by Mark Warner.
Mark is a ‘retired’ BUGB minister with extensive experience in media, local church and mission organisations. He has a passion for the Anabaptist approach to discipleship, especially regarding non-violence. When he is not pursuing his MA at Bristol Baptist College, he helps on the leadership of Stoborough Baptist Church in Dorset and loves to bring the Word of God wherever he can. He has been married to Ruth since 1975 and they have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Guest blogs are invited to stimulate thought and comment. They do not necessarily reflect the view of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence.

In this Essay, I shall examine how the Redemption-Movement trajectory approach to hermeneutics might lend itself to the distinctives of the historic Anabaptist movement and its modern non-violent counterparts. Whilst favourably noting, in particular, the writings of William J Webb, I seek to suggest that the logic of his approach could have even greater impact if it were less firmly entwined with the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the Hebrew scriptures.

Summary of the Trajectory Approach

‘Going beyond the Bible biblically’ or ‘Continuing Scripture in new contexts’ are two phrases gaining coinage to describe a theological trajectory emphasis for interpreting canonical scriptures in contemporary settings[1]. This supplements (but does not displace) the use of historical-critical methodologies, which sometimes favour limiting application to an on-the-page principalising specificity.

Moreover, a trajectory approach contends that even though some important issues were virtually settled in the church’s praxis and theology by the time that the canon of the Bible was formulated, there are others that could still approach resolution in post-canonical times.

An Approach Complementing a Progressive-Revelation Theory

My contention is that some form of trajectory approach would neatly dovetail with the concept of seeing the Bible:

• positively as an authoritative metanarrative, but

• not as a book that unerringly and perfectly reflects God’s character, intentions and commands in all its parts. (Instead as a book that contains many voices—some of which subvert others).

Our understanding of revelation essentially affects our approach to interpreting the Bible. One classic model is simply that the scriptures are written as a flat, unerring, guide to doctrine and behaviour. Along a hypothetical cline some way removed from that belief, however, is an alternative paradigm which could be described in the following manner: the albeit fallible words of priests, scribes, wisdom teachers and prophets have been woven together to form an all-embracing and inspired over­arching story[2].

Many and contrasting voices, have produced this revelational cradle where humanity can interact with God. My view is that the end purpose of Scripture is that it should lead us to the incarnate Word—God’s ultimate disclosure in our history, the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Such an understanding of relational unveiling[3] lends itself to the Christocentric approach to hermeneutics favoured by, among others, many advocates of the Anabaptist path of discipleship.

But the biblical texts—some finding their origin several thousand years ago in the near-eastern milieu—were set in a very different culture from ours. What hermen­eutical tools could we employ as we read the Bible to discern how to apply its abiding principles, and to turn from other aspects (some of which can appear ethically repugnant when compared to the light of God’s moral self-disclosure in Jesus Christ)?

At significant moments in church history—such as at the beginning of the Christian era, during the Reformation, and in the existentialist-influenced neo-orthodoxy of the twentieth century[4]—these questions of the authority, progression and application of scripture would prove particularly germane.

Developing Application of Redemptive-Movement Trajectory Theory

One factor in the last two centuries that has lent support to the greater attractiveness of a trajectory hermeneutic has been the wider archaeological and written discoveries relating to ancient near-eastern cultures. Previously, the Old Testament was almost the sole window on life at the time. Now, libraries of clay tablets, hieroglyphics, artefacts and technology shed much more light on the surrounding nations of the period. The picture they paint offers enlightenment into the commonalities of ancient cultures, but also of the development of Yahwistic religion away from this sometimes- barbaric background.

The Redemptive-Movement hermeneutic seeks to construct a progressive trajectory by contrasting texts to their ancient-near-eastern (and graeco-roman backgrounds), their development in later Old Testament writings, and on through the deuteron-canonical books. The Redemptive-Movement trajectory allows that positions and values achieved in the New Testament might still await their realisation in values that may emerge in the post-canonical epoch.

Despite the original milieu and the progression during the writing and compilation of the Old Testament, I would argue that all redemptive-hermeneutic ethics are ultimately authenticated by passing through the interpretative filter of the person, teaching and life of Jesus. He is the embodiment of the very values that his followers seek to express by the power of his Holy Spirit. He is the apogee through which the trajectory passes.

Many trajectories reached a level of fulfilment in the beliefs of the early church and in ethical issues such as non-violence and oath-taking (although some of these were almost eclipsed in the Christendom era). However, other trajectories incipient in Christocentric biblical values—such as the enfranchisement of women and capital punishment—extend to the twenty-first century (and beyond) before approaching realisation in the universal church. In recent years, William J. Webb and others have studied such issues and include slavery[5], child discipline[6], and warfare[7].  However, these and similar approaches[8], which seek to identify a redemption-movement trajectory, have not met with wholehearted agreement.

Some Criticisms of the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic

‘A Novel Theory’

One criticism, voiced by a prominent evangelical is that the approach is ‘entirely new’.[9] Evidence from church history, however, makes it hard to accept this. Carl Sanders, for instance, traces its incipient use by nineteenth century abolitionists as they countered the hermeneutical status quo, who found their justification in the slave-owning passages of the Bible[10]. Rather than an interpretation shackled to those texts, eighteenth and nineteenth century groups such as Quakers and the Clapham Sect demonstrated that the positive progress made during the canonical period—majoring on the person-centred values enunciated by Jesus—could be taken beyond the first century to bring about a greater enfranchisement in their day.

‘Scholarship Already Recognises the Divide between the Covenants’

Proponents of a redemptive-movement hermeneutic affirm that they under­stand this criticism, but that they only seek to supplement continuity/discontinuity approaches. They believe that the adoption of their approach by a wide range of seminary teachers from a spectrum of theological backgrounds is evidence of this[11]. However, they consider that the divide between the covenants alone is insufficient to decide matters such as slavery, where slave owners and abolitionists could both claim biblical precedent. Clearly, to settle the issue, a trajectory hermeneutic was necessary[12].

‘An Ethic Better than the New Testament is Inferred’

Some who hold to the sufficiency of Scripture dislike the idea that New Testament ethics can be bettered[13]. This, however, misapprehends the Redemptive-Movement hermeneutic, which affirms the well-founded values established in both Testaments[14]. A trajectory ethic honours that fixed biblical underpinning; but when it encounters a lacuna that requires a further drawing out of the implications of those values, it honestly acknowledges it.

‘It Undermines the Authority of The Bible’

Critics also feel that a redemptive-movement type of hermeneutic usurps the authority of the Bible. The answer must be similar to that above: this hermeneutic strengthens the importance of a biblical base for ethics by affirming that applying texts in the light of later developments is a notable part of the Bible’s own exegetical process (in which there are subversive sub-themes and contradictory voices)[15]. Using coherent tools to systematically interpret the Bible’s message in contempor­ary settings helps disciples to honour its timeless worth.

It Detracts from the Finality of the New Testament Canon’

Scholars such as Douglas Brown[16] and Thomas R Schreiner[17], claim that at redemptive­-movement hermeneutic does not recognise the New Testament as a definitive endpoint for revelation. Most proponents of a trajectory approach, how­ever, affirm their belief in the supreme decisiveness of New Testament revelation; their point of contention is that it is the realisation of that revelation that is in some cases unfinished[18]. Historically, one could quote the famous valedictory words of John Robinson to the Pilgrim Fathers as they set sail for America in 1620:

If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of his, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth by my ministry, for […] I am very confident, the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of his holy Word. […] I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of those reformed churches which […] go, at present, no further than the instruments of their reformation. The Lutherans cannot be drawn […] beyond what Luther saw; whatever part of his will our God had revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists […] stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented…[19]

This citation reminds us that, whilst remaining faithful to biblical truth, the church has always acknowledged that such truth should carry forward dynamically beyond a fixed-on-the-page understanding and beyond the canon in which it was birthed. This reminder applies today, both to ultra-conservative scholars as well as to all those who employ the most advanced historical-critical methodology to the text.

With the preceding criticisms in mind, the redemptive-movement approach does not claim to be an exclusive hermeneutic, but functions in a complementary and insight­ful manner to interpret biblical ethics.

Specimen Scriptures That Advance a Christocentric Trajectory

Above, we have suggested that the trajectory of redemptive-movement applications should inexorably pass through the first-century crucible of the life, times and teaching of Jesus. To underline this, we shall examine a sample selection of key New Testament passages, many of which have featured in the history of Anabaptist debates.

Matthew’s Gospel chapter five, verses seventeen to twenty-four

 The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is central to the values and practice of Anabaptists, who see in it a higher authority than the requirements of nation or state church.

Whilst Matthew selects words from Jesus that make it clear he is not overturning the authority of  ‘the Law or the Prophets’ he shows that life under the reign of Jesus produces a community that has been birthed into the fullness of God’s purposes governed by the overarching law of the love of God and neighbour. The moral teachings of scripture have abiding authority but only as an analogy to the fullness that has now come through the apocalyptically-transforming events of the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ and the emergence of his church in the first century. In his summary of these verses (and noting Jesus’ reference to John the Baptist in 11:13) R.T. France writes,

‘All the prophets and the law prophesied until John.’ The law is thus linked with the prophets as looking forward to a time of fulfilment which has now arrived. The Torah, then, is not God’s last word to his people, but is in a sense provisional, looking forward to the time of fulfilment through the Messiah.
In the light of that concept, and of the general sense of ‘fulfil’ in Matthew, we might then paraphrase Jesus’ words here as follows: ‘Far from wanting to set aside the law and the prophets, it is my role to bring into being that to which they have pointed forward, to carry them into the era of fulfilment.’ On this understanding the authority of the law and the prophets is not abolished. They remain the authoritative word of God. But their role will no longer be the same, now that what they pointed forward to has come, and it will be for Jesus’ followers to discern in the light of his teaching and practice what is now the right way to apply those texts in the new situation which his coming has created.[20]

We here recognise that the Messiah, Jesus, has come not as a lawbreaker but to bring to perfect completion all that to which Israel’s scriptures bore witness. In the verses that follow seventeen to twenty-four, Matthew portrays Jesus as one whose authority stands above that which he came to fulfil, reinterprets it and reveals the new law. He brings an ethic superior to the exclusivity and violence that some voices in the scriptures once implied were compatible with God’s nature.

Speaking from the mountain, Jesus is not merely depicted as bringing a simple replacement to the law of Moses, neither is he one who merely implements or discharges the Law. Πληρωσαι,translated fulfil, does not lend itself easily to such an interpretation[21]. Rather, as France notes, Matthew’s Gospel gives prominence to

the coming into being of that to which Scripture pointed forward (whether by direct prediction or understood typologically […] In 3:15 ‘to fulfil all righteousness’ appears to denote the action which will bring about God’s redemptive purpose through Jesus […]. […] the sense here is not likely to be concerned with Jesus’ actions in relation to the law or even his teaching about it, but rather the way in which he ‘fulfils’ the pattern laid down in the law and the prophets.[22]

Stanley Hauerwas writes,

What cannot be forgotten is that the one who preaches the sermon is the Son of God, that is, he is the Messiah, making all things new. The sermon is the reality of the new age made possible in time. And so we must be careful not to distinguish the sermon from the one who delivers it […] [23]

The trajectory towards the defining revelation of God’s love, to which other Jewish scriptures gave growing voice, had reached its zenith and was now being worked out in the young, Jewish-influenced, church setting in which Matthew wrote.

Luke’s Gospel chapter four, verses fourteen to thirty

In Luke: Historian and Theologian, I. Howard Marshall clearly argues the case for assuming a largely gentile or Hellenised audience for Luke’s writings[24]. In his commentary he states, ‘That he wrote for an urban church community in the Hellenised world is fairly certain.’[25] He continues,

the message of Jesus is finely summed up in the saying, ‘The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost’. […] this salvation is for all who are poor and needy and the total impact of the Gospel is to show the ‘wideness of God’s mercy’.[26]

The message being carried around the world by the early followers of Jesus breaks down nationalistic boundaries and hostilities[27]. The Israelite’s modified version of sacred warfare, first implemented against the Canaanites to dispossess them from their land, was the beginning of a trajectory[28] that was progressively modified and subverted by the scriptures[29] until, in the New Testament, it becomes a holy battle against enemy spiritual forces that enslave and impoverish all humanity. Apart from texts that directly identify this revised enemy[30], or forbid violence[31], other New Testament passages significantly modify Old Testament quotations by expunging elements that portray God as an avenging destroyer.[32]

With this in mind, we are here examining a prophesy from Isaiah that Luke records as being declared by Jesus in Nazareth at the start (significantly) of his ministry (Luke 4:14-30). In verses eighteen and nineteen, the citation reads:

πνεῦμα κυρίου ἐπ᾽ ἐμέ οὗ εἵνεκεν ἔχρισέν με εὐαγγελίσασθαι πτωχοῖς ἀπέσταλκέν με κηρύξαι αἰχμαλώτοις ἄφεσιν καὶ τυφλοῖς ἀνάβλεψιν ἀποστεῖλαι τεθραυσμένους ἐν ἀφέσει κηρύξαι ἐνιαυτὸν κυρίου δεκτόν.[33]

The quote is based on Isaiah sixty-one in the Septuagint version as set out below:

πνεῦμα κυρίου ἐπ᾽ ἐμέ οὗ εἵνεκεν ἔχρισέν με εὐαγγελίσασθαι πτωχοῖς ἀπέσταλκέν με ἰάσασθαι τοὺς συντετριμμένους τῇ καρδίᾳ κηρύξαι αἰχμαλώτοις ἄφεσιν καὶ τυφλοῖς ἀνάβλεψιν καλέσαι ἐνιαυτὸν κυρίου δεκτὸν καὶ ἡμέραν ἀνταποδόσεως …

Although there are exegetical and structural points to be made concerning the appropriate punctuation to insert and the fact that the best Lucan manuscripts omit με ἰάσασθαι τοὺς συντετριμμένους, and that τεθραυσμένους ἐν ἀφέσει is inserted (to replace it?), the element that would surely prove outstandingly shocking to the synagogue was the omission of ἡμέραν ἀνταποδόσεως and the apparently abrupt  curtailment of the passage with Jesus winding up the scroll from which he has been reading. Does this, at least partially, account for the hostile reaction that Luke records in the following verses?

Greg Boyd follows Marshall[34] in suggesting that εμαρτυρoυν in verse twenty-two is better translated ‘they bore witness against Jesus’ (not ‘spoke well of him’)[35].  Other factors attracting hostile reaction in this pericope seem to be Jesus’ allusions to Elijah and Elisha when they were called to minister to gentile women rather than to their own people,

Jesus was[…] suggesting that not only is God not going to smite the gentile enemies of Israel, but many who assume they are insiders on the things of God (Jews) are going to find themselves on the outside, while many whom everyone assumes are outsiders (gentiles) are going to be made insiders.
[…] Jesus’ hometown crowd didn’t want good news that blessed their enemies while failing to guarantee their own insider status.[36]

This passage surely advances a redemptive-hermeneutic trajectory where the prophesied widening of the boundaries of God’s kingdom through the Messiah brings all peoples from a position of enmity into a place of mercy, forgiveness and co-citizenship. Such a notion does not sit easily with ardent loyalty to state claims for primary allegiance.

On a cliff edge outside Nazareth, the reaction of his hearers nearly foreshadows Calvary…but this was not the hour.

Hebrews, chapter one verses one to four

In their disputes with the Reformers regarding the validity of the Old Testament, Anabaptist leaders often quoted from Hebrews and its emphasis on moving from shadow to substance; from typological promise to fulfilment. Pilgram Marpeck (1495?–1556) and his group were foremost in adopting this comparison[37]. As William Klassen wrote:

[Marpeck] begins with the book of Hebrews and insists that the shadows have now been driven away and the essence has come. The essence, however, is not defined in Platonic terms, but always as a historical person, Jesus Christ. The difference between the two Testaments lies in the Incarnation. The pre-existent Christ was present in the Old Testament, but not in such a way as to give man the benefits which the New Testament saints experienced. To place the Old Testament saints on the same level as those of the New, seemed to Marpeck a blasphemy on the work of Christ as found in the New Testament.[38]

In line with this, a redemptive hermeneutic trajectory accords with the theme of Hebrews, as encapsulated in its opening verses:

πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων, δι᾽ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας, ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ, φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ, καθαρισμὸν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ποιησάμενος ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν ὑψηλοῖς τοσούτῳ κρείττων γενόμενος τῶν ἀγγέλων, ὅσῳ διαφορώτερον παρ᾽ αὐτοὺς κεκληρονόμηκεν ὄνομα

These verses mark the beginning of what a number of scholars recognise as a Christian Jewish-Hellenistic sermon (series?!)[39]. There is, therefore, no prescriptum. The author launches immediately into her/his/their[40] definitive declaration, which announces the theme of all that follows.

‘In the past, God spoke […] at many times and in various ways (or in many fragments and in many ways: πολυμερῶς and πολυτρόπως). This is a unique use of the two words in the New Testament. Some have seen it as an hendiadys but the words more probably should be taken as synonyms (though retaining their own nuances)[41].

Although there is continuity (God spoke through the agents of his revelation and continues to speak), there is also stark contrast. The main clause stands out, ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ. Now, it is not through agents, but through ‘Son [sic]’ that God has spoken. This Son’s identity is expounded in chapters one and two: in chapter one as God—‘seated’ (not ‘standing’) in heaven, superior to any angels —and in chapter two as man, ‘a little lower than the angels’. Carefully analysing chapter one, Richard Bauckham comes to the firm conclusion that, ‘Jesus himself is intrinsic to the divine identity’.[42]

The significance of these verses is that they highlight the difference between what has been revealed in the past through the scriptures and what is revealed now through the Son.[43] Albert Coetzee makes this clear,

Nowhere else in the New Testament […] is there any indication of contrast between God’s previous revelation and his revelation in his Son. The emphasis is solely on continuity and fulfilment. Consequently, it is clear that in the Old Testament Christ was a dormant part of God’s revelation that came to complete unfolding in the New Testament […] the ‘unfolding’ of God’s revelation is a most fitting term and a crucial, overarching, hermeneutic principle.[44]

Among others, Marpeck and many Anabaptists are surely correct in adhering to the surpassing authority that they felt the New Covenant attaches to Jesus. The exegesis of the opening words in Hebrews confirms this high point of the hermeneutical trajectory. It reflects how God’s identity has now has been unfolded and made perspic­uous in the person of Jesus, giving implicit priority to his ways and teaching over any incongruous Hebrew scriptures. Thus, the Redemptive-Movement hermeneutic finds its gold standard from which all future application can be adjudged in the crucible of history.

Second Letter to Timothy chapter three, verse sixteen to seventeen

Though there was still a state of flux in regard to the extent of their canonicity, it is without question that authoritative scriptures were revered in Judaism and amongst the majority of nascent Christian communities in the Second Temple period. I have posited in the preceding sample passages that Jesus did not come simply to fit into a revelationary continuum as another teacher or prophet—he came to be seen as the incarnation of the Word of God, standing as final arbiter over every aspect of authentic revelation. This radical inbreaking into human history would surely have revolutionised the thinking of the early disciples regarding the kind of derived authority that they should attribute to the Scriptures.

Timothy came from a godly family[45] and was versed in the scriptures[46] which had the power to make him wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ — τὰ δυνάμενά σε σοφίσαι εἰς σωτηρίαν διὰ πίστεως τῆς ἐν χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. But where should the emphasis be put in this verse? Surely it is in the words ‘in Christ Jesus’.

Apart from our selected passages, Jesus—the living Word’s—authority over the scriptures is significant elsewhere in the New Testament. For example: in his inter­action with two disciples on route to Emmaus when he ‘caused their hearts to burn within them’ as he opened to them all the scriptures concerning himself, and then was revealed to them at table[47]; or in dialogue with pharisees and Jewish leaders where John has Jesus say, ‘In your own law it is written’ and, ‘Is it not written in your Law…?’[48] implying, possibly, that he is speaking with a greater and definitive authority.

It is with this in mind, for verse sixteen…

Πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν, πρὸς ἐλεγμόν, πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν, πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ, ἵνα ἄρτιος ᾖ ὁ τοῦ θεοῦ ἄνθρωπος, πρὸς πᾶν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἐξηρτισμένος.

…my preferred translation follows the Revised Version[49],

Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correct­ion, for instruction which is in righteousness: That the man [sic] of God may be com­plete, furnished completely unto every good work.

This way of reading the text, according to Ellicott, best compares with

[…] the one adopted by nearly all the oldest and most trustworthy versions (for exam­ple, the Syriac and the Vulgate), and by a great many of the principal expositors in all ages (for instance, by such teachers as Origen, Theodoret, Grotius, Luther, Meyer, Ellicott, and Alford) […][50]

It is beyond the scope of this essay to parse all the verse, but my preferred interpreta­tion is that every scripture over which God has breathed, θεόπνευστος, (a hapax legomenon)[51] is proven by the fruit that it produces in disciples. That being so, it helps us to view modern controversies, and the sixteenth century disputes between Radicals, Spiritualists and Reformers in a more nuanced light. The Anabaptists believed that following (nachfolge) the ways and teaching of Jesus are paramount. Old Testament scriptures were authoritative and useful in that they were analogical and foreshadowed Christ. But the law of Christ—reflected in love of enemies and supreme loyalty to his ethical teachings—was the critical issue.

Extending This Approach to Offer Further Validation for a Continuing Anabaptist Interpretation of Scripture

A ‘flat’ reading of the scriptures could be used by Christendom to side-line the most important issues and to support the usurping or assumption of Christ’s authority by the state. In the sixteenth century the arguments had basically not been over issues of inerrancy (which, at that time, would have been anachronistic) but rather over the manner of interpreting the Scriptures. It was more to do with the methods of interp­ret­ation; it need never have been seen as a question about who accepted the norms of the Bible.

Better than toying with the expurgative approach of Marcion or the allegorical method of Origen, a Christocentric redemptive-movement trajectory arcing across the Scriptures could have delivered (if it had been available) an effective validation for the stance on radical obedience that was expected in Anabaptist groups.

In current controversies—particularly regarding church relationships with state institutions—a redemptive-movement hermeneutic combined with a progressive theory of revelation that finds its pinnacle in the Word made flesh, and which is worked out in the experience of God’s community[52], would prove an attractive alternative to views that associate God with acts of coercion and violence and which also rationalise such things as warfare, capital punishment and ‘justifiable’ torture.

In personal correspondence with me, William Webb suggested that the Redemptive-Movement hermeneutic could be widely applicable as an hermeneutical tool:

Just about anything in Scripture where there is an ethical problem (not ultimate ethic or best-possible fallen-world ethic) has the potential for containing an element of redemptive­-movement (or trajectory) meaning.

Some viable examples in my mind that I have not developed myself:  sacrifice, polygamy, domestic rape laws, […] divorce legislation, etc.[53]

To conclude, rather than becoming enmeshed in the specifics of any one current ethical topic, it would be useful to very briefly consider a few (arbitrary) headline steps that I have suggested in the trajectory of a foundational motif spanning the canon of scripture: the theme of the Land/Temple. The possibility of this developing trajectory has implications for many contingent issues.

Stage One

The background from which the Biblical accounts spring are the ancient near-eastern creation myths, particularly Enuma Elish, the Babylonian epic, in which the war between gods such as Marduk, Tiamat and Quingu results in chaotic bloodshed. Marduk consults Ea (the goddess of wisdom) who indicates that the chaos is to be tamed by the first human, Lullu, created from the blood of Quingu. Humans are created with the purpose of helping the gods maintain order.[54]

Stage Two

In the Bible, Henotheistic poetry sees YHWH as victorious over Leviathan, the Hebrew equivalent of Tiamat (Ps 74:13; Isa 27:1).

Wisdom personified is instrumental in creation (Pro 8:22-31).

Stage Three

The (exilic or post-exilic) Hebrew creation narratives portray the formation and ordering of the Land. The result is achieved without any battle, solely through Divine fiat[55].

The Land is to be YHWH’s temple where he will dwell with humans (Gen 1; 2).

Stage Four

The Divine Wisdom is revealed as the Word of God, by whom all things were made, and who ‘tabernacles’ amongst us (John 1).

God’s plans are brought to fulfilment in Christ, bringing all things in heaven and earth together in him (Eph 1:10). All humanity is called to be part of God’s Temple (Eph 2:19ff)

Stage Five

God’s light and glory permeate all creation. It is God’s Land. God’s Temple is for all nations (Rev 21:22-27)

A few of the ethical implications drawn from this progression could be: the ownership of the Land; the role of human beings in the care of the earth; the elevation of humanity as it is united in the Word of God incarnate in Christ; the invalidity of national boundaries; and the motivation for good works.


I have found much that is of value in the approach of those who favour some form of redemptive-movement hermeneutic to interpret ethics and beliefs as they develop through texts of Scripture and find application through church history. My principal criticism of, amongst others, William Webb is from a theological stance. In his latest book with Gordon Oeste, the authors helpfully trace the trajectory from the barbaric ancient near-eastern warfare to the non-violent victory of the Lamb in Revelation chapter nineteen[56]. When dealing with the commands to annihilate the Canaanites, however, they see the words issuing from Yahweh’s mouth as God’s accommodation to the culture and understanding of the time. I see viewing ‘Yahweh as an uneasy God’[57] as an indubitable case of ‘having your cake and eating it’. Webb and Oeste give reasons for rejecting Greg Boyd’s ‘looking glass’ approach to Old Testament interpretation[58], but I find it unconscionable to imply that, because we are in a fallen world, God speaks words that do not remotely reflect his character. Webb and Oeste are attempting to maintain too high a view of the Hebrew scriptures. Better than staining God’s perfection, let us agree with another scholar, Eric Seibert, as he assesses the extent of authority that the Bible has over followers of Jesus,

Christians need to be discerning when reading the Bible since not everything found there is authoritative. Some portions of Scripture do not represent Christian beliefs or behaviours and should be critiqued as deficient. Still, there is much that can be wholeheartedly affirmed and embraced as being theologically true.[59]

It is my contention that the teaching and life of Jesus, exemplified in his sacrificial self-giving, vindicated in his resurrection, and applied by his Holy Spirit in the church, is the locus of the pure Word of God. That is the defining measure through which every hermeneutic trajectory must pass as it seeks to demonstrate God’s unsullied glory in a darkened world.

Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but that same Christ arose and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”[60]

[1] E.g., I. Howard Marshall, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Stanley E. Porter, Beyond the Bible: Moving from Scripture to Theology, Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology (Milton Keynes, Bucks. : Paternoster, 2004), 88, 95.

[2] See, Walter Brueggemann, The Book That Breathes New Life: Scriptural Authority and Biblical Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), particularly the pref. and § 1.

[3] Revealed in the life, ministry and resurrection of Jesus, and through the Church by God’s Spirit.

[4] E.g., Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man (Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1978).

[5] William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 2001).

[6] William J. Webb, Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts. (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2011).

[7] William J. Webb and Gordon K. Oeste, Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? Wrestling with Troubling War Texts. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2019).

[8] E.g., Marshall, Vanhoozer, and Porter, Beyond the Bible.

[9] Wayne Grudem, ‘Should we move beyond the New Testament to a Better Ethic? An Analysis of William J. Webb, ‘Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis.’ (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47 2004), 299

[10] Carl Sanders, ‘The 19th Century Slave Debate: An Example of Proto-Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutics?’ paper presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, San Antonio, Texas, November 18, 2004; Carl Sanders, ‘The Bible and the American Slave Debate.’ Bible in Transmission, (Bible Society, Slough, Spring 2007).

[11] William J Webb, ‘A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic: Encouraging Dialogue among Four Evangelical Views.’ (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48:2 2005), 335

[12] Gary T. Meadors and Walter C. Kaiser, eds., Four Views on Moving beyond the Bible to Theology, Counterpoints Bible & Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2009), 243.

[13] E.g.: Grudem, ‘Should we move beyond the New Testament to a Better Ethic?’ 299-346

[14] See: Meadors and Kaiser, Four Views on Moving beyond the Bible to Theology, 244.

[15] E.g.: Josh 5:13f; Hosea 6:6; Matt 9:13; 2:13-15; 22:29; Mark 2:23-28; 7:19; Luke 9:54 (contrast 2 Kings 1:10-12) John 8:7; 10:35; Acts 15:6-21; Gal 6:15; Heb 2:8-10.


[17] ‘William J Webb’s, “Slaves, Women and Homosexuals”:A Review Article,’ The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 6:1 (2002): 46-64

[18] Meadors and Kaiser, Four Views on Moving beyond the Bible to Theology, 246.

[19] T. E Watson, Baptism Not for Infants. (Worthing, England: Henry E. Walter, 1970), 12.

[20] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2007), 183.

[21] See C. F. D. Moule, ‘Fulfilment Words in the New Testament, Use and Abuse’, New Testament Studies XIV (1967/1968) fulfilmentwords-in-the-new-testament-use-and-abuse/1CAA3E063A660EBB0EC2DA05898ED40C: 313ff.

[22] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 182.

[23] Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich: Brazos Press, 2006), 60.

[24] I. Howard Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian (Exeter: Paternoster P, 1970).

[25] Ian Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Reprint, The New International Greek Testament Commentary 3 (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1998), 33.

[26] Marshall, 36.

[27] E.g., Eph 2:11-22

[28] See, Webb and Oeste, Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric?

[29] E.g., Isa 9:1-8; 49:1-7

[30] E.g., Eph 2:2; 4:27; 6:10-18; 1 Pet 5:8f; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 11:20; 1 John 5:19; John 17:15; Jas 4:7

[31] E.g., Matt 5:38-46; 26:51-54; Luke 9:54-56 n.b. mg

[32] See Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible like Jesus Did (San Francisco: Metanoia Books, 2014), chap. 3. and his example of Paul’s quotation in Rom 15 from Ps 18:41-49 and Deu 32:43.

[33] Dirk Jongkind et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, produced at Tyndale House Cambridge (Wheaton, IL: Cambridge, United Kingdom: Crossway Books; Cambridge University Press, 2017).

[34] Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, 185.

[35] Gregory A. Boyd and Project Muse, Inspired Imperfection How the Bible’s Problems Enhance Its Divine Authority., (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2020), 160.

[36] Boyd and Project Muse, 161.

[37] Walter Klaassen and William Klassen, Marpeck: A Life of Dissent and Conformity, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History, no. 44 (Waterloo, Ont: Herald Press, 2008), 560.


[39] See, Albert Coetsee, ‘The Unfolding of God’s Revelation in Hebrews 1:1-2a’, HTS Theological Studies 72 (2016): 1.

[40] For possible authorship, see, Ruth Hoppin, Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Fort Bragg, Calif.: Lost Coast Press, 2009). Did Priscilla write it for use by her team?

[41] Coetsee, ‘The Unfolding of God’s Revelation in Hebrews 1:1-2a’, 3.

[42] See, Richard Bauckham, ‘Monotheism and Christology in Hebrews 1,’ in Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism: Edited by Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Wendy E.S. North, Journal for the Study of the New Testament. Supplement Series; Early Christianity in Context 263 (London: T & T Clark International, 2004), 167–85.

[43] C.f., William Klassen, ‘The Relation of the Old and New Covenants in Pilgrim Marpeck’s Theology’  Essays on Biblical Interpretation: Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspectives Willard, M. Swartley, ed., (Ekhart, Indiana: Herald, 1984), 104-106.

[44] Coetsee, ‘The Unfolding of God’s Revelation in Hebrews 1:1-2a’, 7 (my emphases).

[45] 2 Tim 1:5

[46] 2 Tim 3:15

[47] Luke 24:25-33

[48] John 8:17; 10:34

[49] Revised Bible (London: Cambridge University Press, 1895).

[50] Charles John Ellicott, Epistles to the Colossians, Thessalonians, and Timothy. Wimbledon: Forgotten Books, 2015).

[51] Is it overly farfetched to suggest God’s breathing over the scriptures parallels καὶ πνεῦμα θεοῦ ἐπεφέρετο ἐπάνω τοῦ ὕδατος in Genesis 1:2 LXX?

[52] ‘The Scripture emerged from within the heart of a living subject—the pilgrim people of God—and lives within this same subject. […] the deeper “author” of the Scriptures [… is] God himself, who—through men and their humanity—is at the deepest level the one speaking.’ (Ratzinger, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth. London: Bloomsbury, 2007), p. xx

[53] Extract from an email by William J. Webb on twentieth December 2019

[54] ‘Ea created mankind [sic] […] on whom he imposed the service of the gods, and set the gods free.’ (Enuma Elish Tablet VI)33-34)

[55] Not until the end of Enuma Elish Tablet I or Tablet V:15, 36, 40 or 147 is any non-violent, verbal means of creation mentioned.

[56] Webb and Oeste, Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric?, chaps 13–16.

[57] Webb and Oeste, chap. 14.

[58] Webb and Oeste, 317-319.

[59] Eric A. Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 277.

[60] Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘Out of the Long Night’ including quote from Theodore Parker., The Gospel Messenger (Elgin, IL: Brethren Publishing House, February 1958)

The Possible Use of a Trajectorial Hermeneutic to Support a Christocentric Application of Scripture Within Anabaptist Communities —A Critical Evaluation.
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4 thoughts on “The Possible Use of a Trajectorial Hermeneutic to Support a Christocentric Application of Scripture Within Anabaptist Communities —A Critical Evaluation.

  • 19th June 2020 at 3:33 pm

    Please don’t let the academic title put you off. This essay offers nuanced reasons for still accepting Biblical authority without accepting its appalling portrayals of Divine violence.

  • 19th June 2020 at 6:08 pm

    Mark’s blog essay review.

    The value of Mark’s excellent essay stands as a reminder to all who value the Bible, both Old and New Testaments that in the same way that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament, while radically differently to the expectations of the Jewish people even though prophesied in the Old Testament, so too, his teaching, unfolded in the New Testament, requires faithful outworking in new contexts and cultures.
    In many ways it can be seen that the more ecclesiastically structured denominations of Christendom have been, and still are, more akin to Christianising Judaism in beliefs forms and practice. Consequently, in holding up the Bible as the authority that supports this practice they fail to be Biblically Christo-centric.
    Rather than being frightened of not being faithful to the Bible we should be applying the teaching of and the principles of Jesus and the New Testament knowing that their underlying authority will be true in any age if applied in the Spirit of Christ.
    While we can learn much from the Christian values and moral outworking of the anabaptists we must also ensure that we are not rooted in their historical style and culture but in the same way apply truth with a relevant trajectory.

  • 7th October 2020 at 10:08 am

    An excellent, stimulating presentation of a hermeneutical position that is currently enjoying widespread acceptance—and not before time. Bibliolatry has long set the church back in its witness. To be assured that Jesus alone is ‘the Word of God’, and that the Bible is merely a witness to him, his teaching and his example, is a breath of fresh air. Thank you, Mark.

    • 9th October 2020 at 7:26 pm

      Thank you David. It is good to hear from one of the 1980s Restoration team, which played such an important part in helping Christians who were seeking a return of the church to God’s heart intent. Things have moved on apace in 21stCentury, but the centrality of Jesus emerges more and more as the answer to all our hopes.


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