J. Harold Ellens is one of the founding members of the Psychology and Biblical Studies Section, has served many years on the Steering Committee, and has contibuted significantly to publication of work in the field. He notes, “Lately I have been working on epitomizing my approach to the psychological hermeneutics of biblical themes and texts.” The results are below.
Psychological Hermeneutics of The Bible
J. Harold Ellens
My approach to the Psychological Hermeneutics of biblical themes and texts has always been from the operationally applied side to the conceptual models. I have been reflecting lately on how I can epitomize both the content and method of my work in psychological hermeneutics of scripture. I think I have been able to conceptualize it articulately.
I operate, like Isaac Newton, with three basic laws that I think must reign in the field of biblical interpretation if one is to get at the essential biblical truth. They are as follows:
- Ellens’ first law of biblical hermeneutics: It is necessary to separate the garbage from the gospel in the Bible in order to discern what is the word of God in the biblical narratives. The garbage is the cultural-historical matrix in which the essential message is conveyed. The gospel is the clear word of grace which is conveyed, wherever it breaks out and can be discerned clearly and cogently in the biblical text.
- Ellens’ second law of biblical hermeneutics: That which, in the Bible, is psychospiritually destructive for the Living Human Document is not the divine word. That which is psychospiritually constructive for the Living Human Document is the divine word of God. That word will always be a word about grace.
- Ellens’ third law of biblical hermeneutics: Use of the psychological lens is essential for determining what in the biblical narratives is psychospiritually constructive and destructive for the Living Human Document. The warrant for divine truth in anything is that it is psychospiritually healing for the Living Human Document. Whether a word is psychologically sound and constructive is the criterion for divine truth.
- That the word of God is always the word of grace is not arguable. It is simply the claim I make and its warrant is that only it heals and enhances the Living Human Document.
- In my model, God is, by definition, a God of thoroughly unconditional, radical, and universal grace. Any God that is not a God of such grace, is, by definition, not God, but is a monster. Any idea any human conjures up of God as not, by definition, a God of grace is corrupt, monstrous, and confused, because it demonstrably damages rather than heals the Living Human Document.
- God is subtle and not obvious in the world and in human experience. So we must take a psychological lens and look at the subtle intimations of God’s presence and nature in history, life, and our personal experience. These subtle intimations include a) the mindfulness of creation, b) the benevolence of providence, c) the natural urge in all things toward beauty, d) the fact that unconditional acceptance and forgiveness is the only ultimate healing force in life, e) the fact that this kind of service of grace is precisely tailored to our central need for healing that sets us free for growth.
- The warrant for what is real and true is what works. Only the equation of grace works in the ultimate healing, growth, maturation, and wholeness for which the Living Human Document has the potential and therefore is inherently destined.
- Therefore, we must conclude that by definition God is a God of grace. The fact that only this definition of God works for our healing, growth, maturation, and wholeness confirms that it is the only rational and psychospiritually authentic way to conceptualize God. All other conceptualizations are deficient, destructive, and hence, monstrous.