Marx and the Bible

Written by Jose P. Miranda Reviewed By Martin Goldsmith

The somewhat belated appearance of the British Edition of this important book by the Mexican theologian Jose Miranda may be excused because of the plethora of politically relevant but theologically thin books on political and liberation theology. In the flood of such books this one stands out as exceptional—it is almost entirely devoted to genuine biblical exegesis, a merit which even the classic Theology of Liberation by Gutiérrez can hardly claim.

As so often, the fundamental problem is hermeneutics. Which passages of Scripture should be selected as normative for the assessment of the totality? And by what principles does one conduct one’s exegesis? Miranda claims that his ‘method will be the most rigorous and scientific exegesis’ (XVII), but the influence of Marx is acknowledged and clearly evidenced.

The first chapter sets the pattern with its exposition of the basic words Sedakah and its NT equivalents of Eleémosyne, Eleōs and Dikaiosyne. Having opened the chapter with attacks on private ownership and unjust income distribution, he sees a similar condemnation of the ‘money of injustice’ (Luke 16:9) in Scripture and in the Church Fathers—e.g. Jerome’s ‘all riches come from injustice’.

The theme of justice continues in chapter 2. God is not to be known through idolatrous images, but the Debarim which Miranda defines as God’s spoken imperative of justice. To know God therefore means social justice and a oneness with God’s compassionate chesed Justice, not cultus, is fundamental. Thus even the Sabbath is given for man, not just for cultic purposes.

Chapter 3 shews the God of creation to be the God who intervenes in history with justice as his goal (e.g. Is. 42:5–7) and Miranda stresses that Genesis is the preface to the great liberation event of Exodus. The very name ‘Yhwh’ is essentially linked to justice and release (cf. Ezek. 34:27). The just man is further shown in an interesting exposition of Psalm 37 to be involved in God’s purposes of justice. Moses and Abraham are evidenced as examples of just men called to do ‘righteousness and justice’ (Gen. 18:19). The Psalmists’ definitions of unrighteousness are well listed in terms of injustice (p. 102).

Miranda shows God’s Mishpat to be aimed at saving men from the injuries of oppression (e.g. the OT Judges) rather than merely reflecting juridical rigidities. The original function of the OT judge in protecting the poor and weak is mirrored in the NT position of the poor at the Last Judgement. But Miranda seeks to show that the core of the Pauline Gospel is that justice and righteousness have been won through Christ without the Law and the Christian Church must therefore break free from the chains of law in form of capitalistic structures. Miranda therefore expounds Romans to demonstrate that its theme is not individual faith unto personal salvation, but corporate faith unto national righteousness and justice—of all his exposition, this seems a singularly weak part. One is likewise sceptical of his understanding of the crucifixion of Christ because of law and injustice, resulting in him becoming ‘the incarnation of all human injustice’.

Finally Miranda divides mankind into two groups: those who reject the Kingdom of God on earth (‘non-realised eschatologists’!) and those like Marx who hope in and work for the realized Kingdom in which the eschatological hope of Yhwh (‘I shall be’) may be actualized. The true realization of Yhwh can only truly exist where justice rules, so liberation is ‘for my Name’s sake’.

We rejoice in and shall at many points learn from Miranda’s detailed expositions, but your reviewer finds Miranda’s hermeneutic principle leads some times to a distortion of the apparent sense of scripture.

Martin Goldsmith

All Nations Christian College, Ware