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Christology and Hermeneutics [Thawed out Thursday]

It's common to see a link between christology and our approach to the bible.  There are limits to this but also benefits.  Our approach to both Christ and the bible requires us to encounter something fully human which nonetheless is the Word of God.  Christology can therefore teach us a great deal about how the bible as fully human can, nonetheless, be a fully divine revelation.

In this post I discussed an important point in christology.  Namely, the chronological and methodological priority of Nicea over Chalcedon.  What this means is that we must linger long over Nicea's declaration that Jesus (born of a virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate) is of one being with the Father (homoousios). The Man Jesus exists wholly within the triune relations which constitute God's being.  Whatever else Chalcedon protects - it does not protect Christ's humanity from that Nicene homoousios!  The fully human Jesus is a full participant in this divine nature.  In this way we protect against a Nestorianism which always threatens to divorce the humanity from the divinity.

What we can then say is this:

  1. Nestorianism is rejected: In Jesus' humanity (and not apart from it) God is revealed.  To put it another way: As the Man Jesus (and not in some other realm of locked-off deity) He brings divine revelation and salvation.
  2. Adoptionism is rejected: It is not the case that the humanity comes first and is then taken up into deity.  The Word became flesh, not the other way around!
  3. Docetism is rejected: It is not the case that the humanity is an unreal facade which we must push beyond to get to the real (divine) Jesus.

What would this mean when applied to biblical interpretation (i.e. hermeneutics)?  Given our OT focus here - what would it mean in particular for OT interpretation?

I suggest it means this:

  1. Nestorianism is rejected: In the humanity of the OT (it's immediate context, complete Jewish-ness, thorough Hebrew-ness) its divine Object (Christ) is revealed.  As the prophetic Israelite Scripture that it is (and not in some other locked-off realm of meaning) it is Christian, i.e. a proclamation of Christ.
  2. Adoptionism is rejected: It is not the case that a lower-level of Jewish meaning comes first and is then added to as it's adopted as Christian Scripture (by the NT).  From the beginning, at the very roots of its being, the OT is Christian/Messianic.  It is not first Hebrew Scripture and then Christian revelation rather it is Christian revelation that presupposes and brings about the Hebrew Scriptures.
  3. Docetism is rejected:  Having said all this I'm in no way denying the distinctly Israelite/Hebrew/pre-Gentile-inclusion/Mosaic-administration ways in which the Christ is proclaimed.  In its own context and on its own terms the OT will proclaim Christ to us.  We do not ignore contemporary details - rather we take them very seriously as the concrete context in which Christ is made known.

If the christological analogy holds and if this christology is right then I think we need to rule out certain brands of hermeneutics.  In particular we should be wary of any theory of interpretation that separates out Jewish-ness and Christian-ness in the OT.

On a similar note, here's a great short article on this hermeneutical issue by Nathan Pitchford.  His argument is that the reformers' notion of the literal meaning of the text was not something different to its christological meaning. It was the christological meaning.  You can also check out his excellent OT series here.


0 thoughts on “Christology and Hermeneutics [Thawed out Thursday]

  1. Rich Owen

    Very good. I think the days of lazy biblical theology are over. The Adoptionist OT hermeneutic has been found out. Options 1 and 3 are still rife though. It'll be a while yet till the ghost of Athanasius puts those two monsters in the box

  2. Bobby Grow

    Athanasius held to a Word-Flesh christology --- i.e. Jesus had a human body, but not soul. So while Ath. was a Trinitarian champion, I'm not sure how much of a great christological advocate he was (but of course this was when much of this stuff was very fluid, and heretics and orthodox was still being figured out).


    How does your analysis relate to dispensationalism? What do you know dispensationalism, it's pretty much an American "religion" now-a-days; not so much in the UK, right?

  3. Jacky Lam


    Nathan's site seems to be a theological goldmine. Free (and good) stuff are hard to come by, and given the quality of his article at the reformationtheology site, I would recommend people to check out and discern his writings in more detail. Thanks for the link!

  4. Glen

    Thanks Rich and Jacky.

    Hey Bobby, yes dispensationalism is definitely a minority report in the UK. You're definitely the expert here.

    But I'm guessing what generally happens in these debates is that an amil/post-mill person calls the dispensationalist "adoptionist" or "nestorian" - ie "You dispys denigrate and divide the Jewishness from the Christian-ness".

    At the same time the dispensationalist calls the amil/post-mill position "docetic" - ie "You allegorists don't take the concrete Jewishness seriously".

    Now I think there's a big danger that the debate then dissolves into a yelling match between two heretics! And I'm sure many eschatological debates are adoptionists *rightly* naming the docetism they see in the other and docetics *rightly* naming the adoptionism they see in the other.

    What's the way forward? Well, I think the amil perspective needs to get the log out of its own eye. We need to show that we are not docetic. ie We need to show that the OT *in* it's concrete Jewish-ness is also consciously Messianic. And I suppose a lot of my "Christ in the OT" stuff is designed to do exactly that.

    I don't want to allegorize the Hebrew Scriptures and by sleight of hand say "ta da, it's all about Christ (even though no-one knew at the time)". I think dispys can smell that subterfuge a mile off. But if I can show that the OT on its *own* terms is testimony to Christ then I think I've defended against the docetic charge. And then I can seek to remove the adoptionism from the eye of the dispy.

    Do you think 'adoptionism' and/or 'nestorianism' is the danger for the dispensationalist?

    And if we could prove a resumptive reading of Revelation, do you think you'd convert back to amil? :)

  5. John B

    This model provides a great way for thinking about hermeneutics. And thanks also for the link to Pitchford's article, which is a gem. It's the best that I've read in concisely crystalizing Luther's hermeneutic and recognizing it as the heart of the Reformation.

    For Luther the Bible was never flat. And he never lingered for long in the flat lands. He was always climbing to the summit, the cross of Christ, at the center of the gospel. The epistles of James and Jude were flat, so Luther didn't need them. (Though I think he missed out on the indispensability of Hebrews and Revelation during this age between the Advents.)

    Pitchford is right. We need a return to the literal. The naturalistic is just a reaction to the Enlightenment.

  6. Hiram

    "It is not first Hebrew Scripture and then Christian revelation rather it is Christian revelation that presupposes and brings about the Hebrew Scriptures.

    Tell that to the Neo-Judaizers that are popping up everywhere these days, desiring to subject Christ to their culture, rather than subjecting themselves to Christ!

    What bugs me the most, perhaps, is that they frequently commit the fallacy of division, attributing thoughts, beliefs, motives, and intentions to the writers that find no place in the text (neither by direct assertion or via inference) because they've already committed the fallacy of composition.

    Loved this post! Good stuff, Glen!


  7. Heather


    Glen's spam folder eats my link-laden comments, but Bobby's retraction is his April 6th post, entitled "Back to Premil"

  8. Bobby Grow


    Great points. I actually did a post, once, demonstrating how "Classic Disp" falls into the trap of Nestorianism; I did this by using the analogy of the Incarnation --- it was quite controversial for some. I think PROGRESSIVE dispensationalism can be commensurate with a 'christocentric' hermeneutic; at least that's the way I'm morphing it :-).

    I've read, I think some of the best stuff for 'resumptive'/recapitulation (G.K. Beale being one those guys); and while I see some of the 'patterns', they aren't as clean as I think amil would have it to be. Also dealing with genre is very important, Revelation is more than "apocalyptic" in nature; which makes interpreting this "letter" (so we have epistle, and prophetic) much more interesting to get at. So I think I can follow your points on Christ in the OT and still hold to a premil view :-).


    I tried on amil, I just can't hang in there; I'm premil through and through, but I have a great appreciation for many of the emphases provided by amil.


    Thanks for pointing Pete in the right direction.

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