Scientifically-Tested Biblical Interpretation

Scientifically-Tested Biblical Interpretation May 15, 2014

Some people approach the Bible as though there were scientific tests that can be conducted to determine the genre, the meaning, and other important details about a text in the Bible.

It might be kind of cool. Drop Genesis 1:6-7 into a vial of hydrochloric acid. If it dissolves, the dome is metaphorical. If not, it is literal.

But in fact, texts are not like that. Rarely is there no agreement on what a text means – the Voynich Manuscript being unusual as an exception. And rarely is there universal agreement on what a text means – although I suspect that here too there are exceptions. If there is no agreement about a text’s meaning, then the author failed spectacularly to convey meaning.

Interpreters have to accept that subjectivity is part of the process. If all life in the universe ceased to exist, texts would just be paper and ink, data with no one to read it. And so attempts to remove subjectivity from the process of interpretation are an exercise in futility.

In most cases, the genre, and the meaning, are a matter about which there will be a consensus among those who study the text in question professionally – in the original language, with knowledge of the historical and cultural context. In such cases, the meaning is probably quite clear. As I have said before, scholars are required to try to find something new to say about the texts we study. If there were a new way of interpreting it that was not absurd, we would try it. Indeed, sometimes absurdity doesn’t stop us. When we agree, it is significant.

When scholars disagree, things are presumably less clear.

And so do not be surprised that there are disagreements. And do not think that somehow a method can be developed that will avoid them entirely.

But at least you can take comfort that everyone agrees that a story with a talking animal in it isn’t history, right?

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