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Legal Hermeneutics: History, Theory, And Practice

by Gregory Leyh

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Book Description
Interpretation of the law is based on assumptions about the nature of texts, language, and the act of interpretation itself. These fourteen new essays trace the origin of these assumptions, examine their philosophical implications, and extend legal interpretation in new and constructive directions.

About the Author
Gregory Leyh is Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University.


Wilson Rugira 110 St James Road G4 0PS Glasgow/ Scotland/UK Hermeneutics in the local church of Banyamulenge/ Sud-Kivu/ D. R. Congo Identifying and evaluating the influence of significant figures/traditions and methods/practices in the history of biblical interpretation on the student’s previous interpretive approach and critically assessing the impact of insight gained on the student’s developing approach to interpreting Scripture. WORDS: 5116 excluding Bibliography Introduction This essay will focus critically on identifying and evaluating the influence of significant figures and methods of the biblical interpretation which I have studied as part of my MTh in Biblical Interpretation. Attention will be given to intertextuality, allegory and canonical criticism. The influence, advantages, disadvantages and the practice of each method will be examined and the relevant principles of interpretation highlighted. Emphasis will be placed on how we can understand the intended meaning of Bible in its context. The first part will focus on my background in biblical interpretation and the second on the three criticisms mentioned above. PART ONE The Pentecostal Church I was born into a Christian family who were members of the Pentecostal Church “Communauté des Eglises Libres Pentecôte en Afrique.” This denomination was founded by the Norwegian church. By the age of 10, I prayed before I ate, did devotions before I slept and went to church on Sundays and other days of the week. I began to preach in church when I was 16 years old. I remember my second sermon. It was on Thes 4:16. I did not really understand the meaning of the text but I was full of joy as I preached the word of God. I was growing in Christian discipleship. The Communauté des Eglises Libres de Pentecôte en Afrique (CELPA) has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1921. Its activities include missionary programmes, education, community development and humanitarian aid. Its leadership is entirely African, though it works in collaboration with Norwegian churches, has received support from the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry and benefits from advice and regular visits by a Projects Coordinator based in Oslo. Throughout the years, the hermeneutics of my local church was varied. My church is a Pentecostal church and uses many methods of biblical interpretation including; historical critical method, allegorical, intertextuality and canonical critical method, among others. My interpretative approach before I began my theological studies was gained from my church by preaching, teaching, and the different methods modelled by my Pastors. Intertextuality as modelled by my Pastors My method of interpretation and those of my pastor was based on an intertextuality approach to the interpretation of the scriptures. It was a comparison between the two Testaments. For example, what is the relationship between the Prologue of John’s Gospel and Genesis 1? Many times, my pastors used intertextuality to show how the prophesies in the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New Testament. The disadvantage of an intertextual approach to literature is that it seems to require specialist knowledge on the part of the reader and my pastor had not a good level in biblical interpretation. It ignores the fact that a word or phrase can mean something to a reader, whether or not the reader knows if that word or phrase has already been used by a previous writer. In my case the church pastors did not encourage any questions such as: How does this text relate to its sources? What is the relationship between the two texts? How do we apply the meaning of the ancient texts to our contemporary context? Which meaning is left behind? Moreover, I did not know if a particular text of the New Testament quoted, alluded or was an echo of the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit, reader response and cultural setting of my interpretation. Another very important aspect of my interpretation of a text is to understand the cultural background behind the statements and events the text records in comparison with my culture and the role of the Holy Spirit in my Interpretation. I am from an ethnic group (Banyamulenge) who are a very religious people. Approximately 99 % are Christian of those, 91% Protestant while about 8% are Catholic. The role of religion is so central to the life of my community that people often say, “Religion has become our culture.” A key feature of our religious practice is lengthy sessions of intense prayer, accompanied by music and, more rarely by dancing. In the early days, converts were expected to prove their conversion by eating taboo foods such as chicken, and by abstaining from tobacco, dancing, and traditional poetry. These restrictions have become less severe over time, but our community remain a people who take moral conduct very seriously. This means that my hermeneutics worked in relationship with my cultural context since interpretation has always been done in a particular context. For example Psalms 102: 17 says: "He will regard the prayer of the destitute and will not despise their supplications". This verse in the Kinyarwada language says: Imana izayumva amasengesho yabadafite Shinge na Rugero. Literal this means God understands the prayers of the people who do not have mountains Shinge or Rugero. Without these mountains (Shinge and Rugero) are represented destitution and suffering. The Bible Society of Rwanda translated the prayer of the destitute using the names of two local mountains by Shinge or Rugero. These mountains were a strategic area in war history between Rwanda and Burundi. In the history of fighting in central Africa, if you are up the mountain it is better than fighting on the plains. The mountains Shinge and Rugero Were mountains where had fought against Rwandan and Burundian groups and many people had died (as information my local language is same as Kinyarwanda and we use Kinyarwanda Bible). My community was attacked, killed, imprisoned, and murdered by their opponents in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When I interpreted this passage, I applied it the war, suffering and pain we had experienced. Moreover, I understood the text to mean that God hears the prayer of the people who are in this situation. And so many people left their villages for fear of further attacks and the dead were left without burial. This problem or difficulty was one of reasons we have a spiritual life and in my interpretation of the Bible I compared Israel's life in Old Testament to our life. The greatest message of the Bible in the context of my community is hope. We are a community of patience and determination; a people who embrace a spirituality of not giving up. This spirituality is best illustrated in the way we read the Bible: we appropriate the words of the scriptures and assume that we are the intended audience. All of which shows a typical reader response hermeneutical approach to the text. For example there is an expression says that God passes all day around the world but sleeps with my community. This means that we trust the power, love and grace of God and by implication we must trust the Bible in its literal context. When I interpreted the Bible, I began with prayer because I trusted and believed the Holy Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit does not mean that the Spirit is all I need to interpret the Bible. The Spirit does not make valid interpretations automatic. At first observation, this may sound irreverent or even sacrilegious, but that is not my intention. Perhaps an illustration will help. The Spirit does not create new meaning or provide new information, does not change the Bible to suit our purposes or to match our circumstances . Vanhoozer sees three ways in which the Spirit works in the life of the Christian interpreter. (i) The Spirit convicts us that the Bible is divinely inspired. (ii) The Spirit works in our minds to impress on us the full meaning of the Scriptures. (iii) The Spirit is in our heart so that we are able to receive the Word of God (application) . As a member of a Pentecostal Church, the community functions as the place where the Spirit of God acts and where testimony regarding God’s activity is offered, assessed, and accepted or rejected. Historical critical method In my first year at university, I studied courses about the history of Israel, introduction to the Old Testament and introduction to the New Testament; this was not a historical critical method but it did consider the historical context. For me, this opened the historical context of the Bible. It made sense that I should interpret ancient texts against the background of their historical settings. The ancient authors reflected their own historical situation and wrote to address people of their own time and place. Thus for my interpretation, I began to study the historical context of culture, social life and religion of the ancient near East or Judaism. I used the historical critical method to interpret the text in its historical context rather than to use another kind of interpretation. For example in John 15:5-6, the 'vine' was familiar to the Jews. For one thing, 'vine' in the Old Testament always represented the whole people of Israel rather than a single individual: (Ps 80: 8-9, Hos 10:1). The events in the Bible were real historical circumstances experienced by real historical people who lived and communicated in their own cultural framework. Their language, their mode of communication, their understanding of the world around them, their manners and customs were all, to some degree, products of their culture . Thus I asked some basic questions of the text such as who was the author. What was the historical context of the author? When did he write it? What was his purpose is writing it? These questions helped me to understand the meaning of the text and build my knowledge of the text. The historical critical method has enjoyed relative hegemony in many evangelical circles in the past and has held a similar status among scholarly interpreters of the twentieth century or twenty first century. PART TWO The second part of my essay focuses on three hermeneutical methods studied in my course. Hermeneutics is the art, the theory and practice of interpretation. Its primary purpose is to discover the truths and the values of the Bible, which is seen as a receptacle of divine revelation. In this section of my paper, I will focus on intertextuality, allegory and canonical criticism. Intertextuality I have chosen to focus on intertextuality for three reasons: firstly, intertextuality has challenged my old interpretational method. There is no isolated text; all texts have their meaning in relation to other texts. Intertextuality has been dominant in my interpretation in relation to the biblical context. Secondly intertextuality analyses a text as a corpus on one hand and on the other hand the analytical task can be often described as being to delimit the boundaries of the system (what is to be included and what excluded). Thirdly, intertextuality assumes two axes: a horizontal axis connecting the author and reader of a text, and a vertical axis, which connects the text to other texts. Kristeva declared that "every text is from the outset under the jurisdiction of other discourses which impose a universe on it". Julia Kristeva was the first person to introduce the term intertextuality in 1966. Intertextuality is the relationship between the different texts and their meanings, especially literary texts or the reference of one text to others. It can refer to an author’s borrowing and transformation of a prior text or to a reader’s referencing of one text in reading another. The first text is taken as basic to the interpretation of the new text. There are two kinds of intertextuality; one observes the grammatical-historical sense of the Old Testament passage and the other in which the New Testament writer goes beyond the grammatical sense in using a passage . Intertextuality has challenged my thinking in BI1. My understanding of intertextuality before BI1 was a simple comparison between the New Testament and the Old Testament without any analysis of the context in which the authors were when they wrote the texts. Nevertheless, after BI1, I discovered that intertextuality is meaningful when it is paratextual, when there is a relationship between a text and an extra-text. If we are looking for inner-biblical references, for example, not only biblical texts have to be considered, since no text is handed down in a vacuum. Rather, all biblical texts are always embedded into a tradition of teaching and religious doctrine as well as a text tradition of translation. The advantage of an intertextual approach is that it focuses on the process of composition to reveal intention between two texts. Another advantage of intertextuality is that the two testaments of the Bible are handled in relationship to each other. Finally it causes us to read the Bible as a whole and not simply selecting one verse without reference to its wider context or Old Testament precedent. The disadvantage of an intertextual approach is that intertextuality is more dynamic than traditional texts or cultural boundaries of Jews. It considers biblical texts metaphorically and not as unique literary products. In my own view, intertextuality is a method and practice of biblical interpretation, but is also a theory concerning the production of meaning. However, the Old Testament in the formation of the New Testament is both servant and guide. To understand the New Testament and reflect on the New Testament context leads the way to further comprehension of the Old Testament. The allusion and quotation presuppose the authority of the Bible because it has a relationship between the two testaments. I want to conclude that intertextuality is a fruitful way of engaging the text as it inter-relates between languages, culture, literary texts and is intrinsically related to the literary process. It makes it possible to define the literary value of a text insofar as the reader recognizes a literary text as this. Finally, I have some suggestions about intertextuality: In Biblical Interpretation, intertextuality acknowledges the fact that no text is an island. All texts are intertexts as far as they refer to, recycle and draw from other pre-existing texts. However, we can also find the meaning of the Old Testament in the New Testament. For example in Judaism when a person died, they did not rise again Job 7:9, but in Job 19: 25, he speaks typologically of the resurrection of humanity as he says “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes I, and not another.” This only makes sense after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This could be a type of study in biblical interpretation, which I think could be called Intertextology and is an area of research I plan to undertake. The Typology is employed in this sense, as a connection between Old Testament and New Testament but typology is a figurative (tupos). For example in Romans 5: 14 where Paul declares that Adam is a figure of him that was to come i.e. Christ. The intertextology is a shadow, a copy or a parable of the things in Old Testament, which are clear in the New Testament. Allegory "He is a slave to a sign who uses or worships a significant thing without knowing what it signifies." St Augustine. I have chosen allegory because the message of spiritual life is wrapped in symbolism. Specifically I have focused my essay on the allegorical style of Augustine but I will also mention the allegory in general. The spiritual reality of life has no appearance nor is something which exists which we can see, nevertheless the Bible must use appearance to describe this spiritual reality. Rather than being governed by a systematic or a theoretical agenda, Augustine has various uses of allegories and figures. He intended to characterize the ways that God uses the Bible to transform human beings, changing them from creatures who oppose the divine will into those who live in joyful obedience to it. The Bible uses allegory to speak figuratively or to speak representatively of something. In this part of my essay, I would like to show how allegory is used to teach something in a figurative or emblematic sense and to show the advantage and disadvantage of allegory in biblical interpretation. Finally, I will show how I practice an allegorical method in my interpretation. Allegory is a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative or symbolical of one subject under the guise of another. Allegory is an illustration of one thing in terms of another or the personification of abstract ideas or spiritual concepts. Thus allegory is closely related to the parable, fable, and metaphor in the Bible. The characters of allegory have not individual personality only, but represent a quality or an idea exactly of spiritual life of Christian in the Bible Augustine used allegory and typology to show the coherence and the unity of the Bible. The integrity of the two testaments was a focal issue in the late fourth century. It had been crucial to Augustine’s own conversion and he was concerned to refute the Manicheans’ arguments against the Old Testament . But the origin of allegory is Jewish, they regarded the Hebrew Scriptures as coming from heaven, and treated them as if the were dictated, indeed as if they were pronounced by God himself . I was influenced by the allegorical method of Augustine. Augustine did not think of himself as a Bishop, Philosopher or Teacher but he spent his time studying and meditating on the Word of God, his allegories were mixed with echoes and allusions. Augustine followed a “rule of contradiction” as main key of his exegesis, which authorized figurative interpretation where the literal sense clashed with his understanding of God. A text may be read as a straightforward chronicle, a text’s referent being understood to reside within ordinary parameters of verbal meaning. In his teaching, Augustine imagined language running parallel to the stream of experience alongside it, so to speak, rather than within it. Augustine’s allegorical interpretation of Biblical prophecy dominated the understanding of eschatology during the medieval period. It found acceptance also with the Roman church and among the leaders of the Reformation. Even today, large segments of the Christian church hold Augustinian eschatology. Interestingly most treatment of Augustine’s interpretation of the Bible, especially from the side of the biblical scholars, appreciates the brilliance of his mind, his unique rhetorical skills and his enormous influence within the Christian church. The allegory of Augustine was influenced more by language and philosophy rather than exegetical study because his level in biblical language was not enough to analyse a biblical text. Before becoming a Christian, he studied rhetoric and was a member of the Manichean sect which posed one of the most radical forms of Docetism where they denied that Christ had a real body . This does not mean that he was not qualified to pastor churches, to preach and teach the gospel. However, for a theologian to be not able to consult the original languages of the Word of God is a critical failure. Positively, allegory is used to speak, and to describe some fictional narrative in a polite, non-confrontational way, which is supposed to continually if implicitly, refer to some other structure of event or state of affairs, whether political, social or natural. In the Bible, parables are often forms of allegory, where the actions of animals are used to represent the behaviour of human beings in an effort to show them the folly of their actions and the virtue of other actions. For example the allegory of Nathan (2 Sam. 12:1-4) addresses David in an allegorical fashion. An other example of allegory in Christian literature is John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Allegory is a legitimate interpretational method because it can be traced back to the Bible. For example, when John the Baptist saw Jesus and said: "Behold the Lamb of God", (John 1:36). This was a reference of Isaiah 53: 3-7. An addition advantage of allegory is that it points to a personality or event based on Scripture according to a principle or synchronized events. For example Hebrews 7:14 is a comparison between the priesthood of Melchizedek and that of Christ. The Bible is history, and an allegorical approach to biblical interpretation allows us to present its message in a polite, non-confrontational way. An example is John Bunyan. Allegory is a vehicle of moral truth. There are different styles of allegory such as parables or fables and everyone communicates a truthful message. Negatively allegory can be a great asset when it is interpreting the Bible but unfortunately, it is one of the most abused methods of Bible interpretation. Let me give an example of how allegory has been abused by some theologians or churches. In the Roman Catholic Church, they teach that Mary is redemptive or a saviour with the Lord Jesus Christ and that she reigns as Queen of Heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ. This teaching is based upon a verse which we find in 1 Kings 2. They teach that Solomon was a figure of Christ and that Bathsheba was a figure of Mary and therefore based upon those figures, Mary is reigning in heaven with Christ. Previously in my allegorical use, I confused allegory and typology, after BI1, I understood the difference between the two methods and briefly, I would like to specify the diffence between allegory and typology and this is one of the negatives of Augustine’s allegory. Typology is a literal sense, while allegory is something entirely new: the former is in truth exegesis, the latter is not. Allegory is the only method in which earthly realities are interpreted symbolically to refer to heavenly realities. Typology is a method, in which historical reality is interpreted to indicate or show another, especially the person and work of Christ. For example, Mark presents Jesus Christ using allegory as a rhetorical device in his own parables (Mark 4:12-20). The majority of the New Testament parables are examples of prophetic and situational allegory, not involving typology. I use allegory to help understand the implication of the literature in my context and I pay attention to the different elements the author used. A consistent use of imagery is one way I use to analyze the allegorical aspects of a story. In addition, allegories determine how certain signifiers, within the piece of literature are used, and the underlying allegorical meanings they bring. For example in John 3: 14, Jesus uses a story from the Old Testament about Moses and the children of Israel and was able by this allegory, to open our understanding of His crucifixion, suffering, pain and the terrible price He paid on Golgotha. In my conclusion of this part, I think that allegory should be a stable. The preference of allegory should be given to a proposal for a stable scale of allegorical context, ranging from the most to the least allegorical and depending on the degree of interaction between the literal context and the symbolic level of the text in same context. Canonical criticism. The Canonical approach is the soul of biblical interpretation for protestant churches because it is in conformity with canon law. This method of interpreting the scriptures focuses on the text of the biblical canon itself as a finished product. Canonical criticism is the approach, which allows one to define the ever-changing hermeneutical shape of a text through time by seeking to understand not only what it means in the present, but also what it has meant in the past. In addition, it attempts to define the relationships between any two points along the line of a texts transmission through history in the communities, which have held the text as authoritative. A most striking feature in the juxtaposition of the two testaments is actually the lack of Christian redactional activity of the Old Testament. A canonical approach is concerned with the interpretation of the Bible in relation to its two testaments and its canonization. The work of Brevard S. Childs, especially in Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testament, has been influential in my own approach to reading the books of the Bible as one book. Approaching the canon as a purely formal, literary construct without theological content is a fundamental misunderstanding of the proposal. The focussing on scripture as canon in opposition to the anthropocentric tradition of liberal Protestantism is to emphasize that the biblical text and its theological function are authoritative and belong inextricably together. To consider a text canonically, we may ask: How is this text related to prior texts and/or later texts in the Bible? How does its location in the Canon affect the meaning of this text? In recent years, some scholars have challenged exegetes to read the biblical texts explicitly as canonical Scripture. It has several distinguishing features. A canonical approach is synchronic, it is interested in the final form of the text and it can provide us with a method of reading the Bible accepting the authority of the Bible as a book inspired by God. Canonical criticism also focuses on the complete biblical writings rather than individual texts. Canonical critics insist that a text should be read as part of the whole Bible, not as an independent, single unit. Thus canonical criticism reacts against placing an exaggerated value upon what is supposed to be original and early. Canonical Criticism is the work of Christian scholars; nevertheless unfortunately, they have devoted most of their attention to the Old Testament. Another problem for Canonical Criticism is the wide disagreement about the content of the canon between Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Protestants. These disagreements are reflected even in the order in which the Old Testament books are placed. A further disadvantage of a canonical approach to the Bible seems to be a certain levelling out of specific affirmations and practices e.g. in evaluating the sins of Israel’s Old Testament leaders in light of the New Testament. Moreover, this does not help a Christian to develop his faith. My present practice of a canonical approach is that: as student in biblical interpretation and involved in preaching and teaching, I read Scripture seeking to enter into the expressed mind of the inspired writers and by the way of prayer. I read the Bible as a unified book, it is a passion of mine, I also read a Bible passage as a part of the whole, and I see the Old Testament as a foundation of the Christian faith by its moral teaching. I approach the Bible as an infallible book and the instrument of God to communicate salvation to us and approaching this method in the sense of knowing how canonical criticism is related to the Bible and how I was influenced by this approach. I believe each sentence in the Old Testament is in relationship with the New Testament, I am not opposed to the historical sense of the Old Testament but its relationship with the New Testament is in allegory, prophetic message, typology, quotations, allusions, echoes and others. When I interpret the Bible I accept the contextual ethical truth found in both the Old and New Testament. My conclusion on the Canonical approach is that it has become a popular method of Biblical interpretation. A canonical approach assumes a perspective by which biblical interpretation can understand the nature of texts in the Old Testament and its relation to the meaning of the New Testament. This perspective encourages a critical examination of biblical interpretation. In my view, accepting to the canonical approach of scripture allows you to appreciate how the canonical approach contributes to provide a fuller meaning of any text. Conclusion I conclude that, biblical interpretation is accepted and necessary within academic circles generally, and in preaching sometimes. I have highlighted intertextuality, allegory and canonical criticism, but believe that to analyse these methods hermeneutically and exegetically we must consider the historical context and any analysis needs to be based upon a multifunctional theory of language such as historical grammatical method. Thus I am now aware of an intertextual approach to the Bible which pays attention to the way the authors used their sources and created new texts by way of quotation, allusions or echoes. To understand an allegory or even use an allegorical interpretation of a portion of the Bible can be an extremely rewarding activity as long as we consider the context in which the author lived. Canonical criticism is in the centre of biblical interpretation. My approach to Bible study in future will have a strong foundation which seeks to interpret a text honestly and fully. Bibliography Bright P, Augustine, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986 Duvall J. Scott and Daniel J. Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005 Childs B. S, Biblical Theology of Old Testament, London: SCM Press, 1992 Fitzgerald A D, Augustine, Through the Age: An Encyclopedia, Cambridge: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999 Gillmaryr-Bucher S, Intertextuality: Between Literary Theory and Text analysis, Part 1, in Thomas L, Brodie, R. Dennis, MacDonald and E. Stanley Porter, The Intertextuality of the Epistles: Explorations of Theory and Practe, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press 2006 Hanson R.P.C, Allegory & Event: A Study of the Sources and Significance of Origin’s Interpretation of Scripture, London: John Knox Press 2002 Hayes J H and Holladay C R, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook, Third Edition, London: Westminster John Knox Press 2007 Kaliser W. C and Silva M, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House 1994 Larry V C, Revelation in the New Testament, in Mal Couch: A Bible Handbook to Revelation, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001 Thomas R L, Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old, United States of America, Kregel, 2002 Vanhoozer K J, Is there a meaning in this text: The Bible, the reader and morality of literary knowledge, England: Apollos, 1998 Chandler D, Semiotics: The Basics, 273[21 May 2007] online: www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem09.html.


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