Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon as a Hermeneutic

Did you ever play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Someone names a celebrity. You have to name a celebrity who appeared with that celebrity in a film. Then you take the second celebrity, name a celebrity who appeared with that celebrity in another film, and continue the chain. The goal is to arrive at actor, Kevin Bacon, as quickly as possible, within six degrees of separation.

For example, start with Charlton Heston:

  • Charlton Heston appeared with Val Kilmer in Tombstone (perhaps my favorite movie).
  • Val Kilmer starred with Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
  • Tom Cruise appeared with Kevin Bacon in A Few Good men.

In my study of 1 Peter 3:18-22, I discovered that Peter was using a method of topical connection somewhat similar to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to bring encouragement to Christians. Of course, it is my civic duty to share this with you.

1 Peter 3:18-22 – For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Peter is here offering encouragement to suffering Christians. In the process, he walks us through some really obscure topics to make his point. And, like Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon, the end of one thought connects us to the beginning of a seemingly unrelated thought. And somehow, when it is all said and done, Peter starts with Jesus and returns to Jesus.

How does that work?

  • Jesus suffered in the flesh, but was made alive in the spirit.
  • Speaking of the spirit, in the spirit, Jesus preached to spirits who were in prison for their disobedience during the days of Noah.
  • Speaking of Noah, Noah built the ark and was one of only 8 people saved from the waters of the flood.
  • Speaking of water, that reminds me of baptism which saves us through an appeal to God based on the resurrection of Jesus.

Here we see a set of leaps that take us through the mystical, from Jesus to Jesus, and leave us with hope. How this all gives us hope, well, that is the topic for Sundays’ sermon. But for now, know that the hermeneutical principle of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon has played a role.

A Perfect Example of Context Really Mattering

If you know me, you will know that I often preach to people how important context is in interpreting a biblical text. If we remove context from our study of a passage, we will miss, often badly, the meaning of the text. And if you think that this is not the case, I want you to read the following words with no context. They are Scripture. What would happen if all you heard was that these are the words of God?

“attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David’s soul.”

Now, if those words are left to themselves, if they were seen as Scriptural commands, what would you become? It would be a real problem. And I did not do anything to those words. They appear above as they appear in Scripture. But, look at the context, and see how the meaning becomes clear.

2 Samuel 5:6-8 – 6 And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. 8 And David said on that day, “Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David’s soul.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”

When David was planning to take the city of Jerusalem, the Jebusites said that David was so weak that the blind and the lame could ward him off. So, when David sent men to take the city, he sarcastically used the words of the arrogant Jebusites as part of his command. David does not hate blind and lame people. God does not command us to attack the disabled. Instead, we see here that David threw the boasts of the arrogant back into their teeth.

Friends, when you read the Bible, please, for the love of God (literally), handle the text in its context. Do not take a verse alone as a unit of thought. Ask what the verse is saying in the light of the paragraph, the unit of thought around it. Ask what book the verse is in and what that book is trying to communicate. Ask what timely and social constructs influence how that verse would have been understood by those who read it. Remember, context really matters.