Traditionally, this comparison has always been difficult for me because those who make it almost always leap to the conclusion that the Bible should be read like a statute. In this comparison, God is the “legislature” and the Bible is is “statute.”
The problem that the traditional approach has posed for me is that the Bible (with the exception of a few chapters in the Torah) quite clearly isn’t intended to be anything like a statute. Its a collection of stories about people and their experiences (or lack thereof) of God. Scot, however, takes a slightly different approach to the subject that I find much more intriguing.
Scot sketches his argument fairly broadly/quickly, so I can’t be sure I’m folloiwng him completely. However, it goes something like this:
First, Scot seems to imply that its not quite correct to look at the Bible itself as a law book or a constitution. Rather, the Bible, or more accurately, the New Testament, can be seen as an effort to interpret/understand the gospel within a specific cultural context. The gospel – i.e., the enunciation that “Jesus is Lord” – can thus be compared to a constitution because it claims authority and then sets out some broad parameters which must be interpreted and re-interpreted in varoius contexts.
The New Testament books, then (and this is the part that intrigues me), are essentially the first efforts at “interpreting” and applying that gospel to particular circumstances, much like case law would function to determine the meaning of the constitution in the context of, say, a modern-day civil or reproductive rights dispute.
Scot also emphasizes that the gospel has to be contextualized and interpreted in light of the story of Israel and Jesus and the Church. Again, there are some interesting parallels to this observation in the way case law develops its own “story” over time.
Even though I’ve generally resisted the comparison between Biblical hermeneutics and law, I’ve always had a feeling that what I was doing from 9-5 bore some resemblance to what I was trying to do for Sunday school classes, speaking engagements, and blog posts during the nights and weekends. Now I have a little better idea of why.
Having said that, I think this comparison is valuable mainly because of the similarities between the interpretive processes. In other words, working out what “gospel” means in 2012 is much like working out what “prohibiting the free exercise of religion” looks like 2012. Beyond that, the comparison begins to break down. In particular, I see these problems:
A constitution tends to work in CONSTRICTIVE ways (i.e., government can do these things and ONLY THESE THINGS) whereas the gospel is EXPANSIVE by nature (i.e., it is about mission, not limitations).
The gospel works from the “bottom up” (i.e., it asks us to serve and sacrifice) whereas the constitution provides “top down” authority (The gentiles “Lord it over” each other, Jesus once told his disciples, but not so with you).
The gospel advances in subversive and non-violent ways, whereas a constitution will allow for, and even demand, that forceful means be utilized to defend its ongoing authority.
As such, I think some caution needs to be applied in making this comparison.
Those are a few quick thoughts on Scot’s suggestion. Any one else want to weigh in on the subject? How does the comparison strike non-lawyers? Does it make you nervous that it could cause a drift into legalism?