Saturday, 23 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 8. Interpretation

Having completed my main review of the New Testament (and some Old Testament) texts, cataloguing almost 500 passages, I am "celebrating" that milestone by publishing a part of the paper that helps me in the processing and weighing of these texts, which is currently entitled Chapter 2: Key Notions Defined. It is also is an opportunity for me to tidy up these definitions. Here is the next one:


This is absolutely central to the thesis of this paper! I mentioned it a little already in the opening chapter, where I recalled that we are all interpreters of the information our senses provide our brains. We have trained our brains to process information from the world in order to interact with it better, to survive and to thrive. Sometimes we process well, and sometimes less well, to a point where we can say to someone who understood something quite different from what we intended to say as having “misinterpreted” what we said. I recently discovered kicking about in the back of my mind something of a working definition of poor biblical interpretation that I hope you like and find useful when it comes to how many approach the Bible on a variety of topics:
Interpretation is what makes me say this verse’s plain reading works just fine for me, but that verse needs to be understood according to its context or underlying doctrinal truth. Most Bible teachers or theologians probably practice this to some degree, it is difficult to completely avoid. One person stands out for me, however. His name is Phil Norris. Whilst I was studying at King’s Bible College and Training Centre, Oxford, in the Autumn of 2001, he taught our opening module, on exegesis. I still remember Phil saying something very fresh, and it remains fresh: we do not need to learn the context of just the passages we find difficult, but of the verses we cherish or find easy to interpret too. That sounds so simple! But it needed stating as it is not a very natural approach for most of us. We should note Fee & Stuart: “The antidote to bad interpretation is not no interpretation, but good interpretation, based on common-sense guidelines”. 
Interpretation is absolutely fine, necessary and normal, provided we do not, as Stephen Holmes put it in an interview in 2014, “smuggle our assumptions onto the table”. See Exegesis& Eisegesis.

[1] Steven C. Roy, 2006, How Much Does God Foreknow?, p.22.

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