In my last post on Theological Hermeneutics I put forth the understanding that our reading of Scripture should not presuppose that the text can ‘speak’ on it’s own. I also asserted that the Biblical scriptures therefore remain silent until they are read, and that the meaning of the text ‘appears’ when the reader’s mind responds to it. I believe that this event is properly described by the theologian Werner Jeanrond as a ‘collision of two realities’ – the reality of the text and the reality of the reader. Today I will continue my ‘train of thought’ on this subject and talk about how the Bible effects us as we experience this collision.
First it needs to be established that no human being can experience the world objectively, that is to say that we are all particular individuals with our own, unique, finite perspectives of reality. However, this is not an apologia for some kind of absolute relativism, far from it! What I’m asserting is simply that we all carry with us our own understanding about reality and that this understanding effects how we interpret our own, unique experiences. Thus, new experiences results in new interpretations that are added to our previous understanding, and this leads consequently to a re-evaluation of what we believe to be a correct understanding of reality in the light of the new interpretation that we have absorbed into our minds. This is all very simple and absolutely not controversial at any level, so lets move on.
The second point I would like to make is that we as individuals do not exist free from other individuals. We are interconnected with each other whether we like it or not. As Christians we are obviously part of the whole of humanity but we have also accepted our belonging in a specific community – the Sanctorum Communio. As we exist together as one ‘body of believers’, we participate in a communal life, which entails that we search for a common identity in Christ. The Scriptures are not the sole source in this communal search but it is absolutely fundamental.
As you read the Bible – when you let your reality collide with that of the Scripture – I believe that new meaning is created. I believe so because no one like the ‘present’ you have ever read the Bible before, thus no reality like yours have ever collided with the reality of the Scripture before. Now, if it is true that we as Christians have a communal identity, it must be asserted that this identity is made up of all our particular perspectives. Hence, when the Christian individual read the Biblical texts, he or she adds something new to the communal identity since no one can interpret it in the same way as someone else. This is why I believe that the theological conversation is immensely important to the church. You can never interpret the text through my eyes and I can never interpret it through yours, but when you and I take our unique perspectives of what the meaning of Scripture is and let our realities collide with each others, then new meaning that takes the ‘other’ into consideration appears. This, I believe, is one of the most important things that we can do because it adds new meaning into our communal identity that makes us relevant as a critique of the world where power and exclusion dominate how things functions.
If reading the Bible simply means to receive the author’s intentions, then the Bible would not be particularly relevant today. If our interpretation of the text was absolutely normative for its message, then why read it at all? But if my understanding is correct, then the message of the Scripture that we consider holy expands every time we read it and by reading it we also make its message relevant in our contemporary world as both a critique and a message of love, hope, forgiveness and reconciliation. I consider this practice holy, not simply because of the text itself, but because by reading and discussing the Scripture, we contribute to the continuation of the Biblical narrative itself.