The Jesus Hermeneutic

The Jesus Hermeneutic July 26, 2013

Richard Rohr writes in The Huffington Post:

You deserve to know my science for interpreting sacred texts. It is called a “hermeneutic.” Without an honest and declared hermeneutic, we have no consistency or authority in our interpretation of the Bible. My methodology is very simple; I will try to interpret Scripture the way that Jesus did. This is precisely what Christians should mean when we speak of interpreting the Old Testament in the light of Christ. Ironically, then, it is no longer old at all, but always fresh and contemporary! If Jesus himself is our interpretive key, it will allow you to take Jewish texts and history more seriously than ever before, and to appreciate the honest context from which Jesus spoke.

To take the scriptures seriously is not to take them literally. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. Most Biblical authors understood this, which is why they felt totally free to take so many obvious liberties with what we would call “facts.” In many ways, we have moved backwards in our ability to read spiritual and transformative texts, especially after the enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when religious people got on the defensive and lost their own unique vantage point. Serious reading of scripture will allow you to find an ever new spiritual meaning for the liberation of history, the liberation of the soul, and the liberation of God in every generation. Then the text is true on many levels, instead of trying to prove it is true on just the one simple, factual level. Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred. I am afraid we have for too long used the Bible merely to prove various church positions, which largely narrows their range and depth. Instead of transforming people, the Biblical texts became utilitarian and handy ammunition.


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  • Does this not merely beg the question though? How are we to know how Jesus would have interpreted any one verse? Is he available for a Reddit AMA that I don’t know of? 😉

    • That’s a fair point, but I think that approaching the text in a manner that suggests the only way to get an appropriate interpretation would be to ask Jesus on Reddit would just turn into another version of fundamentalism. Presumably the meaning of the Bible would be clear, but the meaning of the Reddit statements would then be subjects of fierce debates! 🙂

      I think Rohr’s point is precisely to look at what Jesus emphasized, to note that Jesus allowed those emphases to lead to a prioritization of some texts over others and to interpret texts with those overarching aims in view. And then to go and do likewise.

      • newenglandsun

        Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t emphasize things like “Don’t rape other people!” and “Don’t commit polygamy!” and “Don’t be a Pagan!”

        Jesus also never said “The unbelievers will enter Heaven!” On the contrary, he said “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins!” (John 8:24 or 28, I think).

        Needless to say, there are things that Jesus didn’t say that we use logic to take as a “no-no”. So are we really interpreting things the way Jesus did? Or maybe Jesus did come to promote rape so long as there was “love” involved.

    • Herro

      Doug, Jesus of course interpreted the OT just like modern liberal theologians!

      • duhsciple

        When interpreting the commandment dealing with murder, Jesus radicalized it into not calling a brother or sister a fool.

        When interpreting the commandment dealing with adultery, Jesus said not to look at another with lust.

        When dealing with Canaanites, Jesus chose to heal them rather than wipe out every man, woman, and daughter (Matthew 15)

        When teaching the greatest commandment, Jesus said “love God, love your neighbor, love yourself” and then “love your enemy”

        The whole “love your enemy” thing means that you must read the entire OT from an entirely new point of view– God, Israel, the nations, humanity.

        No, it does not beg the question. Interpreting this way is radical!