The Busybody blog asks in today’s post how Paul or Isaiah would feel about our reinterpretations and/or contextualizations of their writings. If it is possible to speak of authorial post-mortem indignation, then presumably it is also possible (presumably more so) to speak of authorial intent! Here are my few thoughts on the subject:
When we ask what Paul and Isaiah would make of our reinterpretations and contextualizations of their writings, I suspect that the answer depends on how aware they were that they themselves were doing the very same thing to earlier writings and traditions. And it is widely agreed that the process of reinterpreting and contextualizing both the writings of Isaiah of Jerusalem and the Apostle Paul already begins within the canon itself.I find the two extremes of naive realism and pure relativism both unattractice and unpersuasive. I believe there is a real world out there, but am humble about whether or not I have actually perceived and described it accurately. I think it is meaningful to speak about what Paul or Isaiah meant even if we cannot be absolutely certain that we have accurately uncovered it. The main point is that it is useful to try, because it can helpfully check our tendency not merely to read the text in light of our own cultural context and horizon, but our tendency to read texts that carry some weight or authority as saying what we want them to say, however much in tension that might be with some details in the texts themselves.