Thursday, March 24, 2005

The "Meta Principle"

I promised some attempted answers to some intriguing objections raised in the comments to my "constitutional interpretation and biblical authority" series. I'm going to do my best in the next couple of posts. After that, though, I want to leave behind theological abstraction for a while and try to dive into the messier and more practical realms of Christian ethics and politics. I love abstract theology and high theory, but I've got to move on for a while. In the end, I believe that living what I do understand of Jesus' message is much more difficult and much more important than wringing my hands about the margins.

I turn first to DLW.

DLW writes:

Key to correct interpretation of the scripture is to refer to the highest level of interpretation, the Meta-Narrative, or big picture. In that picture, many of our existing relations are fallen and should be in the process of redemption.

I agree that it is probably intellectually (hermeneutically?) inevitable that we reference some "big picture" or something "meta" in the process of interpretation. Not only that, but I think there is strong support in Jesus' thought and in the thought of the early apostles that there is a "big picture" that we must always keep in mind. I do not think, however, that this big picture is a "narrative." I find no support whatsoever in Jesus' thought for the idea that the "big picture" is a meta narrative of fall and redemption. Jesus tells us, very clearly, what the big picture is, and the "meta" is a "meta principle" rather than a meta narrative, much less the specific narrative of "fall and redemption."

What is this meta principle?

Matt. 22: 36-40:

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" And he [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."

Mark 12:28-33:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."

And Paul is in substantial agreement concerning the "meta" that we must always keep in mind.

Rom. 13:9:

The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

See also Gal. 5:13-14:

[Y]ou were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

James' letter, arguably the letter most difficult to reconcile with Paul, agrees at least on this point.

James 2:8:

If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well.

The Didache, a non-canonical but very early Christian document (usually dated around 100 A.D.) provides still more support for the meta principle that we must referece. Didache 1:1-2:

There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference. Now, this is the way of life: First, you must love God who made you, and second, your neighbor as yourself.

Much of what remains of the Didache is dedicated to trying to flesh out "[w]hat these maxims teach...." Didache 1:3.

Thus, there is indeed a big picture that we should keep in mind in interpretation. This big picture is a meta principle rather than a meta narrative. We are directed to this meta principle both by Jesus himself and by his most important, earliest apostles.


At 2:43 PM, Blogger Infission said...

Is this meta principle relevant to the Schiavo case? Consider ast54's comment to Reverend's post below:

"I wonder what a polling of the Religious Right (prior to a couple years ago when the Schiavo case began making national headlines) would have indicated for personal preferences on issues of Do Not Resuscitate orders and life support systems. Would either Jeb or GW Bush have wanted to live fifteen years in that state? I would assume that they would not. If they would not want to live that way, how can they force (or try to force) someone else to live that way?"

Are we loving our neighbor as ourselves if we force a vegitative life on someone else (on our neighbor) which we would not want to endure ourselves?


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