Holy Love: A Hermeneutic of Holy Love

​The Bible is simultaneously sixty-six books written over a period of approximately 1600 years, and one Book that communicates a unified revelation.  With respect to a theology of human sexuality, we must begin by discerning the overarching view before looking at specific passages.  As I pointed out in the previous post, many books have not done this.  The failure to begin at the widest point leaves open the misinterpretation of the Bible on any subject, and that includes a misunderstanding of what it says about human sexuality.

But is it possible to discover the overarching hermeneutic for the Bible as-a-whole?  The answer is, “Yes,” and the discovery comes through the common way we talk about the Bible as “the written Word of God.” [1]. The key is in the two words “of God.”  The Bible is God’s revelation, so it is reasonable to assume that it will be congruent with the nature and purpose of God.  In other words, God is the ultimate hermeneutic of Scripture.  The being and activity of God is the unifying element of the Bible. [2]

With respect to the nature of God, the Bible sums it up in one sentence, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Dr. Walter Brueggemann sees this core reality revealed in the divine name Yahweh—the name ascribed to God in general (first used in Genesis 2:4) and to Jesus in particular (first used in Luke 2:11).  Brueggemann notes that five attributes are contained in the name: mercy, grace, faithfulness, forgiveness, and steadfast love. [3]  Given this, we see that the Bible is a revelation of who God is.  And the word is love.

With respect to the purpose of God, the Bible sums it up in one word too: holiness.  God is holy and wants to create a people shaped by grace who are holy as well. [4]  To be holy essentially means to be  lovers (individually and collectively) of the world (ie. John 3:16)—which is to say lovers of everyone and everything.  Holiness is summed up in the two great commandments, to love God and to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).  It is in this respect that we are most like God. 

Taken together, love and holiness reveal the overarching hermeneutic of Scripture.  Directly or indirectly every particular passage tells us something about holy love.  The Bible does this through some key vantage points.  We will look at them one-by-one in upcoming posts.


(1) How does the phrase “holy love” describe what you already believe?

(2) How does the phrase “holy love” challenge you to enrich/expand your beliefs?

[1] Theologically it is necessary to point out that the Bible itself is not the Word  of God, and the Bible tells us this itself.  The Word of God is the logos, understood essentially as the second person of the Trinity, the pre-incarnate, incarnate, and post-incarnate Christ.  The Word of God is person not paper.  

[2] The CEB Study Bible has an excellent article about this, “The Bible’s Unity,” by Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson.  In the article she notes that “the Bible is held together by a single narrative and that the central figure is the Triune God” (p. 533 nt).

[3] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Theology of the Old Testament’ (Fortress Press, 2009).

[4] For more on this, see Dr. Kenneth Collins’ book, ‘The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace (Abingdon Press, 2007).  Dr. Collins and I do not have the same theology of human sexuality, but he rightly captures the essence of Wesleyan theology.  And because my book was intended to link a theology of human sexuality with the Wesleyan tradition, I deliberately chose the title ‘Holy Love.’

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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