Sex and Jihad – the Failure of Modern Hermeneutics

 

Over the past few weeks I’ve been slowly coming to the conclusion that there is a massive similarity in the way our society is handling the two “religious” questions of homosexuality and violent Islam. In both areas there has been a singular failure to read religious texts as they were intended to be read and to understand how they were intended to be applied. As our Western world turns both to the Bible to understand what it says about sexuality and to the Qu’ran to understand what it says about Jihad we see clear evidence of this malaise.

 

Perhaps you would not have put these 2 subjects together – sex and jihad. Let me try and persuade you otherwise.

Sex and reading the Bible

By now most of us are familiar with the standard revisionist approach to the question of sexual ethics in the Bible. Clear prohibitions are “uncertain” or “relate only to cultic prostitution” and so on. As we move into the New Testament it’s common to assert that Jesus had nothing to say on the subject. There’s not really anything new that’s been written in the past 20 years or so and yet the same tired arguments are rolled out.

 

There are, of course, corresponding answers. Readers will be interested in the extensive writing of Robert Gagnon in this area – lots of good material there. I also have a lot of time for John Richardson‘s What God Has Made CleanAt the heart of much of this debate is the key question “how do we read these texts today?” i.e. what is our hermeneutic?

 

While the Post-moderns have a lot to answer for, one thing they taught us well is to take care when we read any text. Post-modernism comes in for a kicking in many areas (and rightly so, slippery thing that it is) but the original Post-moderns were often very good readers who we can learn a lot from. No less so when they read the Bible. Paul Ricoeur makes a telling observation on Biblical hermeneutics when he refers (Essays on Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980) 52) to,

Jesus Christ himself, exegesis and exegete of Scripture…

It’s a brilliant turn of phrase. Jesus is the exegesis (the correct reading) of the Bible and, at the same time the exegete (the correct reader) of the Bible. He is the lens through which we read everything in the Scriptures and He gives us the definitive reading. As a result the answer to all theological questions pass through Him (and, we might add, through His cross – but that’s another discussion). And all of a sudden we realise that there is a consistent way of reading the Bible that makes sense of all those allegedly difficult passages – Jesus is the key. Everything written beforehand points inexorably to Him and to what He came to do. He provides the interpretive grid for everything we read in the Bible and, at times, speaks authoritatively Himself on that same Bible. We therefore understand that much of the Old Testament does not stand alone but points to and is fulfilled in Jesus and His life, death and Resurrection. This is not a strange novelty but long understood and, of course, affirmed regularly in the New Testament.

 

Answering this same question, Tim Keller helpfully notes:

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mish-mash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

That last sentence is worth noting in and of itself. Liberal “Christianity” shares the same hermeneutic that the rest of our culture has because it shares the same base assumption – that Jesus is not the Christ, the Son of God and Saviour as traditional readings of the Bible have understood Him. There is a common foundation of unbelief that underpins the common approach to the Bible.

 

We see this worked out in the key issue itself, human sexuality. Jesus is the exegesis in that He presents Himself as the Bridegroom of the His bride, the church (so Matt. 25:1 et seq., Mark 2:19 = Luke 5:34, John 3:29). In doing so He draws upon frequent similar language in the Old Testament where God portrays Himself as the loving faithful husband of His bride, His people (so Isa. 62:5, Jer. 3:1, Hos. 3:1 etc.). The New Testament Apostolic authors also take up the same theme (e.g. Eph. 5:22 et seq., Rev. 19:7 etc.). The correct reading of those OT texts finds their fulfilment in Jesus and He Himself makes that clear. And He speaks clearly on the topic of human sexuality too, citing Genesis 2:24 as the definitive created order for human sexual expression:

Mark 10:6-9 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

There is a clear trajectory in all of this, the hermeneutic isn’t hard to understand. What is clear, however, is that not liking the obvious conclusion of that hermeneutic leads people down strange paths of inconsistency and, frankly, just poor reading.

Jihad and reading the Qu’ran

So what does all this have to do with Islam and Jihad? Simply put, our Western culture exhibits exactly the same deliberately blind lack of any understanding when it approaches another tricky “religious” topic, this time the question of the validity of Islamic “terrorism”.

Read Here

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