As orthodox Christians we all readily affirm the Chalcedonian Definition of Christology. Jesus the Messiah has two natures; being both completely human and completely divine. These two natures are distinct from each other, yet are united in the single person of Christ. All Christological heresies abandon at least one of these central tenets. We know what we ought to affirm regarding the Word of God made flesh (Jn 1.1, 14), yet when it comes to Scripture, the Word of God (Heb 4.12), we tend not to maintain a Chalcedonian hermeneutic.
The central problem is determining the relationship between the divine and human authors of Scripture. As we know, the Bible is a composition of multiple books that span several centuries and contain diverse cultural references and three separate languages. As I’ve thought about what a ‘Chalcedonian hermeneutic’ would look like, I’ve realized that there are different strands of interpretation that demonstrate a relationship between the divine and human authors of Scripture that reflects the heretical relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ. For instance, there is a tendency among more fundamentalist Christians to view Scripture ‘Docetically,’ that is, to deny altogether the unique role of the human author. Just as Docetism is a heretical approach to Christology that places too much emphasis on the divine nature of Christ, so also this approach to Scripture is problematic. On the flip side, one may tend toward an Ebionite or an Arian interpretation of Scripture that entirely disregards (and denies) the divine role in biblical authorship. Perhaps this is more reserved to non-Christians who reject all things supernatural outright. But there is a tendency among even Christian scholars, I think, to focus so narrowly upon the historical that the divine is essentially snuffed out.
The potential pitfall in my Christology is an unintentional drift towards Nestorianism (which is typical of most Christians influenced by Reformed theology). The heresy of Nestorianism maintains the distinction between the natures of Christ so strongly that the awkward appearance of two persons emerge. But in our efforts to avoid the confusion of the natures into a single amalgamated nature (Eutychianism), we ought not to fall into the snare of Nestorius. Both natures of Christ are united in one person. Whatever either nature of Christ does, the single person of Christ does. In a similar manner, my tendency at the hermeneutical level is to shift towards a Nestorian view of the relationship between the divine and human authors of Scripture. Thus, my Christology is my hermeneutic. My potential towards a Nestorian hermeneutic is due to my affinity for Biblical Theology; focusing on the historical aspects of the text, the progressive development throughout salvation history, and the individuality of the various biblical authors. I for one strongly emphasize the historical nature of scripture. Just as the Son of God became incarnate, so also Scripture is incarnate (in this regard I appreciate the work of Peter Enns in his book, Inspiration and Incarnation). Our interpretation of Scripture ought to be historically plausible since every book of the Bible is historically conditioned. As Arturo Azurdia III says, “it cannot mean for us, what it never meant for them.” Of course, my aim is to be Chalcedonian rather than Nestorian, both in my Christology and in my hermeneutic.
I find that a lot of popular theology in evangelical circles emerges from an unfortunate Apollonarian hermeneutic. When Apollonarianism meets hermeneutics, as in Christology, the divine nature is overemphasized. Specifically, there appears to be only a single mind behind the text; minimizing the mind of the human author. This is particularly seen through the way that various theological conclusions are made on a given topic after weighing all the evidence as on a scale. Whatever side weighs more wins! This process inevitably discounts certain texts that do not cohere with a given theological grid or system. The one using this hermeneutic proceeds to conclude that the Bible teaches X or Y on a given topic with certainty, despite the tension. This approach does not do justice to the nuanced and perspectival witness of the various biblical authors. It is like silencing voices of a choir that sound dissonant to the theological tunes we want to hear. Thus, the individual minds of the biblical authors are disregarded for the sake of the single divine mind. Now, I am not at all suggesting that there are contradictions in Scripture. However, we need to be faithful to the text, which in a Chalcedonian model would mean that we listen to the individual voices in their own right. At the end of the day, there is a unity that holds Scripture together because of the same divine author that stands behind the text. But at the same time, the Bible is not an ethereal witness that dropped out of heaven. The books of the Bible were not written in a historical or cultural vacuum. The Bible is a product of its time (or rather, times!), just as Jesus was a product of his time being a Jewish man who lived in first century Palestine. A Chalcedonian hermeneutic recognizes both the time-bound and timeless nature of Scripture. When we understand what the text meant back then, we can determine what it means for us today. If we omit the historical task of the exegete, the accuracy of our interpretation will be in jeopardy, and we will fall into a hermeneutic resembling Christological heresies.
Perhaps some may find my Chalcedonian hermeneutic to undermine either the authority, clarity, or sufficiency of Scripture, and some might even find all three threatened. Some may say, ‘what about Sola Scriptura?’ or ‘what about the Rule of Faith?’ (See the discussion between Carson and Piper on the role of history in interpretation). These are important questions. But the question that we need to ask that will keep us on the right track is this: What is the Bible? Is it an a-historical witness or not? Personally, I find the role of history to be crucial for an accurate interpretation of Scripture. Often times the biblical text itself contains the key historical ideas, and at times the specific issues being addressed (as in the epistles) are apparent through the selectivity of the various authors. Yet, we can come to understand Scripture more clearly when treating the various biblical authors (a) as authors, and (b) in their cultural-historical context. This is not meant to suggest that the background has authority over the text. It is a simple recognition that Scripture is infused with concepts that are both culturally foreign to us (as Westerners) and temporally foreign to us (as citizens of the 21st century). For these reasons we ought to strive with both the text and the context. Of course, Scripture alone has authority, but this cannot mean then that we treat Scripture a-historically. For then we might lose sight of what the authoritative Scripture really means.
So then, in Chalcedonian terms, how would you describe your hermeneutic?