Gadamer's Hermeneutical Circle, Canonical-Compositional Hermeneutics, and Paul's "Mystery of Christ"
There are significant points of commonality between Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle and canonical-compositional hermeneutics. This paper will explore the implications of these points of commonality for Renewal Theology.
In the first part of the paper, we will examine Gadamer’s development of Schleiermacher’s concept of the hermeneutical circle. This will include a discussion of the historicality of all understanding.
In the second part of the paper, we will define canonical-compositional hermeneutics and identify the similarities between this approach to biblical interpretation and the concept of the hermeneutical circle.
In the third part of the paper, we will examine Paul’s claim to have an understanding of the “mystery of Christ” superior to any preceding understanding (Eph 3:1-6). This will be done within the framework of the hermeneutical circle/canonical-compositional hermeneutics.
The idea of the hermeneutical circle as an approach to understanding is rooted in ancient rhetoric and the attempt to understand sentences. Friedrich Ast (1778-1841), F. D. E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834), and Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), hermeneuticists of Romanticism, identified the hermeneutical circle as the process of interpretation; Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) developed the implications of this idea. The essence of the hermeneutical circle is the relationship between the whole and its parts. The parts cannot be understood in isolation from the whole, and the whole is understood by the coherence of the parts. As it relates to texts, interpretation moves in a circle between parts of the text and the whole text and between the whole text and parts of the text. Viewed by some as a paradox, the theory of the hermeneutical circle asserts “that we cannot truly understand the text’s structural and linguistic parts except in the light of the whole, and yet we can only know the whole as it is expressed in its parts.” As Gadamer points out, “this is a logically circular argument, insofar as the whole, in terms of which the part is to be understood, is not given before the part, unless in the manner of a dogmatic canon . . . or of some analogous preconception of the spirit of an age . . . .”
SCHLEIERMACHER’S HERMENEUTICAL CIRCLE
In Schleiermacher’s view, context (i.e., the whole) determines the meaning of the part. This is consistent with Friedrich Ast and the traditional approach to hermeneutics and rhetoric. But Schleiermacher went beyond the tradition to include psychological understanding, understanding “every structure of thought as an element in the total context of a man’s life.” Grammatical interpretation must be complemented by psychological interpretation, which explores the creative process and the subjectivity of the author. As Schleiermacher developed his perspective on the hermeneutical circle, he included in psychological interpretation “the analysis of ‘underlying’ and ‘collateral’ thoughts not fully articulated in the text.” Schleiermacher’s famous statement that the aim is to understand the writer better than he understood himself reflects his view that at “the psychological level . . . ‘subjective-historical’ reading reconstructs the author’s intention; but ‘subjective-divinatory’ reading projects a meaning not yet expressed in the text.” The author brings to the text a holistic environment of which she is not consciously aware—an environment that includes, but is not limited to, her culture, values, and traditions—an environment that participates deeply in the shaping of meaning below, above, and around the grammatical structure of the text. Gadamer points out that for Schleiermacher, “the act of understanding [is] the reconstruction of the production. This inevitably renders many things conscious of which the writer may be unconscious.”
The interpreter must put himself in the position of the author both objectively and subjectively. In order to do this, the interpreter must grasp not only the vocabulary and history of the author’s age, but also “the distinctive thought and experience of the author.”
It is important to avoid a superficial view of Schleiermacher’s contrast between grammatical and psychological interpretation, for “he avoids giving absolute privilege either to focus on the text at the expense of forgetting the author, or on the author at the expense of the text. Meaning arises from the single unity of author-and-text.” As Gadamer notes, “the text is revealed as a unique manifestation of the author’s life.”
Thus, for Schleiermacher, the hermeneutical circle involves not only the textual journey from the part to the whole and back to the part; it also involves the psychological journey from the text to the author and back to the text. These journeys must be repeated again and again, for “the circle is constantly expanding, since the concept of the whole is relative, and being integrated in ever larger contexts always affects the understanding of the individual part.” Only insignificant texts can be understood on the first reading.
GADAMER’S DEVELOPMENT OF THE HERMENEUTICAL CIRCLE
Gadamer accepts as a “hermeneutical rule” the idea that “we must understand the whole in terms of the detail and the detail in terms of the whole.” As an example, Gadamer offers the process of learning ancient languages. The “movement of understanding” constantly goes “from the whole to the part and back to the whole.” Correct understanding is achieved when all details harmonize with the whole.
But Gadamer questions whether Schleiermacher’s hermeneutical circle is adequate. He brackets Schleiermacher’s “subjective interpretation,” denying that it is possible to “transpose ourselves into the author’s mind.” Instead, “we try to transpose ourselves into the perspective within which he has formed his views.” Understanding is “not a mysterious communion of souls, but sharing in a common meaning.”
For Gadamer, Schleiermacher’s view of the objective side of the hermeneutical circle also is inadequate. Schleiermacher’s universalizing of historical consciousness in favor of a vain attempt at objectivity denies any validity to tradition as a basis for hermeneutical activity. Although Schleiermacher was able to harmonize his hermeneutical circle with the ideal of objectivity seen in the natural sciences, it was at the expense of ignoring the “concretion of historical consciousness in hermeneutical theory.” It is impossible for us to “be in the situation of a contemporary reader.”
Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle is not formal; neither is it subjective nor objective. Instead, the circle describes “understanding as the interplay of the movement of tradition and the movement of the interpreter.” We bring to the text an anticipation of meaning that proceeds from common tradition; this is not subjectivity. Tradition is not static; the interpreter participates in the development of tradition to the extent that he understands the text. Rather than being a methodological circle, the hermeneutical circle has to do with the “ontological structure of understanding.” Gadamer’s interest was not in developing a procedure of understanding, “but to clarify the conditions in which understanding takes place.” For him, the essence of understanding is content-oriented, not author-oriented. This is not only because it is impossible for us authentically to enter into the psyche of the author, but also because the meaning of a text always goes beyond its author. This is not, as Schleiermacher suggests, better understanding, but understanding in a different way.
THE HISTORICALITY OF ALL UNDERSTANDING
The psychological side of Schleiermacher’s hermeneutical circle calls for historical identity with the text’s author. This is a call to forsake the interpreter’s world for the world of the author; it is, in a sense, an attempt to be the author in the reproduction of the text. Further, it is an attempt to avoid all prejudices in approaching the text. For Gadamer, this is impossible. Prejudice is not inherently problematic. Indeed, “all understanding inevitably involves some prejudice.” It is the Enlightenment’s prejudice that is problematic, “the prejudice against prejudice itself, which denies tradition its power.”
In Gadamer’s view, the idea that temporal distance is something that must be overcome (i.e., by entering in to the world of the author) is “the naïve assumption of historicism.” Rather than thinking that “we must transpose ourselves into the spirit of the age, think[ing] with its ideas and its thoughts, not with our own, and thus advanc[ing] toward historical objectivity,” we must acknowledge that “the important thing is to recognize temporal distance as a positive and productive condition enabling understanding.” This is because
[e]very age has to understand a transmitted text in its own way, for the text belongs to the whole tradition whose content interests the age and in which it seeks to understand itself. The real meaning of a text, as it speaks to the interpreter, does not depend on the contingencies of the author and his original audience. It certainly is not identical with them, for it is always co-determined also by the historical situation of the interpreter and hence by the totality of the objective course of history.
Gadamer rejects historicism in favor of “effective history” (Wirkungsgeschichte), which has to do with the effect of the interpreter’s history on the interpreter. This is an effect produced by vocabularies, plots, sets of issues, and our “thrownness” into the narrative of life itself. The hermeneutical circle is historical not in the sense that it moves only between the text and ancient history, as in Schleiermacher, but in that “our understanding is oriented by the effective history or history of influences of that which we are trying to understand.” Because history is not monolithic and our temporal position is constantly changing, the image of the hermeneutical circle captures not merely the circularity of understanding, but also the temporality of understanding. “Questions change and become part of different questions.”
When a reader comes to a text, two horizons are in view: The horizon of the text and the horizon of the reader. “The horizon is the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point.” Ones horizon does not limit vision to what is nearby. “A person who has an horizon knows the relative significance of everything within his horizon, whether it is near or far, great or small.”
Historicism claims to “see the past in its own terms, not in terms of our contemporary criteria and prejudices but within it own historical horizon.” This is impossible. Instead of forming one horizon from the two, the horizon the reader and of the text must be fused. “The hermeneutic task consists not in covering up this tension by attempting a naïve assimilation of the two but in consciously bringing it out.” To Gadamer, this is an “historically effected consciousness.” On the other hand, when Gadamer says that the “text that is understood historically is forced to abandon its claim to be saying something true,” he means that when meaning is limited to the historical horizon (i.e., when the attempt is made to enter fully and exclusively into the mind of the author in order to determine authorial intent and to read the text precisely and only as the author did), the text says nothing true to the reader in his horizon. It is impossible to read a text in a completely objective way. Thus, a claim to objectivity involves a misreading of the text by an imposition of meaning upon the text.
In the view of canonical-compositional hermeneutics, the final shape of the Tanak is intentional, informative, and part of the process of inspiration. In contrast to historical criticism, canonical-compositional hermeneutics rely not on the events behind the text to determine meaning; meaning is found in the text itself.
The compositional strategies of the biblical books offer essential clues to the author’s intended meaning. These clues point beyond their immediate historical referent to a future, messianic age. By looking at the text rather than the events behind the text, we find textual clues to meaning. These clues point to the messianic and eschatological focus of the text. In this view, the messianic sense of the Hebrew Scriptures picked up by the New Testament is the spiritual and literal meaning of the Scripture.
There is no consensus as to the definition of canonical criticism, but scholars working in this field agree that “the context of the final canon is more important than the original author.” Canonical criticism includes four common emphases: (1) Since the church has received the Bible as authoritative in its present form, the focus should be on that canonical form rather than on a search for the sources behind the text; (2) the text must be studied holistically to determine how it functions in its final form; (3) the theological concerns of the final editor(s) must be explored; and (4) in later texts, the canon provides clues in the use of earlier biblical texts.
According to Brevard Childs, “the lengthy process of the development of the literature leading up to the final stage of canonization involved a profoundly hermeneutical activity on the part of the tradents.” Those involved in the preservation of literary tradition shaped the text in such a way that the shape influences interpretation.
The question at hand in this paper has to do with the extent of correlation between canonical-compositional hermeneutics and Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle. It is to that question that we now turn.
COMMONALITIES BETWEEN GADAMER’S HERMENEUTICAL CIRCLE AND CANONICAL-COMPOSITIONAL HERMENEUTICS
The following points of correlation may be seen between Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle and canonical compositional hermeneutics:
(1) The whole must be understood in terms of the detail and the detail in terms of the whole. The “movement of understanding” constantly goes “from the whole to the part and back to the whole.” Correct understanding is achieved when all details harmonize with the whole.
Canonical-compositional hermeneutics are concerned with “in-textuality,” “inner-textuality,” “inter-textuality,” and “con-textuality.” “In-textuality” has to do with an examination of the “cohesive nature of the strategy of the smallest literary” units. “Inner-textuality” has to do with the “strategies within the smallest units of text [that] make up the whole fabric of biblical narrative books.” There is an “inner-linkage binding narratives into a larger whole.” This calls for alertness to “clues lying along the seams of . . . larger units that point to the author’s ultimate purpose.” “Inter-textuality” is concerned with “the study of links between and among texts.” Sailhamer points out that if “there is an authorially intended inter-textuality, then it stands to reason that some loss of meaning occurs when one fails to view the text in terms of it.” “Con-textuality” has to do with “the semantic effect of a book’s relative position within the OT Canon.” What interpretive effects do the books of the Bible have on each other?
Like Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle, canonical-compositional hermeneutics go from the whole to the detail and back to the whole, seeking to harmonize the results of “in-textuality,” “inner-textuality,” “inter-textuality,” and “con-textuality.” Correct understanding is not achieved until all details are harmonized.
(2) It is impossible to “transpose ourselves into the author’s mind.” Instead, “we try to transpose ourselves into the perspective within which he has formed his views.”
Canonical-compositional hermeneutics are not concerned to establish a psychological dimension of the hermeneutical circle. The issue is the text itself, not the author of the text. We can gain the perspective within which the author formed his views, but we can do this only by reading the text itself.
(3) To attempt to be in the situation of a contemporary [original] reader is impossible, for this would ignore “the concretion of historical consciousness.”
Canonical-compositional hermeneutics make no attempt to be in the situation of the original reader, not only because that would ignore “the concretion of historical consciousness,” but also because the view that the Scriptures in their canonical form are the result of composition over the entire era during which they were given means that the Scriptures read by the original readers (i.e., the first readers) were not at that time in the shape in which we now have them. Since they were not originally in the shape in which they now exist (i.e., with editorial, compositional, and redactional work done after the original manuscripts were written), no reader before the final compositional work was done could read them in the full context they eventually assumed. Meaning is determined by context.
We may, for example, question whether the original readers of Hos 11:1 would have understood that text to refer to Jesus’ return from Egypt as a boy upon the death of Herod. But that is how Matthew understood the verse (Matt 2:15). Matthew was apparently influenced in his interpretation of Hos 11:1 by textual links back to the Pentateuch. These links may not have been apparent to those who first read Hosea in isolation from the rest of the Hebrew canon, to say nothing of the unavailability of the New Testament canon with its interpretive influence on the Hebrew text.
(4) The hermeneutical circle describes “understanding as the interplay of the movement of tradition and the movement of the interpreter.
Gadamer includes in “tradition” the interpretational movements in various communities that serve to influence the prejudices we bring to the text. The “movement of the interpreter” refers to the ongoing revision that occurs in the interpretational process as the interpreter, influenced by the movement of tradition, becomes more fully aware of meaning.
In his “text model of the Old Testament,” Sailhamer offers three components in defining the final shape of the text. They are: “(1) the notion of the composition of a specific biblical text; (2) the notion of the canonical shaping of biblical texts and its influence on communities; (3) the notion of the consolidation of a text within a specific community.” Thus, because the text was shaped in various ways in different communities, a variety of traditions arose to influence meaning. An example of this may be seen in a comparison of the Hebrew text with the Septuagint.
(5) We bring to the text an anticipation of meaning that proceeds from common tradition.
Those who follow a canonical-compositional approach to the interpretation of Scripture bring to the text the anticipation that it is inspired of God (2 Tim 3:16) and that it thus speaks authoritatively. Further, they bring the anticipation that the Hebrew Scriptures, by their composition and shape, point ahead to the Messiah rather than merely pointing back to Israel’s history.
(6) The essence of meaning is content-oriented, not author-oriented.
Canonical-compositional hermeneutics is concerned with the text, or the content, of Scripture, not with identifying the author. Thus, like Gadamer, this approach to interpretation has little interest in any attempt to reconstruct the psychology of the author. Nor is it interested in attempts to reconstruct the history behind the text. It is the text that is inspired, not the events behind the text.
(7) The meaning of a text always goes beyond its author.
From the perspective of canonical-compositional hermeneutics, meaning developed as context developed. This means those who wrote earlier in the process of the development of Scripture could not have a full grasp of meaning that would be evident only when what they wrote became part of a greater whole. This does not mean their understanding would have been wrong; it means only that it would not have been exhaustive.
For example, the appendix to Deuteronomy (Deut 33-34), written by an anonymous author after Moses’ death, serves to give further shape and meaning to the Pentateuch beyond the shape and meaning it had when Moses completed his part of the project. The final four verses of the Pentateuch (Deut 34:9-12) serve the interpretive purpose of informing the reader that, although Joshua was full of the spirit of wisdom, he was not the promised prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15-10), nor were any of the prophets after Joshua until the closing words of Deuteronomy were written; that prophet was yet to come.
(8) It is impossible to avoid prejudices in approaching a text.
With Gadamer, practitioners of canonical-compositional hermeneutics recognize the unavoidable prejudices involved in interpretation, although they may not use this terminology. There is the assumption, or prejudice, that the final canonical shape of Scripture is intentional and informative. From this prejudice, the interpreter is led to look intentionally for clues to the reason for this shape.
(9) It is counterproductive to view temporal distance as something that must be overcome.
For canonical-compositional hermeneutics, what we need to know to understand the text is found in the text itself. One reason temporal distance is not viewed as a problem to be overcome is that the Hebrew Bible is both text and commentary. By interpreting earlier texts, later authors provide their own bridge across any hermeneutical chasm.
(10) In the process of understanding, two horizons are in view: The horizon of the text and the horizon of the reader. These horizons must be fused.
From the perspective of canonical-compositional hermeneutics, the writers of Scripture could understand only from their situation. Thus, the horizon of the writer of any text was limited to the context of that time, but there is a broader horizon of the entire Hebrew Bible and the even broader horizon of the Christian canon. Gadamer’s philosophy of hermeneutical horizons underscores canonical-compositional hermeneutics, for the latter recognizes the ever-expanding horizon of Scripture as well as the horizon brought to the Scripture by the reader. The horizon brought by the reader includes the historically effected consciousness, a consciousness effected by the historical reading of the text in the church from its earliest days. Specifically, until the Enlightenment era, the rich depth of the messianic focus of the Hebrew Scriptures was embraced readily by the theologians of the church in a way quite similar to current practitioners of canonical-compositional hermeneutics. This messianic focus mirrored the use of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament, to which we now turn.
In the New Testament, Paul professed to have a fuller understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures than was enjoyed by the original writers of those Scriptures. This suggests the validity of the idea that the part must be interpreted in view of the whole. Paul could understand only from his situation, or from his hermeneutical horizon, but his horizon was wider than that of the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures, not only because he possessed something never possessed by any but the final writers of the Hebrew Scriptures – the entire Hebrew canon – but also because his horizon included the knowledge that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah and a fullness of the Holy Spirit never enjoyed by those who lived before the era of the New Covenant (Acts 9:17). But his horizon extended even beyond this to include the portion of the New Testament that was written during his lifetime.
PAUL AND THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST
Paul professed that the stewardship of the grace of God had been given to him which involved a revelation of the mystery of Christ that “in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph 3:2-5). This mystery involved the Gentiles sharing fully with Jewish believers, as members of the same body, partaking “of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph 3:6).
It is evident that this revelation was not something given by God to Paul apart from the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, this revelation was not something diverse from and superior to Scripture. It was not something that was unanticipated in Scripture. We know this because Paul’s ministry, from the very beginning, is rich in the use of the Hebrew Scriptures to proclaim Christ as the promised Messiah and the work being done by Christ in the church as the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy. The revelation was not, therefore, something radically new; it was a perspective on the Hebrew Scriptures not fully enjoyed by those who wrote them or by those who interpreted them prior to the era of the New Covenant.
This view of Paul’s revelation differs sharply from the early dispensationalism of C. I. Scofield, whose comment on Ephesians 3:5-10 includes the claim that “the church is not once mentioned in Old Testament prophecy.” Although this view has been softened by adherents of Progressive Dispensationalism, those who embrace Scofieldian dispensationalism continue to insist that “no revelation of this mystery was given in the Old Testament but that this mystery was revealed for the first time in the New Testament.”
It is perhaps no surprise that dispensationalism denies any anticipation of the church in the Hebrew Scriptures; that is the nature of the system. But even F. F. Bruce, in his comments on Eph 3:5, asserts that although the Hebrew Scriptures anticipated blessing of God upon the Gentiles, the fact that this “blessing of the Gentiles would involve the obliteration of the old line of demarcation which separated them from Jews and the incorporation of Gentile believers together with Jewish believers” was something that “had not been foreseen.” A. Skevington Wood, however, sees the revelation as a matter of degree: “Although the blessing of the Gentiles through the people of God was revealed in the OT from Genesis 12:3 onward, it was not proclaimed so fully or so extensively as under the new dispensation.”
None of these views, however, address the possibility that the mystery described by Paul was indeed found in the Hebrew Scriptures, but that the reason it was “not made known to the sons of men” (Eph 3:5) was that the limited horizon available prior to the era of the New Testament prohibited the fuller understanding now available to Paul as well as to all of the holy apostles and prophets. That this is at least a possibility is evident not only from Paul’s Christological use of the Hebrew Scriptures but also from his ecclesiological use of the Old Testament. Again, the point may be that his revelation was not something new but that it was a wider and deeper grasp of what had already been revealed in Scripture. Otherwise, we would expect Paul to make no appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures in his declaration of the gospel, including the union of Gentiles and Jews into one body. But this is not the case. Paul roots his teaching exclusively in the Scriptures.
Paul declared that what he believed was that which was written in the Law and the Prophets (Acts 24:14). He had done nothing offensive against the law of the Jews or the temple (Acts 25:8). He was called before Agrippa “for the hope of the promise made by God to [the] fathers” (Acts 26:6). In a very clear appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures for his message, including the inclusion of Gentiles equally with the Jews, Paul told Agrippa that he said nothing other than those things “which the prophets and Moses said would come—that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23). Rather than claiming innovation for his message, Paul insisted that he said nothing new. After arriving in Rome, Paul told the Jewish community there that he had done nothing against the Jewish people or the fathers (Acts 28:17). Instead, he was bound “for the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20). He “explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets” (Acts 28:23).
When he wrote to the believers at Rome, a church that included Jews and Gentiles, Paul declared that the gospel of God was that “which he promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (Rom 1:1-2). The Law and the Prophets witness to the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ “to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference” (Rom 3:21-22). The letter to the Romans is a church letter; Paul establishes the equality of Jews and Gentiles in the church from the Hebrew Scriptures. The fact that Abraham was justified before circumcision was for the purpose of demonstrating that Gentiles, not only Jews, are the recipients of imputed righteousness (Rom 4:11). Abraham is equally the father of believing Gentiles as well as of believing Jews (Rom 4:16-18). Hosea and Isaiah both anticipated the inclusion of believing Gentiles (Rom 9:24-29). Even Moses wrote about the righteousness of faith wherein there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (Rom 10:5-12), as did Joel (Rom 10:13). In an extended appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures to demonstrate the inclusion of Gentiles, Paul indicates that this inclusion “confirm[s] the promises made to the fathers” (Rom 15:8-12, 21). As he concludes the letter, Paul writes that the gospel he preaches—which is identical with “the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began”—is made known to all nations “by the prophetic Scriptures” (Rom 16:25-26). This can only mean that the message he preached in the churches was firmly rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explained that he spoke “the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages” (1 Cor 2:7). But this mystery was anticipated in the Hebrew Scriptures (1 Cor 2:9). It had now been revealed to Paul “through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes the deep things of God” (1 Cor 2:10). The story of Israel’s journey through the wilderness was written for the benefit of the church (1 Cor 10:6, 11). The essential gospel message is “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that those who read the Hebrew Scriptures while rejecting Christ are hindered by a veil; their minds are blinded (2 Cor 3:14). Isaiah prophesied of the church age, the “day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). Ezekiel anticipated the way God would dwell in the church (2 Cor 6:16). Even the Pentateuch called for the church to be holy (1 Cor 6:17-18). That these Hebrew Scriptures belong to the church is quite clear when Paul immediately follows these references with these words: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (1 Cor 7:1).
In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul declared that the Hebrew Scriptures foresaw “that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (Gal 3:8a). By doing so, the Scripture “preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand” (Gal 3:8b). In receiving “the blessing of Abraham,” Gentiles are also receiving “the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14). When “the Scripture . . . confine[s] all under sin,” Gentiles are included along with Jews, so “that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal 3:22). Thus, “there is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). To be Christ’s is to be Abraham’s seed “and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29). If Gentiles in the church are heirs of a biblical promise, it is difficult to say that the Old Testament in no way anticipated the church.
To the Ephesians, Paul wrote that God had made known to him “the mystery of His will” which involved the “gather[ing] together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in him” (Eph 1:9-10). We come now to Paul’s discussion of the revelation of “the mystery . . . which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph 3:3-6). In view of all that precedes this canonically, it is difficult to read this to mean that the Hebrew Scriptures include nothing about the Gentiles becoming fellow heirs. Indeed, Paul in the very next chapter quotes Ps 68:18 to explain the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to the church (Eph 4:7-14). We can certainly question whether the author of Ps 16 or even the final composer of the Psalter understood Ps 68:18 as a reference to the ascension gift ministries, but Paul’s horizon was broader than theirs. He lived in the era of fulfillment and of the Spirit, an era that released the text of the Hebrew Scriptures to a dimension of fullness unavailable to those with a limited horizon. This does not mean that the author of Ps 68 or the composer of the Psalter were wrong; it means that there was a depth of meaning in the text that awaited fulfillment to be fully released. Since Paul uses the psalm this way in the same letter where he discusses the revelation of mystery, it is apparent that he does not mean that the mystery is not based on Scripture. He even sees Gen 2:24, a statement that in isolation sees to refer only to the marriage relationship, as “a great mystery” that “concern[s] Christ and the church” (Eph 5:31-32).
Again in his letter to the Colossians, Paul discusses “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints” (Col 1:26). This is the same mystery Paul has in view in his letter to the Ephesians; it concerns “the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). But again Paul refers to the Hebrew Scriptures as the source of this mystery. Specifically, he sees the regulations concerning food, drink, festivals, new moons, and sabbaths—all integral to the Law of Moses—as being “shadow[s] of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col 2:16-17).
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul describes the church as “the house of God . . . the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). It would seem strange to think that such a high evaluation would be made of an institution that has no place in the Hebrew Scriptures. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul declares that the Holy Scriptures—the Hebrew Scriptures that Timothy has known from childhood—“are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). It is precisely these Scriptures which are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). If the Hebrew Scriptures are profitable for church doctrine, for the reproof, correction, and instruction of church members, and if they are capable of bringing a man of God who is in the church to completion, they surely are not bereft of any reference to the church. Before closing his letter, Paul appeals to Timothy for “the books, especially the parchments” (2 Tim 4:13). No doubt these parchments were Old Testament Scriptures written on leather scrolls. If the Hebrew Scriptures contained nothing specific to the church, one wonders why Paul wished to have them as desperately as he wished to have his cloak.
Interpretations of Ephesians 3:5 that focus only on exegesis of the immediate context miss the influence on understanding available from the broader horizon of the use of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament and specifically from Paul’s consistent Christological and ecclesiological use of the Old Testament.
There is substantial commonality between Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle and canonical-compositional hermeneutics. An exploration of Gadamer’s philosophical approach to understanding can contribute to and enhance the current development of canonical-compositional hermeneutics. Specifically, both approaches to understanding seek to understand the whole in terms of the detail and the detail in terms of the whole. Neither is consumed with attempts to enter the mind of the author or original reader. There is an interplay between the movement of tradition (as understanding is influenced by the development of interpretation throughout church history) and the movement of the interpreter (as the interpreter develops in understanding). The interpreter brings to the text an anticipation of meaning. This is the anticipation that the text should be read Christologically and ecclesiologically. For both hermeneutical approaches, meaning is found in the content, not in the author’s mind. Meaning goes beyond the author’s intention, for the author’s horizon was limited to his situation; he did not have available to him the broader horizon of the interpreter. Prejudices are embraced when approaching the text, prejudices that are shared by the writers of the New Testament. The temporal distance between the text and the interpreter is not seen as a problem; the text interprets itself, bridging the distance. The horizons of the text and of the reader must be fused. As Gadamer points out, this “is the problem of application, which is to be found in all understanding.” As it relates to canonical-compositional hermeneutics, the Hebrew Scriptures are applied to Christ and to the church.
Paul’s use of the Old Testament demonstrates the validity of the approach to understanding characterized by Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle and canonical-compositional hermeneutics. Because his horizon has been widened by his personal encounter with Jesus Christ, because he enjoys the fullness of the Spirit, and because he has access to the entire Hebrew canon, he reads the Hebrew Scriptures in a way they could not be read by those who rejected Christ or by those to whom only portions of the text were available. This was not unique to Paul. As he affirmed, the revelation of the mystery of Christ “has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph 3:5). His approach to the interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures is mirrored by all of the New Testament writers.
Theoretically, it may be possible to say that we are in a better position to understand both the Old and New Testaments than were the writers of either testament, because our horizon includes the perspective of the New Testament writers on the Old Testament, a horizon unavailable to the writers of the Old Testament, and because we have access to a wholeness or fullness of written revelation, including the New Testament, that the writers of the New Testament never enjoyed. Our horizon is widened not only by the complete canon, but also by the fullness of the Spirit and by the effect of the history of Christian interpretation and the impact of Scripture on the church.
Barr, James. Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Barton, John. Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996. Reprint, Revised and Enlarged.
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The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. 12 vols. Vol. 11. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.
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Hall, Christopher A. Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
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Lubeck, Ray. “An Introduction to Canonical Criticism.” Paper presented at the Evangelical Theological Society Papers, Portland, Ore. 1995.
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Rendtorff, Rolf. Canon and Theology: Overtures to an Old Testament Theology. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1993.
Ricoeur, Paul. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences. Translated by John B. Thompson. Edited by John B. Thompson. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Reprint, 1992.
Sailhamer, John H. “Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15.” WTJ, no. 63 (2001): 87-96.
________. Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995.
________. “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible.” JETS 44, no. 1 (2001): 5-24.
Sanders, James A. Canon and Community: A Guide to Canonical Criticism. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.
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Wright, Christopher J. H. Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992.
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 A. C. Thiselton, “Hermeneutics,” New Dictionary of Theology (ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson and David F. Wright; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 295; Adrian Snodgrass and Richard Coyne, “Is Designing Hermeneutical?” Architectural Theory Review, Journal of the Department of Architecture, The University of Sydney, vol. 1, no. 1 (1997): p. 72, n. 33.
 Brice Wachterhauser, “Getting it Right: Relativism, Realism and Truth,” in The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer (ed. Robert J. Dostal; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 77-78, n. 4.
 Tilottama Rajan, “Hermeneutics,” in The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (ed. Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth), n.p. [cited 26 November 2004]. Online: http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide-to_literary_theory/hermeneutics-_1.html.
 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall; 2nd rev. ed.; New York: Continuum, 1998), 190.
 Rajan, “Hermeneutics,” n.p.
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 192. This statement is not original with Schleiermacher, although he invests it with new meaning (Ibid., 194-95).
 Rajan, “Hermeneutics,” n.p. Emphasis in original.
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 192.
 Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 221.
 Ibid., 232. Emphasis in original.
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 191.
 Ibid., 190.
 Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, 221.
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 291.
 Ibid., 292.
 Ibid., 293.
 Ibid., 266, n. 187.
 Gadamer rejected any “methodological” approach to understanding.
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 293.
 Ibid., 295.
 Ibid., 294.
 Ibid., 296.
 Ibid., 296-97.
 Ibid., 270.
 Ibid., 297.
 Ibid., 296.
 Georgia Warnke, “Hermeneutics, Ethics, and Politics,” in The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer (ed. Robert J. Dostal; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 80.
 Ibid., 81.
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 302.
 Ibid., 302-03.
 Ibid., 306.
 Ibid., 307.
 Ibid., 303.
 An explanation of canonical-compositional hermeneutics is also included in the author’s papers “The Use of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament: An Introduction to Canonical-Compositional Hermeneutics,” presented to Dr. Graham Twelftree in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course RTCH 751 Interpreting Scripture and “This is That: An Examination of Peter’s Use of Joel from the Perspective of Canonical-Compositional Hermeneutics,” presented to Dr. Dale Irvin in partial fulfillment for the requirements for the course RTCH 701 Critical Methods for Theology Inquiry and to Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen in partial fulfillment for the requirements for the course RTCH 741 Spirit, Christ, and Church in a Renewal Perspective. Each course is offered by Regent University in the curriculum for the Ph.D. in Renewal Studies. The explanation is included here because this paper’s topic requires a brief introduction to canonical-compositional hermeneutics.
 A thorough explication of canonical-compositional hermeneutics’ focus on text rather than event and canon rather than criticism is offered by John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995), 36-114.
 John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 154.
 Canonical criticism is essentially the same hermeneutical approach as canonical-compositional hermeneutics.
 Ray Lubeck, “An Introduction to Canonical Criticism,” Evangelical Theological Society Papers 1995 (Portland, Ore.: Theological Research Exchange Network), 3. Emphasis in original.
 Ibid., 1-2.
 Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Minn.: Fortress Press, 1992; reprint 1993), 70.
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 291.
 John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995), 207. A discussion of these concepts is included in the author’s paper “This is That: An Examination of Peter’s Use of Joel from the Perspective of Canonical-Compositional Hermeneutics” referred to in note 45. It is included here because it is necessary to demonstrate the commonalities between Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle and canonical-compositional hermeneutics.
 Ibid., 209.
 Ibid., 210.
 Ibid., 212. This may be similar to Sanders’ assertion that the “true shape of the Bible as canon consists of its unrecorded hermeneutics which lie between the lines of most of its literature” (James A. Sanders, Canon and Community: A Guide to Canonical Criticism, Guides to Biblical Scholarship, Old Testament Series [ed. Gene M. Tucker; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984], 46).
 Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 213.
 Ibid., 292.
 Ibid., 293, 266, n. 187.
 John H. Sailhamer explores this idea in “Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15,” WTJ 63 (2001): 87-96. Sailhamer comments, “[T]he sensus literalis (historicus) of Hos 11:1 is precisely that of Matthew’s gospel. Hos 11:1 speaks of the future, not the past. . . . The messianic sense that Matthew saw in the words of Hos 11:1, ‘out of Egypt I have called my son,’ was already there in the book of Hosea. Matthew did not invent it” (88-89).
 Ibid., 266, n. 187.
 John H. Sailhamer, “Biblical Theology and the Composition of the Hebrew Bible” in Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect (ed. Scott J. Hafemann; Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 27.
 Emanuel Tov discusses the variations in the text of Jeremiah, indicating that each shape was used by a different community. (See Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible [2nd rev. ed.; Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2001], 320-321.)
 Sailhamer, “Biblical Theology and the Composition of the Hebrew Bible,” 27-32.
 With the finalization of the form of the Hebrew text by the Masoretic (“traditionalist”) scribes in about A.D. 1000, there arose a series of Jewish commentators who determined the meaning of the Hebrew text for the Jewish communities. One of the most influential of these commentators was Rashi, who was born in about A.D. 1040. Rashi did not believe that the Messiah had come. During this time of the Crusades, European Jews were being forced to convert to Christianity. Rashi’s mission was to give the Jewish people a biblical ground to resist conversion to Christianity. The way he chose to do this was to take passages that could be understood messianically and to explain them in light of some historical figure. He identified messianic prophecies as being fulfilled by David or Solomon. Rashi did this by introducing glosses in the margins of the Hebrew text with these interpretations. Rashi’s interpretation was called the Peshat, the Hebrew word that means “simple.” According to Erwin Rosenthal, a leading Rashi scholar of the twentieth century, Rashi was willing to sacrifice messianic hope to resist Christian interpretation. Sailhamer discusses Rashi’s influence in Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 132-142.
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 294.
 Ibid., 296.
 See John H. Sailhamer, “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible,” JETS 44:3 (2001), 5-23.
 See Rolf Rendtorff, The Old Testament: An Introduction (trans. John Bowden; Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1991).
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 297.
 Sailhamer, “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible,” n.p.
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 306.,
 See, e.g., Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture With the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998); Donald Juel, Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988); Fredrick C. Holmgren, The Old Testament and the Significance of Jesus: Embracing Change—Maintaining Christian Identity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999).
 C. I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth . Cited 2 December 2004. Online: http://www.raptureme.com/resource/scofield/s1.htm.
 See, e.g., Robert L. Saucy, “The Church as the Mystery of God,” Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 127-155.
 Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty (ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; New Testament edition; Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Book, 1983), 629.
 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (ed. Gordon D. Fee; Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 314.
 A. Skevington Wood, “Ephesians,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1(ed. Frank. E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), 45.
 See also Acts 26:27.
 See also Rom 10:19-21.
 The New Scofield Study Bible comments on Eph 3:6: “That Gentiles were to be saved was no mystery . . . . The mystery ‘hidden in God’ was the divine purpose to make of Jew and Gentile a wholly new thing—‘the church, which is His [Christ’s] body,’ . . . and in which the earthly distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears . . . .” (C. I. Scofield, ed., The New Scofield Study Bible: New King James Version [Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989], 1437, n. 2). But we have seen several places where Paul appeals to the Hebrew Scriptures to establish this very point.
 Ralph Earle, “2 Timothy,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1(ed. Frank. E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), 415.
 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 307.
 For example, Peter sees the establishment of the church on Pentecost as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2:16-21). James sees the inclusion of Gentiles in the church as having been anticipated by Amos (Acts 15:13-18). The author of Hebrews weaves texts from the Hebrew Scriptures throughout the letter to indicate that Christology and ecclesiology are rooted in the Old Testament.
Copyright 2004 by Daniel L. Segraves