Hermeneutics and The Shape of the Future - Edited by Frank K. Flinn

Critique of the Divine Principle Reading of the Old Testament -- Kapp L. Johnson

Any reading of the Old Testament is by its very nature a literary, theological, and historical task. It is literary because the Old Testament is an ancient literary work faithfully transmitted through the centuries by the communities which esteem it special status. It is theological in two ways. First, the Old Testament defines a community grounded in God. This grounding is at the level of three relationships: the relationship of the community to God; the relationship of the individual to God; and the relationship of individual to individual. Second, the Old Testament has God in general and Yahweh in particular as its ultimate concern.1 Ultimate in the sense of the quality of the human experience of Yahweh, concern in the sense of the affective or motivational aspect of the human experience of Yahweh. It is historical in two ways as well. First, it is historical in the sense that the literature is conditioned by the context in which, and audience to whom, it was written. That the context and audience no longer exist makes the process of reconstructing them a priority in the interpretive task. This process of reconstruction is a constitutive element of what we define as historical. Second, it is historical in the sense that the Old Testament claims that Yahweh acted in history.2 The events which called Israel into being as a people of God are not narrated as taking place outside of human experience. Rather human experiences are proclaimed as acts of God. As a result, the experience of liberation from slavery is proclaimed as an act of Yahweh as is the experience of exile. Thus human experience is the stage on which the drama of Yahweh is played and the recital of that drama the record of what God has done. It is precisely on these three points that the Divine Principle reading of the Old Testament falls short.

"Any normative concept in interpretation implies a choice that is required not by the nature of written texts but rather by the goal that the interpreter sets for himself."3 That this is particularly true for Divine Principle's reading of the Old Testament is immediately apparent in its presentation of history, creation, and the fall of man.4

History in Divine Principle is the history of restoration. Restoration is the process of "restoring fallen man to his original state endowed at the creation, thus fulfilling the purpose of creation" (Divine Principle. p. 211). One of the purposes of Divine Principle is to explain "the meaning and significance of the events of the Jewish people as told in the Old Testament."5 It is interesting to note that the Six Hour Lecture uses the language of meaning and significance for there is a question as to whether the Divine Principle reading of the Old Testament distinguishes between the two. The significance of the events narrated in the Old Testament is that they are "the central history through which God operated His providence of salvation."6 The meaning of these same events seems to be that which contributes to its significance in the dispensation of God. Thus Divine Principle appears not to distinguish between its response to the Old Testament and the Old Testament itself.

E.D. Hirsch has analyzed this problem, i.e., the failure to distinguish meaning and significance, and has offered the following definitions: "meaning is that which is represented by a text; it is what the author meant by his use of particular sign sequence; it is what the signs represent. Significance, on the other hand, names a relationship between that meaning and a person, or a conception or a situation."7 He continues by defining verbal meaning as "whatever someone has willed to convey by a particular sequence of linguistic signs and which can be conveyed (shared) by means of those linguistic signs"8 and interpreter's response as "... the more or less personal significance he attaches to a verbal meaning... "9 This is to show that making the distinction between meaning and significance is fundamental to the interpretive process and that this process is in some way related to the text. That is to say, if an Old Testament text is significant, that significance is in some manner related to the text's meaning which is in some manner controlled by the text. Consequently to argue, as does Divine Principle, that a significance of the Old Testament events is their paradigmatic character applicable to all histories is unintelligible without first rigorously pursuing the meaning of the Old Testament text in its own setting. When that meaning is found, then the task is to find a valid mode of expressing that meaning in contemporary settings.

In light of this discussion, one would have to argue that the age of providential time-identity and the providence of restoration as they pertain to the Old Testament are not substantiated by the Old Testament itself. Their level of meaning starts outside the text and then applies that significance to the text. They are interpretive principles which come from outside the Old Testament and are superimposed on the Old Testament. Divine Principle uses the events and characters of the Old Testament while at the same time denying or at best ignoring the Old Testament's self-understanding of those same events and characters. The Old Testament persons who were responsible for the present level of the text were likewise concerned with the meaning and significance of the events which they narrated. And likewise they asked what was the driving force of history. But the Old Testament comes to conclusions very different from Divine Principle. The point of congruity is only at the level of events and characters and not at the level of interpretation, for the two go their separate ways.

As an example, it should be noted that Divine Principle does not do justice to the Exodus event in its discussion of it in connection with the providence of restoration and condition of indemnity. The Exodus event is the paradigmatic salvation event in the Old Testament. It is paradigmatic in two ways; first, Israel is continually reminded of the event as it is the center of their confession of Yahweh (cf. Psalms 78), and second, it is the event which calls Israel into being (Exodus 6:6-8). As paradigm, the Exodus becomes the standard whereby all other salvation events are judged (cf. Isaiah 43). In spite of this, Divine Principle interprets the years of slavery in Egypt as a period of indemnity for Israel due to Abraham's failure in his first offering (Divine Principle, p. 268). The exegesis of Genesis 15:10-13 provides this explanation as being "elucidated only through the Principle" and as such, Moses becomes the hero of the Exodus and not Yahweh (Divine Principle, p. 291; cf. Exodus 6:6).l0 It is the Old Testament's proclamation that the Exodus event was an act of God's grace on behalf of Israel. Israel did not earn her deliverance through any meritorious acts of her own. To the contrary, God chose Israel freely to be his people. This is also true in Israel's return from the Babylonian exile. It is Yahweh who will freely lead Israel back to the land to reconstitute the exiles as His people. Consequently, grace not indemnity is the center of history in the Old Testament.11

Creation is the beginning point of Unification theology and the principle of creation that which seeks fulfillment in the history of mankind. The fundamental concept of the principle of creation comes from Oriental philosophy. Thus, the use of the Old Testament by Divine Principle is at best as a proof text to the points it wishes to make. Thus Genesis 1:27 is used to illustrate God as absolute subject who exists with the dual characteristics of positivity and negativity (Divine Principle, p. 24); Genesis 2:22 and 2:18 also are used to illustrate the subject-object relationship between Adam and Eve (Divine Principle, pp. 21, 24); Genesis 1:4-31 "indicates that God wanted all of His creation to be good objects," (Divine Principle, p. 41); Genesis 2:17 is used to illustrate man's choice "either to continue to live by obeying God's warning or accepting the way of death by going against it" (Divine Principle, p. 54); and Genesis 1:28, the giving of the three blessings. This is basically the Divine Principle reading of the Old Testament as it pertains to creation.

Divine Principle proclaims "God is the Creator of all things," (Divine Principle. p. 27). It continues to describe him as "the absolute reality eternally self-existent, transcendent of time and space," (Divine Principle, p. 27). What is peculiar to these statements is that they are made in the context of creation, but the Old Testament reference is Exodus 3:14! The context of this reference is the call of Moses and the particular verse is an etymology of the Israelite name for God, YHWH. W.F. Albright 12 proposed the meaning of the name of God of Israel "He causes to be, He creates." Albright suggested that YHWH was a third person form of the verb "to be." The conclusion being that the name does not necessarily indicate God's eternal being but rather his action and presence in history. That creation is to be understood as taking place in time is evidenced by its being marked into days. Thus creation becomes an act of Yahweh, indeed, his first act which is then followed by other works. But creation is not just an act in history but an act which brings history into being, emphasizing Yahweh's lordship over history. The movement from chaos to order and the references 13 in Isaiah and Psalms to creation and redemption indicate a saving event in the creation itself. Consequently, creation is the first of God's mighty acts which stand at the beginning of God's saving history, indeed, of history itself.14 That Divine Principle does not take this perspective into account gives further evidence of its deficiency in reading the Old Testament.

The fall of man comes closest to what would be called an exegesis of an Old Testament text. Here the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent are used to explain the root of sin, Satan, and the consequences of the fall (Divine Principle, p. 65-97). Divine Principle begins by arguing that the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are not to be taken as literal trees but rather symbolically. It rhetorically asks, "But, how could God -- the parent of man -- make a fruit so tempting (Genesis 3:6) that His children would risk falling in order to eat it? How could He have placed such a harmful fruit where His children could reach it so easily?" (Divine Principle, p. 66). It then argues from Matthew 15:11 that food cannot be the cause of the fall.15 Interpreting the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil as symbolic poses no real problem for the text. Ancient Near Eastern texts are replete with such symbolism. The problem is the rhetorical question which begs the issue and the fact that Adam, Eve, and the serpent can be interpreted literally or symbolically as well.

This leads to the question as to what is at stake in the story. The issue is the disobedience of Adam and Eve and God's response to that disobedience. It is not a question of whether Adam and Eve ate of a literal fruit from literal trees but rather it is a question of man's guilt.16 Nevertheless, for Divine Principle, the historicity of Adam and Eve and the symbolic nature of the fruit are necessitated by its understanding that "original sin" is inherited and that which is inherited is passed on through the blood lineage (Divine Principle, p. 66). This notion presupposes a historical Adam and Eve and a symbolic fruit. It also presupposes a non-literal understanding of the serpent for Divine Principle reasons that the serpent was spiritual, i.e., non-literal. Then Divine Principle asks rhetorically again, "What kind of spiritual being could have conversed with man, known God's will, lived in heaven (the world of the spirit), even after this being's fall and degradation?" (Divine Principle, p. 70) Divine Principle concludes that there "is no being endowed with such characteristics except an angel. The serpent, then must have been a figurative term for an angel" (Divine Principle, p. 70-71).

At the present level of the text, the serpent is nothing more than one of God's created creatures (Genesis 2:19). As G. von Rad points out "in the mind of the narrator it is not the symbol of a 'demonic' power and certainly not of Satan. What distinguishes it a little from the rest of the animals is exclusively its greater cleverness."17 Thus once again there is no particular need for the serpent to be identified with a symbol, an angel, or Satan, unless an a priori necessitates such a reading.

The necessity of a historical Adam and Eve and an angel symbolized by the serpent is indicated by the Divine Principle understanding of "original sin" and how it is inherited among humans. "Original sin" is explained in the section on "The Fall of the Angel and the Fall of Man." Two scripture verses are used to explain the sin of the fall: fornication. First, Jude 6-7 is used to reason "that the angel fell as the result of an immoral act of unnatural lust, and that act was fornication," (Divine Principle. p. 71). The crime of man was also fornication. Here Genesis 3:7 is used to argue that "if they had committed sin by eating an actual fruit of a 'tree of knowledge of good and evil,' they would have concealed their hands and mouths instead. It is the nature of man to conceal an area of transgression. They covered their sexual parts, clearly indicating that they were ashamed of the sexual areas of their bodies because they had sinned through them. From this we know that they committed sin through the sexual parts of their bodies," (Divine Principle. p. 72). Job 31:33 is also used to show that Adam concealed his sexual parts thus revealing the nature of his transgression. The conclusion drawn is that there was committed an act of adultery between man and the angel which led to the fall of both. The angel became Satan and man was to be dominated by him.

The use of Jude 6-7 as indicating the nature of the crime of the angel is once again an unacceptable use of scripture interpreting scripture. There is nothing in the Genesis 3 text to indicate a sexual relationship between man and the serpent nor is there any indication in Jude 6-7 that it is referring to Genesis 3, rather it is referring to Genesis 6. 18 The connection is made once again outside the text. This method does justice to neither text. The relationship is artificial and created for the purpose of the theology and not whether this is the self-understanding of the text. Thus the text is used to conform to Unification theology and not Unification theology to the text.

The psychologizing of Genesis 3:7 and Job 31:3 3 once again clearly indicates the intention of Divine Principle in its reading of these texts. These verses are used as a kind of proof text to further support the interpretation of the fall as the illicit sexual relationship between the angel and man, thus further indicating that the root of sin was not that Adam and Eve were disobedient but rather that they had an illicit sexual relationship with an angel. As the sin which Adam and Eve committed was disobedience, the consequence of that disobedience was guilt and shame symbolized 19 by their covering themselves. To appear before God naked was an abomination in Israel. Every form of bodily exposure was carefully guarded against (Exodus 20:26). Thus to cover their nakedness was not an act of covering their sin but evidence of their guilt and shame before God. They hide themselves from God because now they fear him. Job 31:33 also indicates that the consequence of guilt and shame is to hide it. Job keeps his transgression to himself hidden from others. As a result, there is no compelling reason to interpret the fall narrative as a sexual sin.

In conclusion, the problems of Divine Principle's reading of the Old Testament are many. Generically it is neither a commentary on nor interpretation of the Old Testament. It is rather a theological treatise which randomly uses the Old Testament when necessary. The Sitz im Leben of the Divine Principle appears to be a kind of fundamentalist Christianity mixed with Oriental philosophy. It is fundamentalist in that it takes a dispensational type view of history with literal readings of the text where you need them and metaphorical ones where necessary. It is Oriental in its exposition of reality. There is no apparent hermeneutical clue indicating when a text is to be interpreted literally or metaphorically outside of the theology itself. The interpretive tools are used to go against the text and not as a means of bringing out the meaning and significance of the text. The sometimes arbitrary juxtapositioning of texts together raises the question as to whether the texts have any integrity of their own. Thus the Divine Principle reading of the Old Testament falls short literarily because it confuses the relationship between the text, meaning, and significance; theologically because it does not concern itself with the theology of the Old Testament; and historically because it does not take the context and audience into consideration in its discussion.20


1 Tillich's definition of religion as ultimate concern seems to be the best in describing religion in its broadest phenomenological aspect; see John A. Hutchison, Paths of Faith, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975), pp. 1-6.

2 Cf. G. Ernest Wrighr, God Who Acts, (London: SCM Press, 1952).

3 E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), p.24.

4 This can also be shown for other major topics in Divine Principle, e.g., the mission of Jesus, eschatology; for the purposes of this critique, history, creation, and the fall of man have a particular relationship to the Old Testament.

5 Divine Principle, Six Hour Lecture, (New York: Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1977), p.30.

6 Divine Principle, Six Hour Lecture.

7 Hirsch, p. 8.

8 Divine Principle, Six Hour Lecture, p. 31.

9 Divine Principle, Six Hour Lecture, p. 39.

10 It may be argued that in Unification theology, God is the one who offers salvation alone and is thus truly the hero in man's history. Though this is true in Divine Principle, God is limited according to man's ability or inability to fulfill his portion of responsibility. Thus God cannot freely give his salvation unless the condition of indemnity is fulfilled, and those who fulfill it are truly the heroes in the history of the Providence of Restoration. To argue that this is a self-limitation on the part of God is a sufficient explanation within Unification theology but it is insufficient to explain the Old Testament self-understanding of redemption, for the concepts are alien to the Old Testament.

11 This is not to ignore that judgment, too, is an element in Old Testament history. Ancient Israel paid a heavy price as a consequence of her sin. However it must be emphasized that the suffering Israel experienced was a consequence of her breaking the covenant, and not indemnity. Atonement was in the sacrifices, not the exile. The return was due to God's grace and not Israel's time spent in exile.

12 Cf. William F. Albright, "Contributions to Biblical Archaeology and Philology," Journal of Biblical Literature, 43 (1924), 363-93; "Further Observations on the Name of Yahweh and Its Modifications in Proper Names," JBL AA (1925), 158-62; "The Names of 'Israel' and Judah' with Excursus on the Etymology of today and torah." JBL 46 (1927), 151-85; and From Stone Age to Christianity (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1957), pp. 197-99

13 Isaiah 43:1, 44:24b-28, 47:5, 51:9, 54:5; Psalms 74, 77:l7ff, 89.

14 For a more detailed theological interpretation of creation see Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), I, 136-53.

15 This is an unacceptable use of the principle of scripture interpreting scripture. Jesus' dialogue with the Pharisees over the tradition of the elders has nothing to do with deciding whether the fruit is literal or symbolic.

16 Because Divine Principle ties its interpretation of the fall as a sexual act to the symbolic sense of the fruit, the issue of the nature of the fruit is central to the discussion at one level. If we understand the overall purpose of the story as a question of disobedience and guilt, the issue of the nature of the fruit is left for the quibbling of those who do not know better.

17 Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, (Philadephia: Westminster, 1972), p. 87.

18 It appears to be a midrash on Genesis 6.

19 There is no problem in raking the whole story or elements thereof as symbolic. What requires close scrutiny and justification is how interpreters proceed in drawing their conclusions.

20 To be sure, the criticisms offered here of the Divine Principle reading of the Old Testament can equally be said of much of contemporary readings of the Old Testament. This would indicate some major hurdles have to be removed as we consider anew the relationship between the Bible and theology. 

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