Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Paul Ricoeur and the Biblical Hermeneutics

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Paul Ricoeur and the Biblical Hermeneutics

Article excerpt

Abstract: The main aim of this paper is to analyze the texts in which Paul Ricoeur discusses the relation between biblical and philosophical hermeneutics and to argue that biblical hermeneutics is the central part of Ricoeur's philosophical project. If the modern hermeneutics (Schleiermacher, Dilthey, etc.) aims to reveal the general principles of interpretation that can be applied to every text, including the sacred one, Ricoeur's biblical hermeneutics reveals the limits of general hermeneutics when it deals with an unusual text. The consequences of the biblical hermeneutics refer to specific problems such as revelation and faith, but also to philosophical themes such as the self and its place in the world.

Key Words: Biblical Hermeneutics, Exegesis, Interpretation, Paul Ricoeur, Text, Discursive Forms, Narration, Self


The purpose of this text is to analyze the way in which Paul Ricoeur discusses the relation between philosophical and biblical hermeneutics. I argue that biblical hermeneutics, especially because of its ontological and existential consequences, is the central part of Ricoeur's philosophical project.

Starting with the universal philosophical hermeneutics of Schleiermacher and Dilthey the following question appeared: Are there general rules of interpretation that can also be properly applied to a very special text as the sacred one? Or, on the contrary, must the philosophical hermeneutics rethink its status at the meeting with exceptional texts and phenomena? Does not philosophical hermeneutics have much more to learn from its meeting with biblical hermeneutics than conversely?1 Biblical hermeneutics takes from the philosophical hermeneutics a minimal organon, which Ricoeur exposed in an answer given to Don Ihde, an organon that includes the categories of text and interpretation, the explanation-understanding dialectics, and the reflection on the role of the reader and of community.2 But biblical hermeneutics is not a simple application of general hermeneutics, mainly due to the absolute originality of the central referent of the Bible (the name of God and of Christ) and of the world proposed by it, called the Kingdom of God.3

Ricoeur discusses this issue in several writings, the most important being: the chapter "Introduction to Bultmann" from The Conflict of Interpretations (1969) and the chapter "Philosophical Hermeneutics and Biblical Hermeneutics" from the book From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics II (1986), initially published in the collective volume Exegesis. Problèmes de méthode et exercices de lecture.4 To these we may add some texts which were generally published in collective volumes which develop one aspect or another of the mentioned issue.5

Hermeneutics of the Text and the Analysis of Discursive Forms

Interpretation became a genuine philosophical problem when it was no longer understood as a secondary aspect of philosophy, but was recognized as an independent phenomenon, worthy of being investigated for itself. This happened when, in addition to the already existing special hermeneutics (sacred, legal, literary), a general hermeneutics was also formed (Scheiermacher, Dilthey), which meant to be a universal methodology of understanding, applicable to any type of text. In the twentieth century, together with Heidegger's and Gadamer's phenomenological projects, hermeneutics defined itself as an ontology, namely as an interpretation (Auslegung) of the being of man, a being whose constitution is a hermeneutical one. Between the two orientations - the hermeneutics of texts and that of existence - there seems to be a significant difference. Paul Ricoeur's philosophical reflections explore exactly this distance that seemed to be irreconcilable. Although he seems to rather choose a methodological hermeneutics, he does not exclude for any moment the ontological stake of hermeneutics. After dealing in his first papers especially with the issue of symbol, his writings from the second period (starting with the 70s) highlight the concept of text. …

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