Quotes + Theology do not = Valid Interpretation

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.

About these ads

3 thoughts on “Quotes + Theology do not = Valid Interpretation

  1. If you have time, I would appreciate a bit more about the “head” example. I’m a little confused-“head” is used as a metaphor for “authority” in Hebrew?

  2. I would be happy to discuss it. There is a ton of info though. If you want I can send you to some sources and studies too. For now, I will answer your question and if you have more go ahead and ask. I will be a bit more free to respond from now through this next week before my next crazy summer class starts.

    Yes, “head” with the meaning of leadership/authority is a metaphor used in Hebrew. It is also used in other languages such as English, Latin, German…etc. Where the controversy comes in is whether Paul is using the word “kephale” (head) in Greek to a Greek audience in the NT to mean “leadership” or whether he is using a “head” metaphor that is more commonly known to Greeks such as “source” or “preeminence.”

    I believe the research does not support its normal use as leadership in Greek. For starters, most patristic scholars who are aquainted with the lit and language have thought for years that this is not the case. Where we do see the leadership metaphor appearing (and only rarely) is from very wooden translations from other languages that have the metaphor. Besides the absence of use, outright avoidance of usage (as is the case in the LXX) or use of the word as a different metaphor it is also counter intuitive to the culture that did not regard the head as the power center (ex: Paul places it in the heart).

    So, basically what ends up happening for English speakers (and I don’t blame us for this–I did it too initially) when we pick up the Bible and turn to a passage like Eph 5 or 1 Cor 11 we read something along the lines of “the husband is the head of the wife” and think Paul is speaking of leadership instead of origination (1 Cor 11) or source of nourishment (Eph 5).

  3. Pingback: Clear Meaning or Simplistic Interpretation? « Allison's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s