Re: historically informed interpretation

Somi Chuhon (
Sun, 22 Dec 1996 00:03:37 -0800

At 07:25 PM 18/12/96 -0800, you wrote:
>>Return-Path: <>
>>From: Gail Froese <>
>>To: "''" <>
>>Subject: historically informed interpretation
>>Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 10:25:58 -0800
>>Somi wrote:
>>Yet, he
>>unapologetically insists that one needs to know the historical background to
>>understand the book. In my estimation, he (Fee) is contradicting
>>himself...if there is a scholar who accomplishes what Fee is meaning to do,
>>I would like to know of one. (I am not being sarcastic here...I would invite
>>anyone to show me a good biblical "historically-informed" interpretation.
>>I must agree with Gordon Fee, (I am sure that Fee is ecstatic about my
>endorsement) about the necessity of a historically-informed interpretation.
>I have found that a better example of this is the book of Colossians. Most
>modern commentators, such as Peter O'Brian (Word Biblical Commentary) see
>Paul's references to "pleroma" , "stoicheia tou kosmou" and other terms as
>references to gnostic astral dieties. This would certainly not be
>immediately obvious with a reading of the text alone without reference to
>it's historical context. Yet I find that reading it within this context
>gives the text new life and significance. Others who go even farther than
>O'Brien would include Eduard Lohse in the Hermeneia Commentary
>>What do you think?

Dan, I do not doubt the historical enterprise. Admittedly, Colossians is
not one of my stronger books, (though some of its theology is very basic to
my thesis at the moment regarding "Image of God" which, by the way, is all
about the how hermeneutical approach to understanding Old Testament theology
in the New Testament) The question is where the "meaning of the text" lies.
Is it in the history behind the text or imbedded in the text itself. 2
Timothy 3:16 would say "in the text" according the use of GRAFH --
"writing". There is no opposition in my part that these Greek references as
you have stated above DO relate or refer to "gnostic astral deities" as you
have put it. (I have not read on this yet but I have no reason to be
skeptical of it). But there is a difference between "what Paul is
addressing" and "what Paul's response to what he is addressing". WHen you
say that you "find that reading it within this context gives the text new
life and significance", a use of the word "new" makes me a little
uncomfortable. Interpretation of a text is not a creative
is a clarfying one. We are not trying to find something "new". We are
looking for what is already there.

OK, having responded to this, I have to make a confession here. :) My
concerns of "historical context" are much more embedded in the Old Testament
than in the New. But when I say that I am focusing on the Old Testament, I
have not limited myself to it. I am very much in the New when I read the
Old because of the strong ties between the two. (I have read through the
New Testament many more times than I have the Old anyway!). My argument
which tends away from "historical context" is an inquiry at this stage of my
understanding of biblical interpretation -- particularly in the New
Testament. It is not a popular approach but it has A LOT of validity if you
begin to see what I mean on a practical level. I have not bought into it
completely in regards to the New Testament but I have found that the
"historical-grammatical" approach(es) are unsatisfying in terms of getting
to the "meaning" of the text. In my experience so far, nothing made sense
until I had to practically sit down and actually try to do what an
interpretative method was claiming to do. Once I actually did the exegesis,
things started falling into place. I will pick up Peter O'Brien's
commentary next time I am in the library and flip through some of his
exegesis...I am suspecting that he will support my previous argument simply
because of all the WBC commentators that I have read, all of them tend to be
in the same boat as Fee; meaning well, but practically not putting out. Is
there a particular passage that he exegetes that is particularly "effective"
in his approach that I should look at? *I promise to look with open ears!* :)

ACTS Graduate Student
Langley, B.C.
Old Testament Studies