OVERVIEW. A redemptive-movement hermeneutic (RMH) functions as a much-needed addition to a classic grammatical-historical hermeneutic (GHH). In short, it is simply grammatical-historical hermeneutics (GHH) done better! Beyond simply reading texts within their literary context (up and down the page) and within their genre context (the kind of literature), Christians ought to champion the redemptive-movement meaning of the text, which is discerned through reading biblical texts in at least five different ways (see below). One can often sense incremental movement (a step or two) by God’s Spirit towards an ultimate ethical application–it is our responsibility as Christians to move towards a greater fulfillment of that redemptive element within our contemporary world.
DIAGRAM. The Bible often represents an incremental ethic (not always an ultimate ethic) in its concrete-specific instructions. We should not be surprised at this because Jesus himself points out that certain instructions were an accomodation to the fallenness of this world–the hardness of human hearts (Mark 10:45).
In the diagram “X” represents the ancient cultural norms or practices. Read within this ancient historical context, Scripture’s concrete-specific instructions “Y” often (some exceptions here) reflect a limited redemptive movement towards something better. One must learn to read Scripture redemptively–i.e., to understand its underlying redemptive spirit or redemptive trend even if that trend within the Bible’s on-the-page articulation is not fully realized. Once Christians understand the redemptive spirit of Scripture, a logical and theological extension of that spirit enables us to move with God’s Spirit towards an ultimate ethical application “Z”.
TYPES OF REDEMPTIVE-MOVEMENT MEANING. There are various kinds or types of redemptive movement in Scripture. (1) Foreign movement–in relation to ANE/GR/2TJ. Sometimes we can assertain redemptive movement by reading the biblical text within its ancient-world context. Often by reading Scripture from this ancient horizon, we discover an element of its redemptive spirit or heartbeat that is easily missed because we intuitively assume our modern-day context as the horizon. Exceptions exist. And, the ancient world is by no means monolythic. But a general picture of the ancient world can often help in seeing the redemptive elements in Scripture through through highlighting its distintive character or emphasis. (2) Common/shared movement–in relation to shared perspectives on ancient-world evils or wrongs. God’s common grace extends to all human beings. Even so, ANE/GR law codes were often intended to bring some semblence of order to ancient-world communities despite the degree to which their laws did (or did not) accomplish those ends. So sometimes a comparative analysis is helpful where the redemptive movement is based upon a shared movement away from the “lowest common denominator” evil that nearly all communities were interested in moving away from (regardless of how far any one culture took this movement). At times it is good to look at these mutual concerns and see the shared movement away from chaos and moral evil. There is a sense in which God’s general revelation and common grace to some extent impacted all law makers in the ancient world. Of course, it would be helpful to assess whether these shared concerns could in some measure be developed further in our present-day context. (3) Domestic movement–in relation to Israel’s “in house” traditions at the time. God comes to Israel and takes them from where they are at–their existing traditions and practices–and introduces changes. Sometimes we get a glimpse of domestic movement away from typical practices within Israel to something different (e.g., the daughters of Zelophehad and land inheritance for women). Even if this movement is limited, circumstantial and seemingly minor to us, such movement within Israel’s context was indeed significant and offers a clue that perhaps enculturated issues are at stake and not stronger, permenant values. (4) Canonical movement–in relation to the OT or former epochs in savaltion history. A classic case of canonical movement is where Jesus critiques certain short-comings of OT law and points out how its underlying spirit can be taken to an even better fulfillment (e.g., sermon on the mount, Matt. 5:1-48; cf. Matt. 19:1-12). Jesus teaches us to read Scripture with an understanding of its incremental ethic and with a view to its accomodation to our fallen-world context and to the pragmatics of an ancient-world context. Contrary to what some Christians think, the biblical text is not a-temporal. Christians need to do this kind of “rigorous reflection” upon what we find within the biblical text. Rigorous reflection provides a constructively critical or redemptively critical approach in order to see where God’s Spirit wants us to journey in our ultimate ethical application of Scripture. Fortunately, we get some samples of this kind of redemptively critical thinking in the canonical movement in the teaching of Jesus. (5) Love movement–in relation to a “new law” (the law of Christ). The final way to discover (needed) movement is simply to think of whether the concrete particulars found in the text could possibly move towards a greater expression of love. Mind you, one must establish an understanding of love as Jesus reveals it to us, namely, God honoring, other-person oriented, sacrificial, servant-oriented, etc. But as we develop the mind of Christ in humility and community, it provides a reading of the text to reflect upon where further redemptive movement might be possible. Subjective? Yes, somewhat. But it is better than staying “stuck” in a less-than-ultimate ethic or in a partially realized expression of love, which is sometimes evident within in the biblical text. How do we offset this subjectivity? A case for rethinking and moving ahead in contemporary Christian application of the Bible is obviously stonger when three, four or even five types of redemptive movement come together in a complementary fashion.