Wednesday, June 14, 2006

literal interpretation?

Nick Draper left this comment on my last post. Since this is something I wrestle with, I thought I'd do a post on it. Here's Nick's comment:

"In response to the liberal/slippery slope dilemma, the question you could ask is "What did the author mean to say, and what would the original hearers have heard?" These questions are speculative, but they may be questions you can ask without sliding down the slope of cherry-picking or interpreting scripture on whims. I'd like to hear your thoughts on Ryrie's response to an author's intent charge."

On page 81, Ryrie discusses how God is sovereign and the language God chose the Scriptures to be written in would be clear to its readers in future generations. He writes:
"If God is the originator of language and if the chief purpose of originating it was to convey His message to humanity, then it must follow that He, being all-wise and all-loving, originated sufficient language to convey all that was in His heart to tell mankind. Furthermore, it must also follow that He would use language and expect people to understand it in its literal, normal, and plain sense. The Scriptures, then, cannot be regarded as an illustration of some special use of language so that in the interpretation of these Scriptures some deeper meaning of the words must be sought. If language is the creation of God for the purpose of converying His message, then a theist must view language as sufficient in scope and normative in use to accomplish that purpose for which God originated it."
I think that the author's intent question is a good question. But, I think that most of the time people who are committed to a given theological perspective think that the author's intent supports their perspective. In other words, trying to "figure out" the author's intent could lead to complete subjectivity that appears to be objectivity.


Rob Kirby said...

Now I don't want to pry open the evolutionary can of worms BUT...

It is almost universally excepted by all linguists that language evolves. There have been fascinating studies by anthropologists that study the movements of people by doing linguistic studies. (Many readers have probably read the best seller by Jared Diamond Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies )

I am aware that a reading of the Tower of Babel story might suggest that all language was created by God but a closer look at Gensis 11 never suggests that all language was created by God (a literal reading does state that at the time it was all "confused" by God).
Nor does it state that languages are immutable, just ask Webster about that one.

I can find no biblical support for Ryrie's claim that God created language to primarily be understood in it's "literal, normal and plain sense." Again the story of Babel would almost lead one to the opposit conclusion.

The number of instances of flawed logic in the one paragraph you quote is almost mind boggling. Further, Mr. Post Methodist, as we live in a post-modern world, attempts to argue faith from a logical perspective falls on deaf ears.

Yes, determining any author's (or speaker's) intent is a subjective guess but it doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it. That's what communication is all about.

Consider what you're conciously (or unconciously) reading into these words I now type. Life, and I would argue scripture, have a whole new debth and richness when you allow them to grow into this new dimension. My faith and my spiritual life have growing a hundred fold, dare I say a thousand fold, as I have allowed the scriptures to mean more than static words on a page but have allowed God's spirit to breath into them.

I know by the faith and passion that I have witnessed in you that they mean far more than static (immutable) words. We just differ on degrees.

Enough arguing though, it was great seeing you at Annual Conference this year. I'm thrilled about really connecting as Young Adult Clergy and Laity in the conference. I would love for us young adults to lead the conference by example. More about that later as we start to strategize about not only about lobbying for young adult ministry but also really finding our voice to speak concerns into all levels of our conference.

Peace, Love and Joy in Christ

Jason Woolever said...

well said rob. i go back and forth regularly. when i get tired of the conservative interpretation, i jump over to the emergent way of reading scripture, and breath and imagine. when i start tp feel that the emergent movement doesn't offer enough footing for me, i jump back to the other side for a while. the UM denomination offers theological breathing room which allows me to explore and change. i'm grateful for that.

"I would love for us young adults to lead the conference by example. More about that later as we start to strategize about not only about lobbying for young adult ministry but also really finding our voice to speak concerns into all levels of our conference."
i love this thought! instead of grasping for territory, being a mature voice of Christ-like concern. thanks for your leadership rob.