Re: Desired Outcomes

From: Kevin and Sandi Anderson (
Date: Thu Apr 10 1997 - 19:42:31 EDT

I will also throw my $.02 worth in. Since I am also a GTU student (like
Ken) I have been exposed to a lot of the philosophical orientation and
methodological frenzy that he has. This is a very interesting thread to
follow, and I cannot say that I am able at the moment to add much more to
the discussion than has already been brought forth, except the following:

Actually I am quite surprised that my colleague, Ken, has so easily
dismissed authorial intent altogether. I would agree with him to a point,
however, in his estimation of the exegetical principles of someone such as
Gordon Fee, i.e., that he gives too much credence to the notion that we can
arrive at authorial intent. Those who are familiar with "secular" literary
criticism are well aware that the idea of authorial intent was replaced by
"textual" intent by the New Critics earlier in this century; and New
Criticism was subsequently displaced by a plethora of other literary
theories, including structuralism, reader-response, and deconstruction.
(There is not space to even begin to chronicle the developments from the
50s forward.) But it must be noted that Gordon Fee's emphasis upon
authorial intent (as I see it) stems from the fact that his area of
expertise lies in the NT epistles, especially Paul's. I would submit that
we are much more likely to approximate the authorial intent of a letter
than of a poem or a story.

In short: The issue of whether or not we can determine the authorial intent
behind a document must be handled along a continuum. The question is
whether I read (or write!) a note to my wife in the same way that I would
read a fictional narrative or some other writing. (The poem "This Is Just
to Say" by William Carlos Williams comes to mind!--see end of my part of
e-note.) Authorial intent, to be sure, is of far greater importance in a
note to my wife than it is in a fictional story.

Some types of writing are absolutely dependent upon the reader's
apprehension of the writer's intent in order to achieve their purpose
(e.g., your VCR instruction manual--hopefully!). Other types of writing
depend more upon the reader's imaginative reconstructions to produce
meanings (e.g., a story, whether an historical or fictional narrative). The
imaginative contribution of the reader is one of the elements which makes
the latter type of literature far more enjoyable for most people to read.
The fact that there is more room for differing impressions and
interpretations is what makes vigorous discussions about such texts
possible. The authorial intent of a story is far more difficult (if not
impossible) to determine since the reader is introduced to a story world
with plot, characters, and varying points of view which all tend to take on
a life of their own apart from the author. This is also why we are so often
disappointed when a motion picture adaptation of a novel does not portray
characters in the same way we imagined them when we read the novel.

On the other hand, a letter appears to anticipate that readers will for the
most part understand the author's intent (cf. Paul's, "Shall I come to you
with a rod or with love and a spirit of gentleness?" 1Cor 4:21--Did Paul
have any doubt that his readers would get his point?). Now whether or not
we 20th century readers can completely arrive at Paul's precise authorial
intent is another more complicated issue which I believe Ken and Ross have
already begun to cultivate.

At any rate, I believe that the attempt to determine authorial intent for
any given document is not performed through a cut-and-dried formula.
Authorial intent is more or less evident along a continuum which ranges
from texts like computer programs or physics textbooks to fantasy novels. I
would place Paul's letters more to the left, and the Gospel narratives more
to the right, on the continuum. There is more to be said, however, about
whether or not the authorial intent of letters is more easily accessible
than that of a narrative. I would be happy to discuss this in another post
if there is interest.

Sorry if this has been terribly off topic. I couldn't resist this thread!

Kevin L. Anderson
Ph.D. student
Graduate Theological Union
Berkeley, CA

William Carlos Williams
"This Is Just to Say"

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
> From: Ronald Ross <>
> To: Bible Greek <>;
> Subject: Re: Desired Outcomes
> Date: Thursday, April 10, 1997 10:57 AM
> kdlitwak wrote:
> >
> > 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
> > > 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
> > 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
> > is NOT sufficient to determine what PISTIS EX IHSOU means. Other,
> > theological questions need to be answerd to answer this seemingly
> > 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,
> > 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?
> I certainly agree with most of what Ken says, but feel he goes too far
> when he says to simply "give up tring to determine the autor's
> intention". Every act of communication is between a communicator with a
> particular message and an intended audience. Of course, determining the
> author's intention is much easier if you ARE the intended audience,
> because communicators (anybody who speaks or writes) typically adjust
> the form of their message to their audience. And the more context
> communicator and receptor have in common the easier will be the
> communication.
> But I fail to see the purpose of reading Paul if we are not trying to
> discover what Paul had to say, some current literary theories
> notwithstanding. We don't have access to Paul today. But we don't have
> access to losts of people whom we read and understand pretty well. Paul
> is further from us in time, culture, world view, etc., etc. Granted.
> But that shouldn't, in my view, change our purpose to do all we can to
> understand what Paul had to say. One way to get closer to Paul is
> precisely (as Ken has said) to immerse ourselves in information about
> his day. There may well be things Paul has written that we, from our
> perspective, will never fully understand. But that doesn't mean we
> should throw up our hand in dispair and quit trying.
> If Paul's meaning is simply unreachable, why bother to do all the
> background work required in exegesis courses? It is true that as
> readers we see a text through a certain pair of eyes and a given series
> of life experiences. But that is true --to some degree-- in all
> communication. And yet we manage to communicate. In modern
> communication, people from vastly different cultures and with profoundly
> different sets of assumtions about the world and the universe
> communicate. Sometimes problems arise and there are misunderstandings.
> But we keep on trying and often do quite well.
> > 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
> > 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
> > it is simply impossible to extricate one's own hermeneutical horizon
> > from interpretation. No matter what I do or know, I still read texts
> > 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
> > into methodoogy, like reader-response, while totally disinterested in
> > content it seems. No one ever talks about what Paul "meant" but we
> > talk a lot about post-modern implications for trying to read texts.
> Ron Ross
> Department of Linguistics
> University of Costa Rica

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