Well, That’s Your Interpretation…

Used to crush any attempt at the utmost hubris of audacity that someone might actually understand a text from the Bible, the real intent of this excuse is usually to evade the plain meaning of the text. I am reminded of a story that my father used to tell of Francis Schaeffer. He was having tea with a young man who kept on saying, “I do not think we are communicating.” Finally, Schaeffer, in some irritation, blasted out, “POUR ME SOME TEA!!” The young man, somewhat shell-shocked, said, “Okay, okay.” Thereupon Schaeffer said, “I think we are communicating.”

There is another, deeper problem with this excuse, however. In implying that the text of Scripture never has only one interpretation, the postmodern is actually imposing his own monolithic multi-valency on the text. To put it another way, is not the postmodern imposing just as much of a uniformity of interpretation on the text (by saying that every text is a wax nose) as the person who claims that there is only one correct interpretation? Furthermore, is not the postmodern claiming that there is only one correct interpretation of any biblical text (“the only correct interpretation of the biblical text is that there are always an almost infinite number of equally valid interpretations”) just as much as the person who does not claim multi-valency?

Fortunately, even most postmoderns have a bit more common sense than this, and do not try to argue for an infinite range of possible interpretations for every text. Even the postmodern does not usually try to interpret “You shall not murder” to mean “You shall murder.”

I have no wish to deny that there are difficult texts in Scripture that admit of more than one possible interpretation that fits the analogy of faith. The “spirits in prison” passage in 1 Peter 3 comes to mind. However, that is still a far cry from saying that all interpretations of the biblical text are equally valid. While there may be more than one possibility for interpreting 1 Peter 3, there is still only one correct interpretation, even if we may not be as certain as we would like which interpretation is the correct one.

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6 Comments

  1. roberty bob said,

    August 10, 2018 at 11:53 am

    It is not that there are, as you say, “difficult texts in Scripture that admit of more than one possible interpretation,” but rather that interpreters admit of more than one possible interpretation for texts deemed to be difficult.

    Scripture texts do not admit anything about their degree of difficulty.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    August 10, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    If you wish to put it that way, I have no objection. I thought I had made it clear that there is still only one correct interpretation, even though we may not know what it is.

  3. roberty bob said,

    August 10, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    Yes, you made it perfectly clear a Scripture text yields only one correct interpretation. Therefore it makes no sense to say that there are some texts that admit to more than one possible interpretation. The text admits to nothing. It is the theologians and interpreters perplexed about the meaning of particular texts who admit to more than one possible interpretation.

  4. rfwhite said,

    August 11, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Green Baggins — Thanks for this post. I was reminded that some would point out that the one correct interpretation of a text might be that it is purposely ambiguous. I had to chuckle.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    August 11, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Bob, it is a figure of speech. You should have been able to pick that up. What I mean is that interpreters often hesitate between two interpretations that both seem equally valid. That’s what I mean by “the text admitting to more than one interpretation.” I don’t mean that the text actually has two or more meanings. I thought I had made this clear in my previous comment, and I’m not sure why you are being nitpicky about this.

  6. roberty bob said,

    August 11, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    Figure of speech, okay. Sorry.


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