A BRIEF NOTE ON THE AUTHORITY
AND INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE
You recently asked me to write something on Jesus’ hermeneutic. That one can even speak of Jesus’ hermeneutic is a blessing today. Between the churches removal of Jesus behind the veil of dualism and the academy’s burial of Jesus in historical science, it truly is a wonder that we are able to speak the words Jesus and hermeneutic in the same breath.
Some thirty years ago when I began studying Scripture, I found that I had a lot of questions. Every subject I tackled led to ten more subjects, all of which I felt driven to understand just to comprehend whatever book I was reading at the time. Over the years, I have accumulated hundreds of thousands of questions, the questions of the authors whose books I have read.
Their questions led me on some amazing journeys with breath-taking vistas around every corner. Writers from all places and times, backgrounds and faiths each seemed to have a piece to contribute to the overall picture. More so, many of these writers captivated me and I read everything they wrote that I could get my hands on. I could sense that somewhere deep within the questions was a solution. I knew that Jesus was that solution.
I believe that Jesus has something to teach us and tell us about the Creator that we have consistently missed throughout our history, Christians included. It is the secret of the kingdom of heaven: God is forgiving, God is not conflicted, and God is not violent. Jesus’ Jewish spirituality recognizes this through and through. It is the one singular thing his contemporaries did not want to hear. It is the one singular thing we do not want to hear. Jesus’ God is not an angry God. It is demonstrated in the way he lives and forgives others in the name of this God. It (this life of forgiveness) is, in a sense, ontologized within history as the eschatological horizon of the resurrection; the resurrection of the forgiving innocent victim. It is the one message that is differentiated from every other form of religious discourse. Jesus teaches us this.
However, it is necessary for us to understand the roots and trajectories of our sacrificial thinking as Christians. We need to deconstruct before we can re-construct. Sort of like what the folks on the PBS show This Old House do. They take an old house whose structure is solid, take it down to the basics, which are sound, and re-build on that structure. Christian theology, for me, is like This Old House. It is tired, old, worn, beaten and generally in great need of repair. Through the eyes of the folks who rebuild houses and see within a decrepit building a beautiful home that with time, effort and attention can be an enjoyable habitation, so also I think we can do the same with Christian theology. Theology is a beautiful science because theology is about Jesus.
Let’s look at some of the stuff on our theological house that is no longer useful. Let’s examine whether or not we need to restructure some of the interior of our house. Then let’s rebuild.
Using Paul Ricoeur’s language we might say that if the church is mired in a first naivete, the academy is no less stuck in critical distance. Neither one is able to speak of Jesus credibly with any sense of unity. It is the third stage of the understanding process, which Ricoeur calls a ‘second naivete’ from which I write. Since I am neither in the academy nor in the parish, I do not feel constrained by either when I consider the question of Jesus’ hermeneutic. The ‘historical Jesus’ is slick and slippery, and just when you think you have a grasp, he slips away. The ‘Christ of faith’ is a gigantic monolith, high and exalted, encrusted with traditions. If the ‘Christ of faith’ represents the ‘first naivete’ and the ‘historical Jesus’ represents the ‘critical distance’ then how shall we describe ‘second naivete?’ In order to do so, it is crucial to shift our perspective on the either/or of the question to this: what is the relationship of the Jesus of faith to the Christ of history? Must we not begin with the presupposition that as bearers of God’s Spirit we already know the Lord Jesus? What we need to discern are the ways both the church and the academy have embellished the living Jesus with their Christologies.
Christological duality, which is and always has been, the big issue in both the church and the academy, need not be necessary if one moves the question to a position of ‘second naivete.’ But how can we justify such on both anthropological and theological grounds? You already know how I will answer this: by turning to Rene Girard and Karl Barth. These are the two significant twentieth century thinkers who moved beyond Platonic dualism to construct a Christology that is true to Jesus. One did it from an anthropological perspective, the other from a theological one. But both succeeded because they both began with the cross of Jesus.
The early Christians understood that this whole resurrection/life thing existed only because there was a crucifixion/death thing. The resurrection was a vindication of this death that was forgiving, and this life and ministry that was all about forgiveness. In the resurrection God does not retaliate, God forgives. This is the message of the early church. It encompasses the entire Jesus reality: Jesus as Spirit and Jesus’ story were woven of the same stuff.
We also must not forget that the perspective of the New Testament is ‘from below’, that is, it is written from the perspective of the persecuted. This is of strategic importance. All of the complaints that have been made against the Christian churches are derived from the fact that the very church which is grounded in the forgiveness of the Cross of Jesus, and whose texts are written from the perspective of the persecuted, does itself persecute and justifies persecution by an appeal to these texts. There is very little that is apostolic about the modern church.
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Before I turn to your question about Jesus’ hermeneutic, I must do so by way of reviewing the hermeneutic problem that exists in the modern American churches as well as modern theology. I can only state a very general thesis because I want to paint a big picture, whose details I can fill in if you have questions. Then I will really turn my attention to Jesus and Scripture. In so doing, I hope I will have expressed the answer to your question.
Throughout our conversations these past years, you and I have turned many questions on their head, looked at them from what we might call a ‘hermeneutic from below.’ Our general theme has examined the question, ‘what would the church look like if it looked like Jesus?’ This is a sociological concern we have had because we sense that a group of Christians, ‘a Christian society’, should, after all, look like Christ. And the problem is that it does, it looks like a Christology, but it doesn’t look like Jesus.
If we acknowledge that Jesus’ ministry was all about forgiveness and the extent of God’s mercy and love, then what happens when at the critical point, the point of the cross, we import the notion of God’s non-forgiveness or wrath. We completely ignore the explicit text “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” The consequence of this is that the seeds of mythology are sown in the gospel. And the text, which is ignored, that is, extruded or victimized, becomes transformed or sacralized. The theological expression for this is what is popularly known as the doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. This doctrine is a foil, to hide the truth, because it origins always stem from a lie. Whether the lie of romantic ‘individualism’ or the lie that the victim got what they deserved, one can inevitably trace back all arguments for this doctrine to the need to justify violence, the need for divine sanction when violent. We need a violent precedent on a cosmic scale to justify our sacrificial tendencies.
In the essay “The Biblical Testaments as a Marriage of Convenience” I laid out an essential framework for the problem as I conceive it. The issue was about what occurred when Christian theology and life began to become dualistic. What I observed is that there is a direct correlation between the use of Scripture and the theological scapegoating that began with Judaism and ended with paganism. This sacrificial hermeneutic is found only on the fringes of the apostolic canon. The apostolic canon reveals a non-sacrificial hermeneutic for the most part. The early church I am sure did its best when dealing with those she felt had crossed over the border. But once Marcion and Justin Martyr get the sacrificial ball rolling, it rolls all the way to Augustine who has heaved it down through history to our time.
The consequence of this is what I have called the Christian myth, the myth of the violence of God in Christ. No matter what form it takes, it is a sacrificial, and thus mythological, reading of the scriptures. The marks of myth will be evident in such a reading: justification for the killing of the victim and justice for God. This is one of the greater burdens of modern Christianity, the so-called penal theory of the atonement, which Anthony Bartlett has so well analyzed from the perspective of mimetic theory (Cross Purposes).
The alternative to this way of rendering Scripture I have termed gospel. It recognizes the impact Jesus’ life has when framing mimesis, particularly when it comes to discussing positive mimesis. The most direct consequence of this is that it develops a non-sacrificial reading of the text with extraordinary implications for theology as it is popularly constructed. This has been demonstrated time and again not only by Rene Girard but also by those who have applied mimetic theory to the gospels. Raymund Schwager has pioneered the way, along with Bob Hamerton-Kelly, Gil Bailie, Walter Wink and a host of others.
There is thus a manifest congruence between Jesus’ life as expressed in the Gospels and the application of that Life by the Spirit in the church. The early Christians died in the same manner, as had their Master, forgiving and non-retaliatory. They produced the letters and gospels of the Biblical canon. Can we ignore their choice for non-retribution or that of their Master, the Lord Jesus? Can we further ignore that their life with Jesus as Spirit and their recollections of Jesus as human were one and the same? Of course when we read the Gospels they will tell us as much about the early Christians as they do about Jesus. This is because the early Christians were all about Jesus! We don’t need to be rocket scientists to figure this one out.
All of our fretting and worrying over the ‘ipsissima vox/verba’ of Jesus’ teaching is just a reflection of our desire to get beyond the mythological ‘Christs of history.’ We shall come back to this in another place. We need to address the modern origins of the far more troublesome doctrine of Biblical infallibility.
The failure of the Reformers was that neither Luther nor Calvin was willing to rethink Augustine. Augustine was accepted as their ‘early Church’ authority because Augustine loomed large in Roman Catholic theology and still does. Augustine was the first thinker to bring together two words that heretofore had only been eschatologically united: civilization and Christian. Augustine’s attempt to conceive a Christian culture would mean the merging of Christianity and culture. But as all culture is mimetic and violent in nature, this resulted in the predominance of violent, mimetic Christianity. Thus the groundwork was laid for Augustinian thought in the assimilation of two kingdoms, the church and the state, the two Testaments, law and gospel, Christ and all the other gods. Augustine’s flattening of Holy Scripture undergirds the view of inspiration taught in both Catholic as well as Protestant churches. ‘The Bible is God’s holy Word.’ Christian Platonism with its ‘analogia entis’ (analogy of being) had thoroughly shifted the trajectory of the Christian gospel. It was now on a heading for Myth. And the Reformers did little to stop this (although I think Luther did a better job than Calvin did and only certain Anabaptist movements really succeeded).
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Protestants are in some senses justly proud of the achievements of the Reformers. But it is not enough to parrot their utterances. We must be bold to discern the gospel in our time. Let’s face it, Martin Luther opened a can of worms with his ‘sola scriptura’ principle. The ‘sola scriptura’ principal has part of its roots in the humanism of Erasmus and others. Because this is so, alongside the developing role of science in the 17th and 18th centuries as an authority on ‘reality’, the Protestant church also solidified its authority by appeal to the authority of Scripture. The heirs of the magisterial Reformers developed a view of the inspiration of Scripture that said, in its whole and in its parts, Scripture is truthful in what it asserts. Of course this was bound to clash with the growing authority of science particularly when scientific method began to be applied to the Bible.
By the 19th century, the tide began to turn. Theological science, or theology done in the name of science, had laid the framework to demonstrate that the two most important books to the church, Genesis and the Fourth Gospel, were neither accurate nor true. The Jesus of the Fourth Gospel is almost immediately dismissed in critical research of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. From Remairus and Lessing to Strauss and Baur, the Fourth Gospel was sundered from Jesus’ life. The developments in biology and physics challenged the creation narrative of Genesis for rights of truth. The Protestant view of ‘biblical infallibility’ now had a two-fold front on the battlefield, with science, and of course with Rome’s assertion of papal infallibility.
Some Protestants at this time reconciled themselves to the reality that science was here to stay and surrendered the inaccuracies of Scripture to science. That is, they asserted that while the biblical text may not be accurate scientifically, it is true on a theological level. It was the time when ‘salvation history’ or ‘the history of the acts of God’ originated. Others were not content to surrender so quickly and asserted that not only was the theology of the Bible inspired but also every word that was written was inspired. This is the presupposition for the doctrine of inerrancy. Science had really won this battle by turning the conservatives and the liberals against one another. But both sides frequently ended up with a sacrificial reading of the gospel.
I will give you one example from either side. Evangelicalism is a good example of a mimetically conceived sacrificial theology from a conservative perspective. Liberation theology that of a liberal perspective. Both generally share in the mythologizing of the victim. Both are quite different in their outcomes, that is, different scapegoats are used, but both engage the justification of victimage, which is tantamount to mythologizing.
All the doctrine of biblical infallibility or inerrancy protects is the right to retribution. This is why it is necessary to the Christian myth and why some Christians will foam at the mouth when their beloved Bible comes under attack. This same way of thinking can also be found in other religious traditions, as you know. It is not unique to Christianity. And in every case it functions as part of the mythological covering of religious literature.
In the realm of sacrificial theology there are a thousand variations. They may be conservative or liberal, Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, Reformed or Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal or Presbyterian, Anglican, feminist, post-structuralist or just about anything in between but they all have one thing in common: they all have a theory about the text that when applied to the text justifies their retributive stance against one another.
Fortunately, there are exceptions to the rule. Lots of exceptions. The alternative to the multitudinous (because mimetically duplicated) sacrificial ways of reading Scripture can be found in the singular way the gospel has been appropriated by those within and without the Christian tradition who like Jesus, renounced violence. How many examples do you need? It seems as though every age, place and generation has those who understand this. Yet, their voices are often not connected. This appreciation for the ‘theology and ethic of non-violence’ that Jesus propounds has often struggled with the ‘just God’ of the Christian Church. Others have been quick to renounce Jesus’ non-retributive ethic as a tool of the bourgeois designed to keep folks low on the ladder even lower. Either way it is thrown out as a piece of revelation and it is precisely the cornerstone they have cast out!
It is the non-retributive God that is being announced in Jesus’ life and message. It is what theology without violence looks like. In other words it is not the religious speculation of the generative scapegoating mechanism with its guilty victims and angry gods with bruised honors. This singular alternative, this perspective from below, this hermeneutic of peace, no matter what you call it, is a unique event in anthropological history. It is completely good news because the God of the gospel of Jesus is a good God demonstrated in his loving kindness, faithfulness and forgiveness to humanity.
We reach an impasse at this juncture if we insist on holding to a theory of biblical infallibility or inerrancy. It is the same conundrum that faced Marcion, viz., what do the ‘violent’ Creator god of the Hebrew Bible and the merciful God of the gospel have in common? There is no possible way to assert biblical infallibility and come to clear orthodox trinitarian thinking on this. One inevitably crashes on the shoals of the myth of the guilty victim. Either sinners are guilty, or Jesus is guilty, or the enemy is guilty or Satan is guilty or God is guilty, someone has to be blamed. Little wonder that Christians have often been perceived as polytheistic, they have been!
In their troubled appropriation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Christian churches have for the most part obliterated the revelatory character of the person of Jesus. Jesus has undergone assimilation into the heavenly Pantheon of deities over and over again. Fortunately he escapes those bounds and dwells in those whose lives are examples of his life. We can no more capture Jesus with our theologies than we can capture an elephant with a butterfly net. But we can bear witness to him.
Theology without violence does not need a ‘theory of Scripture’ to justify its assertions regarding the divine. It suffices that Scripture is testimony, in the same fundamental relationship to Jesus as was John the Baptist. Any authority it may possess is only possessed by virtue of him to whom witness is borne. This is the application of a theology of the cross to a view of the role of Holy Scripture. It does not ‘divinize’ or sacralize Scripture; it does not need to. When Scripture is testimony, it is received in its full anthropological sense; it is human witness that is being borne whether it is the testimony of humans or whether it is testimony about a human. The question, ‘If God were fully human, what would God look like?” is answered not only in the life of Jesus but also in his death which, as I mentioned earlier, must, like his life, be framed in terms of forgiveness and non-retaliation. We, like the apostles before us, are but witnesses to this.
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This business of witness is key when approaching Scripture. If we do not play the ‘blame’ game and sacralize the text, we are left standing before witnesses, those who saw, heard, touched, felt and experienced Jesus the man. Jesus, one might say, the true man, the new Adam, the corporate figure of the Son of Man, the hope for a transfigured humanity. This is how the apostolic witnesses looked upon Jesus. They did not sit around creatively playing with christological titles and crafting nifty theologies. Their entire life, their entire day to day existence was about bearing witness to the Risen Lord and the good news of the message of God’s grace. They were suffused with Jesus. If we do not approach their literary legacy with this in mind, we will never find our way out of the hermeneutic impasses and dead ends we see replicated all over Christianity.
How then should we approach the Scriptures? Who will be our guide? I have suggested that instead of a multitude of hermeneutic options available to the church (e.g., adjectival theologies or theologies in the genitive), there are really only two: that of myth, a sacrificial interpretation, and that of gospel, the desacralizing of violent mimesis and the affirmation of loving mimesis. We are either following the prince of darkness on the road to hell, a hell of our own making, or we are following the Prince of Peace on the path of the Kingdom. Jesus is our guide.
We are freed and invited to follow the path of the apostolic witness. We do this by beginning where all Christian theology must begin, with the death of Jesus on a Roman cross and his subsequent resurrection from the dead. We begin with a theology of the cross. This is the theological way of speaking. Anthropologically speaking, we begin with the generative mimetic scapegoat mechanism. We have seen how Girard is able to demonstrate the effects of the gospel revelation on human reading of myth as well as the social and political effects of such. You know from Girard’s work, the role the passion of Jesus plays in the deconstruction of culture. In both cases or from either direction, we are bearing witness to the fact that Jesus died forgiving his enemies.
This forgiveness is given ‘salvation-historical’ rootedness by the apostle Paul. Unfortunately, we Western Christians assume Paul was referring to individually dispensed forgiveness for each one of us, for each one of our sins. No, for Paul, the forgiveness of God in the dying of Jesus was a real cosmic forgiveness. As a species, we are forgiven, in whole and in part. The message is: there will be no more scapegoats. The forgiveness of Jesus from the cross is the singular message that breaks the devil’s back. From that day forth, the generative scapegoating mechanism has a Conqueror in its midst. It is no longer able to take complete advantage over humanity. There is now light in the darkness. It is this cosmic thrust of forgiveness that is behind Paul’s proclamation of the gospel, most clearly evidenced in his mission to those beyond the Covenant of the Hebrew Bible.
The same is true for the four Gospels. You know the quip (I think it is K.L. Schmidt) that ‘the gospels are just passion narratives with extended introductions?’ This is not an unreal observation. Nor should it surprise us that the Passion narrative was more than likely the earliest developed narrative (as Theissen shows). Nor should we be further surprised to find that the ‘extended introduction’ of the gospels is all focused on the cross and that we are invited to follow Jesus and to carry a cross as he does. The specific hermeneutic of a theology of the cross is the implicit and explicit interpretive means we are given by the gospels themselves.
With this in mind, I want to turn my attention now to the use of Scripture by Jesus in the gospels. Can we discern any kind of a pattern in Jesus’ use of Scripture? Ask any Christian and they will tell you that Jesus quoted the Bible. By quoting it he validated its authority. By validating its authority, Jesus as ‘God’ validates the God of the Bible who in many ways is remarkably different from him. Go figure.
First I want to look at two texts that are used by some to assert that Jesus affirmed in whole the authority of the Hebrew Bible. Mark 12:35-40 where Jesus quotes Psalm 110 I have already dealt with in both Year B as well as “The Biblical Testaments as a Marriage of Convenience.” When Jesus quotes Psalm 110, he adds an aside ‘David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit declared..” Some see here a warrant for saying that the Hebrew Scriptures are ‘God-breathed’ (a la 2 Tim 3:16). But Jesus’ selective use of Psalm 110 as a hermeneutic alternative to militant notions of Messiah vitiates that interpretation. More than likely, this phrase is meant ironically as in “Your Bible says this and since you believe your Bible is inspired you must answer the question.” It has been shown that Jesus’ could be just as ironic as Socrates.
We have the same thing going on in John 10:34-39. Here Jesus, in describing his relationship to the Father, is about to be lynched. In this mob scene, Jesus is going to be publicly executed for violating ‘law’ that is, committing blasphemy. Jesus says, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods?’ (Psalm 82:6) If he called them ‘gods’ to whom the word of God came – and the Scripture cannot be broken – what about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world?” Once again the phrase “and Scripture cannot be broken” is used ironically. Not only can this be demonstrated within the larger Johannine use of irony but also in the fact that the law referred to has a possessive pronoun, it is “your Law.” In neither case do we need to see in the texts some kind of theory of inspiration; on the contrary, both texts give us a theory of non-inspiration. What do I mean by this?
When we looked at Mark 12 and Jesus’ use of Psalm 110, we saw that Jesus’ explicitly chose to refute the Hasmonean interpretation by not quoting Psalm 110: 2-3, 5-7. Jesus refused to perceive his mission in terms of a militant deliverer. Jesus explicitly rejected this ‘‘christology’ and it is something he does throughout the entire gospel tradition. Remember, even the disciples didn’t get it while he was alive, how much less the crowds or the authorities. But this use of Psalm 110 is indicative of a hermeneutic.
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This same hermeneutic can be found in Matthew 5 where Jesus contrasts his speech with that of Moses in the Torah. No matter how you slice it, Matthew 5:17-20 is not about abolition of Torah but about its fulfillment, a fulfillment seen in the ‘I say unto you’ portions. It is the rejection of religion and the affirmation of the spirituality (and sociology) of forgiveness and non-retribution. It is the rejection of a militant spirituality, just as Jesus’ use of Psalm 110 is a rejection of anti (= militant) Christology.
This can be further seen in Jesus’ use of Isaiah. We have greatly benefited from Bruce Chilton’s research on Jesus’ use of the Isaiah Targum. Unquestionably, Isaiah was Jesus’ favorite book, the lens through which he perceived his people’s history. In Luke 4 and in Luke 7 (as we see in Year C Epiphany), Jesus cites the Isaiah text and four out of four times (at a minimum) Jesus omits the continuing Isaianic theme of vengeance on the Gentiles. This is again of a piece with Jesus’ hermeneutic on demythologizing the ‘violent’ God.
In each case where Jesus cites Isaiah, it is always in the context of one way or another challenging his hearers to consider what God without retribution would look like. This similar principle can also be found In Jesus’ parables. In the parables, familiar eschatological imagery is given a turn on its head. For example, the kingdom is God is never conceived of as a reign of coercion, rather, God is like the father who cares not for his honor and RUNS to his estranged child. God’s reign is a place where sparrows are fed and lilies are clothed. Jesus’ parables are subversive by their very insistence that God is not like that which had been conceived.
Finally I must mention the oft-cited use of Psalm 22 in the passion narrative. Evangelicals tend to see a one to one correspondence between the events of Psalm 22 and the passion of Jesus. Psalm 22 is cited as fulfilled prophecy and becomes a witness, not to the passion of Jesus, but to a view of inspiration. And sadly, there it remains. Whether or not the use of Psalm 22 can be traced to the historical Jesus is an open question. Part of the reason for this openness is that scholars have a difficult time understanding how Jesus could have uttered such words, after all didn’t he have this great thing with God going on in the text previously. The Evangelical response is to say that Jesus quoted Psalm 22 because God had indeed abandoned him and was pouring out wrath upon him for our sins. That is mythologizing. Jesus’ use of Psalm 22 in the passion narrative is intended to call to mind the victimage process, the persecution of the innocent. It is the end of myth. Psalm 22 ends on a note of vindication just as Jesus knows his story will. He does not need to cite the whole text to make this point; the opening verse should bring the entire text to mind. But, if it is mythologized, then we ourselves are proof that had we been there we would have done the same things as Jesus’ persecutors. And the proof of that lies in those we scapegoat on a day to day basis.
Over and over again there is a consistent pattern in Jesus’ use of Scripture in the gospel tradition. It does not all have to go back to the historical Jesus and some of it undoubtedly comes from the good theologizing of the early church. But this early church did their theology in the presence of this Living Lord, so it is little wonder that there might be such congruency between his approach to Scripture and their approach. I think Jesus was far more of a ‘thinker’ than many give him credit for, I believe he was quite brilliant to be able to nurture such a vision of God.
What does this mean for us today in the churches that must still see the intimate connections between the two Testaments? Several things come to mind.
First, there must be a better understanding of Judaism in the churches. Far too much of what is taught and believed about Judaism in the churches is at best patently false and at worst, downright evil. When considering Scripture, e.g., Christians have a tendency to think Jews (and Jesus) viewed their Bible as a monolithic authority. Such was not the case, even for the Pharisees. It is essential to view Jesus in the midst of the many hermeneutic options available to him. The days of considering ancient Judaism as a unified religion are over. The time has come to recognize the diversity of thought that can be found in the literature and history of ancient Judaism, which includes various views of the biblical canon as well as a variety of ways of interpreting that canon.
Second, the church would do well to take its hermeneutic cue from Jesus and the apostles rather than inherited sacrificial theologies. I cannot emphasize this point enough. We will not recognize our sacrificial theology, hermeneutic and ethic if we do not take the time to ask if our reading of Scripture is consistent with that of Jesus and the prophetic and apostolic witness. We can only do this when we see that the essential component is the question: what does God without violence look like? The answer of course is that God looks a lot like Jesus. But this means we must reconsider the sacrificial mythmaking of our theologies and correct them.
Therefore, third, we as Christians must own up to our sacrificial theologies and our tendency to mythologize and we must repent. If indeed we confess that humans are ‘in sin’ then we better accept the fact that our hermeneutics will tend also ‘to sin.’ As my professor Bernard Ramm used to say, “God forgives our theology…just like he forgives our sin.” How do we recognize if we have a sacrificial theology? We look to see if the marks of victimage are present. Do we have a scapegoat? Do we justify ourselves? Do we lie? Do we create rivalries? Is our theology essentially dualistic? Do we sacralize the victim (and thus our violence)?
Fourth, the Protestant ‘sola scriptura’ principle without the controlling element of a theology of the cross will forever be a misplaced ideal. It will stand alone, defying interpreters to make sense out of its differentiation. It will be no more than a jigsaw puzzle without a box cover to give a clue as to what the end result looks like. Theology that does not begin and end as anthropology, with the humanity, death and resurrection of Jesus, will never be Christian theology. It will be more or less mythologized gospel. If we allow a theory of inspiration to control our hermeneutic, we will not be able to perceive the essential element that is the cornerstone of responsible Christian theology: the rejection of God in Christ on the cross by all humanity and the revelation of God’s forgiving spirit.
Fifth, with Girard and others we may recognize the travail of revelation in the Hebrew Scriptures, just as we can recognize it, e.g., in certain early Greek playwrights. What is being birthed is the revelation of the forgiving God. This birth culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the witnesses to his life that we call ‘gospel.’ As long as we insist on flattening out the biblical revelation with a theory of inspiration we will not be able to see the real character of God revealed in Jesus.
So you see, from my perspective, it is centrally important to readdress this issue of modern Christian hermeneutics from the perspective of mimetic theory. In so doing we also expose the underlying mythological (sacrificial) elements in our various doctrines, not the least of which is the doctrine of the authority, inspiration and interpretation of Scripture. I fear that the churches will not want to hear this. It will be far easier and more comfortable for them to remain in the la-la land of their first naivete. But I fear more for the world, for it is not hearing the good news of the gospel by those who claim to know Christ. I fear not that God will judge them, but that we will have missed so many opportunities to share the joyous message of liberation and peace that we have been given. Until and unless we re-examine this issue, we will remain in the vacuous sterility of our ignorance.
I hope I have answered your question about Jesus and his hermeneutic. I have chosen to keep my remarks brief and to refrain from all kinds of footnoting and debating of positions. At any point in this letter-essay I might have referenced one or more authors but I don’t think being pedantic will help here. Better clarity than obfuscation. If I have been unclear, it is because I too, am learning to repent, and know that my theology must also be forgiven.
Peace be with you.