“Hermeneutic of Love” a selection by N.T. Wright

Only N.T. Wright can make hermeneutics sound so romantic. I teared up a little bit reading this.


“In love, at least in the idea of agape as we find it in some parts of the New Testament, the lover affirms the reality and the otherness of the beloved. Love does not see to collapse the beloved into terms of itself; and even though it may speak of losing itself in the beloved, such a loss always turns out to be a true finding. In the familiar paradox, one becomes fully oneself when losing oneself to another. In the fact of love, in short, both parties are simultaneously affirmed.

When applied to reading texts, this means that the text can be listened to on its own terms, without being reduced to the scale of what the reader can or cannot understand at the moment. If it is puzzling, the good reader will pay it the compliment of struggling to understand it, of living with it and continuing to listen. But however close the reader gets to understanding the text, the reading will still be peculiarly that reader’s reading: the subjective is never lost, nor is it necessary or desirable that it should be. At this level, ‘love’ will mean ‘attention’: the readiness to let the other be the other, the willingness to grow and change in oneself in relation to the other. When we apply this principle to all three stages of the reading process– the relation of readers to texts, of texts to their authors, and beyond that to the realities they purport to describe– it affirm both that the text does have a particular viewpoint from which every thing is seen, and at the same time that the reader’s reading is not mere ‘neutral observation’. Second, we can affirm both that the text has a certain life of its ownand that the author had intentions of which we can in principle gain at least some knowledge. Third, we can affirm both that the actions or objects described may well be, in principle, actions and objects in the public world, and that the author was looking at them from a particular, and perhaps distorting, point of view. At each level we need to say both-and, not just either-or.

Each stage of this process becomes a conversation, in which misunderstanding is likely, perhaps even inevitable, but in which, through patient listening, real understanding (and real access to external reality) is actually possible and to describe it as an epistemology or hermeneutic of love– as the only sort of theory which will do justice to the complex nature of texts in general, of history in general, and of the gospels in particular. Armed with this, we will be able to face the questions and challenges of reading the New Testament with some hope of making sense of it all.”

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.


2 thoughts on ““Hermeneutic of Love” a selection by N.T. Wright

  1. not only is this blog wonderful, but it’s ironic. i think i have to pay it the compliment of reading it over to gain more insight. why can’t i just stop time so that i can delve into each and every post? i feel like i have to divide my time equally to each of your blogs. not “have to” in the general sense, but in my eyes…

  2. you know… i read something the other day from this girl named Amber Rae who really does have some good stuff, but i think she is a little off base when she posted this: “‘Never apologize for showing feelings. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.’ – Benjamin Disraeli”

    i had to respond with the fact that our feelings aren’t necessarily truth. haven’t we all overreacted at some point? haven’t we all realized that certain emotions we’ve felt flare up in us, possibly consume us to believe they’re truth, were totally off-base?

    i love this: “if it is puzzling, the good reader will pay it the compliment of struggling to understand it, of living with it and continuing to listen.”

    i need to find myself a good reader to complement me. (and if i was speaking instead of writing, i would follow that up with “pun intended”.)

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