Now the proper key principles [of interpretation] here are, and always will be, that interpretation must be context-specific, author-specific, and focus-specific. That means first, that passages must be exegeted in terms of the thought-flow of which they are part and not have their meaning extrapolated beyond the manifest perspectives, limits, and boundaries of that thought-flow; otherwise, we will be reading into them what cannot truly be read out of them. (2) It also means that writers must not be assumed to contradict themselves, but must be respected as knowing their own minds; thus, what they write in one place must be treated as cohering with what they write elsewhere. And it means, finally, that in seeking the writer's meaning, we must never lose sight of the immediate point he is making, the persuasive strategy of which that point is part, and the effect that he shows himself wanting to produce on his readers. The way into the mind, meaning, and message of God the Holy Spirit in the biblical text is always through the mind, meaning, and message of its human writers. Though many passages in their canonical context carry a greater weight of meaning than their divinely led human writers knew, none carries less meaning than its human writer actually expressed, and none should ever be treated as if the three guidelines set out above do not apply to it.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Principles of Interpretation
Today I read a chapter by J.I. Packer in the book Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. One of Packer's arguments against universalism (the belief that one day all people will be saved and hell will be empty) is that it fails to apply proper principles of interpretation. He summarizes these principles in a paragraph, providing a handy reminder to all of us who are Bible-readers: