Monday, September 19, 2011

Remember that when reading the Bible, you want to find the authorial intent. That is, what did the author intend to communicate as revealed in the words that he wrote in the text? Sadly, this principle of meaning as being fixed and residing with the author of the text is under assault today—not just in biblical studies but in the secular world at large.

Here are a few helpful quotes from Robert Stein on meaning (from his Playing by the Rules):

“The Scriptures are to be interpreted in the same way that we interpret other forms of verbal communication. This is essentially the commonsense approach to communication” (21).

“All normal conversation assumes that the goal of interpretation is to understand what the speaker or writer means by the words he or she is using" (21).

“The goal when reading a Pauline text is not to experience or reduplicate Paul’s mental and emotional experiences when he wrote. Rather, the goal is to understand what Paul ‘meant,’ what he consciously sought to communicate to his readers by what he wrote” (23).

“The meaning of a text depends on the specific conscious will of the author. The biblical author is the determiner of the text’s meaning. Since this pattern of meaning was willed in the past (when the text was written), the meaning of a text can never change, for it is locked in history. It can no more change than any other historical event of the past can change. Even the author cannot change the meaning of the text, because he cannot change the past” (38).

And, Gordon Clark wrote in 1958 (in his Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy):

"If, however, terms had an infinite number of meanings, then all reasoning would come to an end. For if a word is to convey a significance, it must not only mean something, it must also not mean something. If it had all the meanings of all the terms in the dictionary, it owuld be useless in speech" (100).

Therefore, remember that when you come to the Bible, read it and ask yourself: what did the biblical author intend to communicate as he wrote down these words?

Once you understand what the biblical author meant in the words of his text, then (and only then!) can you apply that meaning to your own life (this is application or "significance").

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