Reading Hirsch’s Validity in Interpretation has encouraged me to share some of my thoughts on the interpretation of Scripture. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon that I come into contact with individuals who present an interpretation of Scripture that simply stands on its own without any actual validation from the text itself. The real tragedy is that these individuals think they are being Scriptural. A mere theology will be presented and then a bunch of quotes. If one disagrees with the theology one is accused of disagreeing with the Bible. If one provides evidence against the theology provided, it is not uncommon for the other person to just reiterate their theology or decide conclusions based off of evidence cannot be true because they already know their own theology is true—and look! The text is so clear! This is circular and often arbitrary.
Quotes in isolation do not count as evidence for one’s theology or interpretation. One has to show that the interpretation is legitimate (here is the connection I am making and here is the connection the text is making because…) and more likely true or equal to another interpretation. For example, if one wants to claim 1Timothy excludes women from leadership, they have to show what in the text gives that impression. Maybe “exercise authority” is the word used and this indicates… Next, if I say the word means something else entirely and give reasons why along with how this changes the meaning of the passage then those reasons have to be addressed in such a way that the original interpretation is actually better and more true to the text.
We need to think in terms of probability. This is probably true. This assertion must be informed. It can’t “just be that way” or “just be obvious.” If it is so obvious, reasons must be given and other arguments shown to be lacking in comparison. It is easy to merely assert one’s opinion in response to a critique, but it is also easy to dismiss such as opinions since they have no substance behind them. What we need is an interpretation that acknowledges it is a probability judgment that is supported by evidence. In interpretation we do not have mathematical certainty and must be open to the possibility that some other explanation or understanding of the text might be better than our own.
Another danger I often see is the tendency to think that more is always better. Sometimes the one who provides more evidence is not necessarily providing better evidence. “If a fact or observation has no effect upon these probabilities, then obviously, it is irrelevant to that particular probability judgment” (183). I found this to be disappointedly evident in Grudem’s use of the Greek Old Testament in support of the word “head” being used for leadership in Greek. He gives several examples that look impressive on their own—but fails to mention that the Greek Old Testament actually overwhelmingly avoids using the term and that Hebrew is the one attested with the metaphor, not the Greek. The Hebrew Bible uses the metaphor about 171x. The LXX only uses “kephale” (head) metaphorically 6x. It uses something else for the other 165x and uses the word “kephale” 226x only for part of the body. What does this mean? While 6 instances (a little more or less) might look impressive on paper that is limited by nature, it is less relevant for establishing the most probable use to a Greek speaking and thinking people—especially since it is a Hebrew metaphor.
Apologies if this is a bit jumbled. I am trying to write more of my thoughts and quantity means clarity will not always be achieved when blogging! Feel free to ask me questions.