The Bible, Autism and Other Profound Developmental Conditions: Regulating Hermeneutics

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Abstract

Almost every church or Christian community is affected by the presence of autism, as it is now understood. Christians who consider the Bible to be the normative guide for matters of thought and practice turn to this body of Scripture as they seek to deal Christianly with this recently-labelled reality. Because the condition of autism was not known as such in the ancient world, the attempt to “think biblically” about it cannot be reduced to the exegesis of texts that obviously describe it, and this quickly exposes the limitations of the exegetical methodologies practiced within the discipline of Biblical Studies, even by faithful scholars and pastors. Christians may develop well-intentioned and creative attempts to apply biblical teaching to autism, but if these are not regulated by good interpretative and theological
principles, such accounts can be inappropriate and pastorally destructive. Autism, moreover, does not stand alone, but exemplifies a range of developmental conditions not known as such in the ancient world, particularly those involving cognitive development. We need to develop a set of interpretative practices that will allow us to read the Bible constructively in relation to autism and other developmental disorders, so that the important work done in the cognate areas of theology and pastoral care can be rightly informed and constrained by the Bible. This paper will articulate a set of practices based on classical accounts of “the rule of faith” (regula fidei), but informed by contemporary scholarship on biblical interpretation (including the principles of biblical interpretation operative in Jewish thought during the Second Temple Period). These will be brought into dialogue with the
hermeneutics operative in problematic approaches, highlighting how certain assumptions, not just about how the Bible is to be read but also about what the Bible is, result in distorted pastoral appropriations of Scripture.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Disability & Religion
Early online date8 Feb 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • Autism
  • disability
  • scripture

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