Verbal Testimony (‘Sabda’) as an Indian Christian ‘Pramana’ (Valid Source of Knowledge) for Biblical-Theological Hermeneutics

Posted: July 25, 2011 in General

[Prof. Dr. Kalarikkal Poulose Aleaz (or K. P. Aleaz) is Prof. of Religions at Bishop’s College, Calcutta, India. He is also a professor at the North India Institute of Post-Graduate Theological Studies (NIIPGTS; Jointly sponsored by Serampore College and Bishop’s College). His previous works include: Dialogue in India : Multi-Religious Perspective and Practice (ed.), Calcutta : Bishop’s College, 1991; The role of Pramanas in Hindu-Christian Epistemology, Calcutta : Punthi Pustak, 1991; Harmony of Religions. The Relevance of Swami Vivekananda, Calcutta : Punthi Pustak, 1993; The Gospel of Indian Culture, Calcutta : Punthi Pustak, 1994; Sermons for a New Vision, Delhi : ISPCK, 1994; Jesus in Neo-Vedanta : A Meeting of Hinduism and Christianity, Delhi : Kant Publications, 1995 as well as Dimensions of Indian Religion : Study, Experience and Interaction, Calcutta : Punthi Pustak, 1995].

Indian epistemology would suggest that we have to elevate the Bible from a double anthropomorphism i.e., conceiving either as pronounced by an anthropomorphic Lord or as written by anthropos through the inspiration of the anthropomorphic Lord. We have to elevate it to the level of the absolute, eternal. Indian Philosophy provides new insights into the relation between the Bible and Brahman. For the Advaitins, Mimamsakas and the early grammarians, ‘word’ always denotes not a particular (vyakti), but the universal class character (jati or akriti) which is eternal and according to Sankara, in its essential reality it is identical with the absolute consciousness. When the words are particularized they are identical with this pure consciousness as reflected in the upadhi (limitation) of manas (mind), i.e., they become the names-and-forms which are the meaning-contents of words. The words of the Bible denote not the ‘particular’ but the ‘universal’ and in essential reality this ‘universal’ is identical with Brahman. But as written words, they are identical with Brahman as reflected in the limitation of mind. An important principle of modern Western hermeneutics, that any hermeneut must set aside three common myths, namely the ‘mind of the author’, the ‘original reader’ and the ‘original meaning’ was well taken in Indian Philosophy even centuries ago in its quest to transcend the ‘particular’ for the ‘universal’.

Indian Philosophy guides Indian biblical and theological hermeneutics not to be very much worried about establishing accurately the original meaning that the author of the text might have intended, as that effort is futile as well as unnecessary. Our aim is not the dogmatic ‘particular’ but the eternal ‘universal’. The ‘universal’ is the emergent meaning and significance actualized as a result of the fusion together of the ‘horizon’ of the interpreter and that of the text. The Indian Christian whole-heartedly receives not the ‘particular’ Bible, but the ‘universal’ Bible. The Indian Christian theologian whole-heartedly receives not the ‘particular Jesus’ but the ‘universal Jesus’. The ‘universal Jesus’ is identical with Ultimate Reality, Brahman; but the ‘particular Jesus’ is a mere reflection of Brahman in the limitation of the mind of the first century Palestine. The ‘particular’ of the text is a human word and therefore conditioned by the cultural circumstances in which it was written. We have to elevate the Bible from the historical to the eternal. We have to elevate the Bible from the pauruseya (human) level to the apauruseya (supra human) level; from dogmatism to universality. At the level of the universal there will not be any conflict between the Truth-claims of the different scriptures.

The Indian understanding of word and meaning can enlighten us in the understanding and interpretation of the Bible. The standpoint of the Mimamsakas and Advaitins that the validity of verbal knowledge is constituted by and known from the intrinsic conditions of knowledge itself can help us to affirm that the validity of biblical knowledge is constituted and known from the intrinsic conditions of that knowledge itself. This is not to claim that there is a single ‘objective’ meaning for the Bible. In the case of Sabda-pramana no claim of scientific objectivity is made by Indian Philosophy. Scripture cannot define Brahman, it can only indicate Him/Her. The Bible indicates Brahman or Ultimate Reality. Sabda as a pramana provides a criterion for evaluating the scriptures. Self-validity is this criterion. No exclusive claim is made that the scripture of a particular religion only is valid. The Vedas or Quran may be as valid as the Bible.

In the exegesis of Biblical texts, the Jahad-ajahallaksana method employed by Indian logic for understanding the meaning can be used profitably. In Jahad-ajahallaksana a part of the original meaning is not taken. This is one type of laksyartha or secondary meaning, related partially to the express meaning but brought out by a definite context according to the speaker’s or writer’s intention.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s