Fr Stephen Freeman & “An Orthodox Hermeneutic”

Christ is risen!

Fr Stephen has written a post worth reading called, “An Orthodox Hermeneutic.” In my short and limited experience with Orthodoxy, I have to admit that a lot of what he says makes sense. Personally, I no longer adhere to Sola Scriptura since it strips Scriptures out of the very context that created them and gives them meaning — the Church and its Living Tradition. In addition both modern biblical scholarship and the teaching from the pulpit are examples of what happens when Sola Scriptura runs its course — every person has an interpretation of Scripture.

Yet, at a deep level, I also struggle with some of what Fr Stephen says. I have my own pet biblical interpretations and some of them are not embraced by the Orthodox Church. In those moments, I have to ask myself, “Can I honestly hold up the interpretative conclusions that I have reached from my limited study before 2000 years of the Church’s Living Tradition and believe that I’m right and they’re wrong?” You see, it boils down to pride rather that correct interpretation. Here’s a bit from Fr Stephen’s post:

“Thus it is that the Church itself is the proper hermeneutic of Scripture – having been written by Christ, ministered by the apostles, not with ink, “but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” Thus, to a certain extent, to say that the Scriptures are the Church’s book is a tautology. Either the Church is that epistle, written in the fleshy tables of the heart, or it is not the Church at all. It is partly for this reason that Orthodoxy sees the interpretation of Scripture as something that does not take place apart from the Church nor without the Church, but in the midst of the Church, which is herself the very interpretation, constantly echoing the Word of God in her services, sacraments, and all of her very life.

“It is, of course, the case that there are things to be found within the Church that are not “of” the Church, but are things to be purged, to be removed, to be met with repentance. Indeed the life of the Orthodox Church is only rightly lived as a life of constant repentance. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 50 (51):17.”


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7 thoughts on “Fr Stephen Freeman & “An Orthodox Hermeneutic”

  1. Is not tautology necessary in the case of exegesis? I mean tautologous..analytic. “necessary essentials” I am speaking of the Fr. Stephan’s article.

    Fr. Robert (Anglican)

  2. I too like some/much of Orthodoxy, but cannot follow everything, especially their tradition being equal to scripture. I am still an evangelical by definition, in heart & mind!

  3. Great post Jason!

    Sola Scriptura is a silly notion. I never believed it myself. There always seemed something too “American fundamentalist” or “hyper-Calvinist” about it. I think Dallas’ comment to me about fundamentalists (“They distrust experience.”) settled it for me. If we think the Bible (which flowed from the lives of those who experienced God) is the only authority and interprets itself. Where did God go in this idea?

  4. Jason, great post. I was really interested in Orthodoxy when we studied it at Fuller. I think what you are writing about here calls for an insightful post on your part regarding the relationship between Orthodoxy and the missional church! I’ll be waiting 🙂

  5. I am Anglo-Irish, born in Ireland and educated in England. Your whole argument is again just an American reaction. There are other Christian evangelical experience’s (English Anglican – that includes the Irish, Scottish, etc. ) There seems to be great historial ignorance with many American Christians! The Anglican way is via-media, I will let you try and figure that out. Very simple really, i.e. Catholic & Evangelical!

  6. Fr. Robert, Sam & JR, thanks so much for the comments.

    Sam, good quote by Dallas.

    JR, I’m hoping to tackle that one sometime in a new series of post I’m planning on beginning today.

    Fr. Robert, I too remain an evangelical. I have a deep love of Scripture and respect for its authority. And my limited experience of Orthodoxy indicates they do as well. They do not view Tradition as equal as Scripture. Scripture is the central, most prominent part of their Tradition. But it is part of their Tradition, not an abstract disconnect reality apart from their Tradition. Scripture was written by and for the Church and therefore is interpreted by the Church finds its true meaning and authority in that context.

    Also, while I agree that there is historical ignorance on my part as well as with American Christians in general, I’m not sure what your last comment pertains to. The point of my post was to communicate my agreement with most of Fr Stephen’s post as well as my own struggle when my personal biblical interpretations conflict with Orthodoxy’s. In the end, I’m just one man with very limited insight and intelligence standing before 2000 years of Life-giving Tradition that has effectively preserved the fullness of Christ’s Gospel.

    One of my favorite theologians, NT Wright, is also Anglican. It was his work that made me seriously consider exploring Anglicanism. And while I respect the Anglican Church, the issues that it is currently dealing with persuaded me to look elsewhere for myself and my family.

  7. As to Orthodoxy, it really depends on what Orthodoxy ya mean? I have met some Greek-Russian Orthodox who feel that they are the real Orthodox! And no one else! If you have not run into these people? Just wait, you will find them, or they you, if you move around in the Orthodox circles enough. This was mainly my meaning, etc. In practice I don’t see any difference between their authority of tradition and the level of scipture authority. Wait and see? This is not Fr. Stephen, nor his group however. I am very close to leaving the Anglican Church myself? (And I am an auxiliary bishop) But, I have not resolved some fundamental issues with Orthodoxy, etc. And my mind is still very Western! I am still very much bound by the fact that God really is His own authority – God in His own self-disclosure! In reality, a true evangelical is a person drawn by the mystic of Christ Jesus..very Pauline!

    I have met NT, he is a good man. As to the Anglican Church, I am not in America. But ECUSA is a mess! In America one would have to go with some group of Continuing Anglicans, I would think? There are no doubt some conservative parishes in ECUSA, but the fight with the liberals is a non-ending battle. And grows wary the soul and spirit!

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