Thursday, July 19, 2012

Exegesis, Hermenutics and Meaning in the Text

Stanley Porter has some good thoughts on the differences between exegesis and hermenutics. He rightly points out that too often we confuse the two. Colleges and seminaries will often have a class on "Biblical Hermenutics" when in reality what they are teaching is how to interpret. The picture in today's post reflects this common misunderstanding. 

Here is a bit of what Porter has to say.
Students, however, are not always well served by various books that purport to be about hermeneutics. There are too many books that are more about interpretation—which usually means hermeneutics as technique or how to do it—than about what it means to understand as a human being. Many books that are used in seminary courses, even if they use the word hermeneutics, are often more about how to do interpretation—exegesis, if you will—than they are about what it means to understand. Some of these are books written by individual authors, and others are collections of essays with a little bit (often too little) on a wide range of topics. I won’t name names here, but such volumes are easily identifiable. They may be good for what they are, but they rarely address the major hermeneutical issues.
I would encourage students (and scholars, but that is another story) to gain a firm grasp of basic hermeneutical theory. I think that they will soon come to realize that there is no such thing as what is sometimes called the “plain sense” of a text, if by that one means a presuppositionless and contextless meaning of the text. Instead, interpretation encompasses a complex interplay involving at least the author, text, and reader, meanings mediated through language, socially and culturally influenced factors, and the relationship of past and present, among others. This is not to say that there is not meaning to be found in texts, but that the process of determining meaning is far more complex than many realize, and has been widely discussed and debated through the ages.

You can read the rest of his post here. He provides a good list of suggested reading material too. 

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