Concerning Contexts for Interpretation of Scripture

The following is a short reply I gave on one of my graduate student’s Hermeneutics assignment wrestling with the following two readings:

  • Punt, J. “Current Debates on Biblical Hermeneutics in South Africa and the Postcolonial Matrix.” Religion & Theology 1.1-2 (2004), 139-160.
  • Sahayadhas, R. “Christian Theological Hermeneutics in Asia: Prospects and Problems in Constructing Contextual Theologies.” Bangalore Theological Forum 35.1 (2003): 151-176.

I thought my responses might be a helpful brief reflection for persons wrestling with divergent interpretations to at least offer an openness to hearing that has not presupposed that difference ruled out of hand because it is different.

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Concerning contexts for interpretation of Scripture. The issue with contending that we should all be “a Body of Christ, One in him” and imagine that there is a singular approach most often presupposes that our own context (Western, post-Enlightenment, etc) is in fact the one that is true to that unity. It fails to appreciate the thousand ways we ourselves are inheritors of our interpretive contexts.

We often only begin to note this when others from different contexts propose alternate interpretations (such as the samples of Post-Colonial and Asian contextual readings provided).

Suddenly this strange new world opens before us seeming to challenge the very foundation and fabric of “the Truth” (which might be the case, but might also not be the case), when such differences may simply be challenging the dominant interpretive communities (Western and post-Enlightenment, for example) and their predetermined grasp on how to properly interpret.

We might see various contextual interpretations as “divisive” when in fact they are simply “different” from our own. Those are not identical categories: divisive and different. It may actually be that the “different” interpretation is pushing back against a “dominating” interpretation that has not been sufficiently humble to recognize its own many contextualized blind spots to interpretation of Scripture. This is sometimes referred to as a hegemony of interpretation. We do well to attune our ears better to hear what the Spirit may be saying to the church (historical and global).

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And here is a comic I didn’t send them, but find too often to be the case for our readings of Scripture:

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