Review of Introducción General al Mito y la Hermenéutica by Carlos Cullen et al

  1. Nombre y apellido del alumno Bert Amsing
  2. Fecha May 18, 2016
  3. Título del texto leído Carlos Cullen, Armando J. Leveratti, Ignacio Vicentini

            Introducción General al Mito y la Hermenéutica

  1. ¿De qué trata el artículo o capítulo leído?

Cullen, Levaratti, and Vicentini, in their book, Introducción General al Mito y la Hermenéutica, give a concise and helpful introduction to the new hermeneutics as it applies specifically to the interpretation of the Bible.  They did not touch on the concept of MYTH per se but rather the new Hermeneutics in general.

  1. ¿Cuál es la idea central del autor?

These authors (Cullen et al) propose that biblical hermeneutics can be completely submitted to general hermeneutics by allowing for a few presuppositions that arise naturally from the text concerning the inspiration, revelation and canonicity of the Bible.  In their own words, they say, “Haciendo una analogía con la Encarnación, podemos afirmar la “completa kenosis de la palabra de Dios en el lenguaje humano”, y a partir de ahí proponer una concepción de la hermenéutica bíblica completamente inscrita en los cuadros de una hermenéutica general (p.25).”  The key issue is, of course, what they mean by “completely” as a description of the relationship between general hermeneutics and biblical hermeneutics.

  1. ¿De qué nos quiere convencer?

To continue on from their central idea, these authors are trying to convince the reader that within certain parameters, we have nothing to fear from the new hermeneutic in our interpretation of the Bible.  Their conclusion is that “De todo lo dicho podemos concluir que la hermenéutica bíblica no debe ser sumergida en la hermenéutica general así como tampoco ha de ser situada al margen de ella.”
How this compares with their earlier assertion that Biblical hermeneutics ought to be “completemente inscrita en la cuadra” of general hermeneutics needs to be clarified.  Using the analogy of a particular theory of the Incarnation, they state that “Como Cristo, ella (la hermenéutica general) une a Dios y al hombre.  Hemos podido ver que aquel que hace divina a la hermenéutica bíblica, lejos de hacerla menos humana, la inserta – por el contrario – in lo más profundo de la experiencia hermenéutica (p.29).”

  1. ¿Cuáles son los puntos fuertes y los puntos débiles del texto?

In general, Cullen et al provides a concise and enlightening introduction to the new hermeneutic and its relationship with biblical hermeneutics.  Their respect for the Scriptures is evident but what is interesting is that they find support for that position in general hermeneutical presuppositions.  This is especially clear in the discussion about placing the interpreter within his tradition as part of his historical-cultural milieu.
They go on to say, “Este principio de la “inserción del sujeto en un acontecimiento de tradición” constituye lo fundamental de la hermenéutica general y es válido también para la hermenéutica bíblica, donde nos revela su especificidad y su irreductibilidad (que no es lo mismo que separabilidad) respecto de la hermenéutica general (p.27).”
On the one hand, this allows the interpreter to let the Bible speak for itself, perhaps even interpret itself while, on the other hand, allowing the interpreter of the Bible to utilize the new, scientific approach to hermeneutics.  It still remains to be seen whether this “especificidad” establishes the principle of Sola Scriptura and all of which that entails as a necessary element of hermeneutics or whether there is still a theological/doctrinal element in it that must still be established hermeneutically.  Probably a bit of both.
It also must be said that the separation of the historicity of the text from the literary nature of the text also helps make this “especificidad” of the text more acceptable to otherwise liberal interpreters of the Word of God.  This is “el paso del punto de vista genético al punto de vista estructural.  Para el historicismo, comprender es encontrar la génesis, la forma anterior, las fuentes, el sentido de la evolución.  El enfoque estructural, en cambio, se interesa por las organizaciones sistemáticas en un estado determinado.  Conociendo la personalidad del autor o las circunstancias externas que condicionan la creación literaria, aún no se llega a comprender la obra misma – su sentido inmanente – que es lo realmente importante (p. 21,22).”
We can agree with everything said here other than, perhaps, the last value judgment, “que es lo realmente importante,” since the text itself makes historical claims which also must be verified (in history and experience) and believed.  In fact, precisely because the text of Scripture testifies to and interprets God’s objective acts and words in history and communicates them to us through the human medium of language with all of what that implies, we can accept a grammatico-historical approach to hermeneutics that can openly use every authentic tool for historical and linguistic research.
Work still must be done on the evaluation of what constitutes an “authentic” tool for historical and linguistic research.  There are a number of presuppositions and philosophical positions inherent in the new scientific hermeneutical approach that must be evaluated and the relationship between the general hermeneutic and the biblical hermeneutic must be worked out in more detail.  The principle of Sola Scriptura still stands as our guiding light in the process of interpreting the Word of God and the primacy (based on the inerrancy and inspiration of the Word of God) of the Scriptures finds its source of “especificidad” not only in its character as a literary text (together with all other literary texts) but also in its supernatural character as the inerrant and inspired Word of God.
In that sense, the authors seem to have taken a few leaps in logic when they talk about the inspiration, revelation and canonicity of the Word of God as acceptable presuppositions based on general hermeneutics.  I believe that conclusion is warranted but it will probably be challenged by others and will need to find a foundation beyond its character simply as a literary text.  And rightly so.  Otherwise, how do we distinguish between myth and history?  Any literary text can make claims about reality and we can respect those claims “literarily” in our process of listening to the text and trying to understand what it wishes to say.  No doubt.
But the Bible makes historical claims on reality that are essential to our belief (i.e. the resurrection) and essential to our interpretation of the text (i.e. the inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God).  Something more must be said.  Most likely the concept of faith (what these authors call “analogía de la fe”) is where we will find the answers.
Another may be what the authors call the “fruitio sensus spiritualis,” but that is on the esthetic side of things.  They say, “Por eso, la hermenéutica bíblica no debe perder de vista esta dimensión estética.  Ella nos permite, además, esa fruitio sensus spiritualis, que un excesivo cientifismo literalista tiende a sofocar (p. 23).”  I believe that they are generally on the right track but it requires more discussion on a deeper level before the new scientific hermeneutic can be accepted without qualification.
In trying to enunciate the relationship between general and biblical hermeneutics, these authors also talk of the “irreductibilidad” of biblical hermeneutics but not the “separabilidad” (or “in-separabilidad) of biblical hermeneutics from general hermeneutics.  Of course, this is a statement without discussion and it remains to be seen whether this will hold up within the tradition of hermeneutics of the church and the claims of the Bible about itself and the process of understanding its message.
Still, in general, I would agree.  Biblical hermeneutics cannot be reduced to a merely “human” text if we want to respect its “divine” claims about itself (irreductibilidad) but it also cannot be so discontinuous in its “divine” claims that we do not also recognize its claims to use “human” agents (no “separabilidad”).  Still, the actual nature of the relationship between the two especially in light of the indicative-imperative debate needs to be spelt out further.
The incarnation may or may not be the best analogy to use and, as the authors themselves point out, there are multiple understandings of the relationship of the divine-human in the Incarnation.  That is not to say that the relationship between the divine-human (or indicative-imperative) in the Biblical text must be the same as the Incarnation, but if it isn’t, then it means that the Incarnation was not the best analogy to use.  Rather than determining the analogy before looking at the textual (and theological/doctrinal) evidence, it would be wiser to let the Bible speak for itself first and then we may discover an even better analogy to describe the relationship between the two.
Another thing must also be taken into account when we talk about the divine-human, indicative-imperative or general-biblical hermeneutical relationship.  We are equating all of these things as if they are the same thing and they may not be.  There may be a real analogy between them but with subtle and important differences.
Furthermore, whenever we talk about the human side in this process of interpretation, we must take into account the noetic effects of sin (on our ability to think, know, and communicate).  This is not merely a moral/ethical deficiency but a real problem in our ability to communicate with one another and understand one another.  It is a process full of problems and false starts and difficulties, many of which are being recognized for the first time.
Therefore, given the nature of the Bible as the inerrant and inspired Word of God and given that the Holy Spirit needs to enlighten us in that process of interpretation as we live in loving obedience to him, there is an undeniable “supernatural” element to the interpretation of Scripture that must be taken into account.
On the one hand, we must, in humility, recognize the noetic effects of sin on our ability to interpret and understand and assimilate the Word of God and seek to overcome them (which the new scientific hermeneutic may provide some real solutions) but on the other hand, recognize, also in humility, that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the task.
That task is essential to the hermeneutical process of interpretation and must be given its essential place so that we don’t fall into the pride of believing that our new scientific hermeneutics, by itself, can overcome the negative effects of sin in the entire process.  In addition, this approach allows for our evangelistic-missional praxis (not only the moral/ethical and relational/ontological praxis) to play a central role in the process of interpretation.

  1. ¿Qué aspectos no entendí? ¿ó que preguntas tengo todavía?

One of the things that still confuses me is the relationship between the new, scientific hermeneutic and the new manner of doing theology as proposed by Rene in his article on Contextual Hermeneutics.  The authors of this article claim that “el nuevo de la hermenéutica – tal como comienza a desarrollarse ahora de manera cada vez más sistemática – no es el hecho mismo de la interpretación, sino el esfuerzo por comprender la estructura del acto hermenéutico y, consiguientemente, por situar al intérprete en el ejercicio de su actividad.  En otras palabras, se trata de hacer de la hermenéutica una ciencia (p.14).”  It is still an open question whether or not the wholesale acceptance of this new, scientific hermeneutic without due thought given to the noetic effects of sin in the process will also affect that actual act of interpretation in a way that produces a theology that no longer speaks the “kerygma” of God to the people of God in our contemporary situation.
But even so, we agree that the grammatico-historical approach (even in it’s new “scientific” enhanced form) with all of the proper evaluations of the underlying presuppositions and worldview as well as taking into account the noetic effects of sin especially as it relates to interpreting the Word of God (rather than all literature in general, which is also true but perhaps with different dynamics and elements attached), is something that can be very useful to the exegesis and interpretation of Scripture.  But isn’t this approach contrary to the approach of Padilla/Escobar who claim that any interpretation of Scripture may just as easily start from the evangelistic-missional praxis as from Sola Scriptura (and yes, I put them in contrast to each other on the basis of my reading, so far, of Padilla’s contextual hermeneutic)?
On the one hand, Padilla suggests a new approach to doing theology starting from “praxis” (thereby denying the irreversibility of the order of the indicative-imperative) and on the other hand, the present authors suggest that there is a new approach to doing hermeneutics which (in theory) validates the approach of Sola Scriptura.  It is almost as if the new hermeneutic validates the traditional approach of listening in humility to the text (even more in biblical hermeneutics) as a first step and then, as a second step, working out the details (a theology?) of how to implement the imperative in our contemporary situation.  There is a variance here between the two that is still unclear to me.
One other question I would like to touch upon is that concerning the three types of language that one finds in a literary text.  The authors talk about “la lengua literaria, la científica y la vulgar (p.22).”  But they add the judgment that most of the language of the Bible is “literaria.”  So “literaria” that it “desarrollan su propia lengua literaria (p.22).”  Although this is true, it does not negate that God uses a variety of styles and types of language in his communication with us through human agents.  We must be careful to recognize both the continuity and discontinuity with normal “human” language in the Bible both in terms of the “human” literary element and the “divine” use (and management) of those elements in terms of the noetic effects of sin on the interpreter (the fall) and on the act of communication itself (the curse of Babel).
Finally, one last comment needs to be made about the “Catholic” background of the present authors.  As was commented earlier, great appreciation attaches to their respect for Scripture and their analysis of the relationship between biblical hermeneutics and general hermeneutics.
Still, as Evangelicals, we must say something about the “tradition” within which we exercise our exegetical/hermeneutical task.  Speaking of the presuppositions with which we come to our task, these authors point out that the only one that matters is faith.  I like the humility before the Word of God that this implies.  They say that “la fe implica que el intérprete se considera sometido a la misma fuerza espiritual de la cual procede la obra escrita, y además, la pertenencia del intérprete a un medio, a una comunidad que comparte su actitud (p.27).”  Beautifully said.  Now they go on to explain in more detail what they mean.  “Es decir, la fe implica el Espíritu (y por eso es sobrenatural) y la Iglesia (y por eso es social) (p.27).”
I would use the word “spiritual/communal” rather than “social” in order to create some distance from the social sciences and human society.  It is a very special type of social relationship rooted in the indicative while living out the imperative that is in view here.  And that makes a difference in the next step of our discussion.  They go on to say that “Esta fe sobrenatural, a su vez, constituye la tradición exegética, que se estructura y ramifica por al acción de los diversos órganos que se ha dado el cuerpo social de la iglesia bajo la acción del Espíritu (autoridad del magisterio, sensus fidelium, actividad exegética…).  Estos órganos tradicionales imprimen en el intérprete de la Biblia los diversos presupuestos, que en realidad no son más que las articulaciones de un único presupuesto: la fe (p. 27).”
Although the authors go on to talk about inspiration, revelation and canonicity, rather than specific theological/ecclesiastical articulations of the faith, it still remains a point of contention between Catholics and Protestants how the “institutional” church has become the sacred and ultimate determiner of the truth of Scripture.  This has lead to all sorts of abuses which resulted in the original and ongoing Reformation.  The noetic effects of sin as well as the corporate nature of sin needs to be taken into account here.  In other words, not everyone would agree that “los órganos que se ha dado el cuerpo social de la iglesia” came about because of the “acción del Espíritu (p.27).”
The Book of Revelations reminds us that the “beast” is not merely the imperial Roman expression of evil “en contra de Dios,” but rather also an ongoing reality of corporate sin that codifies and promulgates sinful structures and policies almost as if it “had a life of its own.”  That “beast” is found even in churches, both Catholic and Protestant, even Bible believing evangelical churches where politics takes precedent over people and a commitment to the status quo takes priority over the ministry of reconciliation.
At the very least, Evangelicals would generally agree that the “institutional” organizations of the church, both Catholic and Protestant, and their theological/ecclesiastical proclamations must also come under the scrutiny of Scripture and submit itself to the “reforming” power of the Holy Spirit as he interprets himself in the lives of his people even when that is in conflict with the “power/establishment” view of things.

  1. ¿Cómo se puede aplicar el contenido a la tarea hermenéutica?

As stated earlier, one of the tasks that I need to personally undertake is to evaluate the presuppositions and worldview of the various contributors to the new hermeneutic (as outline by the present authors so well) and submit them to scrutiny by the Word of God.  Just as it is in the case of Philosophy in general, there is a healthy skepticism of the validity of Philosophical systems to clarify aspects of the “kerygma” of God without serious modification.
At the same time, there arises from Scripture itself a general approach to Philosophy and philosophical questions and the relationship it has with Theology (as a reflection of the indicative-imperative “kerygma” of God contained and communicated through the Scriptures).
Perhaps there are elements of different philosophical systems that may be of some use to the hermeneutical process especially in terms of understanding our own presuppositions and worldview as a pre-requisite to a humble approach to the Word of God but also in terms of understanding the Biblical worldview and presuppositions (transformed by the Holy Spirit into “kerygma” or used by the Holy Spirit as a counterpoint and context for his own worldview and presuppositions or, even, regulated to a neutral status that does not bear on the divine message at all and can, therefore, co-exist as a contextually defined element of the original historical situation in which the Word of God came).
In any event, both in terms of Philosophy directly and Hermeneutics in particular, care must be taken in the details so that the primacy of the Word of God is maintained to whatever extent possible given our propensity to impose our views on the divine message.
Objectivity may not be entirely possible, but self-awareness and wisdom in how we deal with “human” elements in the process of the interpretation of the Word must be taken (especially in light of the noetic effects of the fall and curse balanced by the decision of God through his direct involvement, inspiration and guidance to use human language as the means of communication of the gospel to the world.
In conclusion, much of this article was helpful and will act as a reference point for my own approach to the hermeneutical task going forward especially in terms of the relationship between biblical and general hermeneutics.
 Bert Amsing

Master’s Program – FIET