Luctor: An Introduction

Luctor (v): to fight, struggle, wrestle in Latin.

mansit solus: et ecce vir luctabatur cum eo usque mane.
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. (Genesis 32:24)

“Every theologian should at some point in their life write a commentary.” // Willie James Jennings, Acts, xv.

Anyone who has done the very good and wise work of reading Willie James Jennings knows how good and true it is to follow his advice.

But to many, Jennings’s advice seems out of place: Who else but a theologian would write a commentary on the Bible? In the small polis called religious academia, however, this is foolishness: A theologian should stick with theology; let the biblical scholar handle the Bible. Specialization in religious academia have drawn these fine but hard lines. To be sure, there are many goods from specialization! But there are also many goods from cross-fertilization. I, for one, want to follow Jennings’s advice and attempt a commentary on a biblical book.

I have decided on Luctor as the series’s name. It is drawn from the Vulgate—the Latin translation of Holy Writ—specifically from Jacob’s mysterious wrestling with an even more elusive man. Was he an angel, God temporarily enfleshed, or a figment of Jacob’s imagination? The text is, albeit, not too clear, nor terribly interested in clearing the philosophical conundrum. What is clear are at least three things: the elusive man was physically tangible; Jacob incurred bodily aftermath; and Jacob deemed it a divine encounter. Keeping these three things in mind, Jacob’s wrestle—luctor—with God is a fitting analogy to hermeneutics (interpretation of written works, say, Scripture). At least, it’s a personal favorite analogy.

Here’s how the three things relate to engaging Scripture, or hermeneutics. First, Scripture, like the elusive man, is earthy. We must never overlook this profound truth: God spoke in the “lip of Canaan”—Hebrew. And God continues to speak in many earthy ways: language, culture, emotions, pain, and joy.

Second, wrestling with Scripture leaves us bodily changed. Often, we are tempted to limit Scripture to the spiritual plane, and that any changes we experience thereafter are equally and plainly spiritual. This is mistaken. For embodied beings, spiritual changes cannot help but spill over onto bodily changes. For example, being the Good Samaritan cannot be relegated to just a spiritual mindset. It must pour over onto our bodies of how we see, touch, and respond to our neighbors, even our enemies. Sometimes the wrestle leaves us limping; other times it heals our ailing bodies. Sometimes it puts down, and other times it lifts up. But it must always engage our bodies.

Lastly, wrestling with Scripture is a divine encounter because it is wrestling with the God of Scripture. Scripture is divine, yes, but it is not God. Scripture is only revelatory because it reveals God. Scripture is alive only because God breathes life. Scripture does not—cannot—save, but God does. This is all the better, I believe, for God is much more willing to receive our protests, complaints, bitterness, grief, confusion, as well as our praises, gratitude, and love than printed words. Thus, wrestling with God is what I strive to do in this Luctor series.

Jacob was at his wits end that night. His blood-thirsty brother was at his tail. And despite having sent a caravan of gifts to appease Esau, Jacob still quivered in fear. It was during such a night that God visited and wrestled with Jacob. I doubt it was a pleasant encounter. But Jacob seized God and asked—begged—for a blessing. Jacob seized God, not out of wolfish mastery, but out of desperation: a seizing to be seized, a holding to be held. With shocking humility, God did not overwhelm Jacob but instead allowed him to hold God down—embarrassingly, I might add. But such is our God: humble enough to be seized, to be held, and to give a blessing. This, too, is what I strive: to receive a blessing from God.

I claim myself to be an aspiring systematic theologian. But no systematician in his or her right mind would outright claim systematic comprehension—at least, not explicitly. There is no incorrigible, complete systematic theology. Theology is always /in via/, or “on the way,” as Sarah Coakley describes. Systematic theology strives—aspires—to be systematic, not claims to be one already. Likewise, my commentary in this series aspires to be systematic, embodying my best possible effort to understand the God revealed in Scripture.

Photo: “Jacob Wrestling with An Angel,” Marc Chagall, 1963.


  1. Aaron Dorsey says:

    Looking forward to more of these!


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