Monday, January 06, 2014

Following the Train of Thought of a Passage

I don't know if I will ever write a book on how to interpret and apply the Bible, but I have quite a bit of raw material accumulated. I put in a feeler with a publisher who was at least interested in seeing more. So on the huge assumption I meet other deadlines, this would be the big project for the second half of the year.

One of the chapters is tentatively titled, "Following a Train of Thought." Because of Snowpocalypse, I had to teach the first day of a class online today, but it covered this material. So the content of this chapter is well in my mind today and I thought I would jot down an outline.

Chapter 4
Following a Train of Thought

1. Starting in the Text
You need history and culture to have a full and deep understanding of a text, but you'd best start interpretation with a rough draft sense of the text itself. Start with the passage you want to interpret. Then gather more information. Then return to the text. This process is called the hermeneutical circle.

2. Things to Observe
a. A text gives evidence of its meaning in several ways.
  • For example, there are the words and phrases themselves (semantics). Look for key terms when you are trying to interpret a passage.
  • Then there are grammatical aspects of words, phrases, and clauses (grammar, syntax). Is a word singular or plural? You often need to know the original languages to see some of these clearly.
  • Connecting words are incredibly helpful when trying to determine the meaning of a passage.
  • Closely related to connecting words are the relationships between one thought and the next. Connecting words ideally tell you these, but sometimes there can be implicit relationships between one thought and the next without a conjunction (repetition, contrast, etc..).
  • Miscellaneous things of interest (tone, figures of speech, allusions, points of view, items of historical interest).
Since we are making our way through the text as a rough draft the first time, we will need to remain very tentative. We may raise more questions to look at more deeply than answers at first.

b. How might a person dig up this raw material?  A first step might be to photocopy the text and mark it up, inventing your own symbols (e.g., a line under key terms, a circle around key connecting words, etc). You might make comments in the margin of an electronic document or track changes.

c. A note on what sort of translation to use. In the previous chapter, we argued that some types of translation are better for one sort of task and others for another. If you are wanting to follow the train of thought of a passage, you need details, so a formal equivalence translation works best for this assignment. Obviously the actual Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic text works best of all.

3. Organizing the Notes
You can write up your observations in a way that becomes the seed of a full blown interpretation. No need to write a full blown paper, because this is just the first draft:
  • Paste the translation of the passage you are using.
  • Locate your passage in the book - what is the broader literary context and the immediate literary context of the passage in question. The chapter that follows will help you know how to locate a passage more exactly in the overall flow of a book.
  • Get a sense of the structure of the passage. Can you discern paragraph divisions, remembering that the chapters and verses weren't there in the original? Where are the clear cut sentences, which may span more than one verse (or there may be more than one in a verse).
  • Proceed through the passage paragraph by paragraph. Within each paragraph, go sentence by sentence. 
  • With each new paragraph, jot down your notes on how it relates to the one that came before it. Then jot down questions about which you will want to do some more research.
  • With each new sentence, jot down notes on how it relates to the one that came before it. Jot down notes on the key items you observed in that sentence from your earlier spade work. Jot down questions on which you will want to do some more research (definitions, how questions, why questions, etc...).
  • If you have any sense of diagramming or charting sentences, it will help you gain clarity down to the level of each individual word.
  • When you finish the passage, jot down some notes in summary.
Give examples from each testament.


Susan Moore said...

My series 1 of the learning Hebrew books came today.
They're backwards!
What else to do on these sub-zero days? So far this is not overwhelming. Being primed by your videos has obviously helped.
God is only good.

Ken Schenck said...