One Text, One Meaning?

Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge I’m often amazed and even edified when several different preachers or commentators preach or comment on the same text and emphasize different themes, points, and applications.  It’s good for us as Christians to realize that Scripture is quite deep and rich; it’s not like one sermon or one commentary can say all there is to say about a verse or verses.  Kevin Vanhoozer makes this point quite well:

“…Particular interpretations may make valuable contributions without needing to make the further claim that they have said everything that needs to be said.  Just as many members make up one body, so many readings may make up the single correct interpretation.  Is it really the case that hermeneutic realists must kill off certain commentators in order to eliminate the variety of interpretations? …[Wayne] Booth reminds us that as we go about the business of interpretation, we should try to understand not only texts but their various readers too: ‘Seek critical truth – and incidentally, while you are at it, try to be fair, try not to kill off critics unnecessarily, try to understand them.”

I think this is a great insight, and this is why I try to get a few different commentaries from different authors and various periods in church history when working through Scripture.  In other words, it isn’t overly helpful to get 5 Reformed or evangelical commentaries on a Bible book only to ignore others from the past or from different backgrounds.  Vanhoozer continues:

“Diversity as such is not a curse but a gift.  Why else should we have four Gospels, four ‘interpretations’ of the one event of Jesus Christ?  We would be the poorer were we to have only one, two, or three rather than four.  It is nevertheless possible to assert both that there is a single correct meaning to the event of Jesus Christ and that it takes all four Gospels together to articulate it.”

“…A critical hermeneutic realism, highlighting as it does the multileveled nature of literary acts, should lead us to expect that the single correct meaning may be richer than any one interpretation of it.

Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There A Meaning In This Text?, p. 420.

shane lems

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