. 

5 thoughts on “Christ the Key: My Developing Jesus Hermeneutic

  1. I’d like it if you looked at my fb page for the Zaspel article, the one preceding the one I swiped from you, and give me your thoughts on it, please and thank you. In my state of flux it is between NCT (Zaspel, Reisinger, Zens), or Torrence. Must consider all these.


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