Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Interpretative techniques

How we see the Bible affect how we interpret the Bible. I have several underlying themes that affect how I interpret the Bible.

Unity
I seek to find an interpretation that does justice to all the passages that touch on a topic. A related concept is that fuller revelation can expand on previous revelation but does not contradict it. The Bible is without error in any claim.

Context
The grammatical-historical hermeneutic says that the meaning is dictated by the underlying grammar and historical context. By historical context it is meaning what the writer intended based on his cultural setting. Concepts that we may hold based on the meanings of words may be irrelevant. This does not mean the ancients were ignorant, rather that they may have thought differently. One must guard against multiplying historical "settings" to justify an opinion, yet one must not ignore the fact. And there may be clues to this in the surrounding text.

Genre
Attention must be paid to literary genre, the type of text being read. For example a proverb is meant to be a general principle, poetry uses hyperbole and figurative language, apocalypse uses symbolism.

Divine authorship
Because God is the ultimate author, there may be truths that God intended yet the authors were not aware of. The Bible is infallible and legitimate conclusions come from its pages are true.

Perspicuity
The Bible is meant to be understood. The general meaning of the Bible is clear to any reader.

Hiddenness
I think this actually applies to God as well as the Bible and merits a post of its own. Briefly, the Bible is intentionally difficult in places. At least one reason for this is to hide meaning from the mocker and reveal meaning to the devout. There are concepts, difficulties, or apparent contradictions that allow a defiant man to scoff and dismiss, but on deeper investigation reveal unity and profound truth.

Prophecy may be a feature of this. Some prophecies seem to be difficult to understand before the fact but obvious afterwards.

Conclusion
Most of these relate to the usual use of language. Meaning is based on what the speaking is thinking. If he translates the thoughts to words well, and the hearer understands the words then he grasps what the speaker is thinking.

In conversation the context of a statement is important, think listening to one side of a telephone conversation; the genre is important, think telling a joke; perspicuity is important, we generally want others to understand what we are saying; and even hiddenness is used, consider talking in the presence of children using euphemisms or pig-Latin. Of the above items only divine authorship and unity do not are not grounded in the principles of language communication. Rather these are theological propositions.

Even if people agree on methodology, there is the scope for them to weight the issues differently, thus disagree on meaning. If others differ on their methodology it may be difficult to find any agreement. For example if one takes an essentially allegorical approach to all Scripture, or a private interpretation to verses.

That being said, I think the Bible has power thru virtue of it being God's word. For the pious reader, ongoing reading and desire to know God is likely to lead to growing in true knowledge, even if one's hermeneutic is substandard.

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