Spirit, discipleship, community : the contemporary significance of Anabaptist hermeneutics

Murray, Stuart Wood (1994). Spirit, discipleship, community : the contemporary significance of Anabaptist hermeneutics. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e066


The objectives of this thesis are twofold: to undertake a comprehensive survey of the hermeneutics of early Anabaptism (1525-1560) in order to clarify the principles operating within this movement and to distinguish Anabaptist hermeneutics from other sixteenth century systems of biblical interpretation; and, on the basis of this survey, to explore ways in which Anabaptist hermeneutics might contribute to contemporary hermeneutical developments.

Anabaptist hermeneutics offered a coherent and distinctive approach to biblical interpretation in the sixteenth century. Its basic principles can be discovered from the writings of Anabaptist leaders and the practice of Anabaptist congregations. Six convictions characterised this hermeneutics. Scripture was sufficiently clear for all believers to be enfranchised as interpreters. Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Jesus Christ, its focal point. The New Testament must be accorded priority and the Old Testament interpreted in the light of the New. The Holy Spirit was the interpreter, whose guidance must be actively sought. Only those committed to discipleship and obedience to Scripture should expect such guidance. The congregation was the hermeneutic community where all believers could contribute to the interpretive process and where the Spirit's guidance was anticipated. Although these principles were not consciously synthesised into an integrated system, they overlapped, refined and qualified each other.

Anabaptist hermeneutics has been neglected, regarded as naive, derivative and unsophisticated. My thesis is that this treatment is unjustified and that the rediscovery of Anabaptist hermeneutics provides an important resource with significant insights on issues of contemporary hermeneutical concern. Anabaptist hermeneutics is neither Catholic nor Protestant. It represents an alternative approach to biblical interpretation which has a distinctive contribution to make to contemporary hermeneutics.

Anabaptist hermeneutics offers a critique of Constantinian presuppositions that has important perspectives for hermeneutical developments in post- Constantinian societies. It offers informative parallels with Latin American hermeneutics. It can assist in the development of hermeneutics appropriate for the Charismatic Movement. Its hermeneutic community model provides fresh insights on the relationship between churches and scholars.

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