Sunday, June 04, 2006

Understanding Meaning

Tim Enloe has a post that might help us out at this point.

Here are a few highlights (bold added):

Protestant hermeneutics, born in the fires of controversy between a (then) emerging and fresh “Modern” way of thinking and the forces of an ancient and (apparently) decadent Scholasticism, has always been attracted to “the grammatical-historical” method. This method is generally defined as interpretation which pays close attention to the original language and cultural context of the text being interpreted. By following this method, it has been assumed for centuries, the meaning of a text (primarily biblical texts) can be authoritatively determined without recourse to factors lying outside of itself. Assuming for the moment that over time the appeal to “grammatical-historical exegesis” has not shifted its meaning as Science and Technology have increasingly dominated, and transformed, our entire way of thinking and living, I think we should ask the question: Are questions of meaning really so simple as this?

If the goal of interpreting a text is to discover its meaning, it would seem to be a more fundamental question to discover what meaning itself means. Once, perhaps, asking such a question would have seemed bizarre, since everyone “knows” that meaning is to be simply equated with “what the original author intended to say.” However, since the 1946 paradigm-shaking work of two literary critics, W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, it has been widely recognized that trying to define the “meaning” of a text as merely “what the original author intended to say” is naive and fallacious.

At the very least, it may sometimes be more difficult than we think to establish what the original author meant, and what he meant may not be what we would expect if we were to imagine that the text has a “literal” meaning “at face value.” But beyond that, it is not clear that the meaning of a text should be limited to what the original author meant. One may reasonably advocate Hirsch’s distinction, and maintain that texts can have significance beyond their grammatical-historical meaning–even though that meaning never changes and should be considered foundational for evaluating different claims to significance.

In other words, other fully legitimate modes of meaning exist outside of a bare grammatical one, and the process of interpreting a text properly involves much more than merely mastering grammar and proclaiming the results of such a study a “timeless truth” outside of which can only exist “error” and “eisegesis.”

Notice carefully that he is not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” He is simply trying to get us to see that there is more to biblical interpretation that determining the “grammatical-historical meaning.”

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


Luke Britt said...

I think I somewhat agree...well, i do think the grammatical structure and words used are where you obtain the meaning of a text by the aid of the Spirit. If not, then Creflo Dollar could be the greatest preacher in the word, b/c he certainly does not use the HGM.

Anonymous said...

I think prophecy can have multiple fulfillments, so there can be meaning beyond the original meaning. I also think the HG method is the place to start, in general. I also think that without the Holy Spirit as a guide, it does not matter how much you know.

Pastor Rod said...


Good point about Creflo Dollar. We must have limits to the possible meanings of a text. In other words, a text cannot mean whatever a person wants it to mean.

Anonymous is also correct that the HG method is the place to start (with some qualitfication).


nathaniel adam king said...

'In other words, other fully legitimate modes of meaning exist outside of a bare grammatical one,'

I think I would agree with the point presented here. I don't think that always the HG method is the only means. I think that while Paul may have meant something in particular, it could be just as valid to say that the Spirit likewise meant that (what Paul meant, afterall, Paul was moved by the Spirit) the Spirit could have meant something else as well...

I would then ask, SO?

If I'm not mistaken, we have been discussing the expositional method, a method which basically revolves around the HG method (sometimes being considered synonymous). If we then establish that the HG method is correct, and likewise concede that other methods may simultaneously be correct as well, I don't think this moves us in one direction or the other when considering whether the expositional method is valid or not...

Pastor Rod said...


Another major problem with expository preaching is that it fails to recognize that the Bible is almost entirely narrative in character.

Expository preaching turns it into a source for systematic theology and self-improvement principles.


nathaniel adam king said...

That is a mischaracterization of expository preaching. Please let us refrain from unproveable accusations. Not all expositors believe that the Scripture is not almost entirely all narrative. Likewise, the method of expository teaching is not inherently a denial that the Scriptures are almost all narrative. SO, this is not a problem with expository preaching, but is rather an unwarranted accusation. Naughty naughty.

BESIDES, if I did concede and say that expository preaching denies that the Scripture is almost all narrative, you would still be faced with a problem. You say yourself it is ALMOST all narrative, meaning that it is not all narrative. Meaning that there is some of Scripture which is not narrative and can be interpreted with some other narrative besides that which interprets Scripture as if it were narrative.

Pastor Rod said...


I think my point was not clear. While expository preachers recognize that much of the Bible is narrative (though I think they vastly underestimate the amount), they turn the narrative into propositional prose in the process of producing the proclamation.

Acknowledging the genre being operated on is not the issue. The issue is that expository preaching reduces everything to essentially a lecture.