Jesus And A Hermeneutics Of Identity -- By: Klyne R. Snodgrass

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 168:670 (Apr 2011)
Article: Jesus And A Hermeneutics Of Identity
Author: Klyne R. Snodgrass


Jesus And A Hermeneutics Of Identity

Klyne R. Snodgrass

* This is the second article in a four-part series, “A Hermeneutics of Identity,” delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectureship, February 2-5, 2010, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

Klyne R. Snodgrass is Paul W. Brandel Professor of New Testament Studies, North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.

For a society in which many people have no idea who they are and many more find their identity in their possessions, their sports team, or their job, the church needs to focus on identity. We need to analyze and research identity, of individuals, of societies, of churches, and of our own selves, and we need to understand how directly the gospel of Jesus Christ conveys a message about identity. This is the intent of a hermeneutics of identity. To call a text “Christian Scripture” is to say “it functions to shape persons’ identities so decisively as to transform them.”1 Scripture tells us who we are and how we should live because of our identity. David Kelsey in fact suggested regarding seminary curricula, “Except for basic language courses, courses in all subjects could address two questions: Who are we? and How is our communal identity best nurtured and best kept under critical scrutiny?”2

A hermeneutics of identity will be aware that the text is about identity, will keep seeking from specific texts in Scripture insight into the identity God desires and gives, and will both seek and allow transformation of identity with every reading. This is not a passive hermeneutic.

Possibly some will think the focus on identity is simplistic or implied in what we already do. This is not true. Identity itself is

complex, and too many Christians have little idea of who they are supposed to be. Thus the church needs to focus on a hermeneutics of identity.

Nor is it true that a hermeneutics of identity will lead to self-centeredness. Rightly understood, a biblical hermeneutics of identity excludes self-centeredness and all attempts at ego enhancement. The quest for honor in the ancient Mediterranean world is well known,3 a quest that Jesus’ disciples assumed legitimate. Repeatedly their concern was who among them was the greatest (Matt. 18:1-5; 20:20-28). This quest for honor was an attempt to get the community to assign value that could be...

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