Interpretation of the Law and the Laws of Interpretation in the Work of Jacques Ellul -- By: Brian Lindsay Connell

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 01:3 (Jul 1999)
Article: Interpretation of the Law and the Laws of Interpretation in the Work of Jacques Ellul
Author: Brian Lindsay Connell

Interpretation of the Law and the Laws of Interpretation
in the Work of Jacques Ellul

Brian Lindsay Connell


According to William Stringfellow, a lawyer and writer closely affiliated with Sojourners, and who was largely responsible for making Ellul’s writings available to American readers, Jacques Ellul is “authentically prophetic”.1 To Os Guiness in his Dust of Death, Ellul is a “critical voice of the seventies”.2 Even a non-Christian such as Theodore Roszak finds in Ellul, “the best theoretical statement on technology,”3 although too pessimistic.

As regards the critics of Ellul, most seem not so much to criticize his analysis, but his “pessimistic” conclusions. Ellul does not leave much room for Roszak’s future beyond the wasteland, nor for Reich’s “Greening of America”, nor any of Toffler’s “Third Wave.” The primary reason for the difference is the manner in which Ellul, as opposed to most secular sociologists, sees man as beyond any hope of a self-redemption.

Ellul’s formal training included law and literature. After a doctorate in law, Ellul taught law until fired for his views on the Nazis by the Vichy government. During the war Ellul fought in the French Resistance. The war over, he became involved in politics for a short time before returning to teaching which he continued until his retirement in 1970. As a member of the Reformed Church of France he held a number of significant positions though always retaining an aloofness from the church, especially as regards a “theological position.” Ellul has been political activist, church reformer, theologian, historian, sociologist, and law professor. To this he later added youth work, some pastoring, and environmental activism.

Ellul remains today a sociologist of law, a Marxist as regards a dialectic approach to history (albeit having gone far beyond Marx, as we shall see), an existentialist in his approach to meaning and reality (beginning with the individual and not with a system) and, most of all, a committed, though Neo-Orthodox, Christian for whom Jesus Christ is central to all his thinking.

It is the purpose of this essay to examine the manner in which Ellul interprets history and scripture to come to his understanding of the basic problems of mankind and their possible solutions, and to conclude as to the validity of his interpretation.

The Sociologist

Since Ellul examines the present age as the sociologist of law and of politics, we will examine his approach. The Oxford English dictionary defines Sociology as “the science or stud...

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