Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

Inspiration as Interpretive test

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This is a follow-up to my previous post In that post I said nothing which is original, only explained a school of thought I belong to in my own words. Here I take it further into uncharted territory.

tumblr_mg4hiodmvi1r46py4o1_1280When we have multiple plausible interpretations available to a biblical text, how do we determine which one is correct? I submit to you it will be the best one. What I mean by that is that the interpretation which is more beautiful, more inspirational, more challenging, is more likely to be the actual intent of the author than one which is less of those things assuming all other evidence equals out.

You may think that is cheating, an excuse to interpret passages in ways I’m confortable with. You may be right, but here is my justification:

We believe that the Bible is inspired by God. That is a part of our core confession of faith and is true of the way the Bible talks about itself. Consistently however that confession has been used as a justification for the authority of the text, and forgotten as a simple descriptor of the text.

”What’s the Bible like?”
”It’s inspired”

If we really believe that we should use that as an exegetical litmus test to derive a more correct interpretation. We know Hemmingway is grumpy, we know Carroll is punny, and we use that to make sense of their writings and choose interpretations. We know the books that became part of the bible were chosen by community after community as texts which were inspirational to faith and bore indication of authorial participation with the very hand of God. That too should inform our reading!

If a interpretation fits with the historical context but is boring or uninteresting, unproductive to faith, or functionally meaningless it’s wrong. An interpretation like that conflicts with our confession that has built up over time which tells us what the scripture is like. If we can find an alternative reading with the same evidentiary weight that is inspiring or interesting, it is more likely that that is the true literal sense of the text.

Inspiration-true-writers-31646608-1280-853This gets really interesting with problematic passages, because they’re much harder to get out of with this standard in place.

Ephesians 6:5 “Slaves obey your masters” for instance seems to justify slavery. We can find an innocuous reading of that by doing something like translating the Greek word “δοῦλοι” to “servants” instead of slaves. But we haven’t found an inspiring reading so we don’t have justification to leave the challenging problematic reading for the one that doesn’t do anything. We need something that is not only safe, but interesting. Something we can squeeze exegetical juice out of that feels like Jesus before we can move on (Maybe the answer is in 6:9 somewhere)

I admit that this is problematic from a hermeneutical perspective. One of the key tenants of liberal theology is that the bible should be read like any other document and here I am denying that. But Isn’t this what we do anyway? If we are being honest with ourselves don’t we already employ this method in a less systematic and justified way and then pretend we didn’t? Let’s be honest.


Written by RyanGaffney

October 7, 2015 at 5:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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