KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS
Rev. J Djan.
HERMENEUTICS. LESSON 1.
Key Terms and Concepts
The science of interpretation. Biblical hermeneutics is the branch of theology that studies the rules and regulations for right interpretation of scripture
SCOPE OF HERMENEUTICS.
In the past it’s application was mainly in scripture text interpretation . It was the expertise of Jew and Christians for their scripture texts however modern secular philosophers have shown interest in its viability for universal purposes: In Humanities; Constitutions, Laws, History, Verbal and Non-verbal communications - Semiotics, Linguistics, Presuppositions Pre - understandings, Visual arts, Music etc.
Allegory. A representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.
Interpretative Hypothesis . A tentative theory put forward as a methodology for interpretation
Hermeneutic Circle. This refers to the concept of understanding the whole through the parts and the parts through the whole. It does not however contradict logic as in the fallacy of circular argument . Eg. To understand concept of the Christian God we look at His attributes and to understand His attributes makes we find out that they are necessary for the concept.
Ontology: A branch of philosophy which studies about things that exist or ‘ being’ or ‘existence’ whether it is material or abstract. One area is categorization and another is the study of the essential characteristics in a logical or rational way.
1. What kind of studies would be required to properly understand the doctrine of Jesus being fully man and fully God?
2. What is the difference between ‘reality and ‘actuality’ ? Reality is what exists or what is true, actuality is the actual sample of such occurrence or reality. Eg. ‘Human being’ is a reality and here we see it as a general word. But you yourself are an actual human being or an actuality of a human being.
Semantics. The study of meaning eg, linguistic development eg as to changes in meaning. The study of words and signs as to their meaning.
Pragmatics. Treating historical phenomena with special reference to their causes, antecedent conditions, and results. Analysis of a text or utterances by paying attention to the situational context such as the background or the relationship between speaker and audience. What does ‘me too’ mean in today’s politics ?
3. Do you think Pragmatics is required in biblical interpretation?
4. Is it relevant to study the background of an event in order to better understand the cause?
Semiotics. (In philosophy ) The study of or the theory of signs and symbols . Semiotics includes:
Pragmatics, Semantics and Syntax
Syntax . When we say a syntax of a language, dialect , sentence or phrase we mean their formation such as the configuration of words or the patterns and signs that give meaning to it.
5. How will Master Yoda say I am hungry?
6. What is another way to say ‘and they loved not their lives unto death’ in modern English
Phonology. The study of sounds and it’s distribution in a language
Esoteric: Understood or believed by a few people or a group. Is speaking in tongues an esoteric mystery?
Hermeneutic Intentionalism: The idea of interpretive focus on authorial intention.
Understanding the differences in Hermeneutics, Exegesis and Eisegesis.
Hermeneutics deals with the task of identifying what rules, methods or theories are proper for interpretations of a text but exegesis is the art of executing these principles to get to the intended meaning of the text .
Eisegesis is when the preacher or interpreter uses his own creative freedom to employ illustrative concepts, or terms or signifiers to give clarity to a text or message. Eisegesis material may not be considered as doctrinal or as biblical content. Without such understanding an audience can mistake the eisegesis of another preacher to be a Bible source whilst it is not.
(When a preacher says Jesus went to hell and took the keys of hell from Satan and knocked his head three times causing Satan’s stick or head to have three prongs, please do not think it is in the bible. That preacher might be using eiseges to explain something)
Some general tools for text interpretation
General Hermeneutics is rationalistic. It employs rules that epistemically justifies interpretation. These rules are concerned with
(1) Language : grammar, syntax- literary forms, genre,
semiotics- signs, Semantics- semantic theory + Foundational theory (2)Logic- making logical inferences from the text (3) Pragmatics-Situational context -Mentality, authorial psychology and Audience psychology, (4) External conditions- customs , history, influential
5. Intersubjective intelligibility, testability with the given evidence, rational argumentation, objectivity.
In the case of Sacred Scripture where inspiration, authenticity, and infallibility are key expectations an interpreter may need in addition some knowledge on Biblical History, Essential Doctrine, Philology, Archaeology etc. Even modern scientific discoveries, philosophical movements such as Modernism and Post Modernism could play useful roles in interpretation.
If the church had in the beginning held the position that the earth is round, why did it change to ‘flat’ ? If not what was the church’s position and to what extent did the scientific discoveries affect it?
Some Limitations of General hermeneutics
Since General Hermeneutics is concerned only with the interpretation according to authorial intent:
It does not care whether the author’s statement or text is true or false.
It does not seek to correct author’s logic even if it is false.
It does not deal seriously the authenticity or genuineness of a text as to lower criticism or higher criticism.
It does not seek to contend or correct a false philosophical concept.
It does not interfere with the author’s passion even if it is pervasive.
It does not concern itself with disagreements with dogma or orthodoxy
Semantics and Foundational theory of meaning.
It was said in one of the episodes of ..Morton Downey jr tv talk show that sometimes when women say “no” they mean yes and other times when they say “no” they mean “no”.
7. If “no” is “yes” and “no” is “no” then what is the meaning of “is”, or the meaning of “what is” ?
8. How does one distinguish between the “no” that means “yes” and the “no” that means “no”?
9. Do words have meaning or do we give our own meaning to the words that we use?
10. Are the definitions of words enough to give the meaning of a sentence and what about a text?
Philosophers Donald Davidson and Hilary Putnam believe that “different concepts of existence” can be correct.
In other words people can use their style of expression to represent things or have concepts in their own meanings that could be different from what audience are normally used to.
11.Who determines the meaning of a written message ; the speaker or the audience?
12. Some people have the habit of misplacing he for she or vice versa . How can we know what they actually mean?
There could also be a case where the author made an obvious mistake .
Such mistakes can be noticed when one looks at the flow of thought in the context.
( Example: In the president’s speech at the march for life rally he misspoke a word that made his speech to mean that he supports late term abortion. - very opposite of what he intended but the friendly audience understandingly overlooked the error, however on the social media his enemies bludgeoned him as being evil for opposing late term abortion ban.
13. Which of the two groups got it right and what is the justification for your conclusion?
Here is the president’s speech.
14. Can you find which sentence or word that does not sit in harmony with the speech; and how can you know it was a mistake rather than intentional?
...Today, I’m honored and really proud to be the first President to stand with you here at the White House to address the 45th March for Life. That’s very, very special — 45th March for Life. (Applause.)
And this is a truly remarkable group. Today, tens of thousands of families, students, and patriots — and, really, just great citizens — gather here in our nation’s capital. You come from many backgrounds, many places. But you all come for one beautiful cause: to build a society where life is celebrated, protected, and cherished.
The March for Life is a movement born out of love. You love your families, you love your neighbors, you love our nation, and you love every child, born and unborn, because you believe that every life is sacred, that every child is a precious gift from God. (Applause.)
We know that life is the greatest miracle of all. We see it in the eyes of every new mother who cradles that wonderful, innocent, and glorious newborn child in her loving arms.
I want to thank every person here today and all across our country who works with such big hearts and tireless devotion to make sure that parents have the care and support they need to choose life. Because of you, tens of thousands of Americans have been born and reached their full, God-given potential — because of you.
You’re living witnesses of this year’s March for Life theme. And that theme is: Love saves lives. (Applause.)
As you all know, Roe vs. Wade has resulted in some of the most permissive abortion laws anywhere in the world. For example, in the United States, it’s one of only seven countries to allow elective late-term abortions, along with China, North Korea, and others.
Right now, in a number of states, the laws allow a baby to be born [torn] from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month. It is wrong; it has to change.
Americans are more and more pro-life. You see that all the time. In fact, only 12 percent of Americans support abortion on demand at any time.
Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life. (Applause.)
Tomorrow will mark exactly one year since I took the oath of office. And I will say, our country is doing really well. Our economy is perhaps the best it’s ever been. You look at the job numbers; you look at the companies pouring back into our country; you look at the stock market at an all-time high; unemployment, 17-year low.
Unemployment for African American workers, at the lowest mark in the history of our country. Unemployment for Hispanic, at a record low in history. Unemployment for women, think of this, at an 18-year low. We’re really proud of what we’re doing.
And during my first week in office, I reinstated a policy first put in place by President Ronald Reagan, the Mexico City policy. (Applause.)
I strongly supported the House of Representative’s Pain-Capable bill, which would end painful, late-term abortions nationwide. And I call upon the Senate to pass this important law and send it to my desk for signing. (Applause.)
On the National Day of Prayer, I signed an executive order to protect religious liberty. (Applause.) Very proud of that.”...
15. When Jesus said John the Baptist is Elijah, in what sense do you understand it?
“ For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come...”. Matt.11:13-14
16. What is the meaning of ‘is’ in that sentence?
In philosophy we will use Semantic Theory to understand the possible meanings of Jesus’ statement and try to understand which of them he meant . Then there is a theory for meaning called the Foundational Theory which can be useful in this case because it will ask the question ‘what is it with John and Elias that makes Jesus equate them to each other in whatever sense he meant.’
The foundational theory investigates the grounds or justification upon which a text Eg. a term or a concept came to be understood in a particular sense. Semantic theory investigates what is meant by the text, a term or a concept.
In this case we will suggest possible meanings of the statement; ‘this (John the Baptist ) is Elias which was to come’
Could this mean John came in the spirit of Elijah (Elias) or that John is the reincarnation of Elijah?
The answer to this question is our semantic value and the answer as to how we came to that conclusion is the foundation.
17. Try to use the same procedure to analyze John 8: 58-59
Ask yourself what does Jesus mean by ‘before Abraham was, I am’
18. What is it with Jesus and Abraham?
19. How did the Jews who sought to stone Jesus, understand that statement.?
20. Does the semantic value of sentences always identify with the semantic value in the context of an entire message ? No! It does not always! For this reason the semantics of a sentence must be referenced to the whole text for its proper placing in meaning.
It is important to know whether a clarification or an illustration is an incidental detail or of the main focus .
21. Is silence a form of communication? If yes do all silences communicate the same message.?
22. Does body movement have language?
23. When you were young and were doing something and unsure of your mom or dad’s approval, how would you explain a stare down ?
24.Does the word bad means bad all the time in history and in current Ebonics ?
25.If one tries to speak foreign language with the syntax of his local language, can we know what he intends to say.?
26. If one writes in an esoteric or coded language, how can another decode it for the general public understanding?
27.Is intonation a language?
28.In what evolution will you find verbal communication-pictograph- printing,- texting - emojis?
29. Could different cultures give different meanings to the same act, words or sentences?
30. How does that affect morality? What is cultural relativism?
31 Could a culture of opposing moral code neutralize or disannul biblical moral code?
32. If you find a practice or a custom in the Bible would that necessarily be a divine moral code?
33. What is the difference between descriptive and prescriptive text?
34.What is the difference betweeen time specific culture and trans culture ?
35. What is Principlizing ?
36. Is emotion a language; and what about appearances or wardrobe?
Giving consideration to the above questions brings us to understand that complex nuances are involved in correct interpretation.
Human actions, Intentions, texts and circumstantial phenomena require more than superficial appearance or literal interpretation.
There are three divisions of interpretation:
(1). Authentic Interpretation : When the intended interpretation is given by the author himself directly or derived from reliable someone who has knowledge of the intent of the author. Eg. Jesus’
interpretation of scripture is authentic because himself is the the word.
In Re.17, the angel gave the message in symbols and then explained or interpreted the symbols.
In Lk.1:1-4, the author tells his intent of writing the gospel and in Jn 20:30-31 the author tells us his intent of the selected signs (miracles) in his gospel
(2). Legal Interpretation: Interpretation from a legal authority. Eg The Supreme Court is trusted as a legal authority to give legal interpretation of the American Constitution.
In the Roman Catholic Church the Pope or the Church becomes the legal representative and is imputed to be infallible when giving doctrinal directives.
In the Protestant Church the principle is Sola Scriptula meaning scripture only is the authority for interpretation but then again someone has to interpret the scripture and that means anybody. It then boils down to esoteric interpretations where one’s orthodoxy may be impugned as heresy by another. This explains why there is only one Roman Catholic Church but 40,000 Protestant denominations.
(3). Scientific Interpretation. This is when we are using all the basic Interpretative tools such as: semiotics, which includes syntactics and semantics and pragmatics ; foundational theory of meaning, logic, psychology and contextual circumstances etc.
VARIOUS MODES OF INTERPRETATION :
There have been countless modes of interpretations.
The Jews relied on authority: Rabbis, Scribes, Pharisees, Priests, Prophets,
The Church relied on Jesus, Apostles, Apostolic Fathers, Elders, Bishops, Councils and Synods
until the Reformation
It is here important to note that the constant conflicts between Jesus and the opposing Jews were a hermeneutic problem
The church viewed fulfillment of prophecy as authentic hermeneutic method thus making the New Testament a hermeneutic source to the Old Testament.
The Lord Jesus confirmed this by many examples. Lk 4:17-21 cf Isa. 61:1 Jn 5:32-36, 39-40 cf Ps 40:7, Deut.18:18-19
The early scripture interpreters used Tradition, Fulfillment of Prophecy, Allegory, and Literal modes of interpretation . The church later undercut Allegory with Philosophy- Logic, Reason, Dialectics
After the Reformation when the general public had access to the scriptures in their divers vernaculars it became imperative to have serious hermeneutics discipline to preserve truth and mitigate heresy. Ask yourself why do we have 40,000 Christian denominations today.
The Reformers rejected allegory and adopted interpretations in the light of grammatical, Literal, and historical understanding. They cautioned against Idiosyncrasy but the question is whether they succeeded in guarding against it. It will be seen in later philosophies from the late 19 century to the present that idiosyncrasies are perennial inherent influences in interpretations as exposed by Heideggerian (Dasein ) and Gadamerian (Horizon) hermeneutics.
37. In order to understand this concept consider the following hypothetical scenario.
There is male preacher who was raised in church from young and has never been a prostitute and a female preacher who was once a prostitute but saved now by grace;
which of these two is most likely to prefer which of the following themes when preaching on the woman caught in adultery in John 8. (a) Cast the first stone (b) Go and sin no more. ?
It is natural for each one of us to come to the interpretation table with our world such as expressed in Heideggerian ontological “being” and time” or the Gadamerian “horizon” which is to say the totality of our background, ‘baggage’, existential experience and knowledge determines our understanding or meaning.
This phenomenon must be admitted by the interpreter of its potential to influence or determine one’s religious, social and political affiliations and decisions and must be challenged on the side of both the author and the interpreter as according to Gadamer.
38. Read Matt 16:1-12 and explain why the disciples could not understand what Jesus meant by “the leaven of the Pharisees”
Literal, Allegory, Typology, Letterism etc interpretations
In Semiotics we learnt that icons are direct pictorial representations. They require no