Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Exegetical Process: What Does it Mean to You?

The Question "What does it mean to me?" can be the most destructive question one can ask of the Scriptures in any contexts.

Michael Patton from Parchment and Pen blog explains why it is very dangerous to subscribe to such a subjective approach to Bible study.

What does it mean to you? This, I believe, is the most destructive question that one can ask of the Scriptures. The implication is that the Scriptures can mean something to one person that it does not to another. “To me, it means that God is going to protect my children,” says one person. “Well, to me it means that God is going to help me get that new car,” says another. “Wonderful!” is the response to both. And so goes the conversation around the circle of well-meaning Bible studiers.

The problem with the “What-does-it-mean-to-you” approach is that it is purely subjective. It turns the Scripture into a wax nose that can be shaped into what ever our our current situation demands. The Bible becomes subjective magic book through which we serve as mediums to its message.
It does not matter what it means to you.
It does not matter what it means to you.
It matters what it means. Yes, there are various ways in which the Bible can apply to you, but it is not going to apply outside its objective meaning.  It means what it means.
“But the Bible is God’s word," you may say. ”It is powerful. You should not limit it. God can speak directly to me through it.” This is true. The Bible is powerful. It is God’s word. It can speak to you. But it is not going to give you a different meaning than it gives to everyone else.
The “what does it mean to you?” hermeneutic is called “Reader-response hermeneutics.” Hermeneutics is your method or rule book for interpretation. The reader-response hermeneutic, while common today in most Bible studies, produces a rule book that has no rules. The Scriptures can mean anything. Its no wonder we have so many interpretations. With a reader-response hermeneutic, the number of interpretations will equal the number of readers.
The questions I often ask is this: If you are going to use the reader-response method of interpretation, why limit yourself to the Bible? If you are going to disregard what the text meant, then use Moby Dick, the phone book, the ticker at the bottom of your television screen, you tag on your pillow, or the billboard sign on the highway on the way to work. In other words, if God is going to speak to us and disregard the original intent of the inspired authors, then he can use anything. He does not even need the Scriptures for they would communication nothing unique.
Authorial intent hermeneutics, on the other hand, does not start with the reader, but with the writer and his audience. What did it mean then? Here is a chart that helps visualize what I am going to be talking about. This is called the exegetical process (sometimes “theological process” and others “homiletical process.” Notice, there are two vital steps that one must take before they can ask the question, How does it applyto me?

Click on chart for larger view


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