Hermeneutics and The Shape of the Future - Edited by Frank K. Flinn
At the meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, in St. Louis, Missouri, in October 1976, Bernhard Anderson, the distinguished professor of Old Testament at Princeton Seminary and author of Understanding the Old Testament, made a speech in which he called for a synthesizing approach to the study of the Bible in order to bring the word of God in a more constructive and powerful way to the world and society in which we live. The Unificationists' interpretation of the Bible may be looked upon as one major response being made to this call. Unification hermeneutics may be seen as a very real attempt to form a synthesis between wholly disparate approaches to the understanding of the Bible.
In this paper I shall attempt briefly to sketch in what area and in what ways this is done. At the same time I shall point out that some major aspects of Unification hermeneutics are in keeping with the major trends in contemporary approaches to the Bible, and more specifically, the New Testament. I should like to state at the outset that my basic reaction to Unification hermeneutics is genuinely positive. I see in Unification hermeneutics the possibility for resolving some historical questions and bringing about needed syntheses. At the same time I do see problems, and I have questions. What I have to say that may appear to be negative is intended not so much to be criticism as it is intended to point out areas that are in need of more careful analysis and further development.
From the earliest Christian times until the Protestant Reformation all approaches to the interpretation of scripture may be generally characterized as supernaturalistic. Even though there were two basic variations in the methodologies by which scripture was interpreted, i.e., the Antiochian and the Alexandrian, the former more literal and conservative and the latter more symbolic and liberal, in general the Bible was considered to be supernaturally inspired, authoritative, and infallible. From the time of the Protestant Reformation until now the conservative view of scripture has been maintained in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions. In many Christian quarters the Bible is still subject to a literal and what may be called supernaturalistic interpretation. This type of interpretation had its reorientation in Luther and Calvin and was perpetuated through a long line of both Protestant and Roman Catholic biblical interpreters.
During the Protestant Reformation another type of approach to the Bible emerged. Sebastian Franck (1499-1542), a contemporary of Luther and Calvin, criticized the prevailing approaches to the study of scripture in 15 39 with the publication of Das mitsieben Siegeln verbutschierte Bitch. He felt that the Bible is full of discrepancies and contradictions when interpreted literally. Franck's pointed analysis of the problem of the interpretation of scripture set the stage for an approach to the interpretation of the Bible which may be characterized as naturalistic.
This type of interpretation had its development by way of the contributions of Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and Thomas Hobbes, by way of applying reason and philosophy to the excesses of religion, by way of what John Toland, Thomas Chubb, and Voltaire had to say about the relationship of philosophy to religion itself, and by way of the applications which David Hume, Herman S. Reimarus, and Gotthold E. Lessing made of naturalistic philosophy to scripture. The thoroughgoing rationalism of these philosophers was somewhat modified by the attempts of Kant, Hegel, Herder, and Hess to demonstrate that the Bible must be understood primarily on the basis of moral and ethical values and what Hess called "inner realities." So, too, Schleiermacher and Ritschl pointed biblical interpreters in the direction of "inner experience" and "moral superiority."
With the publication of David Strauss' Das Lebenjesu in 1835 the question of the literary nature of the New Testament writings, and especially the four Gospels, came under careful scrutiny. For Strauss, the gospel record should be looked upon substantially as myth. For him the application of the mythical principle would provide the synthesis for the thesis and antithesis created by supernaturalistic literal interpretation and naturalistic rationalistic interpretation. Bruno Bauer in his Christus und die Caesaren in 1877 took Strauss' mythical principle and applied it to not just the historical Jesus but also to the early church. For Bauer to "experience" the early church was the real cause of the portrait of Jesus in gospel history. Other interpreters, taking their cues from Strauss and Bauer, made of interpretation of the Gospels as well as the rest of the New Testament a game of determining what in the writings was or was not myth. Not only were the biblical records doubted, the very historical existence of Jesus himself came into question.
The most healthy reaction to the radical positions of what came to be known as "the Christ-myth school" and the weaknesses of Strauss' approach to the scriptures came in the form of the beginnings of what has come to be called "tendency criticism" and "source criticism." Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860) accepted from Strauss that the mythical approach to scripture destroys the historical truth of much of the biblical record. However, he felt that the critic must go on from there and try to discover the whole connection of circumstances out of which not only individual ideas but a writing itself arose. Adopting a Hegelian scheme of thesis and antithesis, he asserted that much of the New Testament witnesses to various reactions to and attempts to create a synthesis between the conflicting aspects of Judaism and Paulinism. Similar approaches were taken by Adolf Hilgenfeld (1823-1907), who pointed out the Jewish "tendency" in the Gospels and by Otto Pfleiderer (1839-1908), who showed how Christian ideas developed not only against Jewish backgrounds but also against such rivalries as the early Christian community carried on with the disciples of John the Baptist.
During this same period and as part of this same movement Gustav Volkmar (1809-189 3) made the Gospel of Mark the sole source for his life of Jesus. Volkmar did not believe that the historical Jesus had put forth any Messianic claims and looked at ideas which had developed in the gospels as expressions of attempts to reconcile opposing Petrine and Pauline factions in the early Christian community. Volkmar had support for his use of Mark, for within literary criticism what has come to be called "the Marcan Hypothesis" had already been developed by Karl Lachmann (1835), Christian H. Weisse (1838), and Christian G. Wilke (1838).
From this point on other scholars emerge as more familiar names and figures -- Albert Schweitzer, Martin Dibelius, Rudolf Bultmann, and more recently Gustav Conzelmann, Gunther Bornkamm, and Wolfhart Pannenberg, Walther Eichrodt, Theodorus C. Vriezen, and Gerhardt von Rad, who develop the methodologies of form criticism and redaction criticism.
In his recent analysis of the methodologies that have been applied to the Old Testament, Gerhard Hasel (Old Testament Theology. 1972) outlined the modern variations by biblical theologians on traditional themes. He outlined five methodologies:
1) The Descriptive Method, employed by Wrede, Stendahl, E. Jacob, and G.E. Wright, in which the focus of attention is on describing "what the text meant."
2) The Confessional Method, diametrically opposed to the historical method, employed by Eissfeldt, Vriezen, and G.A.F Knight, which emphasizes the faith of the people of Israel, a community concept.
3) The Cross-Section Method, used by Eichrodt which seeks the inner unity of various structures of Old Testament beliefs with an interchange of relationship between the Old and New Testaments found in the concept of covenant.
4) The Diachronic Method, employed principally by von Rad, in which special attention is given to the chronological sequence of the various traditions and books which have produced a "world made up of testimonies."
5) The New Testament Quotation Method, advocated by B.S. Childs, in which theology must "begin with specific Old Testament passages which are quoted within the New Testament."
Hasel points out the obvious fallacy of the majority of Old Testament biblical theologies (and the same may be said for the various types of biblical criticism): the attempt to find a single center or major trend in the Old Testament. Hasel argues that scholars must give up an overspecialized approach to the Old Testament and urges consideration of "longitudinal perspectives of the Old Testament testimonies" that can be achieved only on the basis of a multitrack treatment.
This of course should and can be said also of studies of the New Testament. Reducing the major questions of interpretation of any book in the Ne w Testament to matters of background, form, or source is highly restrictive not only to the determination of what a passage meant but also to what it means. An additional important consideration is the question of the relationship between the Testaments. From Bauer to Bultmann there have been advocates of the separate treatment of the Testaments. Hasel, however, taking tips from Eichrodt and Pannenberg, challenges the biblical scholar to pay special attention to the concept of the kingdom of God, which is of course to be found in both Testaments and which apparently forms the most natural bridge between the two. "The central concern in the whole Bible is not reconciliation and redemption but the Kingdom of God" (p. 70). Hasel also notes the importance of a revival of an older type of methodology in relating the Testaments, that is, the use of typology. Used both by Eichrodt and von Rad, typology is a designation for a peculiar way of looking at history, the types being persons, institutions, and events of the Old Testament which are regarded as divinely established models or prerepresentations of corresponding realities in the New Testament salvation history.
Over against the background of this brief sketch of the history of interpretation the significance of Unification hermeneutics begins to emerge. Several aspects are worth underscoring, in that they relate to traditional problems and recent developments in the history of biblical interpretation. I shall enumerate and discuss seven points.
1. Unification hermeneutics provides the possibility for the resolution of the historical conflict between the two traditionally opposed approaches to the Bible: the supernaturalistic and the naturalistic. 2. In Unification hermeneutics a decision never has to be made against a narrative or an idea because of its literary classification. Ideas and narratives may be viewed as either mythic or historical or as both mythic and historical with no consequent depreciation in moral or spiritual value. 3- In Unification hermeneutics the entire Bible of the Hebrew Christian tradition, the Old Testament and the Ne w Testament, is considered together and integrally related to each other. 4. In Unification hermeneutics the kingdom of God is considered to be central to the theme of both Testaments. 5. In Unification hermeneutics typology is prevalent as an important hermeneutical instrument. 6. In addition, Unification hermeneutics uses eschatology as a principal perspective by which history may be viewed and biblical history understood.
Over against typical liberal and modernistic considerations of Christian theology that reject the idea of the second coming of Christ or the future coming of the kingdom of God, Unification theology understands the totality of the biblical witness and of human history to point to an eschaton of total and complete proportions for the restoration of the heavens and the earth, the spiritual and the physical.
Also Unification theology sees the church today as functioning in kaironic time rather than on chronological time. What for God is the right time will be when his rule is consummated. W e have clues for what this time will be like from the ministry of Jesus. The kingdom will come at that time when mankind instead of rejecting Christ, responds to the absolute and radical demands of his ethic: total obedience to the will of God, complete opening of the hearts of men to his mercy and love.
The time for the coming is always soon since the needs of man as well as the potential for proclaiming the gospel continue to mount and God's purpose is eternal and inevitable. The time is not necessarily now, since mankind may choose to persist in rejecting a life of total love and obedience and faith.
7. Unification hermeneutics is also in keeping with the revival of interest in apocalyptic literature.
Not too long ago Klaus Koch, Professor of Old Testament at the University of Hamburg, posed a crucial question: "Has biblical scholarship really done everything that it was possible to do by historical methods?" (The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic, 1970). He answered the question himself by suggesting that biblical criticism has dealt only sparingly with eschatology and has given short shrift to the special dimension of eschatology and apocalyptic. Koch emphasized how apocalyptic concepts formed the final stage in the religion of the Old Testament and provided a determining role for the origins of Jesus as well as primitive Christianity. He outlined in detail his thesis that scholars are still far from an adequate overall grasp of this subject.
Koch pointed out how interest in apocalyptic literature in German theological education practically disappeared from the 1900s to the 1950s. He credits Ernst Kasemann with pointing out how "apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology..." and both Kasemann and Wolffian: Pannenberg with engendering in certain of the younger German theologians a positive apocalyptic renaissance. He also shows how Martin Noth, O. Plogger, and D. Rossler helped to resume research into this area so long ignored in German scholarship. Koch reminds us how Rudolf Bultmann contributed to the neglect of proper treatment of apocalyptic literature. In his essay "The New Testament and Mythology" Bultmann wrote: "The cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character... The mythology of the New Testament is in essence that of Jewish apocalyptic and Gnostic redemption myths... This mythology is outdated for every thinking person today, whether he is believer or an unbeliever..." Koch sketched the rise of interest in apocalyptic literature among British and American scholars signaling the major contributions made by R.H. Charles, George Foot Moore, R. Travers Herford, H.H. Rowley, WD. Davies, and C.K. Barrett.
He also reminds us of Rudolf Otto's judgment: "Jesus' preaching of the Kingdom is manifestly connected with (and yet, in definite contrast to) an earlier historical phenomenon, i.e., the later Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic... Jesus' preaching both reflects and transforms them." He also allows Ethelbert Stauffer to speak again: "The world of apocalyptic ideas is the one in which the New Testament writers were really at home." But Koch laments that voices like these became lost in the great chorus of Ne w Testament scholars who view apocalyptic of every kind with mistrust and discomfort -- even the book of Revelation. For some, such as Gerhard Ebeling, apocalyptic suggests a heretical tendency, and many scholars are not unsympathetic with R. Travers Herford's dictum about eschatology and apocalyptic: "Although both are the children of prophecy, the one is Jacob, the other (apocalyptic) is Esau." Koch's conclusion: "The prevailing opinion among German New Testament scholars is still that apocalyptic is a marginal phenomenon which undoubtedly played a certain role in some early Christian circles but which, seen as a whole, is unimportant" (p. 92).
In spite of the general reluctance of German scholars to give apocalyptic its due and in spite of both English and American theological worlds leaving apocalyptic primarily in the hands of obscurantist sects and cults, Koch insists that Pannenberg and others have helped launch a renaissance of apocalyptic. "Everything suggests that in the coming decades theology will have to concern itself increasingly with the apocalyptic writings" (p. 129).
Unification hermeneutics takes seriously the eschatological framework of biblical thought and tries as well to treat apocalyptic literature as an authentic stratum of biblical literature. Unification hermeneutics, however, is not without problems. Three areas may suffice to illustrate.
1. In the interpretation of the relationship between the mission of John the Baptist and the mission of Jesus, John the Baptist is criticized for not investing his mission with that of Jesus, forgoing on his separate way, and for engaging in a relatively insignificant campaign of criticizing Herod's family and court. Overlooked is the obvious criticism that should be made of John the Baptist, that is, in his lack of acceptance of the role of Elijah he failed to fulfill the mission of Elijah which, as spelled out in Malachi 4, was to be one of restoration of relationships between fathers and children and children and fathers. Overlooked is also the implication that the process of restoration of the family appears possibly to be the mission of the prophet rather than the mission of the Messiah, or of forerunner rather than Christ. Overlooked also in the Unificationists' view of the relationship between John and Jesus is the fact that because of the "failure" of each to accomplish his mission, there was failure to unite the northern (Galilean) and southern (Judean) segments of Hebrew life and culture: Jesus' mission being primarily in the north, and John's being primarily in the south.
2. In the Unificationists' concept of Jesus' intention to marry and establish a family, note is not taken of the fact that the witness of the gospel record seems to indicate the opposite -- the lack of importance of the family in the kingdom of God. Also, the idea that Jesus or Christ is the new Adam is a Pauline concept, and if developed at all, the idea of Jesus as the new Adam and the bride of Jesus as the new Eve, should be developed as a trajectory of Pauline theology rather than of the evangelical tradition.
3. In dealing with some of the historically difficult apocalyptic passages in scripture, the Unification hermeneutic sometimes comes up with esoteric and exotic explanations which are debatable if not questionable. In finding Rev. Sun Myung Moon as well as his bride in the Apocalypse and making an association between the 144,000 and the Unification Church, Unificationists should be reminded that this kind of obscurantist use made of the Apocalypse has been a major contributor to the delay of the coming of the kingdom of God. A more credible interpretation of these passages should be pursued along other lines.
The message and the essence of apocalyptic literature is the conviction that God will surely save and restore his people and establish his kingdom. Apocalyptic literature, therefore, presents a philosophy of history rather than predictions of historical events and personages. The book which closes the Christian canon, the last book of the New Testament, in highly symbolic language presents the philosophy for the present decade, the tenth decade A.D., and for all succeeding decades and centuries: God will vanquish Satan, good will overcome evil, Christ will conquer Caesars, the Church will outlast empires, and Christianity is and will be the central religious force in society.
Hopefully Unificationists will focus less attention on questionable interpretations of selected verses. Rather, in consonance with the philosophy of the author of the Johannine Apocalypse, they will elucidate these general themes which flow out of the fundamental conviction of the sovereignty of God. "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever."
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