Live to learn and you will learn to live. Portuguese proverb

Tags: hermeneutics

The Spirit, the Text and the Reader

by Christoph Email

How does the Bible convey God?s truth to me, the reader, in a way that God can do something in my life? This question is the crux behind any discussion of Pentecostal hermeneutics. Different answers have been given and reflect the different stages in the… more »

Paul Ricoeur on the constant core of the self

by Christoph Email

In another chapter of his book, Thiselton shortly expound Paul Ricoeur¬?s model (mainly based on Time and Narrative, vol. 3) of self-identity. Ricoeur touches on the age-old quest for the ¬?constant core¬? of the self, the element which links all individual experiences, impressions and moments into a coherent person. The basic problem has always been, that the self, as far as we know it, is anything but constant. With every moment, every experience, and every new element of learning the self is changing (This assumption is actually the very basis of the so-called ¬?hermeneutical circle¬?). Yet, we always speak of this ever-changing self as ¬?the same person.¬? In Ricoeur¬?s model, there is no constant, unifying core of the self. Yet, at the same time, it is not reduced to the helpless self of postmodernity, either. Rather, there is something which provides an external structure to self-identity: narrative. The self cannot be understood apart from its temporality, its embedding into an ongoing narrative, whose plot helps to determine who exactly the individual is at any given time. I find Ricoeur¬?s model attractive for a number of reasons:
  1. It provides good reason to abandon old dualistic models of the human being ¬? seeing that the efforts to split a person into elements like body and soul usually just mark the attempt to find the one element that could be the ¬?constant core.¬?
  2. It makes all the more sense once the right narrative is chosen: I am who I am not because of any constant element in my personality. I am who I am because I am part of God¬?s great narrative, in which he has chosen to love this ever-changing self as my person.
  3. It contains a further important parallel to Christian soteriology. While the self is always constantly shaped by its experience and by the unfolding narrative plot, Ricoeur allows for a special case: a major change or shift in the plot of the underlying narrative may lead to a complete ¬?reconstitution¬? of the self. Now, wouldn¬?t the moment where you are transformed from a sinner to a saint in the eyes of God have to be considered a major plot change? What is ¬?reconstituted¬? would then be the ¬?new creation¬?/the ¬?new man¬? the New Testament is always talking about.
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Uwe Schäfer on overly literal interpretation

by Christoph Email

In a seminar I attended today, Uwe Sch√§fer, vice-president of the German Pentecostal movement, made the following remarkable statement: "Whoever claims to take the Bible literally and still has his right arm and eye is proving himself wrong" (cf. Mt 5:29-30). more »

Thiselton on textual interpretation and the self

by Christoph Email

Continuing my reading of Thiselton's Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self: On Meaning, Manipulation and Promise, I have come upon a very interesting series of points on textual interpretation. Thiselton presents a model that seems to reverse the usual direction in interpretation, which moves from the -- supposedly objective -- interpreter towards the text as an object to be examined. In a chapter, which he entitles "Five Ways in which Textual Reading Interprets the Self", he offers the following list:
  1. First of all, the text conveys information and impressions about the author to the reader. This, however, seems to be a rather subordinate function in Thiselton's model.
  2. As the text talks to its reader, it has an effect on the person of the reader himself. Of course, this point (as well as all of the following), seems especially important when we're talking about a Biblical text, where the word of God is certainly supposed to have an effect on the reader.
  3. As soon as the text begins to touch on the realm of the self's understanding, the reader begins to learn new things about himself by means of the text. In the words of Ernst Fuchs, the text first becomes the translator of the self before the self can even begin to translate the text.
  4. Next, the interpreting self reveals a lot about himself through the interpretation. People can be seen as belonging to a certain community, for example, just by looking at the way they will handle a particular text.
  5. Finally, the text transforms the individual. In hermeneutical terms, the text -- or rather, whatever the reader gathers from it -- becomes part of the reader's set of presuppositions, pre-judgements, and prejudices, which will influence his reading of any other text from now on.
So far, I am not entirely sure what to make of Thiselton's list. I'll have to think about it. To be sure, it presents an interesting alternative to the one-sided empiricist view of textual interpretation which stands at the basis of modernity. However, while this might provide a much needed counterweight, I think it's jumping the ship on the opposite side: What I am missing is a clear indication of the role the informational content of the text is supposed to play in the whole of interpretation. Of course, Thiselton does say a couple of words on this in the last paragraph of his chapter, namely, that a certain understanding of informational content might even be a prerequisite for transformation. Yet, I still get the feeling that this is not enough. As so often, the truth between the two extremes seems to lie somewhere in the middle (Shannon Buckner should love this: "It's all about balance ..."). more »