Archives For Scripture

Here is Westphal, not succumbing to a view of communication that either neglects or overemphasizes the receiver.

Hermeneutics is not a radical either/or. Either the author alone determines meaning or the reader alone determines meaning. In the first case, objectivity and universal validity are possible in principle; in these second case have an “anything goes” relativism in which there is no terra firma.

But are these the only two options? Might not the meaning of a text be co-produced by author and reader, the product of their interaction? Might not each contribute to the determinacy of meaning without requiring that it be absolutely determinate? If the author has a legitimate role, without it needing to be an autocrat, then the text cannot mean just anything that any reader takes it to mean. There will be boundaries. But if the reader also plays a role, these boundaries will be sufficiently generous to allow that a given text might legitimately mean somewhat different things to different people in different circumstances. Moreover, this way of viewing understanding would help us to make sense of the obvious fact that differences of interpretation are the rule rather than the exception in literature, law, and theology.

Merold Westphal, Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 53–54.

Stanley Fish Quotes

February 7, 2012 — Leave a comment

Here are some paragraphs that stood out to me in Stanley Fish’s book Is There a Text in This Class? I think his view is problematic, however, in the same breath I found myself resonating with aspects of his view. We have not put enough weight in the reader. I would be more comfortable saying the reader “contributes” to the meaning rather than the reader “creates” the meaning. This leaves room for an interplay between the reader and the author, where horizons can meet.

Hirsch and Abrahms are afraid that in the absence of the controls afforded by a normative system of meanings, the self will simply substitute its own meanings for the meanings (usually identified withe the intentions of the author ) that texts bring with them, the means that texts “have”‘ however if the self is conceived of not as an independent entity but as a social construct whose operations are delimited by the systems of intelligibility that inform it, then the meanings it confers on texts are not its own but have their source in the interpretive community (or communities) of which it is a function.

Moreover, these meanings will be neither subjective nor objective, at least in the terms assumed by those who argue within the traditional framework; they will not be objective because they will always have been the product of a point of view rather than having been simply “read off”‘ and they will not be subjective because that point of view will always be social or institutional. (335)


I may have seemed to confirm the fears of those who argue for the necessity of determinate meaning: for, one might say, if interpretation covers the field, there is nothing to constrain its activities and no way to prevent, or even to recognize, its irresponsible exercise…The mistake is to think of interpretation as an activity in need of constraints, when in fact interpretation is a structure of constraints. (356)

Jewish Exegesis

February 6, 2012 — 2 Comments

Richard Longenecker in Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period identifies four categories of Jewish exegesis in the first century.

  • Literal Interpretation: understood in a straightforward fashion, resulting in the plain, simple and natural meaning of the text being applied to lives of the people.
  • Midrashic Interpretation: going more deeply than the mere literal sense, an attempt to penetrate the Spirit of Scripture, to examine the text from all sides, and thereby derive interpretations which are not immediately obvious. Rabbinic tradition has identified seven middoth.
  1. Qal wahomer: what applies in a less important case will certainly apply in a more important case.
  2. Gezerah shawah: verbal analogy form one verse to another, where the same words are applied to two separate cases it follows that the same considerations apply to both.
  3. Binyan ab mikathub ‘ehad: building up a family form a single text; when the same phrase is found in a number of passages, then a consideration found in one of them applies to all of them.
  4. Binyan ab mishene kethubim: builidng up a family form two texts; a principle is established by relating two texts together; the principle can then be applied to other passages.
  5. Kelal upherat: the general and the particular; a general principle may be restricted by a particualarisation of it in another verse; or conversely, a particular rule may be extended into a general principle.
  6. Kayoze bo bemaqom ‘aher: as is found in another place; a difficulty in one text may be solved by comparing it with another which has points of general similarity.
  7. Dabar halamed me’inyano: a meaning established by its context.
  • Pesher interpretation: the interpretation of this is… Or, this refers to… Or this means…
  • Allegorical Interpretation: the prima facie meaning must be pushed aside to make room for the intended spiritual meaning underlying the obvious.



For Part 1 go HERE.

Direction 11. Highly prize the Scriptures.

Direction 12. Get an ardent love to the word.

Direction 13. Come to the reading of the word with honest hearts.

Direction 14. Learn to apply the scriptures.

Direction 15. Observe the preceptive part of the word, as well as the promissive.

Direction 16. Let your thoughts dwell upon the most material passages of scripture.

Direction 17. Compare yourselves with the word.

Direction 18. Take special notice of those scriptures which speak to your particular case.

Direction 19. Take special notice of the examples in scripture. — Make the examples of others living sermons to you.

Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures With Most Spiritual Profit,” in Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, 63-68, vol 2 of 6.

HT: Brian Mahon

Justin Taylor has a great post summarizing R.T. France on the differences between Galilee and Judea. Here is his summary:

  1. Racially the area of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel had had, ever since the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century B.C., a more mixed population, within which more conservative Jewish areas (like Nazareth and Capernaum) stood in close proximity to largely pagan cities, of which in the first century the new Hellenistic centers of Tiberias and Sepphoris were the chief examples.
  2. Geographically Galilee was separated from Judea by the non-Jewish territory of Samaria, and from Perea in the southeast by the Hellenistic settlements of Decapolis.
  3. Politically Galilee had been under separate administration from Judea during almost all its history since the tenth century B.C. (apart from a period of “reunification” under the Maccabees), and in the time of Jesus it was under a (supposedly) native Herodian prince, while Judea and Samaria had since A.D. 6 been under the direct rule of a Roman prefect.
  4. Economically Galilee offered better agricultural and fishing resources than the more mountainous territory of Judea, making the wealth of some Galileans the envy of their southern neighbors.
  5. Culturally Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins, their lack of Jewish sophistication being compounded by their greater openness to Hellenistic influence.
  6. Linguistically Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic whose slovenly consonants (they dropped their aitches!) were the butt of Judean humor.
  7. Religiously the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual, and the problem was exacerbated by the distance of Galilee from the temple and the theological leadership, which was focused in Jerusalem.

The result, he says, is that

even an impeccably Jewish Galilean in first-century Jerusalem was not among his own people; he was as much a foreigner as an Irishman in London or a Texan in New York. His accent would immediately mark him out as “not one of us,” and all the communal prejudice of the supposedly superior culture of the capital city would stand against his claim to be heard even as a prophet, let alone as the “Messiah,” a title which, as everyone knew, belonged to Judea (cf. John 7:40-42).

This may at first blush sound like interesting background material that is not especially helpful for reading and interpreting the gospels. But Mark and Matthew have structured their narratives around a geographical framework dividing the north and the south, culminating in the confrontation of this prophet from Galilee and the religious establishment of Jerusalem.

Professor France writes: “To read Matthew in blissful ignorance of first-century Palestinian sociopolitics is to miss his point. This is the story of Jesus of Nazareth.”

I have been thoroughly enjoying N.T. Wright’s book on Jesus. He is a clear writer and very insightful into the mindset of Jews during the time of Jesus. He masterfully asks age old questions like “what is repentance” and “what is faith”? But what he adds to the discussion is “what did these terms mean to the Jewish people?”

However, there are times when I think that when he does the historical reconstruction he actually misses the “history” in the Biblical text. In other words he gets carried away with his historical reconstruction, and follows the wrong trail into the dark part of the woods.

So here is one example I found. When I first read it I found myself thinking he was right. But then I started to think about the Gospels and how they presented things. In fact, some of it is right, but as I will show below what he denies is simply against what the Gospels claim.

Why did people object to Jesus’ practice (0f beings with sinners)? Not, again because he was preaching about love and mercy while ordinary Judaism, not least Pharisaism, remained hostile to such ideas…The objection did not arise because Jesus was letting wicked people carry on with their sin and pretending all was well; nor because Jesus, as a private individual, was associating with people who were ‘beyond the pale.’ There is no reason to suppose that Pharisees, or anyone else, spied out ordinary people who were ‘associating’ with ‘sinners’ and angrily objected to them doing so. Accusations were leveled, rather, because this welcome of sinners was being offered precisely by someone announcing the kingdom of god…It was about the scandalous implied redefinition of the kingdom itself. Jesus was replacing adherence or allegiance to Temple and Torah with allegiance to himself.

So he asserts that the religious leaders of the day did not object to Jesus showing love and mercy to the outcasts but rather about the scandalous redefinition of the kingdom. But here is what the Gospels say:

Matt. 9:11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Matt. 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

Luke 15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus was redefining the kingdom. But Wright is making the same mistake that he keeps criticizing his contemporaries of. That is, he is jumping the gun. He is providing an a-historical interpretation. They objected precisely because Jesus was associating with people beyond the pale. I don’t think they fully understood yet that Jesus was in the process of redefining the kingdom.

And this is where, although I have gobbled up Wright’s book, I think we need to be careful. In his historical reconstruction, he starts focusing so much on the historical that he has strayed too far in my mind from the text.

He has put on the spectacles of a first century Jew, but in the process of seeing things so clearly, it actually begins to damage his eyesight.