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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Jesus Hermeneutic

I only recently heard the phrase, "the Jesus hermeneutic", although I'd certainly heard of the concept before. Can you figure what it is from the words? The idea is this. If a "hermeneutic" is a method of interpreting Scripture, a "Jesus hermeneutic" is interpreting Scripture from the words of Christ. Now, of course, it goes a little farther, because the idea is that we'd be interpreting Scripture the way Christ did, which, obviously, would be the best possible thing to do (as Jesus is the Word).

Immediately, though, we run into problems. For instance, on the very heels of "I believe in a Jesus hermeneutic ..." is the almost unavoidable "... and Jesus never said ...". Many use this grand concept of interpreting Scripture through Jesus's words as a means of deleting Scripture, and they do so not because Jesus said it was so, but because He didn't say anything at all about it. Surely this is patently wrong. Jesus never mentioned rape, bestiality, or vehicular homicide. Do we therefore conclude, "Jesus didn't think these were wrong"? In fact, John ends his Gospel with this little verse. "Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." (John 21:25) Clearly we do not have every act Jesus did or every word Jesus spoke recorded for us. Nor would we expect that during His brief ministry He would have spoken on every single matter of significance. So "Jesus never said" is an argument from silence, ignoring that "the Word" (John 1:1) ultimately said everything in Scripture. (Thus the hermeneutical principle, "Scripture interprets Scripture".)

The other major problem occurs when people use "the Jesus hermeneutic" to prove that Jesus disproved God's Word. They generally do it this way. "I don't believe that the Bible teaches X or that God favors X, so when Jesus spoke on anything related (or remained silent about it), He was favoring my belief and, thus, I am interpreting Scripture the way Jesus did." That is, they do not offer proof that Jesus interpreted Scripture they way they are saying He did (at best they offer faulty prooftexting while disregarding other things Jesus said or the bulk of Scripture on a subject). They simply assign to Jesus their own interpretation and claim it is His. "Jesus didn't condemn anyone, so the Bible is opposed to it." Where does that come from?1 "Jesus was loving, so He wouldn't think like that." Let's be careful to avoid all the other passages about Jesus that go against that tepid definition of "loving". "Jesus never said anything about a blood sacrifice, so I don't believe in it and we must reinterpret everything Paul said on the subject." See? That's the "Jesus hermeneutic". "Jesus never said ..." When He said, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28), He wasn't talking about blood or sacrifice. "Jesus said, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' See?!" Jesus said, "Go and learn what this means." (Matt 9:13) If it means that Jesus and, by extension, God never wanted sacrifice, then God is crazy as a loon for instituting a sacrificial system and then complaining when it wasn't used or was misused2. Is that how Jesus interprets Scripture?

If Jesus is actually God Incarnate and the Word is actually God-breathed, then Jesus didn't offer us 3 years of insight into Scripture. He inspired it all. And remember, it was Jesus who told His disciples that the Spirit would lead them into all truth (John 16:13). So if you're trying for the "Jesus hermeneutic", 1) it will need to be consistent with (rather than contrary to) the rest of Scripture, 2) it will need to be relatively common among believers (unlike the popular, "Modern scholars have decided that ... all of Church History has been wrong on that subject and we've figure it out."). If you're thinking of pitting Jesus against God, think again. (And I've actually read folks say that Jesus denied God's Word.) Jesus certainly had a way of viewing Scripture that was different than most of the people of His day, but rest assured it was not in opposition to Scripture. That is not a Jesus hermeneutic.

1 Generally it comes from a single verse in a questioned passage (John 8:1-11) yanked completely out of context while ignoring many other passages where He does condemn sin. Try, for instance, to lay "Jesus doesn't focus on sin or guilt or that kind of thing" against the Luke 13:1-5 passage. "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:5)

2 On this text commentator Barnes writes, "This is not a declaration on the part of God that He was opposed to 'sacrifices' or 'offerings for sin;' for He had appointed and commanded many, and had therefore expressed His approbation of them. It is a Hebrew mode of speaking, and means, 'I prefer mercy to sacrifice;' or, 'I am more pleased with acts of benevolence and kindness than with a mere external compliance with the duties of religion.'” Clarke notes that it is a quote from 1 Sam 15:22 where Samuel tells Saul, "To obey is better than sacrifice." (This is consistent with what Jesus was telling the Pharisees. "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.") Matthew Henry points to Hosea 6:6 where God said, "I desire love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." In other words, "It is better to be righteous than to sacrifice for sin." All of these and more agree that Jesus agreed with His Father on the subject and didn't oppose sacrifice for sin.


Neil said...

I just saw that from a "pastor" last night, dismissing the Romans 1 designation of homosexual behavior as a sin as something Paul said, but not Jesus.

That is a sure sign of a false teacher.

Stan said...

Exactly! The "Jesus Hermeneutic" based on "Jesus never said" (as if we have all that Jesus said or that an argument from silence is a valid argument), built primarily on "I feel like Jesus was like this" (which normally conveys "Jesus believed like I do").

Craig said...

As you've pointed out elsewhere, I believe, when God spoke in the OT that was Jesus. It seems the Jesus hermeneutic wants to be limited to only certain sayings of the incarnate Jesus while ignoring that vast majority of what He said.

Stan said...

Similar to the "Red-Letter Christians".