Re: historically informed interpretation (longish)

Carl W. Conrad (
Thu, 19 Dec 1996 12:54:33 -0600

At 11:10 AM -0600 12/19/96, David L. Moore wrote:>
> Carl's post in answer to Ken points to the need for those who
>interpret the biblical documents to be forebearing in judgement of one
>another's reading of the text, and I agree with that focus - at least withi=
>certain limits. That is, there needs to be freedom to disagree, but let us
>not draw the conclusion from that need and from that freedom that the
>biblical texts may be polyvalent in meaning or that all possible
>interpretations are correct.

I just want to make clear what I said in that response and what I didn't:

I rather think that the biblical text MAY be polyvalent in numerous instance=
--that some texts MAY be legitimately interpreted in more than one way, and
that some texts even seem to cry out for depth and breadth of
interpretation. This is precisely why we are grateful for the rich
resources of scriptural interpretation over the centuries left us by simple
and learned interpreters alike. We study them, I would think, not primarily
or solely with a view toward finding at last the one correct interpretation
of a particular text, but because we rather believe that there is far more
to be learned from any particular text than we have ever learned thus far,
or to put it in the language of faith: that God may have more to say to us
through this text than we have yet been able to discern with the best that
we have been able to bring to bear upon it.

On the other hand, I certainly never meant to suggest that I think that all
possible interpretations of any particular text are correct. There are
plenty of interpretations that are simply ludicrous, plenty that are
interesting and worth considering even if ultimately not convincing, some
that distort and abuse the text in order to wrest from it some meaning to
undergird villainous and ultimately perverse and maleficent intentions. We
are bidden, I think, to "test the spirits, whether they are from God."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR