Ricoeur on Biblical Interpretation and Resurrection Hope

Some excerpts from two essays. I highlight the thread of “new creation” that ties them together.

From Paul Ricoeur, “Toward a Hermeneutic of the Idea of Revelation”:

“What is finally to be understood in a text is not the author or his presumed intention, nor is it the immanent structure or structures of the text, but rather the sort of world intended beyond the text as its reference. In this regard, the alternative “either the intention or the structure” is vain. For the reference of the text is what I call the issue of the text or the world of the text. The world of the text designates the reference of the work of discourse, not what is said, but about what it is said. Hence the issue of the text is the object of hermeneutics. And the issue of the text is the world the text unfolds before itself.

. . .

Religious discourse is poetic in all the senses we have named. Being written down as scripture removes it from the finite horizon of its authors and its first audience. The style of its literary genres gives it the externality of a work. And the intended implicit reference of each text opens onto a world, the biblical world, or rather the multiple worlds unfolded before the book by its narration, prophecy, prescriptions, wisdom, and hymns. The proposed world that in biblical language is called a new creation, a new Covenant, the Kingdom of God, is the “issue” of the biblical text unfolded in front of this text.”

From Paul Ricoeur, “Freedom in the Light of Hope”:

“The task of a hermeneutics of the Resurrection is to reinstitute the potential of hope, to tell the future of the Resurrection. The meaning of the “Resurrection” is in suspense insofar as it is not fulfilled in a new creation, in a new totality of being. To recognize the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is to enter into the movement of hope in resurrection from the dead, to attain the new creation ex nihilo, that is, beyond death.

If such is the meaning of hope on its own level of discourse, that of a hermeneutics of the Resurrection, what is the meaning of freedom if it also must be converted to hope? What is freedom in the light of hope? I will answer in one word: it is the meaning of my existence in the light of the Resurrection, that is, as reinstated in the movement which we have called the future of the Resurrection of the Christ. In this sense, a hermeneutics of religious freedom is an interpretation of freedom in conformity with the Resurrection interpreted in terms of promise and hope.

. . .

[Hope] is allied with the imagination insofar as the latter is the power of the possible and the disposition for being in a radical renewal. Freedom in the light of hope, expressed in psychological terms, is nothing else than this creative imagination of the possible.

But we can also speak in ethical terms and emphasize its character of obedience, of listening. Freedom is a “following” (Folgen). For ancient Israel, the Law is the way that leads from promise to fulfillment. Covenant, Law, Freedom, as power to obey or disobey, are derivative aspects of the promise. The Law imposes (gebietet) what the promise proposes (bietet). The commandment is thus the ethical face of the promise. Of course, with Saint Paul this obedience is no longer transcribed in terms of law; obedience to the Law is no longer the sign of the efficacy of the promise; rather, the Resurrection is the sign.

Nevertheless, a new ethics marks the linkage of freedom to hope — what Moltmann calls the ethics of the mission (Sendung); the promissio involves a missio, in the mission, the obligation which engages the present proceeds from the promise, opens the future. But more precisely, the mission signifies something other than an ethics of duty, just as the passion for the possible signifies something other than what is arbitrary. The practical awareness of a “mission” is inseparable from the deciphering of the signs of the new creation, of the tendential character of the Resurrection, to quote Moltmann once more.

The mission would thus be the ethical equivalent of hope, just as the passion for the possible was its psychological equivalent.

This second trait of freedom in the light of hope removes us further than the first trait did from the existential interpretation, which is too much centered on the present decision; for the ethics of the mission has communitarian, political, and even cosmic implications, which the existential decision, centered on personal interiority, tends to hide. A freedom open to new creation is in fact less centered on subjectivity, on personal authenticity, than on social and political justice; it calls for a reconciliation which itself demands to be inscribed in the recapitulation of all things.

. . .

Hope, insofar as it is hope of resurrection, is the living contradiction of what it proceeds from and what is placed under the sign of the Cross and death. According to an admirable phrase of the Reformers, the Kingdom of God is hidden under its contrary, the Cross. If the connection between the Cross and the Resurrection is of the order of paradox and not of logical mediation, freedom in the light of hope is not only freedom for the possible but, more fundamentally still, freedom for the denial of death, freedom to decipher the signs of the Resurrection under the contrary appearance of death.”

Both essays are in Paul Ricoeur, Essays on Biblical Interpretation, ed. Lewis S. Mudge (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), http://www.religion-online.org/book/essays-on-biblical-interpretation.

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