Friday, September 19, 2008

The Interpretive Process

Those who work with me--and any of you who read this blog occasionally--suffer with my endless attempt to come up with ways to teach interpretive method to undergraduate and graduate students.

Here is the content of some Power Points I've put together for an approaching interpretation assignment:

1. Give the text of Philippians 2:6-11
  • You can use whatever translation you like…
  • ... but your interpretation should reflect awareness of issues relating to the Greek original.
2. Set the historical-cultural and literary background for this passage.

a. What is the “state of the question” on the situation behind Philippians?
  • Be careful not to let pre-judgments here unduly influence your interpretation.
b. Are there any broader aspects of Greco-Roman or Jewish history that impact your interpretation of this passage?

c. Are there any socio-cultural aspects of the Greco-Roman or Jewish world that impact your interpretation of this passage?

a.Are there key aspects of this book in general that impact your interpretation of this passage?

b.Where does this passage appear in the train of thought of the book? What do I need to know about the verses that have just preceded to understand this passage?

3. Go thought by thought.
  • Most of the time, sentence by sentence is probably the place to start.
  • But some phrases and clauses merit special focus.
  • And sometimes more than one sentence is easily treated at the same time.
4. ... and interpret the passage
  • In the observation phase, you stuck fairly closely to the “surface meaning” of the text. Then you raised questions that would require more extensive research.
  • This interpretation assignment assumes you have already done that research.

Types of Interpretive Research
  • Word and phrase studies—to answer questions of definition.
  • Literary Context studies
  • Background studies
  • Commentary studies

5. Give a conclusion.
  • After you have gone verse by verse, summarize the basic sense of the passage’s meaning and implications in its original setting.
  • This is an interpretation assignment. It is not about what this passage means to you or today. It’s about what it likely meant for its original author and audiences.

I feel more and more strongly that we must drive a sharp distinction between reading the Bible for what it originally meant and reading it as Christian Scripture. Both are valid readings; the latter is more important for us as Christians. But without awareness of the first, interpretation becomes and has especially in America been a free for all.

The myth of objectivity is a myth--and one that we need to recultivate as a major priority for education in American culture!


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think all kinds of "havoc" has happened because we read the Bible as Christian Scripture. This is an ancient text and may give us information concerning their worldview, but, we have to be careful about making it a text of rules for today...Surely, most of us have eaten milk and meat together, and some of us have eaten rare steak, which has blood....which parts do we apply, and which parts are irrelavant?

Ken Schenck said...

In a sense, Angie, I think the idea of reading the Bible as a Christian community of faith, which is fundamental to what I mean by reading the Bible as Christian Scripture, should free us from some of the dynamics you're alluding to. The reason is that, once we admit the community and its history has as much to do with how we as a community read and appropriate Scripture, we acknowledge that we are not slaves to the letter of the Bible but to its Spirit as He has manifested himself in the common church and to individual groups.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I am not a traditionalist. I used to be a existentialist, but now like to know a reason for faith...and Scripture is a text within tradition. You seem to be referring to a particular denominational "brand" of understanding, which is confined to the text itself. And confining the hermenuetics to the text itself is short-sighted,I believe, as the text has a historical context and that context is a tradition within a tradition, which is itself in a context within world history...I do not believe that "just obeying Scripture" will alleviate this world of problems.
And faith communities must have another reason for commitment to them, other than the text...which is a social reason, not a spiritual one. This is where the psychological and sociological "needs" of the individual are met. And, as has been said, the political "goals" of the organization's denomination are also. But, this does not mean that there is anything particularly unique about organizational structures. They function along the same lines as any other. So, one must ascertain on what basis do they think they belong, or not to the goals, and to the social aspects, etc.?