Monday, May 31, 2010

The Relationship of Discourse Analysis to Exegesis

In recent studies of the Bible there has been and emphasis on something called Discourse Analysis. Much of what has been discovered by this trend involves overlap with traditional steps of exegesis, yet where they intersect discourse analysis provides a strengthened concentration on the matters it covers.

Traditional exegesis has emphasized context. It could be argued that discourse analysis is context on steroids because of the heightened analysis. It emphasizes co-text which refers to the relationship of the text to the larger context of linguistic data in which it is set. It also focuses on the "intertext" which would involve the larger linguistic frames of reference. And when they speak of context it usually means the historical context. Here it is important to ascertain the situational features that shape the text: “place of writing, occasion, and readers’ circumstances.”

However, Discourse Analysis also includes grammar, but usually focuses more on the big picture, so it is concerned with the macrostructures that connect larger units like paragraphs. It also helps in outlining and understanding the flow of the argument so that one might best understand how a particular passage functions in the overall text. Here the cohesion and coherence of a text are studied to see what is communicated and how.

Discourse Analysis also provides exegetes with fine tuning for many other hermeneutical considerations such as analyzing the “sequence of information, the overall form and the structural conventions of a given discourse,” the study of deixis, speech acts, intertextuality, genre analysis, and rhetorical analysis. And it goes on from there. There is no end to the various aspects of Discourse Analysis, yet it certainly has great payoff in helping exegetes gain from the overall context and flow what is often missed in microsyntactical and lexical studies.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Role of the Holy Spirit in Interpretation

The Role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation is something that is often mentioned in hermeneutics and exegesis books, but little discussion is devoted to explaining what that role is, where the Bible teaches it, and how we know when it occurs. After much reading on the subject and a study of related passages of Scripture it is the contention of this writer that the Spirit has a multifaceted role in the life of the believer as he interprets Scripture.

The Spirit’s work in the interpreter is necessary because of the depravity of man. Due to the effects of sin a natural man, the unbeliever, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor 2:14). This means that the unbeliever does not see the word of God as wisdom, but rather foolishness. Therefore he rejects it. While he does have a level of cognitive awareness of the signification of the words, He cannot understand in the sense of experientially knowing it as truth in a relationship with God. This is due the fact that it is spiritually discerned. The unbeliever is spiritually dead (Eph 2:1) and consequently has a futile, darkened, ignorant mind, and a hard heart that makes him callous to spiritual things (Eph 4:17-19). He is hostile to God and cannot bring himself under the Scriptures as his authority (Rom 8:7-8).

Therefore, the Spirit’s initial work involves turning a person into one who has many of the necessary presuppositions to begin to interpret the Scriptures. The Bible speaks of these changes in terms of the person being “born again” (John 3:3), “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5, 6), and saved by the “washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). When the word is preached the Spirit attends His word and some receive it with joy as the word of God (1 Thess 1:5, 6; 2:13). This is because their spiritual eyes which were blind (Matt 13:15; Rom 11:8) are enabled to see (Matt 13:16). These facets of the changes of salvation give the person a new world and life view. They will then have the necessary preunderstanding concerning beliefs about God and His word for interpreting the word.

At conversion the Spirit also takes up residence in the life of the believer (Rom 8:11). Now he lives, and has the capacity to walk, be led, and filled by the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 18, 25; Eph 5:18). He has the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9) and thus, the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). As the believer is conformed to the image of Christ through sanctification by the Spirit, he is given the proper thinking to have a whole hearted understanding and embracing of the Word as truth and gets to understand and know God better. His eyes are enlightened to know the truth more deeply (Eph 1:18).

This indwelling Spirit is the same Spirit of Truth who was promised by Jesus to teach His disciples all things, bring to their remembrance all that he had said, guide them into all truth, and declare the things to come (John 14:26; 16:13). It is difficult to determine how much of the Spirit’s work in their lives from these promises was limited to them and what aspects are normative for believers of all times. John himself includes some examples of how the apostles remembered what Jesus had said and understood the significance after His resurrection (John 2:19-22; 12:16; cf. 20:9). One can certainly see how this perfect memory would be important for writing the Gospels. His teaching them and guiding them into all truth could certainly explain the epistles. Further, declaring the things to come would explain Revelation. So, perhaps this is a promise for the apostles’ ministry and the process of inscripturation.

Yet, when the same writer, John, later addresses a church in 1 John 2:20, 27 he tells them that they have received an anointing from the Holy One and as a result they know all things and they do not need to be taught. It would contradict the very letter John is writing if these were absolute unqualified statements. The context would rather indicate that they know the truth about Jesus well enough to not be led astray by those who deny Him. If the anointing here is the Spirit, which is a reasonable conclusion, then believers are presumed to be taught the truth by Him and therefore know the truth, understand it well enough to believe it, and understand the significance of it so that they can obey it. So, the teaching ministry of the Spirit seems to be normative in relation to the truth already revealed.

Another passage that bears on this issue is 1 Cor 2:6-16. There Paul speaks about revelation that has been made known to “us” which they make known. It is possible again that this is intended to refer to the unique role that the Spirit had in revealing the mystery of the Gospel to Paul and other recipients of direct revelation. However, there are some universal truths if one reasons through Paul’s words. The very wisdom they received is imparted to others (1 Cor 2:6); it was prepared for those who love God (2:9); the Spirit knows the depths of God (1 Cor 2:10-11); the Spirit was received by them and He enabled them to understand the things given (1 Cor 2:12). So, the things given are revelation of truth, but the understanding of that truth is distinct from the revelation of it. Therefore, there is the revelatory role of the Spirit in Paul’s life, but believers who have received this same Spirit should also be able to expect that by the Spirit they too would understand the word. Again the Spirit teaches and gives spiritual discernment (1 Cor 2:16). Second Timothy 2:7 coheres with these ideas since while Paul instructs Timothy he is confident that the Lord will give him understanding of his instruction.

In summary, the Scriptures lead one to conclude that the Spirit who inspired Scripture regenerates a person and enables him to have a spiritual appraisal of the preached word, which He embraces as truth. This internal recognition of the word as truth is sometimes referred to as the internal testimony. As a person grows and is sanctified by the Spirit, as He uses the word, the Spirit guides him to understand and apply truth. While the believer is not promised infallible interpretive abilities, the Spirit does work in his life to have the capacity for the proper presuppositions needed to rightly interpret, embrace, understand, and apply Scripture.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Casting Our Cares Upon Jesus

First Peter 5:6 tells us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. He is powerful, sovereign and wisely working all of our circumstances out for our good and His glory. In verse 7, the way that we humble ourselves under His mighty hand of protection is by casting our cares upon Him. That is, through prayer we take our concerns to Him and watch Him work them out. The verse ends with the words, "because He cares for you." That is an amazing thought. The mighty God wants us to come to Him and entrust Him with all of our problems and we come knowing that He really is concerned with us.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Authorial Intention

The following is a short paper I did in a PhD seminar. It won't resonate with everyone but perhaps some will find it helpful.

Is discovering the author’s intended meaning the only goal of interpretation?

Throughout the history of the Church’s interpretation of the Bible there have been many theories that have led to subjectivity, because they place the locus of meaning in the understanding of the reader, or impossibility, because of radical pessimistic philosophies of language. These have included the four level allegorical approach of the Medieval Church, the sensus plenior determined by the Catholic Church magesterium, the two horizons approach of Gadamer, Derrida’s deconstruction, reader response criticism, and post-structuralism. Nevertheless, despite the confusion prospered by these approaches, there are many reasons to contend for the author’s intended meaning as the goal of interpretation. Before erecting this defense, it is necessary to establish definitions.
By the “author”, we understand this question to mean “the person who originates the text in the particular language, words, genre and structure we find them in.” By “intention” we understand that his “communicative intention” is meant, not wishes, motives, or psychological experience, but what he actually communicates in the text. By “meaning” we understand “that which is communicated through language.” “Interpretation” is understood as discovering the meaning of the text. Finally, it is assumed that, while not stated, the above question relates to the interpretation of the text of Scripture.
Discovering the author’s meaning as the goal of interpretation is first contended for based upon the nature of Scripture as God’s revelation of Himself to man. This is a basic presupposition that demands that Scripture be approached as writing that is able to communicate truth through language. Further, God created man in His image as a communicative being, thus enabling him to receive and understand communication through the medium of language.
Second, there is no other criteria by which to distinguish valid from invalid interpretation other than the author’s intention. If the author “dies” in our interpretive process of his text then authors don’t really author, there is no real “truth” to be discovered, and any objective meaning is impossible. It is the author’s intention that makes his words count as a particular action rather than another. So, he must be considered as the one that fixes meaning.
Third, any meaning derived by any means other than seeking to understand the author’s intended meaning would necessarily make the one who derives that meaning the author. If the meaning is not set by the author of the text then it collapses into subjective relativism.
Now as to whether this is the “only” goal of interpretation depends upon what is meant by “goal.” Determining the author’s intended meaning is certainly the “first” task of interpretation, because any valid application or significance must be based upon it. However, the reasons a person would interpret a text should go beyond just knowledge of the author’s meaning. The purposes for which God gave the Scriptures should also be seen as reasons that we would interpret—that we would believe it, appropriate it to be lovers of Christ and our Church families, and spread His gospel to all nations.

Is it discoverable?

The author’s intended meaning in a text of Scripture is discoverable through a historical-grammatical process applied to it. However, if by “intention” someone means the author’s psychological experience, or his wish, desire, or purpose for which he wrote, then these would not be discoverable unless the author stated them. The Scriptures are plainly written in a way that the average person can understand the author’s meaning.

Are there any problems in discovering it?

While the Scriptures are perspicuous, there are challenges that face interpreters. These arise from the dual nature of Scripture. On the one hand the Bible is to be interpreted like any other human book. The fact is though that it is an ancient book and as such there are several gaps that must be bridged between the modern day reader and the ancient author.
These gaps include language, literature, history, culture, and geography. Through studying the historical background, original languages, culture, geography, and genres of the author’s time period the signification of his words can be arrived at with a high degree of certainty.
On the other hand, the Bible is also a divine book. Therefore, the divine author’s intention causes one to see the whole Bible as a context for the parts. Thus, typology, prophecy, and intertextuality will call for special considerations.
So, in summary, discovering the author’s communicative intention in the text of Scripture is the first task of interpretation, but not the only goal of it. It is discoverable through a grammatical-historical process even though the dual authorship and ancient date present challenges.