Re: Desired Outcomes

From: kdlitwak (
Date: Thu Apr 10 1997 - 12:22:34 EDT

I'll take a longish stab at this only because it touches on issues
that I'm working through. Others will doubtless have different
perspectives and my comments are meant more as a caveat than anything
else. I'm probably going where angels fear to tread.

Hiedi Pope wrote:
> 1. What are the processes I must master to understand what the author of
> each of the New Testament books meant by his writing? My assumption is that
> there is only one intended meaning by the author for those to whom it was
> written.
    You need to separate multiple things here. First,l there is the
matter of understanding the text at the "linguistic" level, i.e.,
grammar. You need to understand the grammatical constructs and their
significance. That you can achieve through reading large portions of
the GNT with various gramars at your side, e.g., Winbery and Brooks,
BDF, etc. (these are just two of the grammars I use, and is not meant to
be either an exhaustive list or authoritative in any sense, though you
do need BDF). Now, there is a serious "gotcha" here. In many (most?
all?) cases, you have to make a decision, in concert with grammatical
study, regarding the meaning of the text in order to make a grammatical
decision. For example, knowing about subjective and objective genitives
is NOT sufficient to determine what PISTIS EX IHSOU means. Other,
theological questions need to be answerd to answer this seemingly simple
grammatical question.

    Next, I'd advise you to give up trying to determine the author's
intention. Since the author is unavailalbe, determining his/her
intention is not a realistic possibilty. On this point, no Greek
grammar will help you but instead you need to read about hermeneutics.
A good, though very dense, book that deals with the various options
being passed around these days is Anthony Thiselton's *New Horiozons in
Hermeneutics*. This is not like Gordon Fee's book on NT exegesis, which
takes, I think, too simplistic an approach to the issue of exegesis.
Among the hermeneutical options, I would argue that a NT text has a
limited number of potentially valid intentions. Texts have intentions
we can try to grasp but without Paul around any more, I can't ever
determine the authorial intent of 1 Timothy.
> 2. For each process, what can I do at each step of the process to ensure I
> do not place into the Greek text my own mental models?
  On the one hand, study of the culture and history as best available
(once we can dcecide which texts are historical and what that means)
provide asistance in bracketing out what the origianl implied and real
audience of a NT text would not have seen. To use a trivial example,
your common sense knowledge of the 1st century should tell you that the
people who have interpreted the locusts in Revelation as Phantom jets
(in the late 60's), Huey attack copters (in the early 70's) and the like
are being wildly anachronistic. The more one knows about 1st century
Mediterrranean culture, the better able one can differentiate between
what would and what would not have been a likely understanding of a NT
text. However, a) our knowledge is imperfect too a large degree; and b)
it is simply impossible to extricate one's own hermeneutical horizon
from interpretation. No matter what I do or know, I still read texts as
a late 20th century Califorhia male with a particular world view. You
cannot read without filtering data through your world view. So
interpreting texts must always be a struggle between your intepretive
"grid" and what you know about the cultural space in which the text was
produced, always seeking to reduce the distance between your
hermeneutical orizon and that of the text. The closer they get, the
better you can understand the text "correctly". If that seems too
brief, I don't see an alternative. You need to read up on issues
outside of Greek grammar. I've only run into many of these issues in
the last two years in my doctoral program. My school is very very heavy
into methodoogy, like reader-response, while totally disinterested in
content it seems. No one ever talks about what Paul "meant" but we sure
talk a lot about post-modern implications for trying to read texts.

Ken Litwak
Graduate Theological Union
Berserkely, CA

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:12 EDT