Mapping Triadic Vistas: A Commentary on the Work of Peter Ochs in Response to Leora Batnitzky

H. Peter Kang,
University of Virginia

The best professional theologians, like the best professors of literature, are those who have the humility, empathy, and skill helpfully to describe and assess the work of those whose inspiration may greatly exceed their own.
—George Lindbeck [1]


A recent article by Leora Batnitzky on Peter Ochs’s work provides the frame of reference for this paper. In her article, Batnitzky helpfully flags some ambiguities in Ochs’s writing that could point to an implicit self-undermining tension in his overall project. By way of response, this paper attempts to re-map some of the densest areas in Ochs’s thought in a way that hopefully resolves those ambiguities. The proposed delineation is divided into four sections. The first seeks to clarify Ochs’s critique of binarism by making a few key distinctions in terminology and explaining the basic logic behind that critique. The second section presents the basic components of Ochs’s use of triadic logic and touches briefly on the relation between “A-reasonings” and “B-reasonings.” This section also introduces George Lindbeck as a conversation partner whose work can help show, by way of analogy, what Ochs means by these things. The third section examines Batnitzky’s larger suggestion that there exists “an insurmountable tension” between Judaism and Christianity. Agreeing with her assessment of the traditions, I try to show why Lindbeck’s critique of supersessionism complicates the idea that that tension is intrinsically related to Christian self-understanding. The paper concludes, in the fourth section, with an attempt to display what an “Ochsian” style of scriptural reasoning might look like in response to Lindbeck’s call for a new doctrine of non-supersessionism.


In the article, “Pragmaticism and Biblical Hermeneutics: Some Comments on the Work of Peter Ochs,” Leora Batnitzky identifies what she claims is an underlying “tension” in Ochs’s work. Employing a pragmatic means of correction, she articulates some possible implications of that tension, which, to be sure, Ochs would not want to affirm. It is a classical pedagogical technique, one that I often use with my students. For example, when I lead discussions about marriage in a class on religious ethics, I will often say things like, “You just said that the purpose of marriage is for procreation, does that mean that you think infertile couples should be barred from getting married? No? Then perhaps we need to clarify what we mean when we talk about the purpose of marriage…” Along similar lines, Batnitzky’s corrective of Ochs’s work proves extremely helpful because it calls attention to several areas of Ochs’s writing where he needs to be clearer about what he means. The “tension” in his work that Batnitzky identifies is as follows:


On the one hand, Ochs’s biblical hermeneutics is based on the commitment not to apply external standards to scripture but to allow scripture to speak for itself. Yet on the other hand, Ochs is also committed both philosophically and theologically to the view that rules of meaning must continually be adjusted to new conditions. [2]

If I understand Batnitzky correctly, the undesirable implication of this tension is that Ochs’s work on pragmatism and biblical hermeneutics “leaves unanswered how to account for real difference between particular groups.” [3] As she observes, Ochs’s commitment to allow rules of meaning to be adjusted to new conditions is the underlying justification for his promotion of inter-Abrahamic groups like the Children of Abraham Institute (CHAI) and Scriptural Reasoning (SR). However, she suggests, if Ochs is true to his commitment to allow scripture to speak for itself, then the guiding vision of these groups would seem untenable. To illustrate this point, she cites Ochs’s description of CHAI in the article “Abrahamic Theo-politics: A Jewish View” in which he writes, “All of them [Jew, Christians, and Muslims] are children of Abraham; the participants [in the Children of Abraham Institute] recognize one another as servants of the same God of Abraham, and they encounter one another as one would a messenger of that God.” [4] Her concern with this description is that, if you really allow scripture to speak for itself, then it would not seem possible for the participants in these groups to recognize one another as servants of the same God of Abraham.

Focusing on the relationship between Jews and Christians, Batnitzky suggests that when you allow scripture to speak for itself, an insurmountable tension arises between the two groups. In both groups’ traditional self-understanding, she claims, the relationship between them is “one of dispossession and not merely discord.” [5] If they are to work together, she concludes, it must be because of shared pragmatic goals and not because of reasons that emerge from their particular readings of scripture. If that were really the case, then not only would Ochs have violated his commitment to allow scripture to speak for itself, but also the reasoning behind his various projects of inter-Abrahamic collaboration would be implicitly rooted in the very binaries of modernity that he so vehemently wants to correct.

Batnitzky’s corrective proves most helpful. Her paper displays the potential tensions that can arise from Ochs’s writing. After years of study in Ochs’s “oral tradition” of commentary on his own work, I can confidently say that the problem is not a matter of his thinking, but of his presentation. Thus, as my own humble means of “corrective,” I will try to play the Levite to his Ezra by offering an interpretive re-presentation of Ochs’s thought in a way that hopefully helps readers, like me, who have difficulty understanding what he means when he speaks about “reparative rules” and “the logic of scripture.”

This analysis will proceed in four sections. In the first section I offer a few words about binaries, dyads and binarisms—a theme that appears ubiquitously throughout Ochs’s writing. I then show why the tension Batnitzky identifies in Ochs’s work creates a real problem for him if understood in binary terms. For that reason it is important to clarify the reasoning behind Ochs’s triadic semiotic. In the second section I offer that clarification using the work of George Lindbeck as a conversation partner. In the third section, I then explore why it is important to understand Ochs’s argument by examining Batnitzky’s claim that there exists an insurmountable tension between Judaism and Christianity. Agreeing with her assessment of the tradition, I nonetheless try to show how Ochs’s work can help us understand the reasoning of Christians, like Lindbeck, who reject the logic of supersessionism. Finally, in the fourth section, I attempt to display an “Ochsian” form of scriptural reasoning by elaborating upon Lindbeck’s claim that the church now needs to make non-supersessionism a doctrine.

Binaries, Binarisms, and Those Dastardly Dyads

Most readers familiar with Ochs’s work know that he is highly critical of modern forms of binarism, which he sometimes articulates as a critique of binaries or dyads. It is important to realize that Ochs’s critique of binarisms does not entail the rejection of all uses of dyads and binaries. This is often understated in his writing, but Ochs maintains that there is nothing wrong with dyads and binaries per se. Statements such as “that hurts, stop it,” “this tastes great, can I have some more?” or “help me!” are all valid and important forms of dyadic statements that use a binary logic that Ochs wants to keep. Likewise, when I get caught in the rain and reach for my umbrella I do so according to the dyadic reasoning that this thing (my umbrella) is for stopping what I don’t like (getting wet). That kind of reasoning, according to Ochs, is perfectly fine. It is the kind of reasoning we normally use in our everyday lives, and normally, Ochs would say, “No harm, no foul.” His primary concern, then, is for when there is harm. In situations of suffering, dyads articulated according to binary relations can be both symptoms of and contributors to a condition that calls out for repair. Generally speaking, they contribute to conditions of suffering when we use them where they do not belong. When that happens, according to Ochs, we have lapsed into the error of binarism.

I confess that I am not a professionally trained logician. Few of us are. By “us” I mean, academically trained members of theology and religious studies departments and also members of the “humanities” more broadly. That is why it is can be so difficult for us to read some of Ochs more technical writing. Part of the trouble also stems from the fact that he sometimes uses important terms like “dyad,” “binary,” and “binarism” interchangeably and other times he specifies a difference in their connotations. For our purposes, I suggest we define the terms in the following way (with the caveat that Ochs may use them differently in different essays).


  • A dyad refers to a kind of two-part proposition or judgment. For example, “X is Y” or “Bill is tall.”
  • The term binary can be used in a “weak” and a “strong” sense. [6]
    • In the weak sense, it refers to a relationship of contrariety between two possible predicates of a dyadic judgment. For example, “X is Y” means that “X is not Z” where Y and Z are taken to be contraries, e.g. “Bill is tall” also means that “Bill is not short” where both “tall” and “short” are understood to be incompatible predicates.
    • In the strong sense, binary refers to a contradictory relationship of two terms taken to be the only possible predicates of a dyadic judgment. For example, “X is Y” means that “X is not Z” where Y is the contradictory of Z in a world of discourse where only Y and Z are true claims, e.g. “the light is on” means that “the light is not off” where “on” and “off” are the only possible descriptions for the light.
    • The difference between weak and strong binaries is slight, but significant. For weak binaries, both predicates cannot be true at the same time, but they can be false. For example, “tall or short” qualifies as a weak binary because not all people fit into those two categories, i.e. some people may be of “average” height and thus “neither tall nor short.” The predicates of strong binaries, on the other hand, cannot both be true or both false. A light is either “on” or “off,” but not “both on and off” or “neither on nor off.” For the most part, our concern will be with strong binaries, but it is important to indicate the possible differences in meaning. [7]
  • Binarism names the errant tendency to over generalize a binary distinction beyond its proper domain and use, or to misrepresent some things as binaries when they are not. For example, “If you do not laugh at my jokes, then you must hate me” is misrepresenting a relation as a binary when it is not. Likewise, “Everyone either loves me or hates me” is an errant overgeneralization of a weak binary, (perhaps some are merely mildly annoyed by me). Of course, this does not mean that there are no valid general binaries. “Everyone is either alive or dead at any particular point in time” would seem to be a valid judgment, at least for now.

We can read Ochs’s criticism of binarism as a criticism of the misuse of the laws of non-contradiction and the excluded middle. The technical discussions about these can get complicated very quickly, but for our purposes, let us say that the law of non-contradiction means that something cannot be X and not-X at the same time, e.g. Bill cannot be both “tall” and “not tall” at the same time. The law of the excluded middle states that it is true that something is either X or not-X, e.g. it is true that Bill is “either tall or not tall.” This holds even if Bill is average in height or has no height at all (i.e. he does not exist), since Bill is still accurately described with the predicate “not tall.” In this sense, both “weak” and “strong” binaries use the laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle, but we should note that they do so in significantly different ways depending on the implied “strength of negation” between their incompatible terms.

One of the problems that leads to binarism is a conceptual slippage in what the “not” of “not-X” means in our use of these two laws of logic. X may refer to a subject or predicate such as “Bill” or “tall,” but what does not-X refer to? Ambiguity arises because of the fact that not-X does not refer to anything, indeed it is no-thing; it is simply the privation or negation of X. [8] Yet, when speaking of the relations between positive attributes or existing things, the meaning of not-X varies in significant ways. The negation implied by the statement “a dog is not a mouse” is different from negation implied by the claim that, “on is not off.” The difference lies in the fact that “on” means “not off” whereas the concept “dog” does not include within it the implication “not mouse.” “On/off” is a strong binary contrast pair which adheres to the law of the excluded middle, i.e. it cannot be the case that a light is both on and off or neither on nor off. We do not say the same about the weak binary, “dog/mouse.” [9] “Dog” means “not mouse” just as much as it means “not rat, not bird, not snake, not…ad infinitum.” Thus, while the statement “this animal is a dog” still adheres to the laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle, it does so only in the sense that “not dog” applies to everything that is different from a dog. However, we would think it absurd to say that an animal is either a dog or a mouse in the same way we think a light is either on or off.

Clearly, “dog/mouse” is not a strong binary. In fact, in the world of phenomena and pragmata, few things are. Most of the strong binaries we use are second-order evaluative judgments, e.g. “true/false,” “right/wrong,” “good/evil,” “orthodox/heterodox.” But we often turn weak binaries into strong binaries when we apply these second-order evaluative terms to first-order dyadic propositions. Thus, to say that “this animal is a dog” is “true” is also to say that everything that we consider “not dog” (in the sense of difference) is “false” when applied to “this animal.”

Intuitively, this makes sense to our modern minds. We think, “Of course. When I say this is a dog, I mean this is a dog, not a cat, or a mouse, or a snake, or anything else.” That is why Ochs’s critique of binarisms can seem so counterintuitive. Yet to understand what Ochs is saying, it is important to realize what he is not saying. He is not saying that we should throw out binaries or the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction. We still want people to pass the salt when we say “please pass the salt” and we rightfully assume that this request also implies “not the pepper or sugar or anything else.” Ochs’s main corrective, then, is simply to remind us that these laws do not apply everywhere and at all times. The problem of modern thinking is that we have somehow forgotten this basic fact. We have become so accustomed to thinking in terms of binaries that, by force of habit, we apply binary categories universally. [10] That is the error of binarism which Ochs seeks to correct.

The case that Ochs writes about the most where binary categories are misapplied is the interpretation of scripture. Ochs’s concern is that modern modalities of binary thinking have led us to believe that scripture has only one “sense” or meaning that is readily available to any and all educated readers. The concern is not that we make dyadic claims like “verse X of scripture means Y.” The concern is that, following our habitual binary form of thinking, we then say, “verse X of scripture means Y and only Y in all cases for all time,” which therefore means that “verse X of scripture cannot mean Z (if Z does not indicate or follow from Y).”

This interpretive tendency can arise from two different types of errant assumptions. The first is to assume that certain parts of scripture have only one possible meaning. An example of this would be to claim that “Hagar” clearly refers to a woman, Sarai’s slave-girl given to Abram as a wife (Gen 16:3), and there are no other possible readings. Hence a reading of Hagar as a figure for a covenant, or philosophy or anything else is categorically ruled out as a possibility. The second kind of error is the assumption that, while a passage may have several possible meanings, only one of them is true and the truth of that one meaning necessarily excludes the possibility of others being true. An example of this, which has generated countless debates over interpretation, is the revelation of the Tetragrammaton in Exodus 3. As Ochs explains, the midrashim from Exodus Rabbah offer several different readings of the revealed name: one says it refers to the specific character of God on this occasion, one says it reveals something about God’s essence, one says it is a message of comfort to this people at this moment. [11] All of these are possible readings of the text since, as most will agree, the passage is rather vague. Again, for Ochs there is nothing wrong with making dyadic claims about vague texts like “the Name refers to X.” The problem is the second-order judgment that uses binary reasoning to assert that “X is the true meaning of the Name and therefore all other possible readings are false.” Of course, that does not occur in Exodus Rabbah and it would seem to be a foolish error. Yet it is precisely the kind of reasoning Ochs identifies in most modern practices of reading scripture, whether they use historical-critical, fundamentalist literalist, or liberal universalist methods of interpretation. The problem is not with these methods per se . Ochs still thinks people should do historical-critical research. The problem is that people think these methods warrant claims like “this passage of scripture means Y and can only mean Y (and therefore not Z).” According to Ochs, scripture simply does not speak to us in that way.

With that in mind, we can say that Batnitzky is not wrong when she writes: “Ochs’s biblical hermeneutics is based on the commitment not to apply external standards to scripture but to allow scripture to speak for itself.” [12] However, for this claim to accurately represent his thinking, it is important to recognize what he would mean by “allow scripture to speak for itself.” [13] Similar to Hans Frei’s treatment of “mediating interpretation,” [14] Ochs criticizes methods that operate on the assumption that the meaning of a scriptural text is found in its ostensive referent, which can be separated from the explicative sense of the text. [15] In Ochs’s words, “modern scholars have reduced biblical interpretation to the terms of a dyadic semiotic that lacks warrant in the biblical texts.” [16] Here “dyadic semiotic” refers to what is defined above as a “binary” interpretive method that leads to claims like “this passage of scripture means Y and only Y.” Ochs’s claim, which he also shares with several other “postcritical” or “postliberal” scholars, is that scriptural texts recommend a “triadic semiotic, according to which the text displays its performative meanings with respect to its community of biblical interpreters.” [17] For a simplistic analogy of this: when my mother says “I love you” to my whole family during dinner, the meaning of this statement differs with respect to those who hear it—to me it means one thing, to my father it means something very different. Both meanings can be “true” in relation to the respective hearers without requiring one to think the other’s reception of the statement is false. [18]

According to Batnitzky, “Ochs’s commitment to adjusting the rules of meaning to new circumstances is in tension with his commitment to allow scripture to speak for itself.” [19] This assessment would be spot on if we assumed that when we allow scripture to “speak for itself” it speaks according to the assumptions of binary reasoning. If, when scripture speaks for itself, it reveals one and only one particular meaning that is accessible to all educated readers, then Ochs would have a real problem. Scripture speaking for itself would imply the negation of the idea that rules of meaning must be adjusted to new circumstances (and vice versa). This is why it is important to clarify that, for Ochs, when scripture “speaks” it speaks to some particular community according to that community’s set of deep-seated interpretive rules. Hence, when we allow scripture to “speak for itself” we find that scripture never “speaks to itself.” Rather, it speaks to a particular interpretive community according to that community’s habitual rules of reading, which, to be sure, can change according to the given circumstances.

Some may chaff at this idea and say that God simply does not speak that way, just as one might claim that God would never ask a man to sacrifice his child. [20] But that is a different kind of critique than one that claims Ochs’s thought is self-undermining and/or incoherent. The aim of this re-presentation is simply to clarify what Ochs says about some of his more complicated ideas. Whether or not those ideas are correct is beyond what I can hope to adjudicate here.

Thy A, B, Threes

In a sense, we could say that what Batnitzy identifies as a “tension” in Ochs’s work is actually the point of Ochs’s work. That is to say, for Ochs, to allow scripture to “speak for itself” is to attend to the triadic semiotic that scripture itself invites. To describe this semiotic in a sentence, a genuine symbol is “a sign that refers to its object (or meaning) with respect to some particular interpretant (or system of deep-seated rules).” [21] Unpacking what this means is the task of this section.



We begin by way of detour, with a short discussion of something that might at first glance appear to have nothing to do with scriptural hermeneutics: particle physics. This discussion, though seemingly tangential, provides a useful analogy that will help illuminate Ochs’s conception of triadic semiotics/logic. It should also shed some light on Ochs’s conception of triadic semiotics/logic and also shed some light on his enigmatic interest in post-Newtonian science.

Prior to the early twentieth century, most modern scientists assumed that accurate descriptions of natural laws and physical properties would adhere to a bivalent (or “two-valued”) system of logic. Thus, for example, according to the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction, an object could either be “here” or “there,” but not both at the same time. Most importantly, the object’s position as being “here” or “there” would be the case irrespective of whether or not it was being observed. This makes sense to us according to our everyday thinking. If I leave a book in my bag, I assume it is still there when no one is looking at it and I also think that it would be ridiculous to say “the book is in my bag and not in my bag at the same time.” That is why quantum theory seems so strange to most people when they first learn about it. It seems to violate the norms of our everyday thinking. In fact, some scientists at the time of its initial formulation refused to accept it because they thought the implications were too “spooky” to be true. [22] Nevertheless, new discoveries in quantum mechanics, which began in the early twentieth century, continue to suggest that the world may be much more “spooky” than we think.

Beginning in the 1920s, the results of various different scientific experiments began to show that the behavior of sub-atomic particles could no longer be coherently described according to the terms of bivalent logic. For instance, the results of the famous double-slit experiment seem to indicate that sub-atomic particles sometimes act like waves and sometimes act like particles, depending on the set-up of the experiment. Moreover, questions framed in the categories of binary logic about the location of a particle when it is not being observed (i.e. “is it actually here or there?”) appear nonsensical. This is because a particle is only “here” or “there” during moments of observation, i.e. when it passes through the slits. However, if left unobserved when passing through the slits, before the particle hits the photo plate it is, or at least is in potentia , both “here” and “there” and perhaps neither “here” nor “there.” Finally, and this is one of the most shocking conclusions of these experiments, the behavior one finds appears to be determined by the means of observation one chooses to use. If one chooses to observe the electron passing through the slits, the resulting image on the photo plate will indicate particle-like behavior. Yet, when left unobserved, it displays a wave dispersion pattern. Thus, as one particle physicist colloquially describes it, “asking a particle-like question…gives a particle-like answer; asking a wavelike question…gives a wavelike answer.” [23] According to the now widely accepted Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, this means that, prior to asking the question, the behavior and location of a particle remains not only indeterminable, but indeterminate as such. [25]

To be sure, Ochs’s defense of triadic semiotics does not stand or fall with the results of quantum theory. Quantum theory certainly does not “prove” any of what Ochs says about semiotics any more than it would “disprove” what he says if it were superseded by another scientific paradigm in the future. The comparison is simply meant to show that Ochs is not alone in his thinking and that the logic of his theory finds precedent in what scientists have been claiming for the last eighty years. Put simply, quantum physics accepts the idea that certain kinds of things resist binary logic. However, and this is important, that does not necessarily render them illogical or unintelligible. Wave-like behavior and particle-like behavior are mutually exclusive, which means that according to the categories of binary logic, subatomic particles cannot display both. Nevertheless, they do. The behavior they display is determined relative to the chosen method of observation. Yet, because this determination is relative, that does not make it relativistic. The displayed behavior of a subatomic particle is not completely controlled by the will of the scientific observer. One cannot, for example, make an electron display “birdlike” behavior because that is what one is looking for. The displayed behavior of subatomic particles still follows an intelligible “diagramable” logic, that logic is simply not a binary one. Until it is observed, it is neither true nor false that a given electron acts like a wave. After observation, however, the claim “this electron acts like a wave” is, in fact, true or false. What is peculiar about quantum mechanics is that the claim is rendered true or false only in relation to the way we choose to observe it.

To summarize, then, a subatomic particle only displays a determinate behavior with respect to a specific method of observation, and only with respect to a specific method of observation can we say a subatomic particle (like an electron) acts in a determinate way (i.e. like a wave or a particle). Mapped in terms of the logical relations, therefore, X (the subatomic particle) is Y (wave-like or particle-like) in relation to Z (the method of observation).




With that in mind, we can now return to Ochs’s central claim about triadic semiotics. As mentioned above, according to Ochs, a “genuine symbol” is “a sign that refers to its object (or meaning) with respect to some particular interpretant (or system of deep-seated rules).” [26] This is essentially the gist of his discussions of triadic logic as well; since as he explains, the semiotic is offered as a set of conventions for diagramming patterns and rules of reasoning. To be sure, not every sign is a genuine symbol. Ochs, following Peirce, distinguishes symbols from indices and icons . For our purposes, however, we need only focus on the category of symbols, since that is what is at play in most of Ochs’s discussions about scripture. Although scriptural texts do not always function as genuine symbols (in fact, they oftentimes do not), Ochs’s primary concern lies with the cases in which they do. In such cases, he claims scripture functions according to the following description:


A symbol refers to its object by virtue of some implicit law that causes the symbol to be interpreted as referring to that object. In other words, a symbol displays its meaning only to a particular interpretant, but it is not fully subject to the interpreter’s attributions. Instead, a symbol influences the way its interpretant attributes meaning to it. The symbol therefore engages its interpretant in some practice, or what we may call a tradition of meaning. Transferring agency to the interpreter, the symbol also grants the interpreter some freedom to transform the way in which that meaning will be retransmitted. [27]

This is a paradigmatic description of the semiotic function of symbols in Ochs’s theory of scriptural interpretation. To help us understand it, I turn now to an example of what this semiotic looks like displayed in the writings of someone Ochs has long identified himself with: George Lindbeck.

It might seem strange to pair Ochs with someone like Lindbeck—a Christian theologian who is self-consciously focused on the work of ecumenism—but closer inspection should make the affinities between the two more apparent.

Doctrine, in Lindbeck’s sense, functions much in the way that the interpretant does in relation to the symbol. It is a formulation of the unstated grammar which regulates the “first-order” discourse of the church. The difference, of course, is that doctrines are concrete articulations of the grammar and not the vague unstated habits which comprise the interpretant. Throughout the majority of our everyday lives, we very rarely articulate the “grammar” (or rules) by which we are able to act and communicate in a meaningful way. Indeed, we only call our unstated rules of meaning into question when something breaks down in our ability to do those things.

The articulation of doctrine marks such occasions within the Christian community, according to Lindbeck. As he writes, “for the most part, only when disputes arise about what it is permissible to teach or practice does a community make up its collective mind and formally make a doctrinal decision.” [28] These disputes usually arise because members of the community are actually teaching or practicing in a way that foments discord within the church and not because of hypothetical problems or “paper doubts.” [29] In this sense, the formulation of doctrine is best understood as a corrective rather than a constructive project. As Lindbeck writes, doctrines “must be understood in terms of what they oppose (it is usually much easier to specify what they deny than what they affirm).” [30] In other words, though positively formulated, the function of doctrines is primarily apophatic—they indicate what cannot be said. For example, the doctrinal formulation “fully divine, fully human” clearly rules out claims that Jesus is “not fully divine” (Arianism and Adoptionism) or “not fully human” (Doceticism). Yet the positive meaning of the doctrine is not so clear, or at least cannot be stated coherently as a proposition. This is not to say that doctrines are merely regulative. Like what Ochs calls reparative diagrams, doctrines “diagram the reasoning that might redeem the suffering of [a community], which includes reasoning about the cause of that suffering.” [31] In other words, the negative function of indicating what cannot be said (the cause of suffering) comes though the affirmation of what can be said (the redemptive rule). “Fully divine fully human” still has positive meaning for Lindbeck, but he would say that the meaning is only made manifest through the ongoing discourse and practices of the community that witnesses to Christ. Hence, like Ochs’s diagrams, doctrines function “like shorthand… [to] help some members of the community remember certain complex rules of practice within the community.” [32]

Along these lines, there is a sense in which Lindbeck would say that the church would be better off if there were no doctrines, or to be more accurate, if the church did not need them. This is a point frequently passed over by his interpreters, but it seems key to understanding the ecumenical thrust of his theory. According to Lindbeck, the official directives of doctrines are often “clumsy” and are “poor substitutes for inspiration.” [33] It would be preferable, therefore, if everyone in the church simply knew by “connaturality” whether specific teachings and practices are in conformity with the Spirit and the rule of faith. To use an image from scripture, it would be better if everyone simply had the law placed in their hearts and did not need to have it spelled out for them in writing. [34] But, as Lindbeck writes, “saints and prophets are rare,” and, in times of discord, the community may need to be admonished through the display of “exemplary instantiations or paradigms of the application of rules,” which, although clumsy, are better than “uninspired and unreflective prejudice.” [35]


Given this understanding of doctrine, Lindbeck suggests that some of the most important aspects of Christianity could be completely ignored by doctrinal formulations simply because they have never been questioned within the first-order discourse of the church. Only in the context of doubt or conflict would we articulate and thereby reform our unstated habits. Usually this reform can happen without much difficulty—we have habits for fixing our habits. But what do we do when our habits of repair break down? For Lindbeck, the answer lies in the reformation principle of sola scriptura . Christian habits, he suggests, come from shared life in a community shaped by the narrative of scripture. Thus only by way of scripture will the community be able to articulate and begin to repair the cause of the community’s suffering. Like Ochs, however, Lindbeck thinks that reformation “by scripture alone” does not entail the rejection of interpretive traditions. For Lindbeck, the meaning of scripture can never be divorced from the living community for whom the text functions as scripture. Thus the return to scripture does not mean a back-to-the-basics form of interpretation ex nihilo ; it means re-reading scripture in relation to a community’s tradition of interpretation with the intention of repairing that community’s present system of practices. When this happens, in Ochs’s sense, scripture begins to function as a genuine symbol.

As a genuine symbol, scripture signifies triadically; it reveals its meaning to a community according that community’s deep-seated habits of interpretation (or “interpretant”). The process of reform names the dialogical encounter between scripture and interpretant whereby the interpretant is reformed through the community’s re-reading of scripture. For Lindbeck, reforming an interpretant does not mean inventing a new rule of reading. Rather it means articulating a previously unstated rule of reading already present within the first-order discourse of the community. This articulation both uncovers and corrects errant practices of interpretation which are also present in the community’s first-order discourse. While this may sound novel, according to Lindbeck, this account of reformation is simply a new way of affirming the primordial church doctrine: lex orandi lex credendi .

To affirm the rule lex orandi lex credendi is to affirm the priority of practice over theory. It is also to confidently maintain that “the Holy Spirit guides the church into truth.” [36] On the deepest level, Lindbeck suggests, the discourse of the church is not guided by doctrinal formulations, it is guided by the Spirit who “helps us in our weakness” and intercedes with “sighs too deep for words.” [37] On this account, the task of theology is not to introduce new models of God or to produce innovative construals of information superadded to the community’s current discourse and practice. Rather, the theologian’s first job is to attend to the community’s deposit of faith and to listen for the blowings of the Spirit who “will instruct you in everything.” [38] Lindbeck writes:


It is on the level of practice, the first-order use of Scripture in life and thought, that the Spirit primarily guides. That is why theory which is obedient to the Spirit seeks to be descriptive. It does not presume to improve on Spirit-guided practice, but rather seeks to identify and correct errors by first-order interpretation’s own implicit standards. [39]

Some may balk at the suggestion that the primary disposition of the theologian is one of obedience. Additionally, critics will point to examples of atrocities committed by Christians throughout history as evidence that theology should not give such a high priority to tradition or the community. Lindbeck’s basic response would be that, those who trust in God’s providential guidance of the church also maintain the belief that “God does not leave himself without witnesses in the church even when it is unfaithful.” [40] This does not mean that the church is never unfaithful; in fact, for Lindbeck, it often is. Yet, he would argue that the history of doctrinal developments which have produced reparative rules for the community is itself a sign that God remains faithful to his chosen people and upholds his promise to send his Spirit, who will help them in their weakness and guide them into truth.

Restated in Ochs’s terms, doctrines are “B-reasonings” which point to the activity of a redemptive “A-reasoning.” We cannot diagram our reparative A-reasonings (or underlying habits of repair) as such. To think that we can is the error of foundationalism. Every reparative diagram, insofar as it is a clearly stated articulation, is a B-reasoning. Yet, following Peirce, Ochs suggests that we can view the process of diagramming rules of repair as itself a diagram of A-reasonings. [41] While the written diagrams are still B-reasonings, the activity which produced them draw upon hidden A-reasoning. Thus not the diagrams but the movement between them serves as an icon which indexically points to hidden A-reasonings at work. Each doctrine, then, is an articulated B-reasoning, but the activity through which they were formulated is A-reasoning. For Lindbeck, this is an activity guided by the Spirit. The traces of Spirit’s guidance of the Church can be found, not in the doctrines themselves, but in the development of doctrine through history.

Another way to think about A and B-reasonings is in relation to the process of abduction. Abduction is the mode of reasoning used during hypothesis formation. It is what we do when we solve riddles for the first time. Most riddles ask you to find a missing subject that can account for a series of predicates uncommonly grouped together. For example, “what walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?” Now, since most are familiar with this riddle, the answer no longer comes through the process of abduction. However, the first time one solves it, not knowing the answer ahead of time, one must ask, what can account for this seemingly random assortment of predicates? Abduction names the process through which one generates the hypothesis—”a man,” but that may come only after hours of abductive contemplation formulating unsatisfactory hypotheses: “a dog that has a horrible accident in the afternoon but also has regenerative abilities…?” No. “An agile horse that has discovered how to walk on its hind legs and does so from time to time until it gets tired and has to put a leg down for support…?” No. When formulating these hypotheses, I draw upon a wealth of unstated knowledge. However, unlike computers, the mind does not try to solve the riddle through “brute force” by comparing every combination of every possible bit of information in my head. Not only would that process take longer than my lifetime, it is not clear how one could even do such a thing, since most times I am not aware (or do not remember) that I know something until I produce it in relation to some “trigger.” Instead, the mind tries to solve the riddle using something else, and that something else is abduction. But here is where things get complicated. I cannot articulate in a clear way what my mind was doing when formulating these hypotheses. The elision of agency here is intentional. It is not clear that “I” (understood as my empirical ego) do anything during the process of abduction. Consider common idioms like “it came to me in the night” or “then it hit me” or “it struck me like a bolt of lightning (or a falling apple).” These are all used to describe the event of formulating a hypothesis that solves a problem. Yet, the use of externalized imagery suggests that these events are not the products of the will. This should actually ring true for most of us who have struggled for long periods of time trying to figure out how something “makes sense.” I can desire to find a solution to a problem all day long, but I cannot make my mind find it or will it into being. And yet, when it finally happens, the solution is often elegantly simple and normally something that “I have known all along” or was “right under my nose the whole time” and was “staring me in the face.” Hence the common response to others’ inventions is, “why didn’t I think of that?” which presumes it to be the case that “I could have thought of that” given what I already know and for some reason “I didn’t.”

In Ochs’s terms, the product of this so-called “eureka moment” is the diagram of a B-reasoning (derived through a process of abduction that draws upon a wealth of vague and unstated A-reasonings) that solves a problem. Of course, Ochs’s concern lies not with simple riddles, but situations of suffering that call out for repair. The focus is on problems within a community that draw on that community’s own tradition of discourse and practice in order to articulate yet-unstated rules that can repair the community’s suffering. Although it is possible that anyone within the community could alight on the reparative rule, it is more likely that the reparative reasoning will come through those who are “experts.” These would be the people trained in their community’s tradition of discourse and practice who have thus learned how to discern a broader array of the community’s A-reasonings. [42] For that reason, a certain degree of hierarchy is inevitable in the process of repair.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that we call our medical professionals by the same name as the historic representatives of “eminent learning” in the church. As doctors, these figures have used their expertise and vast training to repair sufferings in the Body. Along these lines, as Lindbeck’s argument suggests, the theologian’s job is to listen to the “symptoms” of the community and then to determine which appropriate formulation of doctrine (or medicine) applies in given situations and to prescribe how to use it. More often than not, already existing doctrines suffice to remedy the problem if properly used (and this applies to the behavior of most “sick” Christians responsible for atrocities associated with the tradition). However, on rare occasions, the existing habits of repair fail to work. We have yet higher forms of expertise used to repair the habits of repair (for example, the science of medicine and then the philosophy of science). But on the rarest of occasions, these higher habits of repair fail to fix the problem. Then and only then is it appropriate, according to Lindbeck, for the theologian to consider articulating a new doctrinal formulation out of keeping with tradition. [43] As he writes:


Those who believe in God’s guidance of the church will first seek to hear God’s word in the community’s interpretations. It is only with fear and trembling and when conscience is compelled by Scripture itself that they will reject a reflective consensus as one which God never ordained (although, of course, they will believe that he permits it for his unfathomable purposes just as he permitted Israel’s rejection of the Messiah according to St. Paul). [44]

Now, because the logic of this argument may seem to suggest that “all roads lead to Rome,” it is important to note that Lindbeck is Lutheran. It is also important to remember that, as we saw above, almost all of Lindbeck’s work has fairly explicit ecumenical intentions. In keeping with the idea that theology is medicinal, given the current fractured state of the Body, Lindbeck argues that, ecumenism must be the primary aim of contemporary theology. As he says, in one of his most striking statements, “the Eucharist tastes bitter in a divided church.” [45] The church is meant to be a “communal sign of the promised redemption, in the time between the times.” [46] However, when we “neglect the household of faith” he argues, “the church becomes not a sign but a countersign, a contributor to that human confusion which is the opposite of God’s design.” [47]

Surprisingly, Lindbeck suggests that the path forward for ecumenical reconciliation leads not to Rome or Wittenberg but to Israel. In his terms, Christian communities desperately need to recover a non-supersessionist understanding of the church as Israel “for their own intramural and ecumenical health.” [48]

From “Them” to “We” Under the Sign of a Tree

We should note that there are really two issues at play in Batnitzky’s critique of Ochs’s work. The first is about the character of Jewish and Christian self-understanding as such. The second is about the overall coherence of Ochs’s thought. For Batnitzky, the first leads to the second. By way of response, we move from the second back to the first. In other words, we begin with insights derived from Ochs’s broader thought and then use them to evaluate questions about Jewish and Christian self-understanding. Specifically, we will use Ochs’s theory as a way to help explain why Christians like George Lindbeck are now calling for a doctrine of non-supersessionism, which requires a radical shift in contemporary Christian self-understanding.

In relation to the question about the coherence of Ochs’s thought, Batnitzky makes the damning assessment: “For all its stimulating exploration of the formal, and hence universal, dimensions of particularity, Ochs’s initial work on pragmatism and biblical hermeneutics leaves unanswered how to account for real difference between particular groups of people.” [49] To be clear, the association here between “formal” and “universal” is Batnitzky’s not Ochs’s. In fact, much of what Ochs’s work tries to accomplish is to provide a way to speak with formal coherence about particular things without making the totalizing step to the universal. He thinks he can do this with triadic logic, which has vagueness, and thus openness to particularity, built into the “system.” Analogous to quantum theory, then, the formal dimension of Ochs’s triadic semiotic makes it technically precise, but also de facto open to unpredictability and new particularity. In a sense, it achieves this by attending to the dative “to” or “for” which is implicit in all our dyadic statements. We may only say, “X is Y” but Ochs argues that underlying that claim is a hidden “for Z” which normally goes unstated. The whole point of bringing that out is to provide us with a means to talk sensibly about the difference between particular groups of people while navigating the modern Scylla and Charybdis of totalism and relativism.

The real issue for Batnitzky, then, is not with Ochs’s method per se, but with the fact that she thinks he does not stay true to it. If Ochs really adhered to his “postcritical affirmation of particularity,” she reasons, he would see that “an insurmountable tension between Judaism and Christianity inevitably remains.” [50] In other words, even if we attend to the triadic nature of interpretation, we would see that according each tradition’s long standing rules of self-understanding, the identities of both Christianity and Judaism inherently entail a self-proclaimed judgment of “not them” in relation to the other. In other words, she argues that, if we are speaking in terms of tradition, then we have to recognize that the relation of “us and not them” is theologically basic to the ways in which Jews and Christians have understood their identities throughout history. To support this argument she cites the work of Jon Levenson, an outspoken critic of Ochs’s interreligious proposals in the past. [51] Cutting straight to the point, in an essay with a closely related argument, Batnitzky approvingly accepts that, “Levenson shows that Judaism’s and Christianity’s self-identities are intimately bound up with a theological rejection of each other.” [52] Moreover, she suggests, because each tradition’s claims to universality are rooted in their particular identities, if Jews and Christians want to maintain those identities, “reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity is not, and cannot be, possible.” [53] This is why she claims, “The children of Abraham do not, to use Ochs’s words, ‘encounter one another as one would a messenger of God.'” [54]

Bracketing the question of whether or not we should uncritically accept Levenson’s claims about the self-understanding of early Christians and Jews, [55] it is certainly the case that by the time of Constantine, the vast majority of Christians and Jews understood their identities to be antithetical to one another. From the Christian side, this relation has been displayed through the church’s stance of “supersessionism” toward the Jews, which has persisted throughout most of church history, albeit with varying degrees of severity about what that actually means for how Jews should be treated.

Now, picking up where we left off in the previous section: Lindbeck would fully agree with Batnitzky’s assessment that, traditionally speaking, Christians have understood themselves to be in a relation of “dispossession and not merely discord” with Jews. [56] He would simply tack on the clause, “and that’s the problem.” After years of trying to reconcile “relatively intact and structurally still-Constantinian communions,” Lindbeck came to the surprising conclusion that to repair the ruptures between these communions, the church must first repair its relation to the Jewish people. [57] This conclusion is not something Lindbeck takes credit for inventing. He thinks it is something that has been there all along “staring us in the face” in the deposit of faith. Yet, “it has taken the disasters of Christian apostasy, often disguised as orthodoxy, in combination with historical-critical work to unmask.” [58] The horror of the Shoa is undoubtedly the main trigger for this awareness among Christian theologians and it is a mark of absolute failure that we have come to see only after the fact that it was staring us in the face that says “do not kill me.” [59]

We should be clear, though, Lindbeck’s non-supersessionism is not motivated “out of concern for Jewish safety and guilt for Christian crimes.” [60] Rather, it is driven by the desire for Christian unity and the belief that the logic of supersessionism prevents that. This is not to say that Lindbeck does not care about Jewish safety or Christian guilt, but, frankly speaking, we do not need a new doctrinal formulation for that. These things are covered already in the most basic teachings of the church (when it has ears to hear). [61] Remember, according to Lindbeck, “It is only with fear and trembling and when conscience is compelled by Scripture itself that [those who believe in God’s guidance of the church] will reject a reflective consensus as one which God never ordained.” [62] We must therefore assume Lindbeck chooses his words carefully when he writes:


Supersessionist anti-Judaism… is an instance where the gentile church has reflectively and argumentatively misread Paul, especially Romans 9-11, for close to two thousand years. Fortunately, supersessionism never became formally dogmatic in any major tradition, but yet it is no exaggeration to say that the great majority of Christians, not excepting the theologians whom we most honor as our ancestors in the faith, have at this point heard the voice of the devil quoting Scripture when they thought they were listening to God. [63]

To suggest that the Fathers of the church were not just misled, but led by the devil on this issue is a truly radical claim for someone like Lindbeck. And indeed, he thinks it is precisely time for the church to take a radical turn. He thus answers Nottingham’s call to arms, but he brings with him the message that the “root” ( radix ) to which Christians must return is “of Israel.” In fact, on his reading, only if the church returns to the understanding of itself “as Israel,” will it be able to make straight ( orthos ) its current fissiparous beliefs and praise ( doxa ). However, unlike earlier versions of church-as-Israel ecclesiologies, Lindbeck argues that a return to the understanding of the church as Israel can only come by way of a repudiation of supersessionism. This is because, in his diagnosis, many of the ills of the current ecumenical crisis can be traced back to a pernicious logic of supersessionism which unnaturally springs up like a “root of bitterness” at the origin of the church. What follows is an attempt to expose that root and, as such, it is an intimation of what the process of formulating a doctrine of non-supersessionism might look like.

Seeds of a New Doctrine

As mentioned above, the formulation of doctrine is a corrective measure best understood in relation to what it opposes. Thus, after observing the as-yet uncured sickness (schism), the first step in the process of deriving a reparative rule (doctrine) is to return to the generative sources of the church (scripture, tradition, prayer, etc) for guidance in how to respond (inspiration). This begins a dialogic process of inquiry between the ministers of the church, the sources, and the community where potential diagnoses and prescriptions are examined and tested until something is found (or revealed) within the deposit of faith that can repair the community’s suffering. As such, I cannot formulate a new doctrine, and neither can Lindbeck or any other theologian. What we can do is offer the church provisional assessments, hypothetical diagnoses, and suggestions for possible doctrinal formulations that respond to the context of suffering. Responsive theology of this kind is almost entirely abductive and as such it has a high potential for error. As the eloquent Genève puts it, “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” [64] Hence, “creative” ventures in theology should remember to keep their end in mindk, lest they lose sight of just what they are creating. A formulation of doctrine, if it is trustworthy, will say nothing new, but rather display something already in the deposit of faith (the A-reasonings) that has yet to be explicitly articulated (a B-reasoning) and also has been proven to repair a real problem in the community (the fruits). [65]

This is exactly what Ochs means when he says, “the symbol is the fundamental agent of pragmatic inquiry.” [66] Recall that, for Ochs, “a genuine symbol” is a three-part relation between sign, object, and interpretant. [67] “Pragmatic inquiry” names the process through which a community’s interpretant is reformed in relation to its sign and object. We have called this the development of doctrine. This inquiry is “pragmatic” in the sense that the aim is ultimately to find a way to repair an identified problem within the community. Because the pragmatic maxim is, in essence, “ye shall know them by their fruits,” this investigation will prove trustworthy only if its products actually fix the problem.

Taking an instance of communal suffering as its starting point, a genuine reparative rule will both display the cause of the problem and the way to repair it. This means that, in the lead-up to the articulation of a new doctrine, there must be an extended conversation about potential diagnoses which determines not only the cause of observed problem, but how and why it is the cause. Remember that for Lindbeck, doctrines are more corrective than constructive and this means it is “easier to specify what they deny than what they affirm.” As such, the first step of doctrinal formation will be almost entirely negative, an argument for the apophatic : “do not say X.” After this we can begin to formulate positive alternatives: “say Y instead,” but these only begin to take shape through hundreds of years of ongoing conversation. For example, most Christian theologians are familiar with the errors of Modalism and Tritheism and thus they are able to readily articulate the negative meaning of the Trinity, i.e. not “three Gods” and not “one God perceived in three modes by the believer.” However, the positive meaning of the doctrinal affirmation “three hypostases in one ousia ,” has generated countless debates for almost two millennia. Thus, while I will attempt to offer an example of what the first step in a conversation leading up to the articulation of a new doctrine might look like, I cannot presume to give a full explication of what that doctrine might entail for Christian theology.



Up to this point, we have only asserted the fact that Lindbeck would disagree with Batnitzky’s suggestion that mutual rejection is constitutive of both Jewish and Christian identities. In what follows, I attempt to display the reasoning behind Lindbeck’s position.

Through these probationary theologoumena I also hope to provide a kind of first-recital performance of what an “Ochsian” reparative reading might look like in a Christian context. To be clear, this reading is “Ochsian” only in the sense that it attempts to practice, by analogy, what Ochs has developed within the discourse of his own Jewish tradition. Thus, while “Ochsian,” it is not Ochs’s reasoning. It is the reasoning of a Christian theologian concerned with the repair of the inter-ecclesial household. In the same way that Christians can benefit from reading Jewish philosophers, others may find unexpected fruits in the ensuing discussion. However, the following is explicitly intended for Christian readers:

“I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it.” You have failed to discern the body and “for this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” [68]

The diagnosis that the logic of supersessionism has been breeding a scourge of division in the church can be viewed through the parabolic lens of the community failing to discern the body.

Failing to discern the body ( of Jesus ) is a failure to discern the importance of the physical body of Jesus, a circumcised male Nazarene who “suffered” in a particular place during a particular time: “under Pontius Pilate.” Because of its aversion to things Jewish, supersessionism tends to downplay the Jewishness of Jesus’ flesh. To do so, however, is to say that his particular flesh is actually not that important. In other words, his flesh is important only to the extent that he had it. This quickly leads to ahistoric and pseudo-gnostic depreciations of Christ’s fleshliness all together. The idea of Christ (and it is just that) is then easily reinscribed as a “moral archetype” present in all rational beings, or re-incarnated in a body that “relates to me,” by which I simply mean “reflects me” and thus I conclude that Christ is a half-Korean bearded male. The former renders communal worship with others superfluous, since the leitourgia is really parerga . The latter speaks of community, but only in the sense of discrete homogeneous units with little incentive to unify. With my half-Korean bearded Christ, it is hard to justify why I would want to worship together with an “other” whose Christ is an Afro-Cuban lesbian woman.

Failing to discern the body ( the church ) is the failure to recognize the whole of the community of believers for what it is: the one body in Christ. Supersessionism, by supporting a triumphalist logic of replacement, easily blinds us to this recognition. The logic is structured on the idea that Israel forfeited its status as God’s chosen people because of their lack of faithfulness and refusal to properly recognize Jesus as the messiah. The church, then, replaces Israel as God’s chosen community by being the community that faithfully discerns and responds to God’s action in the world. The danger of this logic is that it suggests that election is predicated on a community’s faithfulness. If election is contingent on the faithfulness of the community, this means that church communities could then forfeit their own elect status if they wander astray. It is no coincidence that during the periods of heated exchange between the Protestants and Catholics after the start of the Reformation both groups denounced each other by using the imagery of unfaithful Israel and the logic of supersessionism. [69] From the moment it became clear that Luther had initiated not a movement of “reform” but a schism through a self-separating public witness ( protestari ), “unfaithfulness” entered theological parlance as a possible description for whole existing Christian communities. This possibility produces a kind of anxiety over election, because any form of errant behavior or belief now means severance and rejection from relation with God. Election thus becomes something that needs to be constantly secured. According to Lindbeck, this desire to secure the status of election leads to a kind of self-righteous aggrandizement in which church communities build themselves up as the “authentic” or “true” church and must denounce other communities as errant and forsaken because of their doctrinal errors. This only intensifies the problematic tendency toward schism within the contemporary church and leads to a situation in which, “Weeping and rejoicing together become impossible because each competing party takes satisfaction in the failures of the others to the degree that these redound to its own advantage.” [70]

Failing to discern the body ( of Israel ) is a failure to recognize the elect status of all of God’s chosen people, regardless of their status of faith. That God chooses to love his people without weighing their merits is the meaning of grace. To have faith in Christ ( pistis christou ) is to trust in the faithfulness of God to his people made manifest in Christ, whose faithfulness ( pistis ) justifies all who sin and fall short of the glory of God. [71] Supersessionism teaches that God’s chosen people can remove themselves from the promise of God that “you shall be my people, and I shall be your God” as if there were an “opt out” clause written in the covenant. If unfaithfulness is the exception to the prohibition on divorce, then God’s grace appears all the more amazing in the fact that, “the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods.” [72] A wife of “whoredom,” then, will love him more who can cast the first stone, but instead forgives her sins and sets her on the Way. [73] Arriving first to the kingdom, she will bless those who come in the name of the Lord. [74] And as the first fruits, the people come forth from among the nations having been called by that NAME whose related sign of circumcision sets them apart from the common ( koinos ). [75] In Christ, that “dividing wall” between clean ( katharos ) and unclean ( koinos ) is broken down. This happens, not by way of a negation of the former—does Christ make unclean ( akathartos ) the clean? By no means!—rather, the tradition’s formers discover that God “makes no distinction between us and them, cleansing ( katharizO ) their hearts through faith ( pistis ).” [76] To then desire a mark of separation superadded to the circumcision of the heart is to deny reconciliation, reject God’s grace and indeed say “Christ died for nothing.” [77] Circumcision is the seal of Abraham’s righteousness, but if taken as justification and authority to boast, it no longer separates between clean and unclean but between oneself and the members of Christ. This, in fact, applies to all boasting ( kauchaomai ) when it means arrogance toward other branches and not ” exulting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” [78] The folly of supersessionism is that the grafted branches think they have reason to boast because they are “seated above” others on the family tree. [79] Such high-mindedness forgets how relations of support actually work. And it makes ingrates out of children adopted in gratis . [80] To cast off ( atheteO ) what God has set apart ( aphorizO ) is to “reject ( atheteo ) not the human, but God” and that which has become the cornerstone of his temple. [81]

Failing to discern the body ( of God ) is a failure to recognize the ways God elects to dwell among us. That he does elect to “tabernacle among us” is the great mystery of our “godliness” ( eusebia ). [82] Our “sacred awe and reverence” is rightly moved by the presence ( shekhinah ) who dwells not only among us, but also in us. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit “is-making-its-home” ( oikeO ) in you?” [83] Would supersessionism say no? For almost two millennia Christians have claimed that the church has replaced the old, flesh-sacrificing, temple with a new “spiritual” one, through the flesh of the one sacrificed for us. The problem here is not the proclamation that he is risen, it is the assumption that, prior to sending “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead,” God’s presence is missing among them. To say that, however, requires a blind eye be turned to the church’s own testament that the Lord dwells in his Temple, filling it with a cloud of glory. [84] That this is now overflowing onto all flesh is not a rejection of this testament but a fulfillment of its prophecy. We can see that God is doing a new thing by pouring out his priestly presence, forming servants of those who were once far off so that his name might be glorified above all others. But the error of supersessionism is thinking that “new” implies a rejection of the “old,” and thus it mistakes “implanting” for “supplanting.” Although new, the growth of the church is not spontaneous. Both Christ and the apostles are sure to emphasize that the event of its mysterious origin happens in accordance with the scriptures, which can be manifestly recognized just by opening Moses or the prophets, provided that our minds are also opened in receiving the Word. [85] However, as Lindbeck suggests, the logic of supersessionism has placed a veil on the church’s heart, which to this very day has hardened the mind when scripture is read, preventing a clear perception of the doxa of God shining through the face of the Word. [86] Indeed, only when blinded by Gentile prejudice does it make sense to view a feature of the word like Matthew 25:27 as evidence of a curse which legitimates violence while gleefully singing “are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” And yet, such is our darkened typological imagination that we continue to speak curses of “blood libel” and also of Moses who mixes blood with water and “sprinkled both the scroll itself and all the people saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you.’ And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels used in worship.” [87] Indeed, we confess that through blood all things are cleansed ( katharizO ) and without it there is no forgiveness of sins. [88] Thus, if all the people can really say, “His blood is on us and our offspring,” then should not our response be a eucharistos : “Alleluia, Amen, Maranatha!”

Failing to discern the body ( of Scripture ) marks the failure to view the texts handed down to us through the tradition as scripture, as scripture . The logic of supersessionism promotes this error in two ways. On the one hand, it reinforces a problematic letter/spirit divide in a way that derides the importance of the particular letters on the pages of a scriptural text. Without the letter, the “spiritual sense” slips into “spiritualized” sensations, “inspired” becomes “inspirational,” and sola scriptura soon only means ” sorta scriptura .” On the other hand, modern forms of supersessionism, allergic to the idea of election (especially when associated with a particular contingent revelation), generate the same letter/spirit binary, but view things from the opposite side of the mirror. The relation is recast in the terms of objective/subjective or universal/particular binaries to justify a focus only on the letters written on the page. In the adhering family of scientists and critics, fundamentalist literalism stands out as the black sheep. Ironically, the letter has inadvertently become their Truth. Adopting the canon (rule) of the critics—truth must be objective and universally accessible to everyone using the right method— regula fidei becomes regulated fideism . Belief, recast as something intentional subjects do , becomes a method for the reception of grace, universally available for everyone to just do . Grace is not communicated through gifts, however, since “that would be a work.” Really, magic is the underlying fear, since presence behind a Veil cannot be seen any more clearly than Spirit in the letter. The problem is not a matter of belief in things unseen, the problem is the belief that unseen things are not in matter. Yet, ecumenically speaking, that belief lacks substance . It sounds too incredible (in credere ) to Christians who confess that God gives us more to chew on than just belief.

Failing to discern the body ( in the Bread ) is a failure to see how God works in and through human agency. It is an inability to recognize how the gifts we offer are the gifts of God for the people of God. Insofar as supersessionism is premised on a notion of self-satisfaction, it occludes the recognition that our satisfaction is a gift which we require others to receive. Christ’s peace is given only as it is given between the members of the community gathered in his name. The presence in the passing is not a spontaneous event in the passing present; the peace is also passed to us in the present from the past as a foretaste of that future peace which has been given in him who is , among us , our peace. As Paul tells the Corinthians, “I received from the Lord that which I also give over to you (paradidOmi): the Lord Jesus on the night he was given over (paradidOmi), took bread…” [89] One does not take the supper for one’s own before another who is hungry. No one owns the supper. Yet that is what supersessionism teaches by presuming we need nothing from others or the past, since the new self is self-sufficient. It is not surprising, then, that there are schisms in the ecclesia. [90] For there will always be sectarians who would rather choose to self-separate than be tested in patience by members of the gathering church. [91] To acknowledge that we need others is to accept our vulnerability, it is to admit that without others very much unlike ourselves, we have no ears to hear or eyes to see, nor can we smell Christ’s fragrant sacrifice once offered to God. [92] Indeed, we have these only as gifts of God from the people of God. [93] Paul thus continues, “Wherefore, my brothers, for coming together in the eating, receive from one another!” [94] Yet, because we have not done this, many members of the body are now infirm and unhealthy and losing vitality. [95] Every house ( oikia ) divided against itself will not stand. [96] And “we are Christ’s house ( oikos ).” [97]



“Has Christ been divided?” [98] The answer to Paul’s question can only be “yes.” For someone like George Lindbeck, the awareness of that fact is intolerable. That “the Eucharist tastes bitter in a divided church” may very well be an indication that for the divided church it is poison. [99] And, in failing to discern the body, the church now eats and drinks judgment against itself. [100] Perhaps the reason for the most distress, however, is the fact that members of the church do not seem to care. Most Christians seem content with communal life in a divided church and do not understand why others would think that schism is a problem, let alone reason for shame. [101] In searching for the cause of the church’s blindness, Lindbeck has found that the log in our eye comes from devilishly tempting talk of severed branches.

At this point, we would do well to step back and remember the context and goal of this project. The formation of doctrine, we have said, always begins with the recognition of a real problem within the life of the community. Next begins the process of pragmatic inquiry, which delves back into the community’s deep-seated “A-Reasonings” or “deposit of faith” to find a way to repair the current problem. This is an “abductive” practice that tries to discover, not only the cause of the community’s suffering, but also how it is the cause. Proposed methods of repair then follow suit based on the initial diagnosis, but the status of these proposals remains merely hypothetical until they can be tested. Only if it repairs the problem will a proposal be taken as trustworthy. If the problem continues, so too will the process of pragmatic inquiry. In the context of our discussion, the problem Lindbeck identifies is the divided church. Finding the customary means of repair inadequate to solve this problem, he looks back to the resources within the tradition and arrives at a surprising diagnosis: the long held stance of supersessionism toward the people Israel is now inhibiting the church’s own ability to find unity. What I have done above is attempt to demonstrate, through an “Ochsian” mode of scriptural reasoning, just how that is the case. Using a trope taken from St. Paul, I tried to show that the church’s “failure to discern the body” is now the reason why the church currently fails to heal divisions within the body. Along with Lindbeck, I found the logic of supersessionism to be at the root of this failure of discernment. The fact that this remained hidden, though “right under our noses,” for so long and the church’s already problematic tendency toward binary reasoning is the reason why Lindbeck now argues that non-supersessionism must become a doctrine for the church (or, at least, function like one).

To be sure, Lindbeck does not think that supersessionism is the cause of the church’s problems. Rather, he suggests, it is something which has occluded the church’s perception of the means of repair for its suffering: the already present presence in the body, which we have failed to discern. By pointing out the existence of this stumbling block in the church’s deep-seated habits of interpretation and practice, Lindbeck hopes to point out a way to move forward on the path to redemption. Hence, in Ochs’s terms, as a reparative reasoning doctrinal formulations both display the cause of a community’s suffering and also the way to repair that suffering. Of course, articulating a doctrine of non-supersessionism will not in itself fix the church, but it will help the church avoid known pitfalls in the future as it seeks to discern God’s redeeming presence in the body.

Lindbeck would agree with Batnitzky and Levenson when they assert that there can be no easy reconciliation between Christians and Jews if it comes by way of watered down affirmations of commonality that efface the particularity of each tradition. Yet, his surprising conclusion is that, from within the particularity of his own tradition, he has discovered that to follow the command “let there be no schisms among you,” the church must find a way to repair its primordial separation from the people Israel. Precisely because Christians have not encountered Jews as one would a messenger of God, they now fail to fully discern the body, according to his diagnosis. And unless we now find a way to do that, he predicts, we will continue to eat and drink judgment on ourselves and the cloud of witnesses will progressively weaken and be relegated to sick beds. [102] Just what that method of encounter will look like, however, remains to be seen.

The difficulty in articulating a doctrine of non-supersession is that it leaves unanswered the question of how the church currently relates to the people Israel. Inevitably, critiques of supersessionism will be met with the question, “then how do Christians relate to the Jews?” To this there is no easy answer. Non-supersessionism seems to require the acceptance of a paradoxical tension between the church’s witness to Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel and the affirmation that the promises of God are irrevocable, even for the members of Israel who do not recognize Christ as Lord. It may nevertheless be necessary to accept such a paradox in order to guard against tendencies in the church’s thinking that persistently lead it astray. We have seen above the problems that arise when supersessionism leads us to forget that God keeps his promises. Yet, to accept the contrary and thus relinquish the church’s witness to the uniqueness of Christ is equally problematic. Doing so can quickly lead to a form of relativistic nihilism where everything is “tolerable” just as it is and thus there is no need for anyone to confess or change and no reason to follow anyone because there is nowhere to go. Yet, the church simply is not the church unless it answers Christ’s call: “follow me.”

What to think about these two contrary affirmations is still unclear, but what is clear, according to Lindbeck, is that affirming one without the other opens the door to interpretations and practices known to be harmful for the church. That they are contraries is not reason in itself to discount the possibility that the church must affirm both. Many of the church’s most important doctrines are affirmations of antinomies. As thinkers like Pavel Florensky have observed, doctrines and dogma are often articulated in, what we have called, “weak binaries.” [103] Take, for example, the doctrinal contrast pairs: one/three, fully human/fully divine, eternal/begotten, virgin/mother, bread and wine/body and blood—all of these pairs entail incompatible affirmations according to our everyday thinking. Yet, as Florensky points out, divine Truth is not an everyday thought. And so long as we are talking about it, he claims, discourse will continue to resolve into mysterious antinomic affirmations. Indeed, if does not, if the statements of faith “instantly and effortlessly make sense,” then that is a red flag that we may have lost contact with the deposit of faith and are wandering into the territory of heresy, as Rowan Williams suggests. [104]

The articulation of doctrine is not a deux ex machina that suddenly resolves a debate and clears away confusion. If anything, doctrinal affirmations make things more confusing and generate more debate. [105] What it does do, however, is set the terms and mark out the boundaries of discourse. In this case, affirming the abiding election of God’s chosen people Israel guards against the dangers inherent in the logic of supersessionism. Likewise, upholding the absoluteness of Christ as the fulfilled promise and the Way, the Truth, and the Life prevents slippage into an equally dangerous form of relativism. A doctrine of non-supersessionism would set the rules: do not say “God has rejected his people Israel,” and do not say, “Christ is not the Lord.” However, these apophatic limits do not mark the end of inquiry. Rather, like the prohibitions against Modalism and Tritheism, they delimit, and thus, open, the space in which the unending practice of contemplative inquiry can begin. The church must learn how to inhabit the space between these boundaries ( horos ), which now appear to be the limitless horizons of a new and mysterious world.

So what does this mean for the relationship between Christians and Jews? Right now, the answer must be, at least for Christians: we do not know, yet . But, as the church wanders into the uncharted wilderness of “post-modernity” seeking to discern what it means to be the body of Christ and Israel while maintaining a doctrine of non-supersessionism, it finds a partner and indeed a friend in those who have come this way before and who know how to read, in this context, the things of our ancestors given to us as examples and written down to instruct us . [106] This is why, as Ochs observes, “the invitation to dialogue therefore comes from the Christian side.” Like Ochs, “I do not suppose that the invitation would be accepted, however, if it did not complement latent needs on the Jewish side.” [107] Indeed, according to Ochs, the people Israel are also passing through a time of radical renewal. Just like Lindbeck’s surprising discovery, he and others have found that in the process of delving back into their roots they have uncovered ancient depths that resonate with our own. In these places where “deep calls to deep,” he suggests, Jews and Christians can hear each other’s voice crying out in the wilderness through which we are both wandering. In my understanding, the project for Scriptural Reasoning arose because its members heard these cries and in response have “made a tent” (skEnoO) among us in which we can gather as friends to share our Word together in study.

While SR’s tent is a good place to start, without cloud or fire on the horizon it is hard to see which way we should go from here. Yet, perhaps the recognition that we go together is the first step in the right direction. For too long Christians have viewed Jews as opponents in the race. [108] That some trip on a stumbling block we have taken as our advantage and, in doing so, we start falling over ourselves: Not only the Jews but all believers must be overtaken so that my priesthood may be the first behind the veil of the altar. And thus, when gathered for the Supper, each takes one’s own meal before others and actually thinks this is reason to be praised. [109] All the while, in the full awareness that others go hungry, we become intoxicated by the satisfaction of ourselves. Is this really the Lord’s Supper we remember? Our mother taught us better than that: God scatters “the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” [110] Indeed, “The race is not to the swift,” “the first shall be last,” and thus, “when gathering to eat, wait for one another.” [111] Truly, to offer to others oneself before taking from others oneself is the mysterious agape , according to which we are known as His disciples. Therefore, we must strive to keep awake in order to set right , as sheep, even the least of our neighbor goats’ inequities still left to be taken care of, so that when the day and hour comes for the wedding banquet, the Lord does not tell us, “I do not know you.” [112]

What we do then , in the banquet, we remember ( anamnesis ), since that has been made know to us ( egnOsthE ) already. Not yet there, however, what to do now is still uncertain. Where do we go from here? God knows. But in that we take comfort. And thus we work out the way of our own salvation in “fear and trembling” and in the hope that we can say “amen” when told “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” [113]


* * *

Post Script

In this wandering analysis I have tried to map out some of the topoi in Peter’s work which I thought needed to be brought out in a clearer light. Yet, because of the nature of his work, it quickly becomes apparent that one cannot talk about Ochs without talking about his friends. By bringing Lindbeck into the conversation, we discover just how hospitable Ochs’s thinking really is. I say “hospitable” and not “transferrable” because it is still remains rooted in his own particular “house.” Yet, sojourning together with Lindbeck, we find that Ochs’s triadic view actually holds prospect for a viable ecumenical logic. His critique of binarism helps expose a pernicious logic eating away at the roots our tradition and his semiotics provide much needed support for those seeking “reconciliation without capitulation” in the church. [114] But part of the difficulty with Ochs is that his version of “new thinking” appears so strange to readers and the way he writes does not help make it any less foreign. There are areas in his technical writing where, to many of us, he might as well be speaking in tongues. I have offered this interpretive re-presentation as a guide, but to be honest, I am just as perplexed as others by some of the ins and outs of his theories. Nevertheless, I am familiar enough with the landscape to avoid common pitfalls and in this essay I have tried to show the way around them. However, if there is anything I have learned from Ochs it is that the knowing is in the doing. Thus, while I have traced out some of the main lines of his thought, readers must finally explore Ochs’s work on their own if they actually want to get a feel for how he sees things. As such, this attempted re-presentation of the ideas of one greater than I concludes with the words of another like him: “in the case of people who are setting out on a road with which they are unacquainted, it is sufficient merely to point out the direction. After this they must walk and find out the rest for themselves.” [115]


[1] George Lindbeck, “Atonement and the Hermeneutics of Social Embodiment” in Pro Ecclesia Vol. V, No. 2 (Spring 1996), p. 148.

[2] Leora Batnitzky, “Pragmaticism and Biblical Hermeneutics: Some comments on the work of Peter Ochs” in Modern Theology 24:3 (July 2008), p. 479.

[3] Ibid., p. 482.

[4] Peter Ochs, “Abrahamic Theo-politics: A Jewish View” in The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology , eds. Peter Scott and William T. Cavanaugh (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p. 529.

[5] Batnitzky, “Pragmaticism and Biblical Hermeneutics,” p. 483.

[6] These are my distinctions, not Ochs’s. I’m borrowing the terms used by McCall to distinguish between types of Contraries. Cf. S. McCall “Contrariety” in Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 8 (1967), pp. 121-32.

[7] In fact, the distinctions can be parsed even further. What I am here calling a “weak” binary is a relation between contraries, which, as a category, can be broken down further into simple contraries (e.g. black/red) and polar contraries (e.g. black/white). Polar contraries involve relations between opposites (the color white is not only “not black,” it is also the “opposite of black.” The same holds for the polar contrary “hot/cold,” which, to be clear, is not a “strong binary” since it admits a middle, i.e. “warm” which is “neither hot nor cold.”) Simple contraries are relations between incompatible but not opposite terms or attributes (red is “not black,” but it is not the opposite of black).

[8] To be sure, there has been an ongoing debate about the existence of so-called negative facts. I basically agree with Raphael Demos’s instigation, “Strictly negative facts are nowhere to be met with in experience;…any knowledge of a negative nature seems to be derived from perception of a positive kind.” From “A Discussion of a Certain Type of Negative Proposition” in Mind 26 (1917), pp. 188-96. Of course, this is not a new position, it is merely a re-statement of Augustine’s notion that evil is the privation of good and Plato before him, who through his spokesman says that “When we say not-being, we speak, I think, not of something that is the opposite of being, but only of something different” (Sophist 257B). Others like the early Bertrand Russell disagree: “If I say ‘There is not a hippopotamus in the room’, it is quite clear there is some way of interpreting that statement according to which there is a corresponding fact, and that fact cannot be merely that every part of this room is filled up with something that is not a hippopotamus…It is simpler to take negative facts as facts…otherwise you will find it difficult to say what it is that corresponds to a proposition.” From “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism” reprinted in The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell (Routledge, 1986), p. 189. As it seems to me, the disagreement can be re-stated in the terms of ontological belief that “not-being is not,” and an epistemological awareness of the limits of our communication.

[9] To be more precise, the terms of some weak binaries do imply mutual negation, as in the case of polar contraries (hot/cold) and relations of scalar negation (more/less; translucent/opaque). See footnote 7 above.

[10] For an example of how easy it is to slip into this temptation, consider Batnitzy’s use of binaries to interpret the following quotation from Ochs (quoted here in full, though only partially in her article): “CHAI participants remember that they are children also of Adam, whose labor in this world is to redeem the consequences of Adam’s failings; and that they are children of Cain, of the generation of the flood, and of the generation of the tower. They acknowledge that, both singly and together, they are children of Abraham, whose task it is to help redeem the world, now, according to specific missions disclosed through their several scriptural traditions” (“Abrahamic Theopolitics,” p. 529). According to Batnitzy: “The slippage between ‘Children of Abraham’ and ‘Children of Adam’ is striking as this slippage suggests that the children of Adam and not the children of Abraham can move beyond the violence of inter-Abrahamic relations” (“Pragmaticism and Biblical Hermeneutics,” p. 483). Batnitzky reads “children of Adam/children of Abraham” as a strong binary pair, but this is to tacitly apply the binary categories onto the terms. Ochs clearly intends to maintain the conjunction over the exclusive disjunction. Indeed, for Ochs, it is precisely because we are children of Abraham that we can look back and view ourselves as children of Adam and as such view it as our duty to repair Adam’s failings. Interestingly, it would have been harder to cast Ochs’s argument in such stark binary categories had Batnitzky mentioned that Ochs thinks we are also children of Cain, Noah, and Babel.

[11] For Ochs’s discussion of this see ‘Scriptural Logic: Diagrams for a Postcritical Metaphysics” in Modern Theology 11:1 (January, 1995).

[12] Batnitzky, “Pragmaticism and Biblical Hermeneutics,” p. 479.

[13] A phrase which, to the best of my knowledge, Ochs has never used in print.

[14] For example, it can sound like Ochs is advocating for a hermeneutic of letting scripture “speak for itself” when he writes “biblical traditions communicate to their practitioners some rules of action that cannot be deciphered within the terms set by the canons of critical reason that emerged in the European renaissance and enlightenment. This does not mean, however, that the biblical traditions are in this respect irrational, for among their unique rules of action are rules for interpreting the traditions themselves, including the traditions’ primary texts of scriptures and of scriptural commentary,” ( The Return to Scripture in Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Postcritical Scriptural Interpretation , ed. Peter Ochs (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), p. 1). For Hans Frei on “mediating interpretation” see The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974), p. 60.

[15] See Ochs, Return to Scripture , p. 7. An example of this kind of “mediating interpretation” would be certain forms of historical-criticism, which assume that the meaning of a scriptural text lies in a historical event some several thousand years ago and that this meaning can be uncovered through “scientific” methods of investigation.

[16] Ochs, Return to Scripture , p. 39.

[17] Ibid., p. 38.

[18] This is an example that Lindbeck uses in several essays. See, for example, “Postmodern Hermeneutics and Jewish-Christian Dialogue: A Case Study,” in Christianity in Jewish Terms eds. Tikva Frymer-Kensky et al. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000), p. 111.

[19] Batnitzky, “Pragmaticism and Biblical Hermeneutics,” p. 484.

[20] And to be sure, scripture read as scripture is God’s speech for Ochs. See Immanuel Kant’s famous claim about the Aqedah in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone , trans. Green and Hudson (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), p. 82.

[21] Ochs, Return to Scripture , p. 39.

[22] Einstein, for example famously derided the non-locality implied by quantum entanglement, “spooky action at a distance” in the 1935 Einstein, Poldosky, Rosen paper, which later led to the “EPR” experiment that validated the thought experiment which Einstein et. al. thought proved the impossibility of quantum theory.

[23] J. C. Polkinghorn, Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 25.

[24] There are several outspoken critics of the Copenhagen interpretation. For an example see, Christopher Norris, Quantum Theory and the Flight from Realism: Philosophical Responses to Quantum Mechanics (Routledge, 2000), especially his chapter “Can Logic be Quantum-Relativized?: Putnam, Dummet and the Great ‘Quantum Muddle,'” pp. 194-231.

[25] See Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture (Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 161-244

[26] Ochs, Return to Scripture , p. 39.

[27] From “Reparative Reasoning: From Peirce’s Pragmatism to Augustine’s Scriptural Semiotic” in Modern Theology 25:2 (April 2009), p. 191. Also, worded slightly differently, in Return to Scripture , pp. 39-40.

[28] George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1984), p. 75.

[29] Of course this has changed with the widespread modern separation of academic theology from living church communities, but there are signs on the horizon that we may be readying for a return.

[30] Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine , p. 75.

[31] Ochs, “Scriptural Logic,” p. 80.

[32] Ibid., p. 69.

[33] Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine , p. 79.

[34] Ibid., p. 79.

[35] Ibid., pp. 81, 79.

[36] Lindbeck, “Atonement and the Hermeneutics of Social Embodiment,” p. 146.

[37] Romans 8:26. Quotations from scripture mostly follow the NRSV translation, although often I modify with my own translation.

[38] John 14:26.

[39] Lindbeck, “Atonement and the Hermeneutics of Sacred Embodiment,” p. 148.

[40] Ibid.

[41] See Ochs, “Scriptural Logic,” p. 74.

[42] This is what David Ford would call the “wisdom” of the tradition. Others might want to call it putting on the “mind of Christ,” though qualified in an eschatologically anticipatory way.

[43] For an analysis of the comparison between medicine and Ochs’s work see Nicholas Adams, “Reparative Reasoning,” in Modern Theology 24:3 2008.

[44] Lindbeck, “Atonement and the Hermeneutics of Sacred Embodiment,” 148.

[45] George Lindbeck, “The Eucharist Tastes Bitter in a Divided Church” in Spectrum , Yale Divinity School, Spring, 1999, p. 1.

[46] Lindbeck, “The Church” in The Church in a Postliberal Age , ed. James Buckley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), p. 159.

[47] Lindbeck, “The Church,” p. 159.

[48] Lindbeck, “The Church as Israel” in Jews and Christians: People of God , eds. Braaten and Jenson (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), p. 80.

[49] Batnitzky, “Pragmaticism and Biblical Hermeneutics,” p. 482.

[50] Ibid.

[51] See, for example, his critique of Dabru Emet , a statement about Christians and Christianity which Ochs co-authored: “How Not to Conduct Jewish-Christian Dialogue” in Commentary , vol. 112 issue 5 (Dec 2001); Also the ensuing discussion in response to Levenson, “Jewish-Christian Dialogue” in Commentary , vol. 113 issue 4 (April 2002). Interestingly, Levenson finds an unlikely ally in John Milbank, who, from mirrored Christian rationale suggests that Scriptural Reasoning supports terrorism. See, “Only Theology Saves Metaphysics: On the Modalities of Terror” Belief and Metaphysics , Veritas, eds. Peter Candler and Conor Cunningham (London: SCM Press, 2007), particularly pg. 476.

[52] Leora Batnitzky, “Dialogue as Judgement, Not Mutual Affirmation: A New Look at Franz Rosenzweig’s Dialogical Philosophy” in The Journal of Religion.

[53] Batnitzky, “Dialogue as Judgement,” p. 539.

[54] Batnitzky, “Pragmaticism and Biblical Hermeneutics,” p. 483.

[55] We have reason at least to question the confidence with which Levenson makes assertions about things like Paul’s “uncompromising insistence that fidelity to the Christ and practice of the Torah are incompatible,” especially in light of recent scholarship. There are more texts on this issue than can be cited here. Paradigmatically: Stanley Stowers, A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles (Yale University Press, 1997); Richard Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005); Douglas Harink, Paul among the Postliberals: Pauline Theology Beyond Christendom and Modernity (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2003).

[56] Batnitzky, “Pragaticism and Biblical Hermeneutics,” p 483.

[57] To be sure, Batnitzky is fully aware of Lindbeck’s work. She refers to him approvingly in the last chapter of her excellent book on Franz Rosenzweig: Idolatry and Representation: The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig Reconsidered (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000). On the question of supersessionism, she quotes a passage from Lindbeck’s article “The Gospel’s Uniqueness: Election and Untranslatability,” in Modern Theology 13, no 4 (October 1997) also reprinted in The Church in a Postliberal Age , in which he writes “The light of the Messianic dawn, which Christians believe, shines more brightly in the church than in Israel before, or unbelieving Israel after Christ, also makes Christian potential for unfaithfulness greater” (Batnitzky p. 224, Lindbeck p. 427). On her reading this is evidence that the “cultural-linguistic model does not and cannot deny the literal grammars of its respective traditions” and thus Christians like Lindbeck and Jews like Rosenzweig both recognize the “irreconcilable tension between Judaism and Christianity” (p. 224). As it seems, Batnitzky has read what Lindbeck presents as a relation of scalar negation (more/less) through the category of binary opposition (yes/no), and thus she concludes that both traditions can only view each other through a relation of judgment and not mutual affirmation, since as Rosenzweig says, God “has set enmity between the two far all time and has withal most intimately bound each to each” (Batnitzky p. 227 quoting Rosenzweig from The Star of Redemption , p. 462/415). Leaving the question of Rosenzweig’s assessment of Christianity to the side, it certainly seems to be the case that at least Lindbeck does, in some sense, want to affirm Judaism, since as he argues (in a collection of essays in which Batnitzky is a contributor), “understanding the church as Israel in nonsupersessionist terms…frees [Christians] to hear God speak not only through Old Testament Israelites but also through postbiblical Jews; this freedom follows from the belief that the covenant with Israel has not been revoked. The Jews remain God’s chosen people and are thus a primary source for Christian understanding of God’s intentions.” From “What of the Future? A Christian Response” in Christianity in Jewish Terms , eds. Tikva Frymer-Kensky et al. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000), pp. 364-5.

[58] George Lindbeck, “Confession and Community” in The Church in a Postliberal Age , p. 8.

[59] See Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity , in which he suggests, following Hermann Cohen, that the recognition of the other as Other who suffers and to whom one is responsible first awakens the awareness of the I. It an unspeakable tragedy that the awakening of the question about the church’s identity has come only after the recognition of the evils committed against those who have suffered by Christian hands. The church must openly bear this as a mark of shame and cannot deny or hide its existence; indeed, as it is now enters the Land of Wanderers ( ‘eretz-Nod ), the very survival of the church may depend on its willingness to bear the marks of its own sin. Most importantly, the church must be willing to confess our abject failure as our brothers’ keeper during the reign of Christendom if, now in our post-Christendom fractured and scattered state, we want to maintain our Life as still, in some way, the Way and/to the Truth.

[60] George Lindbeck, “The Gospel’s Uniqueness: Election and Untranslatability” in The Church in a Postliberal Age , p. 241.

[61] Of course, this is not to say that the church does not often plug up its ears at the “difficult saying ( logos ),” by hearing it as “really just hyperbole,” since literally “who can accept ( akouO ) it?” Indeed, perhaps God asks the same question: “we know that God does not listen ( akouO ) to sinners, but he listens to one who worships him and obeys his will” (John 6:60; 9:31). Our only redeeming grace is that we hope in the one Logos who does this and is accepted on our behalf.

[62] Lindbeck, “Atonement and the Hermeneutics of Sacred Embodiment,” p. 148.

[63] Ibid., pp. 147-148.

[64] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion , ed. John McNeill (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 1.11.8.

[65] This last point is important though often neglected in contemporary scholarship. As Lindbeck, quoting Luther writes, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ” ( The Nature of Doctrine , p. 75). While works of speculation and musement are acceptable (indeed often as edifying gifts), they are not something in which we put our trust and should never be preached as gospel. Even if we know their content is true, we should be aware that “knowledge puffs up” and if through it, we place a stumbling block in front of those weak in conscience, we sin against Christ (1 Corinthians 8:1; 9-12).

[66] Ochs, “Reparative Reasoning,” p. 191.

[67] It is therefore the “agent” of the deep-seated rules of communal interpretation and practice (the interpretant) according to which the community’s traditional sources of self-understanding such as scripture and liturgy (the sign) are taken to refer to their Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer (the object). The symbol is also the “agent” of repair through which the interpretant is reformed in relation to the sign and object. “Is reformed” is intentionally passive, since, for Ochs, the process of reparative reasoning is an engagement between symbol and interpreter in which the “symbol influences the way its interpretant attributes meaning to it” but also “grants the interpreter some freedom to transform the way in which that meaning will be retransmitted.” From “Reparative Reasoning,” p. 191.

[68] 1 Corinthians 11:18; 11:30.

[69] See, for example, Luther’s association between Rome and the “Synagogue of Satan” from Revelation and the rejection of the Jews in the past. And, conversely, Hutten’s suggestion that “they treat the vicar of Christ as the Jews treated his [sic] master: they put a crown of thorns of his head…one says ‘Prove to us that St. Peter, whose successor you say you are, ever went to Rome, liar that you are…'” in History of the Life, Writings, and Doctrines of Luther , ed. Jean Marie Vincent (Dolman, 1854), p. 195.

[70] Lindbeck, “The Church as Israel,” p. 94.

[71] One of the worst effects of binary thinking is the modern rendering of pistis christou as an either/or between a subjective and objective genitive, which impoverishes pistis christou on both sides of the debate.

[72] Hosea 2:3; Romans 3:3-4: “What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means!”

[73] Hosea 1:2; Luke 7:42; 48, John 8:11.

[74] Luke 13:35.

[75] Romans 11:16; 2 Corinthians 6:17.

[76] Acts 15:9; and “If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy” (Rom 11:16).

[77] Galatians 2:21.

[78] Romans 11:18; Romans 5:11 (all possible renderings of the word).

[79] Supersede from super + sedere (above+seated).

[80] Romans 11:18; Romans 15:1; Galatians 6:2.

[81] 1 Thessalonians 4:7; Ephesians 2:21-22.

[82] John 1:14 ( ho logos sarx ginomai kai skEnoO en hEmeis -“The Word flesh became and tabernacles in/among us”); 1 Timothy 3:16.

[83] 1 Corinthians 3:16.

[84] See 1 Kings 8:10-11 and Michael Wyschogrod “Incarnation and God’s Indwelling in Israel” in Abraham’s Promise: Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations , by Michael Wyschogrod, R. Kendall Soulen (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004).

[85] Luke 24:13-46.

[86] 2 Corinthians 3:15; 4:6.

[87] Hebrews 9:19-21.

[88] Hebrews 9:22; see also mentions of katharizo above.

[89] 1 Corinthians 11:23.

[90] 1 Corinthians 11:18.

[91] 1 Corinthians 11:19-21; and “heresy” is just that, a choice ( hairesis ) to separate from the communion.

[92] 1 Corinthians 12:15-17; Ephesians 5:2.

[93] 1 Corinthians 12:1-10.

[94] 1 Corinthians 11:33; ” hoste adelphoi mou sunerchomenoi eis to phagein allElous ekdechesthe .”

[95] 1 Corinthians 11:30.

[96] Matthew 12:25.

[97] Hebrews 3:6.

[98] 1 Corinthians 1:13.

[99] Indeed no single issue has fractured the body and produced ire in its members more than the debate over the nature of the body received and the orientation during its distribution to the church, although now the debate seems to be shifting focus to the nature of the distributer’s body and the church’s reception of his/(her) orientation.

[100] 1 Corinthians 11:29.

[101] For a most penetrating diagnosis of this, see Ephraim Radner, The End of the Church: A Pneumatology of Christian Division in the West (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998); and for a helpful review of Radner’s book see Bruce Marshall, “Review Essay: The Divided Church and its Theology,” in Modern Theology , 16:3 (July 2000).

[102] 1 Corinthians 11:30.

[103] See, Pavel Aleksandrovich Florenski? trans. Boris Jakim, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997) especially the chapter “Contradiction.”

[104] Rowan Williams, Arius: Heresy and Tradition 2nd edition (London: SCM Press, 2001), p. 236.

[105] Ibid., p. 237.

[106] 1 Corinthians 10:6-11.

[107] Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , p. 312; quoted also in Batnitzky, “Pragmaticism and Biblical Hermeneutics,” p. 481.

[108] Drawing on the work of Stanley Stowers, Gene Rogers writes. “In Romans 11 Paul describes a stumbling that is not a fall (11:11), a race in which it is not about competition between Jews and Gentiles but about keeping abreast of a pacesetter. Gentiles who enter the kingdom before the Jews do succeed in the race, but Jews who enter after Gentiles do not lose. ‘The race ends when Israel crosses the finish line. In the logic of this race, all who finish before the pacesetter win; all who finish after that runner lose. God had to trip the Jews in order to provided opportunity for the Gentiles and show that he is a just God.'” Gene Rogers, After the Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology from Resources Outside the Modern West (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005), p. 95. Quoting from Stowers, A Rereading of Romans , p. 51.

[109] 1 Corinthians 11:21-22.

[110] Luke 1:51.

[111] Ecclesiastes 9:11; Mark 9:35; 1 Corinthians 11:33.

[112] Matthew 25:11-13; 25:31-46.

[113] Philippians 2:12-13.

[114] See Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine , p. 16.

[115] Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 4.2. Finally, I would like to thank Jacob Goodson, Chris Hackett, Ben Maton, Lucas Thornton, Charles Mathewes, and Peter Ochs for their helpful comments and criticisms on various portions of this essay.