Hermeneutical Method, Part 2

A corollary problem to the tension between the old and the new was the tension between the absolute and the relative. No one would have dared relativize the words of the Highest, but some heretical sects thought parts of scripture (notably the Old Testament) were products of a lesser god. This position allowed them safely to relativize portions of scripture. Although the rabbis had relativized scripture, to some extent, in halakah, they had limited the operational extent of that halakah by the oral law. In competition with these other positions, the orthodox, Christian position received slightly different articulations based on which factors pressed heaviest on a given author’s context. For example, the Epistle of Barnabas applied whatever method necessary to arrive at a distinctively Christian interpretation of the Old Testament. In contrast to the general, orthodox emphasis on the use of the Old Testament, Ignatius used the New Testament more frequently than he used the Old Testament. Where he did use the Old Testament, however, he took Jesus as the starting point for his interpretation of the Old Testament.

A final constraint prevalent during this period in the area of hermeneutical method was the tension between clarity and obscurity. Because Marcion was certain that the Old Testament did not originate with the God and father of Jesus Christ; thus, he omitted it from his canon and argued for a literal interpretation of (his edited version of) the New Testament. The Valentinians, by contrast, argued for an allegorical approach to the New Testament. The orthodox position attempted to maintain, rather than prematurely resolve, the tension between these two poles by affirming both scripture’s clarity and its obscurity (e.g., clarity: Epistle of Barnabas 1:7, 2:4, 3:6; obscurity: Epistle of Barnabas 5:2–3, 8:7, 10:2).


In this post:

Michael Holmes
Michael Holmes
If you've found this content helpful, take a couple seconds to subscribe to receive all the new free content and resources I release. While you're at it, be sure to grab my free e-book on SBL style and summary of open access International Critical Commentary volumes.
* indicates required

What free content would you like to receive by email?

Unsubscribe any time from the link in my email footers. For more information, please see the privacy policy.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person(s) or institution(s).

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the content above may be “affiliate links.” I only recommend products or services I genuinely believe will add value to you as a reader. But if you click one of these links and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission from the seller at no additional cost to you. Consequently, I am disclosing this affiliate status in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.