Re: historically informed interpretation (longish)

Carlton Winbery (
Thu, 19 Dec 1996 10:23:04 +0400

Ken Litwak wrote;
> While this encourages me to add yet more titles to my list of thngs
>to read, I would like to add a little more to chew on. If you can bear
>with a little personal "journey", when I entered my doctoral program, I
>essentially held to the model that Gordon Fee (who once taught at my
>alma mater, Souther California College, if I may be excused for
>namedropping just this once -- but not many AG scholars get read so
>widely) presented in his book on New Testament Exegesis. You take the
>text, follow the steps and out comes "the meaning" of the text.
> I now think the issue is much more complicated, and all sorts of
>questions need to be asked before arriving at "a meaning". Furthermore,
>we might apply Robert Polzin's approach to the OT to the NT and say that
>it is necessary to understand a NT document as a literary work before we
>can correctly read its historical and cultural background. It is not
>merely a one-way trip from culture to text. Furthermore, "culture" and
>"history" need to be expanded and nuanced a lot. Culture needs to
>encompass language and lnguistics *what a Greek speaker meant by using
>an Aorist, as a non-controversial example), sociological factors,
>literary conventions (when does a NT author do something because of
>theolgoy and when does he/she do sometihng because it's convention, such
>as the highly classical rhetorical structure of Galatians) and then of
>course how does a modern reader's culture and perspective influence her
>reading of a NT text, and how large a role the reader plays in creating
>the meaning of the text. I don't mean to be taking positions here or
>attacking anyone else's view, but to suggest that merely looking at
>"historical" information needs to be seen in a much larger matrix to use
>it appropriately. One of the questions that is engaging me these days
>is how to ascertain, if it can be done at all, how an ancient reade
>"read" a text. What did a resident of Corinth expect from Thycydides,
>quite apart from what Thucydides might have said about his own work.
>What did Theophilus expect of Luke-Acts? Idon't know how to get at the
>answer to that question, and without being able to answer that question,
> I'm in much more doubt about asking from this distance what the text
>meant, if it had/has only one valid meaning.

That's kinda what I meant by "chewing."

Carlton L. Winbery
Fogleman Professor of Religion
Louisiana College
Fax (318) 442-4996
Phone (318) 487-7241