Sun Myung Moon’s Approach to the Bible

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 14, 2013 - Pages 1-22

Many Christians suspect that the Unification Church erroneously elevates the authority of its doctrine, the “Divine Principle,”[1] above that of the Bible. But the present writer believes that the Divine Principle, no matter how unique and special it may be construed, is no more than the interpretation of the Bible by Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church. For him, the Bible is the main source of the Divine Principle.

The first section of this paper will show that Rev. Moon acknowledged the authority of the Bible, and that his understanding of the biblical authority is no different from that in much of the Christian tradition, although it does differ from the fundamentalist doctrine of biblical inerrancy. His understanding, as in much of the Christian tradition, is that the Bible is authoritative because its content is the eternal truth of God, even while its verbal expression may be temporal and finite. It makes it legitimate, therefore, to interpret the Bible in searching for the eternal truth of God behind its verbal expression.

The second section will discuss how Moon interpreted the Bible in search of the truth contained in it, and how he came up with several fundamental points of the Divine Principle as a result. It will be shown that an underlying key idea in the Divine Principle is God’s parental heart of love for human beings as his children.
The third section will discuss the dynamics of the so-called “hermeneutical circle” between the interpreter and the biblical text, and argue that Moon’s interpretation, like any other genuine interpretation, came from the framework of this hermeneutical circle. Even the uniqueness of his biblical interpretation, the Divine Principle, can be dealt with based on this hermeneutical framework, which can be regarded as a universal ontological structure.


The Authority of the Bible

According to Sun Myung Moon, “The Bible is… not the truth itself, but rather a textbook of the truth.”[2] He, of course, believes that the truth in the Bible is God’s truth which is “unique, eternal, immutable and absolute,” but he does not equate the Bible with God’s truth itself. He instead considers the Bible to be simply a historical, temporal “expression” of the eternal truth, which was trying to teach and enlighten people at the time when it was written with a “depth,” “extent,” and “method” suitable to them.[3] Moon, therefore, does not accept the verbal inerrancy of the Bible, as adhered to by fundamentalists and many enthusiastic evangelicals: “Consequently, we must never regard such textbooks as absolute in every detail.”[4]

This does not mean that Moon denies the authority of the Bible. On the contrary, he believes the Bible to be entirely authoritative in that it contains God’s absolute truth as its “content,” although its “expression,” which is the Bible itself as “a textbook of the truth,” may not be absolute. This distinction made by Moon between content and expression in the Bible is actually no different from the apparent distinction between the two sides of theology in its traditionally received definition as “a word about God” (theologia): God (theos) is the absolute and eternal content of theology, on the one hand, and word (logos) is its relative and temporal expression, on the other. Accordingly, Moon entirely agrees with the long Christian tradition that the Bible is theological. To ignore the distinction between content and expression, confusing them as if expression were content itself, would mean to elevate something relative and temporal to the level of God; it would mean idolatry.[5] Moon, who keeps the distinction, does not idolize the Bible, therefore.

Rev. Moon’s conviction that the Bible is authoritative because it contains God’s absolute truth as its content was the reason why he seriously studied the Bible, especially when he was younger, in order to find God’s truth behind its verbal expression: “I would read the same passages in three languages [i.e., Korean, Japanese, and English] again and again. Each time I read a passage, I would underline verses and make notes in the margins until the pages of my Bibles became stained with black ink and difficult to read.”[6] For him, although the verbal expression especially of “important parts” of the Bible may be in “symbols and parables,” which are “open to various interpretations,” giving rise to “numerous disagreements among believers,” nevertheless finding God’s truth in the Bible can eventually “elucidate” them to eliminate disagreements within Christianity, thus enabling “God’s providence, which comes through the unification of Christianity… to reach its goal.”[7] It was with the authority of the Bible in this sense of God’s truth found behind the biblical expression that Rev. Moon spoke to audiences on certain biblical topics during his 21-city speaking tour in America from October 1973 to January 1974: “I am telling you many unusual things, and you may ask by what authority I am speaking. It is the authority of the Bible, and with the authority of revelation. Let us read the Bible together, and see word by word how John the Baptist acted.”[8]

Moon’s distinction between content and expression in the Bible also resembles the well-received distinction of the Reformation between the gospel as the “material principle,” on the one hand, and the Bible as the “formal principle,” on the other, with the latter as the source expressing the former which is the content.[9]  According to the Reformers, the gospel in the Bible as the content (the material principle) is the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and it is divine, eternal, and infallible, while the Bible with respect to its role as the source (the formal principle) is human, historical, and even fallible. For Martin Luther, biblical books such as James, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation were questionable and even fallible because they do not express the gospel satisfactorily; James, for example, was for him “an epistle full of straw.”[10] Nonetheless, Luther, admitting that the textual expression of the Bible written under God’s inspiration can contain human limitation and error, did not exclude these questionable books from the biblical canon.

Also, John Calvin, originally trained as a rhetorician, was quick to observe that while God’s message for the saving purpose was written in the Bible under the divine inspiration, the biblical writers themselves as imperfect humans made technical errors such as misquotations (e.g., Rom. 3:4 misquoting Ps. 51:4 and Heb. 10:5-9 misquoting Ps. 40:6-8) and factual discrepancies (e.g., Acts 7:14-16 discrepant with Deut. 10:22 and Gen. 23:7-20 regarding the number of Jacob’s kinfolk and the location of their burial; and Heb. 11:21 inconsistent with Gen. 48:2 about how Jacob, just prior to his death, blessed Joseph’s children, whether over the head of his staff or in bed).[11] 

Karl Barth, the main figure of neo-Reformation theology in the twentieth century, similarly maintained that because of divine grace the infallible Word of God is expressed by the fallible words of the biblical writers: “The truth of the miracle [is] that here fallible men speak the Word of God in fallible human words.”[12]

For Reformers such as Luther and Calvin, and neo-Reformers such as Barth, therefore, the authority of the Bible lies in the material principle and not necessarily in the formal principle. They saw, as did Rev. Moon, that it lies in God’s absolute truth as the content of the Bible and not in its verbal expression. Oswald Bayer, a major contemporary Lutheran theologian in Germany, states regarding Luther’s understanding of this point: “The authority of Scripture is not formal but is highly material and is content driven.”[13]

But because of the sola scriptura teaching of the Reformation that the Bible as the formal principle is the only authoritative source of the whole Christian doctrine, quite a few times the formal principle itself has been treated as if it were the real locus of the authority of the Bible, from which even the importance of the material principle could be derived. As reported by many scholars,[14] this problematic overemphasis upon the formal principle was made by the following three schools of theology in the history of Christianity after the Reformation: 1) Protestant scholasticism in Europe in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, of which the Reformed theologian Francis Turretin was a well-known representative; 2) the Princeton Theology in America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which followed in the footsteps of Protestant scholasticism and whose main figures were the Presbyterian theologians Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, Archibald Alexander Hodge, and Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield; and 3) Fundamen¬talism and the enthusiastic segment of evangelicalism in America in the twentieth century, which started from the Prince¬ton Theology but which eventually became widely nondenomina¬tional and revivalistic, drawing believers from other Protestant denominations.

This problematic identification of the formal principle as the real locus of the authority of the Bible occurred in reaction to the rise of the historical-critical study of the Bible, and it yielded the peculiar doctrine of the “inerrancy” of the Bible based on a theory of “verbal plenary inspiration.” According to this, God inspired the biblical writers in such a thorough manner that the inspiration was not only in the concepts or ideas in the Bible but extended also to the very words themselves (verbal) and to all parts of the Bible (plenary): “All scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). The resultant doctrine of inerrancy holds that as long as every word in the entire Bible is inspired by God, the whole verbal expression of the Bible, at least in its original autographs, is absolute and eternal; and thus being inerrant, it is entirely free from error not only in matters of faith and morals but also in matters of history, science, and geology.

Many of the proponents of this doctrine, of course, are aware of the existence of apparent errors in the text, but they do not call them errors but “phenomena” of the Bible, by which they mean accurate descriptions of how things appeared to the eyes of the biblical writers. They hold that any present difficulties in comprehending the “phenomena” can be solved in the future once sufficient information is made available.[15] However, according to the moderate evangelical Dewey M. Beegle, who is critical of inerrancy, “this series of suspended judgments indicates that the totality of biblical evidence does not prove the doctrine of inerrancy to be a fact. It is still a theory that must be accepted by faith.”[16] In other words, biblical inerrancy is just an a priori deduced doctrine; hence, there is no guarantee that all the “phenomena” will be explained in the end. Nonetheless, proponents of this doctrine give an absolute status to what is not necessarily absolute, and this makes them quite idolatrous, dogmatic, and even militant. They also strongly but mistakenly believe that Luther and Calvin, too, adhered to biblical inerrancy.[17] 

In order to address the problem of the doctrine of inerrancy within the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, a number of people within that highly confessional denomination, centering on the faculty of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, tried in the 1960s and 1970s to restore the priority of the material principle (the gospel) over the formal principle (the Bible):

Any tendency to make the doctrine of the inspiration or the inerrancy of the Scriptures a prior truth which guarantees the truth of the Gospel or gives support to our faith is sectarian. The Gospel gives the Scriptures their normative character, not vice versa.[18]

But their efforts were severely criticized by the denominational leadership for regarding the gospel as the criterion of biblical interpretation in such a way as to give “considerable latitude” in the “non-literal, non-historical way” of interpreting the Bible so long as it does not harm the gospel, with the result that “for example, the fall of Adam and Eve or the world flooded need not be accepted as factual so long as the doctrinal lesson of sin and grace is preserved in the interpretation.”[19] Such criticism directed at them may not have been entirely legitimate, but they were pejoratively called “Gospel reductionists,”[20] and they lost the battle and left the denomination for mainline Lutheranism.

Outside the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, moderate evangelicals such as G. C. Berkouwer, Donald G. Bloesch, Dewey M. Beegle, Jack B. Rogers, Donald K. McKim, and Peter Enns have also addressed the problem of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and made efforts to restore the priority of the material principle over the formal principle. Berkouwer, a noted Dutch Reformed theologian, pointed out the mistake of post-Reformation Protestant scholasticism in treating the Bible itself (the formal principle) a priori as if it were the divine message (the material principle). He maintained that “The trustworthiness of the Word does not subject itself to an a priori testing, but can only be understood in the all-pervasive power of the Word itself as the sword of the Spirit.”[21] Bloesch distinguishes between God’s revelation as the “content” of the Bible, on the one hand, and the human words of the Bible as its “form,” on the other: “these words [of the Bible] are related to revelation as form to content”;[22] and he means to talk about the priority of content over form when he says: “The Bible is imperfect in its form but not mistaken in its intent [of giving God’s revelation].”[23] Enns argues that the Bible is authoritative as it was written under the inspiration of God to convey his message, but that its verbal expressions by the biblical writers are imperfect, presenting at least three issues which challenge the doctrine of inerrancy: 1) that the expression of the Old Testament contains legendary material from Ancient Near Eastern traditions, which did not necessarily come from God; 2) that the Old Testament contains parts which are even contradictory to one another; and 3) that the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament passages largely out of context.[24] Given the reputation especially of Berkouwer and Bloesch, the approach of this moderate group of evangelicals has a good following. They have not encountered too much trouble, although in 2008 Enns was suspended from his faculty position at Westminster Theological Seminary due to his 2005 publication of Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, in which he explicitly set out his position.

Still another way of addressing the problem of the doctrine of inerrancy has been suggested by evangelicals such as Daniel Fuller, George Eldon Ladd, David Hubbard (President, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1963-93), and Stephen T. Davis; they maintain that while the Bible, written under God’s inspiration, is infallible and inerrant in matters of faith and conduct, it is fallible in matters of history, science, and geology.[25] Thus most of them propose to replace the term “biblical inerrancy” with “biblical infallibility” in the sense of infallibility only in matters of faith and conduct. Their position is sometimes called “partial inerrancy.” It is similar to the Second Vatican Council’s Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation promulgated in 1965, which states that the Bible is “without error” in matters “for the sake of salvation.”[26] 

This alternative position among evangelicals does not attempt to restore the priority of the material principle over the formal principle, as with the Lutheran “Gospel reductionists” and the moderate evangelicals mentioned above. Rather, it makes a distinction only within the formal principle, between matters of faith and conduct, on the one hand, and matters of history, science, and geology, on the other, asserting the primacy of the former over the latter. Strictly speaking, this distinction is not the same as the distinction between the material and formal principles of the Reformation where the former is the infallible content of the Bible while the latter is its fallible expression. But this interesting, alternative development is another indication that the doctrine of inerrancy is not desirable.

The present section has dealt, in some detail, with the Reformation’s distinction of the two principles and the problem of biblical inerrancy derived from a misunderstanding of the proper relationship of the two. This is relevant to Rev. Moon’s approach to the Bible for three reasons: First, Rev. Moon’s understanding of the Bible as a historical textbook expressing God’s eternal truth as its content is in accordance with the basic thesis of the Reformers, neo-Reformers such as Barth, and moderate evangelicals such as Berkouwer, that the Bible as the formal principle is the source historically expressing the material principle which is the eternal content. Second, for Moon as well as for Luther, Calvin, Barth, and Berkouwer, the authority of the Bible lies in the content of the Bible or the material principle rather than in the verbal expression of the Bible or the formal principle—although whether or not Moon and the others agree on what the content of the Bible or the material principle is exactly may be a different matter to be handled later. Third, if fundamentalists and enthusiastic evangelicals fault Moon for not adhering to the doctrine of inerrancy, they should also fault Luther and Calvin, their respected theological forefathers, for the same reason.

It is beyond the scope of the present section to survey patristic and Catholic theologians before the Reformation to know if they understood the proper distinction between content and expression in the Bible. But it can readily be observed that many of the patristic and Catholic theologians had the common idea that God stooped down to “accommodate” his absolute message to the relative level of human words in the Bible, resembling the Incarnation of God in the humanity of Christ.[27] This idea shows that they understood the distinction between divine content and human expression in the Bible, believing the human biblical expression to be truly human in a non-docetic way.[28] It also echoed the traditionally received definition of theology as a human word about God. These theologians before the Reformation did not stick to sola scripture but included in the formal principle things other than the Bible such as sacred tradition, papacy, magisterium, and reason;[29] and perhaps that is the reason why the possibility of them developing a doctrine of biblical inerrancy was not as great as in the Protestant tradition.

From above, it can be said that Moon’s understanding of the authority of the Bible is no different from that in much of the Christian tradition.


Interpreting the Bible

According to Berkouwer, who denies the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, the relative and “time-related” character of the biblical language is not a discouragement at all but rather an encouragement for us to study the inspired Bible in search of the divine message:

The problem of time-relatedness is not a shadow or a threat to the confession concerning Scripture; it exhorts us to caution and patience and to intensive Bible study. More and more the church has seen this not as a frightening complication of faith but as a task implied in God’s Word, coming in the form of the temporal words of men… In contrast to [the doctrine of inerrancy], one must be reminded that all this Scripture research of analysis and gradation, of “history of the period” and literary genre, of searching for the goal and for the Word within the many words, is and must be related to the mystery of the God-breathed Scripture.[30]

In much the same way, Rev. Moon, not accepting biblical inerrancy, believes that it is important to study the Bible seriously in search of God’s truth behind its verbal expression. Talking about his own experience of dealing with the Bible, he states: “Once I started seriously questioning a certain passage in the Bible, I would endeavor even for three years to solve the mystery of it”;[31] “When I began to think seriously about something in the Bible, I used to devote myself to find the answer for one year, two years, or three years.”[32] 

Sun Myung Moon was born and raised in a country that was unjustly and tragically colonized by another country. He witnessed much misery in his people and society. As a teenage Christian, he started raising fundamen¬tal questions of human life and the universe such as:

Who am I? Where did I come from? What is the purpose of life? What happens to people when they die? Is there a world of the eternal soul? Does God really exist? Is God really all-powerful? If He is, why does He just stand by and watch the sorrows of the world? If God created this world, did He also create the suffering that is in the world? What will bring an end to Korea’s tragic occupation by Japan? What is the meaning of the suffering of the Korean people? Why do human beings hate each other, fight, and start wars?[33]

The night before Easter in 1935 (when he was 15 years of age), he was on a mountain praying all night and asking God in tears for answers to these questions. Early that Easter morning, after spending the whole night in prayer, he had a mystical encounter with Jesus, in which Jesus challenged him to take up a mission to fulfill God’s will.[34] 

It was during the next 9-year period that he seriously studied the Bible to find God’s truth, by which to answer the above fundamental questions toward the fulfillment of God’s will. He especially devoted himself to “project himself” to the “circumstances” of figures such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus in biblical history to discover the underlying truth. “Biblical history,” according to Moon, “is not just written literature but the actual background behind the birth of the Unification Church.”[35]

His years of prayers in search of God’s truth behind the Bible were being gradually answered, but suddenly at one point he was led to realize a key idea: “The relationship between God and mankind is that of a father and his children, and God is deeply saddened to see their suffering.”[36] When he came to this realization, he burst into tears and cried continuously. According to him, his eyes were now finally opened to the true love of God. This breakthrough helped him to resolve “all the secrets of the universe”: “Suddenly, it was as if someone had turned on a movie projector. Everything that had happened since the time humankind broke God’s commandment played out clearly before my eyes.”[37] 

This experience of Moon may resemble, among other things, Luther’s “tower experience” at the Black Cloister in Wittenberg, in which the Reformer struggled with, and meditated about, what he thought to be the difficult and even fearful biblical notion of the “righteousness of God” (Rom. 1:17), but finally reached a breakthrough by understanding the gospel to mean that the loving mercy of God makes the sinner righteous, bringing justification by faith alone.[38] Moon and Luther realized basically the same thing from the Bible, namely, the love of God—although their understandings of what it really means naturally diverged, given their considerably different providential times, backgrounds, and characters. In case of Moon, after his breakthrough experience, he is considered to have realized the following fundamental points, which, according to him, would have otherwise remained as “secrets of the universe.” These points may sound quite new from the viewpoint of traditional Christianity, but it should be noted that they must still be biblical because they issued from his interpretation of the Bible, even if he may have been a very unique religious person.

The first fundamental point he came to realize is that God’s parental love for humanity as his children is such that he wanted them to completely resemble him as his object partners of love when he created them in his image. He wanted to see the reflection of his own character from such objects of love so as to receive and feel “joy” in loving them. This joy in love was God’s purpose of creation.[39] This understanding of the purpose of creation is rarely seen elsewhere in the Christian theological tradition, wherein God is posited to be already so perfect and completely blissful by himself that, even if he is understood to be a God of love in some sense, he is in want of nothing, in want of no object of love in order to experience joy. Since God does not need anything outside of himself to satisfy him, he could have chosen not to create the world at all, and this leaves the conventional theological viewpoint at a loss to explain the reason why God created the world in the first place. In the words of the evangelical theologian Millard J. Erickson, “He freely chose to create for reasons not known to us.”[40] 

Second, the parent-children relationship between God and human beings is such that God wanted them to be his “true children”[41] not just conceptually but substantially through his own “lineage” of love.[42] This lineage was to have been established in the God-centered conjugal love between Adam and Eve as their first human ancestors. This task of Adam and Eve to create a God-centered ideal family to “multiply” (Gen. 1:28) true children in God’s lineage was an important part of the purpose of creation because the intimate relationship of unity between Adam and Eve was to completely reflect the image of God, which is believed to be both male and female (Gen. 1:27), so that God might receive and feel joy from that reflection. Moon’s understanding of created human beings as true children in God’s lineage, although it may not mean to be pantheistic, is quite unthinkable in the Christian tradition, because the latter sees a fundamental gulf between the infinite realm of God and the finite realm of creation.[43] The New Testament only talks about the level of God’s “adopted” children which can be reached through redemption (Rom. 8:23; Gal. 4:5); but according to Rev. Moon, while that level is closer to God than that of “servants” in the Old Testament Age (Lev. 25:55), which in turn is closer to God than that of “servant of servants” in the period prior to the Old Testament Age (Gen. 9:25), the final level of redemption which needs to be reached eventually is that of “children of God’s direct lineage.”[44]

Third, the Fall of Adam and Eve means that they failed to create a family of God’s direct lineage. Instead they defiled it by sexual misconduct centering on Archangel Lucifer, symbolized by the serpent of Gen. 3:1 (Rev. 12:9). Lucifer first seduced Eve sexually and became Satan, and then Eve under the influence of Satan seduced Adam sexually. Thus all the descendents of Adam and Eve became what Jesus called a “brood of vipers” (Mt. 3:7; 12:34; 23:33), i.e., sinful children in the “lineage of Satan.”[45] This sexual interpretation by Moon is again very rarely seen in the Christian tradition, in which the Fall is believed to be a non-sexual event where the act of eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in disobedience to God’s commandment literally took place. (Many liberal Christians also deny the sexual interpretation, because they do not believe in the historicity of Adam or the historicity of the Fall in the first place.) St. Augustine popularized the traditional, non-sexual interpretation, although he did also develop a theory of the transmission of original sin through procreational sex, which would be more compatible with Rev. Moon’s sexual interpretation than with his own non-sexual interpretation of the Fall.[46]

Fourth, God suffered when he saw Adam and Eve fall and fail to achieve the purpose of creation. God has also been suffering by seeing his fallen children suffering from all kinds of problems throughout history. God’s suffering occurs when his children, as his objects of love, fail to reflect the divine character. This idea is not familiar in the Christian tradition, in which God is normally believed to be impassible (incapable of suffering) and immutable (incapable of change) as a perfect God in his untroubled bliss. But Moon’s idea of God’s suffering undoubtedly came from his serious reading of biblical history in which God’s grief and agony is evident, as is indicated in passages such as Gen. 6:6, according to which God, looking at much evil in fallen human beings, was “grieved” by it and “sorry” that he had created them.[47]

Fifth, out of his love for his children, God when he created them endowed them with creativity. He wanted them to inherit his creativity and thus to resemble him. He wanted them to use their God-given creativity in order to “participate in God’s great work of creation.”[48] This creativity is really a God-given freedom, the “freedom of the original mind,” which “cannot exist outside of the Principle,” which “is accompanied by the responsibility laid out in the Principle,” and which “pursues accomplish¬ments that bring joy to God.” This God-given freedom always chooses good and not evil, and thus it could not have been the cause of the Fall of Adam and Eve. Rather, the reason the Fall took place was because their freedom of the original mind was “overwhelmed” by “the stronger power of unprincipled love” when they were tempted by Lucifer.[49] Rev. Moon’s understanding of freedom is very different from the Christian notion of “free will” or “free choice of the will” (liberum arbitrium), because while the former, resembling God’s own freedom, always chooses good, the latter, being able to choose good or evil, allows for the possibility of sinning. The so-called “free will defense” based on the latter in the Christian tradition is fairly easily subjected to critique from atheists such as Antony Flew and J. L. Mackie[50] that this kind of human free will, which includes the possibility of sinning, cannot defend an omnipotent God from being ultimately responsible for evil in the world. Moon’s interpretation, by contrast, may be able to defend God well, when it says that the God-given freedom of humans always chooses good, and that whether or not that freedom is used is up to humans and not to up to God: “If God were to interfere with human actions during their growing period, it would tantamount to ignoring the human portion of responsibility [coming from their God-given freedom].”[51]

Sixth, given his true parental love for humans, God can never abandon them even after their Fall; he needs to have them all back as his children. God has “an intense craving to be with them and dwell within them.”[52] This unbreakable love of God is the deepest reason why it can be said that God is “the absolute Being, unique, eternal and unchanging,” that God’s will to restore his lost children is thus “absolute, unique and unchanging,” and also that his “predestination” of his will is “absolute.” Therefore, even though fallen humans may repeatedly sin, God absolutely continues to carry on his providence of restoration until its fulfillment: “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Is. 46:11).[53] Rev. Moon’s frequent reference to God’s “omnipotence”[54] is derived from this kind of absoluteness of God, which is rooted in his irrepressible longing and craving for his children. Nevertheless, this new definition of God’s omnipotence is novel to the Christian tradition, in which the divine omnipotence has usually been understood to mean that God—who is already so perfect and so completely blissful by himself that he does not need to have any craving for his creatures—is not acted upon by them at all, while he acts upon them, even to the point that he predestines some for salvation and others to damnation.

Seventh, Jesus came as the Second Adam (Rom. 5:18-19; 1 Cor. 15:45). So, he was what Adam was supposed to be from the viewpoint of God’s love in his purpose of creation. In other words, Jesus was the beloved Son of God, who, as Adam was supposed to be, completely resembled God and completely reflected God’s own character, so that God might be able receive and feel joy in loving him. This new perspective on Jesus may not sound very familiar in the Christian tradition, but it actually sees the full divinity of Jesus as well as his full humanity. It is neither a “low” Christology of the Antiochian type, which fails to recognize his full divinity, nor a “high” Christology of the Alexandrian type, which in turn fails to appreciate his full humanity. It is rather a Christology based on a new ontology of unity between God and the world brought forth by Rev. Moon’s understanding of the purpose of creation from the Bible. And it will probably be able to reconcile the above two opposing types of Christology, which in Christian history have not been satisfactorily reconciled with each other.[55] In addition to the person of Christ, the work of Christ is an important part of Christology, and according to Moon, what Jesus was supposed to do can be understood from what Adam was supposed to do to realize God’s purpose of creation.

Eighth, Moon interprets human conflict through the lens of the story of Cain and Abel. He believes that the love of God for his children is such that he wants both Cain and Abel (or Cain-type and Abel-type children) to come back to him together. God wants all his children to come back. It is not God’s desire that Abel only be saved and Cain not. But Cain and Abel can both be reconciled with God only if they reconcile with each other instead of hating or killing each other: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you” (Mt. 6:14). According to Moon, the reconciliation of Cain and Abel constitutes the “foundation for the Messiah” for their eventual reconciliation with God.[56] Moon had an unusual character of love and compassion, especially for the unprivileged, even during his childhood: “After seeing a freezing beggar pass by [in winter], I couldn’t eat or sleep that night… I asked my mother and father to take that beggar into our room and to feed him well.”[57] Undoubtedly, this helped him to understand from the Bible the importance of compassion and love between Cain and Abel for the salvation of both. Also, for him this universal salvation is undeniable from Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep (Lk. 14:4-7), the lost coin (15: 8-10), and the prodigal son (15:11-32).

The above fundamental points became the basis on which the Divine Principle was formulated, and we can assume that all other portions in the Divine Principle were derived from them. This Divine Principle has quite an ambitious task, which is “to elucidate many difficult issues in Christianity” such as “the relationship between God, Jesus and human beings,” “the Holy Trinity,” “the extent of redemption by the cross,” the return of Jesus, and the meaning of the phenomena prophesied in the Bible to happen in the last days, so that it may “bring about Christian unity” to build the kingdom of God.[58]

Rev. Moon’s interpretation of the Bible is unique, given his own unique character, background, and life experience, while his understanding of the authority of the Bible, as was seen in the preceding section, is very similar to that in much of the Christian tradition. This means that any interpretation of the Bible is subjective as well as objective, depending on what kind of person interprets the Bible. Although this subjective side in the interpretation of the Bible is unacceptable to fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals, who adhere to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, we cannot deny the fact that any interpretation of the Bible involves serious give and take between the interpreter (the subject of interpretation) and the biblical text (the object of interpretation). There is no denying the subjective side of interpretation. Even among evangelicals, there has been an increasing awareness of a universal ontology of relationship which should apply also to the relationship between the interpreter and the Bible. The British evangelical Anthony C. Thiselton, for example, argues in his The Two Horizons, following the hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer, that the relationship between the horizons of both the interpreter and the Bible lets the biblical text “speak more clearly in its own right.”[59] 


The Hermeneutical Circle

The word “hermeneutics,” which means the theory of interpretation, is derived from the Greek verb hermeneuein, which has three slightly different meanings: 1) to express aloud in words; 2) to explain; and 3) to translate. It is associated with the messenger-god Hermes, whose task is to transmute something beyond our understanding into an understandable form.

The importance of the role of the interpreting subject as well as that of the interpreted object in hermeneutics was first recognized by the twentieth-century scholars Rudolf Bultmann, Gerhard Ebeling, and Hans-Georg Gadamer. This is usually explained in terms of the “hermeneutical circle.” Gadamer refers to the hermeneutical circle as the “fusion of horizons”[60] of interpreter and text, in which the two continually converse with each other to have their horizons “gradually expanded,”[61] so that a deeper interpretation of the text may be reached. As Gadamer himself admits, this is quite similar to the Platonic dialectic of question and answer through which what is true emerges: “When a question arises [from the interpreter], it breaks open the being of the object, as it were.”[62]

What is important here is Gadamer’s understanding of “horizon.” A horizon is “the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point.”[63] It is constituted by one’s disposition, background, existential experience, cultural, linguistic, and literary knowledge, etc. Thus, it is not fixed or perfect, but finite, narrow, and tentative, and it gets “gradually expanded,” transformed and reconstituted when it encounters another horizon. This is the case with both the horizon of the present interpreter and the horizon of the text from the past. The finite horizon of the interpreter, rightly understood, stops him from being dogmatic, and the finite character of the text naturally precludes the fundamentalist doctrine of inerrancy. According to Gadamer, the text, in spite of its finite horizon, carries with it “an infinity of meaning”[64] or “an infinity of what is not said.”[65] This would mean that the Bible, for example, contains behind its finite expression the infinity of what is not said about God’s truth. This gives impetus to interpretation.

If the interpreter dogmatically thinks as if his horizon were fixed or perfect, he is without “the knowledge of not knowing” (Socrates’ famous notion of learned ignorance), and he “engages in dialogue only to prove himself right and not to gain insight.” Hence he is not able to ask the right questions to break open the being of the object: “the continual failure of the interlocutor shows that people who think they know better cannot even ask the right questions.”[66] Dialogue in this case is inauthentic. This kind of interpreter has no horizon in the sense of being a finite one. Having no horizon, he is not able to understand the text: “A person who has no horizon does not see far enough and hence overvalues what is nearest to him.”[67] He simply imposes his perspective upon the text and distorts it.

By contrast, if the interpreter believes his horizon to be finite and imperfect, he is humble enough to have “the knowledge of not knowing.” He knows that he does not know. Being anxious to know, he is therefore able to ask right questions to know. This involves authentic dialogue between the interpreter and the text, leading the interpreter to come closer to the truth behind the text. A profound paradox here is that a finite horizon leads us to see through the text: “‘to have a horizon’ means not being limited to what is nearby but being able to see beyond it.”[68] And this dialogue “always involves rising to a higher universality that overcomes not only our own particularity but also that of the other.”[69] The reason for the paradox is that if the interpreter humbly acknowledges the finitude of his horizon, then it grows and expands to be transformed and reoriented, so that he may be able to realize “an infinity of meaning” behind the written text.

When Sun Myung Moon interpreted the Bible, he apparently went through this kind of authentic hermeneutical circle. His horizon was characterized by his fervent desire to know and realize God’s ideal on the earth, his prior understanding of the Bible, his upbringing in the Korean culture of filial piety, his first-hand experience of injustice and suffering in Korea under Japanese colonialism, his disposition of righteousness, his virtue of humility, his spirit of love, compassion, and sacrifice for the underprivileged, etc.[70] Yet his horizon was still finite.

What is evident is that Moon had “the knowledge of not knowing.” He therefore raised many serious questions of human life and the universe.[71] This means that he never believed his horizon to be fixed or perfect. His humility in this regard helped his horizon to be continuously enlarged in his encounter with the Bible, so that his interpretation might reach “a higher universality” beyond his own particularity and that of the Bible. This is how he eventually came up with the Divine Principle as his interpretation of the Bible. Although some of the fundamental points of the Divine Principle he came up with, as was mentioned in the preceding section, are quite unique, uncommon, and sometimes unimaginable from the viewpoint of the Christian theological tradition, nevertheless it must be clearly noted that he, like other theologians, went through the hermeneutical circle stipulated by insightful scholars such as Gadamer.

Unificationists, being still committed to this idea of the hermeneutical circle, would add that the reason why Rev. Moon was able to come up with these quite unique, uncommon, or unimaginable points largely new to the Christian theological tradition was because he was a man with a messianic mission—and so he confessed among them. Therefore, he was able to approach the Bible with an unusual level of humility, love, and sacrifice; and this transformed and enlarged his horizon to the utmost extent.[72]

At this juncture, the notion of the hermeneutical circle should be explained from the viewpoint of the Divine Principle. It can easily be shown that any interpretation through the hermeneutical circle always involves three elements: 1) an interpreter, 2) a text, and 3) their interaction, which results in that interpretation.[73] This actually resembles the Divine Principle notion of the “four position foundation”[74] in which a subject and object have their give-and-take action centered on God. The only apparent difference is that unlike the hermeneutical circle, the four position foundation in the Divine Principle has God explicitly as the center of the give and take action, thus involving not just three elements but four: 1) God, 2) a subject, 3) an object, and 4) their interaction centering on God. This four position foundation is “the fundamental foundation for all beings to receive God’s governance and be provided with all the powers necessary for life.”[75] When applied to biblical hermeneutics, therefore, the four position foundation must be the foundation for God’s truth lying behind the biblical text to be revealed to the interpreter in dialogue with the text.[76] 

But the apparent difference between the two disappears, if what Gadamer calls “an infinity of meaning” or “an infinity of what is not said” is equated with God and placed at the center of the hermeneutical circle. That would result in the hermeneutical circle having four elements like the four position foundation. It is not wrong to equate “an infinity of what is not said” in the hermeneutical circle with God in the four position foundation, since there is an infinity of what is yet to be said about God’s absolute and eternal truth in the biblical text and it needs to be disclosed through the act of interpretation.

Another striking similarity between the hermeneutical circle and the four position foundation is that both require humility for there to be genuine interaction between interpreter and text, between subject and object. In the hermeneutical circle, the interpreter is supposed to be aware of his finite horizon, thus raising right questions to break open the being of the text in order to reach a deeper interpretation. In much the same way, according to the Divine Principle, the four position foundation centering on God can only be formed properly when a subject and object are humble enough to “form a common base” for “interaction” called “give and take action.”[77] The implication in the words “give and take action” is that the subject gives first and does not take first, always willing to be selfless.
It is interesting to note that just as the hermeneutical circle “points to a universal ontological structure, namely to the basic nature of everything toward which understanding can be directed,”[78] the four position foundation is “a metaphysical principle” which is “absolutely general and univer¬sal, applying to everything that exists whatsoever.”[79]



The present paper has shown that Sun Myung Moon understands the Bible to be authoritative in that while its expression may be finite and limited, it contains God’s truth which is “unique, eternal, immutable and absolute.” His understanding of the authority of the Bible is the same as that in much of the Christian tradition and does not agree with the fundamentalist doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

Hence, when seeking God’s eternal truth in the Bible, it is important to interpret it for what lies behind its textual expression. In fact, Rev. Moon seriously read the Bible repeatedly in his searching for the truth which could answer the many questions he had about human life and the universe. Even though the result of that search, the Divine Principle, has points that may be quite unique or even unimaginable from the traditional Christian point of view, it is still the product of a genuine effort at biblical interpretation. Moreover, one should bear in mind that the key idea that underlies the entirety of the Divine Principle is entirely biblical, namely God’s unspeakable parental heart of love for humankind as his children.

Moon’s interpretation of the Bible, no matter how unique and special, emerged from the basic framework of the hermeneutical circle, just like the interpretation of any other theologian. Like any other genuine theologian, he started within his finite horizon and rose to a higher universality. We can credit his unusual level of humility, love, and sacrifice as a man with a messianic mission for enlarging his horizon in a special way, exposing him to the infinity of meaning behind the horizon of the biblical text.



[1] The term “Divine Principle” is an English rendition of the Korean term 원리 (“Principle”) or 통일원리 (“Unification Principle”); it does not contain any Korean word that would mean “divine.” The Divine Principle, as Rev. Moon’s new interpretation of the Bible, was first written by himself in 1952 as 원리원본 (“Original Text of the Principle”), which is a full-fledged, hand-written book. In 1957, the Divine Principle was written and published by Hyo Won Eu, then-president of the Unification Church of Korea, as원리해설 (“Explanation of the Prinicple”). In 1966, it was written and published again by Hyo Won Eu as원리강론 (“Exposition of the Principle”). This last publication, currently the official text of the Divine Principle, has two English translations: Divine Principle (New York: HSA-UWC, 1973); and Exposition of the Divine Principle (New York: HSA-UWC, 1996). The present paper will use the latter translation, which will abbreviated henceforth be as DP.

[2] DP, p. 105. Cf. DP, pp. 7, 104.

[3] DP, p. 7. Cf. p. 104.

[4] DP, p. 7.

[5] Paul Tillich has an excellent discussion of this issue in relationship to the definition of theology in his Systematic Theology, vol. I (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 3-6.

[6] Sun Myung Moon, As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen (Washington, D.C.: Washington Times Foundation, 2010), p. 67.

[7] DP, p. 105.

[8] Sun Myung Moon, “The Future of Christianity,” God’s Will and the World (New York: HSA-UWC, 1985), p. 214.

[9] Oswald Bayer reports that this distinction was first proposed by August Twesten in Germany in 1826; see his Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, trans. Thomas H. Trapp (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), p. 69, n. 3. In 1845, the church historian Philip Schaff mentioned about this distinction in his The Principle of Protestantism as Related to the Present State of the Church, trans. John W. Nevin, (Chambersburg, Pa.: Publication Office of the German Reformed Church, 1845), pp. 54-94.

[10] Martin Luther, “Preface to the New Testament, 1925,” in John Dillenberger, ed., Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), p. 19.

[11] Regarding Heb. 10:5-9 misquoting Ps. 40:6-8, Calvin says: “in quoting these words the Apostles were not so scrupulous, provided they perverted not Scripture to their own purpose. We must always have a regard to the end for which they quoted passages… but as to words and other things, which bear not on the subject in hand, they use great freedom”; see his Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, trans. John Owen (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), pp. 227-28. Concerning Heb. 11:21’s discrepancy with Gen. 48:2, Calvin again says: “the Apostles were not so scrupulous in this respect, as not to accommodate themselves to the unlearned, who had as yet need of milk”; Ibid., p. 291.

[12] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. I, part 2 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), p. 529.

[13] Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, p. 69.

[14] Paul Tillich discusses this problem in Protestant scholasticism and American fundamentalism in his A History of Christian Thought: From Its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968), pp. 280-83, 308-11; also Systematic Theology, vol. I, pp. 3-6. Oswald Bayer touches upon the same problem in fundamentalism in his Martin Luther’s Theology, pp. 74, 82-83. Jack B. Rogers and Donald K. McKim substantially deal with the problem in both Protestant scholasticism and the Princeton Theology in their The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), pp. 147-99, 265-379.

[15] Everett F. Harrison, “The Phenomena of Scripture,” in Revelation and the Bible: Contemporary Evangelical Thought, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1958), pp. 237-50.

[16] Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility (Ann Arbor: Pryor Pettengill, 1979), p. 196.

[17] For example, John Warwick Montgomery, In Defense of Martin Luther (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1970), pp. 40-84; and John D. Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).

[18] Faculty of Concordia Seminary, “Faithful to Our Calling, Faithful to Our Lord” (1973), part 1: “A Witness to Our Faith: A Joint Statement and Discussion of Issues,” p. 21.

[19] J. O. A. Preus, “Report of the Synodical President to the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, 1972,” in A Seminary in Crisis: The Inside Story of the Preus Fact Finding Committee, ed. Paul A. Zimmerman (St. Louis: Concordia, 2007), p. 234.

[20] The name of “Gospel reductionists” is a shortened form of “Law/Gospel reductionists,” which was first used by John Warwick Montgomery in his two conference papers in 1966 criticizing them. They are published in his Crisis in Lutheran Theology: The Validity and Relevance of Historic Lutheranism vs. Its Contemporary Rivals, vol. I (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), pp. 81-123.

[21] G. C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, tr. Jack B. Rogers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 32-34.

[22] Donald D. Bloesch, Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration and Interpretation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 173.

[23] Ibid., p. 115.

[24] Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).

[25] Daniel Fuller, “The Nature of Biblical Inerrancy,” Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 24 (June 1972): 47-51. George Eldon Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967). David Hubbard, “The Irrelevancy of Inerrancy,” in Biblical Authority, ed. Jack Rogers (Waco: Word Books, 1977), pp. 151-81. Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973). Stephen T. Davis, The Debate about the Bible: Inerrancy versus Infallibility (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977). Rogers and McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible.


[27] Rogers and McKim in The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible report that theologians such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine as well as Luther and Calvin clearly had the idea of God’s accommodation of his message to the imperfect human level in the Bible.

[28] It is interesting that many of those evangelicals who do not want to accept the doctrine of biblical inerrancy join liberals in criticizing it for being “docetic,” although they do not also forget to criticize liberals for having an “ebionitic” view of the Bible. See, for example, Donald G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, vol. 1: God, Authority, and Salvation (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978), p. 52.

[29] The Lutheran scholar F. E. Mayor applies the material and formal principles to various Christian denominations of America to facilitate a comparative study in his The Religious Bodies of America (St. Louis: Concordia, 1961), where he observes that non-Lutheran denominations add things other than the Bible to the formal principle.

[30] Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, p. 193.

[31] Sun Myung Moon, Blessing and Ideal Family, part 2 (Washington, D.C.; Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, 1998), p. 312.

[32] Sun Myung Moon, The Way for Students (Washington, D.C.; Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, 1998), p. 133.

[33] Moon, As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, p. 49.

[34] Ibid., pp. 49-50.

[35] Sun Myung Moon, “Leaders Conference, April 8, 1989,” sermon.  http://www.

[36] Moon, As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, p. 76.

[37] Ibid., pp. 76-77.

[38] Luther describes his “tower experience” in his “Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Writings, 1945,” in Dillenberger, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, pp. 10-12.

[39] DP, p. 33.

[40] Millard J. Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 2nd ed., edited by L. Arnold Hustad (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), p. 122.

[41] DP, pp. 285, 349.

[42] The notion of the “lineage” of God through Adam and Eve is referred to in DP, pp. 60, 68.

[43] The Reformed tradition, for example, established the axiom of Finitum non capax infiniti (“The finite cannot contain the infinite”) regarding the relationship between the infinite divinity and finite humanity of Christ. Lutherans and other Christians, while not necessarily accepting this Reformed axiom regarding the two natures of Christ, still undoubtedly see a fundamental gulf between God and finite creatures.

[44] DP, p. 284.

[45] DP, p. 68.

[46] For Augustine’s non-sexual interpretation of the fall Adam and Eve merely as their disobedient act of eating the fruit, see, for example, City of God, ed. Vernon J. Bourke (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1958), Book XIV, Chap. 13: “Our first parents… could commit the sin of eating the forbidden fruit” (p. 309). Thus a common misconception about Augustine, that he may have developed a sexual interpretation of the Fall, needs to be avoided. For his doctrine of the transmission of original sin through procreational sex, however, see “Marriage and Concupiscence,” in Saint Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Vol. 5, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pp. 258-308.

[47] DP, pp. 82, 154, 155.

[48] DP, p. 43.

[49] DP, pp. 74-75.

[50] Antony Flew, “Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom,” in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. Anthony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre (New York: Macmillan, 1955); J. L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence,” Mind 64: 200-212.

[51] DP, p. 77.

[52] Sun Myung Moon, “God’s Day 1984,” sermon, January 1, 1984.

[53] DP, p. 155.

[54] DP, pp. 42, 76, 81.

[55] Although the Council of Chalcedon (451) is officially considered to have reconciled the two types of Christology by asserting that Christ is fully divine and fully human, and that these two natures are united “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation,” nevertheless it is also usually observed that this negative expression of Chalcedon does not positively explain anything about the union of the two natures of Christ.

[56] DP, pp. 195-97.


[58] DP, pp. 10-11.

[59] Anthony T. Thiselton, The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1980), p. 445.

[60] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd revised ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Crossroad, 1991), p. 306.

[61] Ibid., p. 302.

[62] Ibid., p. 362.

[63] Ibid., p. 302

[64] Ibid., p. 458.

[65] Ibid., p. 469.

[66] Ibid., pp. 362-63.

[67] Ibid., p. 302.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid., p. 305.

[70] To understand Moon’s horizon, see his autobiographical sketch of the formative years of his life in chapter 1 and at least the first half of chapter 2 of As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, pp. 2-77.

[71] See those questions above in the first section, n. 33.

[72] See Theodore Shimmyo, “Hermeneutics” (“Kaishakugaku”), Family, December 1991, pp. 70-78 (Japanese).

[73] David Tracy, too, refers to “three basic steps” for interpretation. See his “Theological Method,” in Christian Theology: An Introduction to Its Tradi¬tions and Tasks, revised and enlarged ed., edited by Peter C. Hodgson and Robert H. King (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), pp. 38-41.

[74] DP, p. 25.

[75] DP, p. 31.

[76] This point was made also by Whitney T. Shiner, another Unificationist. See his “A Unificationist View of Scripture,” in Explorations in Unificationism, edited by Theodore T. Shimmyo and David A. Carlson (New York: HSA-UWC, 1997): “Thus if the reader forms a four position foundation with scripture, God can participate in his or her reading of scripture in such a way as to communicate to him or her in that reading” (p. 11).

[77] DP, p. 22.

[78] Gadamer, Truth and Method, p. 474.

[79] Herbert W. Richardson, “A Lecture to Students at the Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown, New York,” in A Time for Consideration: A Scholarly Appraisal of the Unification Church, ed. M. Darrol Bryant and Herbert W. Richardson (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1978), p. 302.