Archive for the Hermeneutics Category

Objectivity and Interpretation

Posted in Hermeneutics with tags , on July 25, 2012 by hoffnate

The charge has often been leveled that a faith position on the part of the bible interpreter removes his activities from the realm of objectivity, a realm which – it is claimed – can only be inhabited by the neutral observer. I have questioned this notion for quite some time, and have only recently begun to understand such a position for what it truly is – fanciful illusion. While there are many reasons to question the idea, Sailhamer has some insightful remarks based in communication theory. With regard to biblical, theological method he writes:

“[The] descriptive approach often assumes an unrealistic objectivity in reconstructing the “original” meaning of the text. In reality, such objectivity is rare or nonexistent. It is inevitable that when reading the biblical text we bring something of ourselves to the text and that this will influence how we understand the text. We cannot read the text from a neutral corner. Furthermore, understanding the biblical text, like understanding any other text, involves what E. D. Hirsch called a “genre-guess” along with its validation. In reading a text one makes an educated guess about what the text is saying. The guess must then be validated by the text itself. Does the normative strategy of a text, for example, support the guess or suggest that some other guess should be made? The capacity for making good genre-guesses is dependent on a certain kind of affinity between the author and the reader. The reader must have some initial idea of what the writer is talking about before understanding can take place. Since it can reasonably be argued that ‘faith’ understands ‘faith’ better than ‘unbelief’ understands ‘faith,’ it stands to reason that the believer, not the disinterested observer, is in a better position to understand the biblical text.”

John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 168.

Text Theory and Biblical Literature

Posted in Hermeneutics with tags , on July 25, 2012 by hoffnate

The Bible is more than a text, but it is certainly not less. Recognizing this essential nature of biblical literature, therefore, is a fundamental preliminary to the construction of its meaning, and provides a framework within which to articulate a valid hermeneutic. Sailhamer gives expression to this nature in his introduction to OT theology.

“One of the developments of recent text theory is the emergence of the idea that a text is a system of signs that can be understood as an act of communication and thus implies a communication situation. A typical communication situation consists of a speaker who transmits information to a hearer via a shared mode of communication or sign system:

Speaker ——> Sign System ——> Hearer

Seen within such a context, a text can be understood as the sign system bearing the information in an act of communication. Thus, if we replace the general notion of information in the diagram above with the specific idea of a text and put the author and reader in the place of speaker and hearer, we can construct the following diagram to show the role of a text within a communication situation:

Author ——> Text ——> Reader

On the basis of the diagram above, it is possible to formulate a view of a text as a written linguistic communication between an author and reader.”

John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 47.

Subjectivism and the Gospel

Posted in Hermeneutics, Soteriology, The gospel with tags on July 8, 2010 by hoffnate

We live in a culture that values individualism. An increasingly new emphasis within this individualism is the primacy of personal interpretation. In other words, the important thing is what something means to me rather than what it means from some outside objective standard. How do I see a particular something? How is it significant to me? How does it express itself in me (notice the favored pronouns in preceding few sentences)? Christianity, and biblical scholarship, is not unaffected by this growing trend. It is not uncommon to find commentaries, journal articles, and pop theologies seeking to understand the scriptures from some new ideological perspective. The goal in all these attempts is to find meaning from a particular vantage point rather than meaning from an inspired, divine, and textual perspective. In other words, while these attempts ask, “What does it mean to me (“me ” being subject to one’s ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, or sexual orientation)?”, they do not ask, “What does God mean?” Critics of the viewpoint expressed in this post will say discovering the intended divine meaning is an impossible task. However that is not the case. But to digress on that issue at the present time would take us on a course outside of that intended and, therefore, another post will be in order.

While many conservative Christians would claim to oppose this kind of subjectivism it has, nevertheless, crept into our homes, neighborhoods, churches, and workplaces specifically in the way we verbalize the gospel. I cannot tell you how many times I have personally said, or have heard others say, “Let me tell you what Christ means to me.” Yet the power of the gospel is not in who Christ is to me but rather in who Christ actually is. If there is any merit in my personal experience of Christ it is the fact that I have embraced the reality of Christ and not some subjective version. But it is easier to preach subjectivity. It’s easier to tell someone about “my” Christ rather than “the” Christ. Because to tell someone about “the” Christ does not permit them room to create their own personalization. The call is clear,”Here is who Jesus is, would you embrace Him?”