At The ConneXion we have been working through the EMC’s newly released lectionary. This last Sunday we explored the chapter on Hermeneutics: Interpreting Scripture with a Focus on Christ. During the teaching time, we explored three principles in biblical hermeneutics: i.) the bible is often its own best interpreter ii.) knowledge of the historical context in which a text was written, while not necessarily essential, is extremely helpful for fully grasping its significance iii.) reading scripture through the lens of Jesus’ life. To further explore these three points, I offer two quotes from theologian Karl Barth which I think draw out even more of the significance of these three principles in biblical hermeneutics:
“The statement that the Bible is God’s Word is a confession of faith, a statement of the faith which hears God Himself speak through the biblical word of man.” CD, Vol.I.1, p.110
“Why and in what respect does the biblical witness have authority? Because and in the fact that he claims no authority for himself, that his witness amounts to letting that other itself be its own authority. We thus do the Bible poor and unwelcome honour if we equate it directly with this other, with revelation itself.” CD, Vol.I,1, p.112
What Karl Barth so helpfully points out here is that the biblical authors are the most faithful and radical form of witnesses. What does a witness do? A witness “claims no authority for itself” but instead points to the “other” to whom it is witnessing. The bible is authoritative, therefore, not because we say it is. And here is the danger, isn’t it? When we enter into the task of hermeneutics, we can sometimes assume that the task is one where we seek to “grasp” or “understand” the text as if it were some kind of “idea”. While there is nothing wrong with putting the matter this way, it can be dangerous if we assume that we control the Word of God under a category. When we assume this type of control, we actually mistake Jesus for a concept that we have made up (“word of God”), which is really our own particular perspective on the word of God. In other words, the only way for the Bible to truly be authoritative is for us to always allow it to speak a new word to us. This requires that we believe in the bible as the Word of God only by faith, faith that the entirety of the bible is a witness to Jesus, faith that no matter what the context was in which God spoke to the biblical authors and faith that no matter what context it is that we find ourselves in, that we can in fact encounter the true Word of God, Jesus, in our listening to the written word. Thoughts?