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This Review Essay examines the analogy between biblical interpretation and constitutional interpretation drawn by the eminent Yale church historian Jaroslav Pelikan in his provocative book, Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution. Part I of the Essay focuses on Pelikan’s discussion of the differences and analogies between the Bible and the Constitution that provide the foundation for methodological comparison. Part II of the Essay examines Pelikan’s effort to draw on the work of 19th-century theologian John Henry Newman in order to explore the fundamental problem of the relation between the authority of the original text and the authority of developing doctrine in the ongoing life and history of the community. Pelikan’s book reflects his commitment to a methodology of “binocular vision,” which promises to help us to see the interpretive enterprise more clearly by uses the lenses of both law and theology. In the course of examining Pelikan’s analogy, I also aim to put Pelikan’s methodology of binocular vision to work by tentatively trying on the interpretive lenses of two additional scholars who, like Pelikan, have drawn attention to the analogy between biblical interpretation and constitutional interpretation. One lens will be provided by the approach to biblical interpretation developed by Sandra M. Schneiders in The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture, while the other lens comes from the constitutional theory articulated by Michael J. Perry in We the People: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court. In the end, Pelikan’s elegantly elaborated analogy fails to provide much specific guidance to lawyers and judges looking for answers to contemporary constitutional questions. But the experience of looking at interpretation through the theology-and-law lenses of Pelikan’s binoculars does bring the character of the interpretive process more clearly into focus. Pelikan helps us to see that the process of interpreting texts which give rise to living communities might best be understood as a sort of developmental originalism that ought to manifest creative fidelity.


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8 Sep 2022
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  • Subject
    • Constitutional Law

    • Religion Law

  • Journal title
    • Journal of Law and Religion

  • Volume
    • 21

  • Pagination
    • 101-142

  • Date submitted

    8 September 2022

  • Keywords