A hermeneutic – the interpretative method one uses to understand scripture.
I much appreciate the modern biblical scholars who emphasize that the interpretation of scripture involves a dialogue with the composer of the text more than a mere dissection of the text, where the scripture is treated as a frog in freshman biology which must be dissected to view all its parts. The problem with viewing scriptural interpretation in this way is it takes the text and treats it as the body of work, or more to the point as a corpse – dead words to be parsed and flayed as if their meaning can be uncovered in the same fashion that crime scene investigators discover clues on a corpse. And biblical interpretation becomes the work of a coroner examining a dead body. In contrast to this, biblical scholar James Dunn wrote in his masterpiece, THE THEOLOGY OF PAUL THE APOSTLE:
“The hermeneutical model, in other words, needs to be more that of the dialogue with a living respondent than the clinical analysis of a dead corpse.”
Dunn’s hermeneutic is much in line with St. Peter’s claim that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God (or men inspired by God spoke) as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Though some want it to be the case that in the written word of the Bible we have a direct encounter with God not mediated by anyone, in fact God inspired different men and women to speak on His behalf – all scriptures are humanly mediated through the specific people God inspired to speak and write. The only unmediated Word of God is Jesus Christ Himself. Even the Gospels written about Him come through the hand of men. Thus true biblical reading, study, interpretation, if it is live, is a dialogue and a relationship with those who were inspired by God. We are not left merely reliant on the written word, we can encounter those through whom the Holy Spirit spoke. God by His own will and plan speaks to us through His chosen servants. And though sometimes God dictates to them what to say (“thus says the Lord”!), more often God inspires them to write and they write His revelation in human words, symbols and metaphors.
The hermeneutic – the biblical form of interpretation which has us dialoguing with the inspired author rather than focusing on a lifeless text is much in line with St. Paul’s thinking in Romans 7:6 and 2 Corinthians 3:3 –
“But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6).
“And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
When we read scripture with the idea of dialoguing with those inspired by God to write the scripture, we experience the text as living, engaging, active, spiritual, challenging, inspiring, life giving, piercing heart and soul – unlike the lifeless code written in ink, permanently affixed to a page (or a hardened stone) which one can look at and even admire.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
The last quote from Hebrews is most interesting of all for it has the word of God piercing and cutting through, for not only are we trying to interpret the Word, the Word is reading us and discerning our thoughts, intentions and our heart. The Word sees us! We are not hidden from HIS sight, for the Word of God truly in Jesus Christ and not the printed book we call the Bible. Only when we pick up the Bible and read it, engage it, and dialogue with it, does that printed word become the life giving Word of God.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn expressed a similar idea in his GULAG ARCHIPELAGO:
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of hearts, there remains… an un-uprooted small corner of evil.”
That which separates good from evil is found in our hearts, not in a book.
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).