At the Gate: The Jesus Hermeneutic

Sitting at the gate, I continue to see the necessity of interpreting the Bible through the lens of the Gospel. My post this past Monday, “The Gospel Says,” described my thinking in this regard. But in doing so, I recognize the phrase points to a two-pronged hermeneutic: the one begun in Jesus, and the one continued by the first Christians. In this post, and the next one, we will examine each of these subsets in “the Gospel says” interpretive lens. We begin with the Jesus Hermeneutic.

When I read Richard Rohr’s words, “Let’s use the Bible the way that Jesus did!,” my immediate response was, “Well, yes!” [1] I mean, who would want to do otherwise? His words reminded me of a similar sentiment from Emil Brunner in his book, ‘The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption,’ in which he posited that Christ is the lens through whom we look to see Scripture correctly. [2] I was in my first year of seminary (1970), and Brunner’s words set me on an interpretive journey which I continue to this day.

Essentially, Brunner said that as the Word made flesh, Jesus is the lens for “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), which of course was a reference to the Hebrew scriptures and to the Gospel which emerged from them in Jesus (Mark 1:1).. As the mediator (another of Brunner’s major themes), we look through him to see the rest of the New Testament and the subsequent Christian tradition. Everything, including the Bible, must be “in Christ” in order to be what God intends.

So, it comes as no surprise that Rohr’s admonition above went straight into my soul. Thankfully, he goes on in chapter three to enumerate some of the particulars of the Jesus Hermeneutic. [3] I offer a synthesis of his list with minimal commentary.

First, Jesus quotes the Hebrew scriptures infrequently, and when he does, it is more to show that his message is found in them, not to prove their inspiration and authority, or to validate his. Jesus’ authority is ex persona, an authority different from that of “the legal experts” (Matthew 7:29).

Second, Jesus took the Hebrew scriptures seriously, not literally. This is seen multiple times in his life and ministry, but most clearly when he stopped the stoning of the woman in John 8:3-11. In this experience and others, Jesus disobeyed unjust laws, ignored exclusionary and punitive ones, and never used any scripture to shame or shun anyone. In fact, he forbade any judgement that was based in legalism and the arrogance which allows it (Matthew 7:1).

Third, Jesus reinterpreted key passages with his phrase, “you have heard…..but I say.” He did this six times in the sermon the mount. There is no clearer revelation that he was/is the hermeneutic than in his own reinterpretation of sacred texts. But here is the point: it was a reinterpretation which restored the texts to their intended meanings. The Jesus hermeneutic does not deconstruct the text, it resurrects it.

Fourth, the laser beam of the Jesus hermeneutic is found when he concentrated the 613 commandments into two—loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthewb22:34-40), the two commands upon which all the others hang. In doing this, he was pointing to “the weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23), which Walter Brueggemann sees summed up in love, justice (the common good), and mercy.

As followers of Jesus, we must interpret the Bible as Jesus did. He is the lens through whom we look at passages to discern their message. In the next post we will see how the first Christians did this in the remainder of the New Testament.

[1] Richard Rohr, ‘What Do We Do with the Bible?’ (CAC Publications, 2018), 41.
[2] Emil Brunner, ‘The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption’ (Westminster Press, 1952).
[3] Rohr also writes about the Jesus hermeneutic in the introduction to his book, ‘Yes, And…’ (Franciscan Media, 2013).

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This entry was posted in At The Gate, Hermeneutics, LGBTQ+ Writing. Bookmark the permalink.