The Christological Hermeneutic (1)

What Some of Its Apologists Say[1]

I realize, as I quote these four scholars regarding their explanation of the Christological Hermeneutic, that explanations among its apologists vary in intensity of conviction and range of application—e.g., compare Boyd’s boldly stated absolute certainty with Seibert’s and Baker Putt’s more open-minded, less certain approach. For me, these four scholars are representative of different points along the Christological Hermeneutic continuum. Any emphasis (in bold italics) is mine, many of which I will comment on or respond to in a future article.  

  1. Smith, Christian. The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012 (Kindle Edition).

“The purpose, center, and interpretive key to scripture is Jesus Christ. It is embarrassing to have to write this, for it should be obvious to all Christians.” (97)

“We only, always, and everywhere read scripture in view of its real subject matter: Jesus Christ. This means that we always read scripture Christocentrically, christologically, and christotelically, as those who really believe what the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds say. That is, for Christians, Christ is the center, the inner reason, and the end of all of scripture. From the Bible’s account of the creation of the world in Genesis to its final consummation in Revelation, it is all and only about the work of God in time and space in the person of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world.” (98)

Scripture’s internal unity or harmony, rather, derives from its central purpose in divine revelation of telling us about Jesus Christ.” (102)

“It is inevitable to have a “canon within a canon.” But our canon-defining canon must only and always be Jesus Christ. Anything else abuses the Bible for purposes other than that for which God gave scripture to us through Israel and the church.” (116)

“By choosing decisively to read all of scripture only and always in the light of Jesus Christ, we knock off the table a number of other interpretive instincts and tendencies that tend toward biblicism and foster pervasive interpretive pluralism.” (116)

The Bible did not and could not exist or have any meaning without the higher, truer, more final Word of God, Jesus Christ.” (118)

As Keith Ward notes, ‘For a Christian, every part of the Bible must in some way point to Christ, to the living person of Jesus who is the Christ, and to the unlimited, liberating love of God which is revealed in Christ.’” (99)

“And as Bonhoeffer says of scripture, ‘In its entirety and in all its parts it is nothing but this witness of Christ, his life, his death, and his resurrection.’” (99-100)

[Quoting J. R. W. Stott] “There is a great diversity of content, style, and purpose among the books of the Bible, and in some of them the witness to Christ is indirect, even oblique. . . . [But] the conclusion is simple. Whenever we read the Bible, we must look for Christ. And we must go on looking until we see and until we believe.” (103)

2. Boyd, Gregory. Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross. Vols. 1 and 2. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017.

“Jesus certainly interpreted the OT in ways that defied traditional interpretation (e.g., Matt 5:21–28) …  Similarly, NT authors were clearly led by the Spirit to find new, Christocentric interpretations of OT passages that had no precedent in their Jewish tradition…” (18)

“…after the fifth century, no attempts have been made to arrive at a distinctly Christocentric interpretation of its violent divine portraits. …Christian thinkers after the fifth century generally did not appreciate the intensity of the NT’s Christocentric orientation as profoundly as Origen and other Christian thinkers before this time. This present chapter is designed to address this longstanding oversight!” (93)

“Their working assumption was that “all texts in the whole Bible bear a discernible relationship to Christ and are primarily intended as a testimony to Christ.” (96)

“I would at the very least argue that the intensely Christocentric nature of their overall approach, along with their willingness to embrace creative strategies to find Christ in the OT, must be considered normative for all who regard the NT’s Christocentric theology to be normative. For their Christocentric hermeneutic simply reflects and supports their Christocentric theology, while we shall see below that their creativity, which I affirm to be Spirit led was what allowed their Christocentric hermeneutic to be successful…” (97)

“The superior authority of Christ meant that while the authors of the NT embraced the OT as “God-breathed” and thus would never feel free to reject any portion of it, they were equally convinced that the ultimate God-intended meaning of any given passage, and of the OT as a whole, was only found when seen in relation to Christ. And it was precisely this conviction that led them to go to the creative extremes they felt the Spirit leading them to go as they interpreted Scripture.” (98)

“…I will argue that when the Christocentric norm is understood in this cross-centered fashion, it functions as the “magic-eye” that reframes all of Scripture’s violent portraits of God, disclosing how even portraits of God commanding genocide and smashing families are “God-breathed” for the ultimate purpose of bearing witness to the cross.” (140)

3. Seibert, Eric A. Disturbing Divine Behaviour: Troubling Old Testament Images of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009.

“Since the NT, like the Old, contains various problematic portrayals of God, we cannot simply turn to the NT. … To that end, I propose looking at the Gospels and, particularly, at the God Jesus reveals. This holds the key to helping us construct an accurate view of God’s character.” (185)

“I will argue that the God Jesus reveals should be the standard, or measuring rod, by which all OT portrayals of God are evaluated. OT portrayals that correspond to the God Jesus reveals should be regarded as trustworthy and reliable reflections of God’s character, while those that do not measure up should be regarded as distortions.” (185)

“The interpretive approach I am proposing rests on two major assumptions, and these need to be identified and discussed before proceeding. First, this approach assumes that God’s moral character is most clearly and completely revealed through the person of Jesus. … Second [of Seibert’s assumptions], this interpretive approach assumes the consistency of God’s character.” (185–186)

“If we accept these two assumptions—it stands to reason that the God whom Jesus reveals should be the standard by which all portrayals of God are measured and evaluated. … But doing so immediately raises a potential problem. How can we be sure the literary portrayals of Jesus in the Gospels accurately reflect what Jesus actually said and did? … Some believe it is necessary to differentiate between the historical Jesus (the actual Jesus) and the Christ of faith (the textual Jesus).” (186–187)

“…while it is true that the Gospel writers attribute things to Jesus he never said or did, the degree of distortion between the textual Jesus and the actual Jesus is typically far less severe than that which sometimes exists between the textual God and the actual God in the OT. … Third, despite the presence of inauthentic Jesus’ sayings in the Gospels, I believe the general portrait of Jesus that emerges is reliable enough to serve as a standard by which to evaluate portrayals of God in the OT and elsewhere. (188)

“What I have proposed in this chapter is obviously not a foolproof way of determining the degree of correspondence between the textual God and the actual God, it is not possible to be absolutely certain that in every instance we have used the biblical text to think rightly about God.” (206)

A Christocentric hermeneutic is crucial for guiding our thoughts about the kinds of beliefs and behaviours Christians should, and should not, affirm. Scripture should be regarded as authoritative to the extent that it agrees with the will and purpose of the God Jesus reveals.” (279)

“Making distinctions between the textual God and the actual God, applying a Christocentric hermeneutic, and being discerning readers are all practices that are consistent with a principled approach to biblical authority.” (279)

4. Baker Putt, Sharon L. A Nonviolent Theology of Love: Peacefully Confessing the Apostles’ Creed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2021 (Kindle Edition).

How do we know, then, which passages of Scripture reveal the true nature of God? As we have mentioned before, we practice a christocentric hermeneutic. To start with, because we believe that God’s moral character is most fully revealed through Jesus, we read and interpret the Bible through the lens of Jesus. … To see what God is really like, therefore, we look at what Jesus taught and how he acted. Our rationale for this line of thought comes from the pages of Scripture.” (76)

If the Holy Spirit served as the guide for writing all Scripture, and God the Spirit cannot contradict God, then Scripture should never contradict itself, especially surrounding depictions of God.” (76)

“Yet, we cannot simply dismiss these violent images of God in the Bible; all Scripture has a purpose, even the passages that may provide inaccurate images of God. But we do need to use responsible hermeneutical methods when interpreting these difficult passages. And for Christians, it all comes back to our principle of Christological hermeneutics. So when we confront seeming inconsistencies surround the character of God in the Bible, we search the depths of Scripture for context and glimpse of Jesus in the text, for images of God that reveal the self-sacrificial love of Christ.” (80)

But what about the violent passages? How do we find purpose in those, and how should we interpret them? Again, we turn to Origen for some answers. He believes that the treasures of God’s wisdom are hidden from slothful people who do not want to take time to dig for it. … Origen believes God uses the difficulties of Scripture as a tool to help us grow in our faith. As we seek out the purpose of these violent stories we dig deeper than the surface layer to find the treasure concealed underneath.” (82)

In the next article, in light of the polyphonic[1] nature of the biblical texts, I will list and explain my reservations regarding any and all dogmatically[2] exclusive promotions of the Christological Hermeneutic. I will also express what I believe is the real and desperate need of the hour— hermeneutical humility—as demonstrated by many respected biblical scholars.

[1] “polyphonic” with respect to the biblical texts means these are writings in which a variety of conflicting theological positions are given a voice and set in play both between and within individual texts, without a stated judgement as to which are orthodox and which are not.

[2] “dogmatically” refers to the expression of interpretations, perspectives, beliefs, etc., which are very strongly or positively stated as if they were the only justifiable and defensible interpretations, perspectives, beliefs, etc.

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