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Experience, Scripture, and Tradition
Experience, Scripture, and Tradition

How Did Jesus Approach Scripture?

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Just because you use Scripture, even in a God-affirming way, does not mean you are using Scripture for life and love, growth and wisdom—and for the sake of God or others. —Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with the Bible?   

Richard shares how he interprets Scripture by following Jesus’ lead: 

A “hermeneutic” is simply the methodology for biblical interpretation. If we do not have a clear hermeneutic or “lens,” we can make any text submit to the whim of the moment. This is one reason that so much of the world does not take Christians seriously. People have seen us use Scripture whatever way we want to make the points that we already have decided to make!  

William of Ockham (c. 1285–c. 1349), a medieval Franciscan scholar, espoused the idea of cutting away all excessive rationalizations and theories. This became known as “Ockham’s razor.” The best answer is probably the simplest one. I know this also has many dangers, but in this case I think we will find that Ockham’s razor might give Christianity a very good shave.  

My simple hermeneutic and razor’s cut is this: We should make use of Scripture the way that Jesus did. I call it the Jesus hermeneutic. Historically, Christians have said that the whole Bible was to be interpreted “in the light of Jesus,” but we understood that in a self-serving way, falsely believing that Christianity supplanted Judaism and thus made it irrelevant and merely an “old” testament. We went so far as to assume that Moses and Isaiah were warm-up acts for Jesus. That is not honest, not true, and not even fair to Jesus. He built on their wisdom rather than thinking “They are pointing to me!” We must make that clear mental switch.  

Jesus is an ideal model as one who: 

  • Honors his own religious tradition wherever possible and does not react against it needlessly. 
  • Ignores (or even opposes) parts of his own Scriptures that were in any way punitive, imperialistic, exclusionary, or presented God as the same. 
  • Successfully connects the dots, and finds where the trajectory is heading and building toward.  
  • Clearly concludes that the text is tending toward inclusivity, mercy, and justice. These Jesus sees as the clear intent and work of his God YHWH.  

In this sense, we do indeed interpret the Bible “in the light of Jesus,” not to prove he is the son of God but to follow his hermeneutic or lens! 

Jesus’ hermeneutic gives us a template for passages that can be ignored (Does he ever quote or refer to Joshua or Judges?); that can be openly disagreed with or improved upon (“Moses only let you do that because of your hardness of heart.” Matthew 19:8); that must be seen as early groundwork for a further message (“The Law says; I say,” repeated six times in Matthew 5:21–48); and a template for what can be firmly concluded from where the arc of grace and history is tending.  


Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Jesus Hermeneutic,” The Mendicant 3, no. 3 (Fall 2013), 1. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 7. Jenna Keiper, Bisti Badlands. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 6. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

The landscape of our own lives informs how we understand Scripture and Tradition. 

Story from Our Community:

About midway through my career in ministry, my church made decisions that caused a deep internal conflict within me. I contemplated a vocational change and severance with the community. In that moment, a dear friend introduced me to the writings of Fr. Richard and the work of the CAC. In addition to the immeasurable wisdom and love that leapt from the pages of his work, it was this concept of “creative tension” that Fr. Richard discussed that brought great solace and renewed vigor to my spiritual life and career. I was once fearful that my prayerful dissent with church teachings and the love for my faith could not live harmoniously with one another. I learned, rather, that these seemingly contradictory forces could work to create and re-create something new and beautiful. Thank you! —Patrick K. 

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