(This post is a little longer than I intended. Most of this material is adapted from Dr. James Voelz, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.)
Modern vs. Post-Modern
We continued our study of principles of Interpreting the Biblical text. One underlying aspect of the world in which we live relates to how we view the world. It is helpful to contrast the Modern view and (Radical) Post-Modern view. This following diagram helps:
The key for the (radical) post-modern: There is no standard. Each person can determine his or her own reality and understanding, even if they conflict or are contradictory. One common word to reflect this: “Whatever.”
A Mediating Way: The key: a person cannot approach any reality with a neutral, objective perspective. Thus, we have to identify our own presuppositions before we approach the text.
Levels of Meaning
Dr. Voelz has brought much clarity to the interpreting task by noting that the word “meaning” is used in at least three different ways. This obviously causes confusion, because people discuss the topic and use “meaning” but in different ways, and hence they do not really communicate. The following provides a simplistic approach based on his work.
Levels of Meaning:
Level 1: This is the most basic level, and it deals with the marks on the page (I.e. letters, words, etc.). We will use “signifiers” to refer to these marks. This level constitutes what a text is saying.
Level 1 gives the “sense of the text.”
Level 2: At this level, the reader does not read the marks on the page, but what is “image” of what Level 1 narrates. Thus, the signifiers become the actions, situations, attitudes that are portrayed in Level 1. The signifiers always have to be interpreted within a matrix, never in isolation.
It would be helpful if the text itself added a Level 1 statement telling us the significance of the text. Not always done, and not always correct.
(See Matthew 12:22-24: Level 1 is found in v. 21, a correct Level 2 is in v. 23, and an incorrect Level 2 is in v. 24)
Level 2 gives the “significance of the text.”
Level 3: At this level, we are not concerned with what is written, rather what the text tells us about the author. So, at this level, we are concerned with questions like: who is the author, who is the audience, where was it written, when was it written. Often this is called “introductory matters” (technical term: isagogics).
Level 3 gives us the “implications of the text.”
Note that using “meaning” to describe each level is not at all helpful. Thus, we will refer to the levels as convenient references. Often I will say, is this a Level 1 or Level 2 issue? How do we approach it on each level? An example
7:14-15 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
The event is described.
7:16 Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!”
The last statement is a Level 2 assessment of the action in Level 1 (what Jesus did).
The question is: Why does Luke include this instance in his Gospel account? Perhaps as a physician he is concerned with health issues more than other Gospel writers.
Taxonomy of words
We also looked at Taxonomy, which refers to which components are necessary to identify and categorize something. For instance, a top-down taxonomy might look like this:
Furniture > Chair > Rocking Chair > Swivel Rocking Chair
Notice that the further we go, the more components are necessary to designate the item.
In Biblical studies, we discover the same issue. Consider Matthew 6:9 [Jesus said:] Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven,…
The question here is what are the necessary components of “Father” that are included in this reference to God? Can there be good and bad? How do we determine that? Taxonomy is critical when we are working with non-literal use (i.e. metaphors). Consider the sateme“Jesus is the gate.” What components of “gate” are applicable to Jesus?
Pragmatics, Commands, etc.
We briefly looked at how a text functions. What is the force of the text. Philemon 22 is one example that looks at the force of Paul’s visit in light of everything he had written to Philemon about Onesimus prior to that.
We also looked at Performative speech; namely the words actually do what they say. In worship, the best example is after the confession of sins, the pastor says, “I forgive you your sins.” The saying of it actually accomplishes that very forgiving.
And finally we looked at the question of whether something commanded in Scripture is valid today?