Re: historically informed interpretation (longish)

David L. Moore (
Thu, 19 Dec 1996 16:16:24 -0500

At 12:54 PM 12/19/96 -0600, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>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 within
>>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 instances
>--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.

I can agree that there may be a limited number of passages that may
have been encoded by their writers with polyvalent meaning. John 3:3ff.,
for instance, seems to be employing a play on the word ANWQEN, and the
reference to PNEUMA in v. 8 apparently begins a play on that word between
the meaning "wind" and "Spirit." Some of the Proverbs also may be in this
category. But what I was writing about is that kind of polyvalence which
precludes the idea of legitimate meaning residing in the text itself: the
idea that meaning is only process, and that, therefore, the meaning of a
text depends on who is interpreting it. In my estimation, such an approach
blurs the distinction between meaning and significance.

A text may have different significance to different people, but that
does not change its meaning. It may have different applications, but its
legitimate meaning is always the same.

>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."

Yes; we are.


David L. Moore Director
Miami, Florida, USA Department of Education Southeastern Spanish District of the Assemblies of God