Mind the Gap: the Hermeneutical Problem of Distanciation

Whilst little Persephone had chicken pox on our lovely summer holiday in Tuscany last week, someone had to sit with her whilst she slept and the rest of the family went to the beach. It turned out to be a real gift of some extra time to write about something that has been on my mind for a long time and especially so after the ‘shared conversations’ at General Synod last month.

When we read ancient texts like the Bible, we’re often aware of just how much they belong to a world different to our own. At its most extreme, this can lead us to conclude that the text has nothing to say to us because of this historical gap. Even when we see Scripture as authoritative, this sense of historical distance can cause complications when it comes to applying Scripture to our own lives. This is the hermeneutical problem known as distanciation. In my article ‘New Directions in Early Christian Hermeneutics and Distanciation: Mind the Gap’ (coming out in the journal Theology early next year), I argue that distanciation is a by-product of Modernity and its ideas of history as something that progresses. I explore how early Christian interpretation of Scripture couldn’t have had a problem with distanciation because, even though some NT authors express a sense of the historical origins of the texts they interpret, they understood that they themselves were part of the story Scripture tells about God and his people.