Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pre-Modern Bible Reading

Although I've said some things repeatedly in the past, it's worth repeating some of them every once and a while. I consider the following claims more or less beyond reasonable dispute:

1. All of us see the world from "within our heads." That is to say, we see the world as it appears to us, not as it actually is.

2. This also applies to the Bible, since it is outside our heads. The meaning of the Bible does not come into our heads without being filtered through our interpretation machines.

3. A pre-modern interpreter--which is ultimately all of us because of #1--is unreflective in his or her interpretation. A pre-modern interpretation is one that does not realize that it is projecting meaning onto the thing being interpreted.

4. Texts are polyvalent. That is to say, the same text is susceptible to multiple interpretations. The closer the text is to its speaker and utterance, the easier it is to pin down the intended meaning. The more removed the utterance is from the person interpreting it, the more likely it is that the interpreter will see a different meaning in the text than the one intended.

5. The meaning of words is a function of the way they are used in particular contexts. These meanings change over time and have a "deep structure." That is to say, the meaning of words is ensconced in socio-cultural contexts.

6. The original meanings of the Bible were (overwhelmingly if not entirely) meanings that its original authors understood or were meant to understood. Therefore, the deep structure of biblical meaning is, at least in the first place, a meaning that was a function of ancient socio-cultural systems.

7. These connotations are different from our defaults. We inevitably invest the words of the Bible with the meanings of our defaults (thus pre-moderns). That is, we inevitably invest the words with our deep structures, our socio-cultural norms.

8. The general tendency to read the books of the Bible as a unity of meaning is a pre-modern tendency. That is, it is a tendency to rip the texts from their context-dependent, deep structured meanings and to replace those deep structures with the singular deep-structure of us as readers. What were originally dozens of separate books written against multiple contexts becomes one book read against our singular context.

9. The tendency to speak of a biblical worldview is a tendency to pre-modern interpretation. The worldview of which we speak is, to a large extent, our worldview rather than that of the Bible.

10. Modern inerrancy was designed to stop progress toward contextual (modern) reading of the Bible at a semi-arbitrary spot. A road sign was erected to say, "You must continue to read the Bible with the same pre-modern conclusions as before but using modern historical methods to arrive at them, guided by certain untouchable presuppositions."

Again, although I perhaps have not worded these as clearly as possible, most of these I consider beyond reasonable question, if you understand what I am saying.

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