James used the term “hermeneutic” at the opening of this module. Do you recall what that word means?
I take it as a reference to the study of those methods by which people interpret messages. Somebody told me that the root of the word hearkens back to Hermes.
What hermeneutic have you used or been taught to use for reading Scripture?
I was raised in church to do the freewheeling reader response sort of interpretation (though I didn’t learn that name for it until later), and we were all expected to credit the Holy Spirit for providing us with the random ideas we brought to the text.
In college, I was taught that the human authors of scripture had intentions when they wrote, and that our job was to sleuth out those authorial intents with the help of grammatical and historical context. Since the program I followed presumed that a single God inspired all these writers, we believed we could always harmonize the various and sundry messages we extracted from different Biblical texts. We called this homogenization Biblical theology. We were then encouraged to supplement our exegetical findings by asking questions like “If St. Paul were writing the same letter to me or you today in English that he wrote to the 1st century Romans in Greek, how might his message shift to accommodate the difference in audience and language?”
Today (unlike my childhood and my undergraduate studies) I no longer think of scripture as something which primarily serves to convey content. Rather, I understand scripture to be something that—when confronted—changes those who confront it. I suppose the Bible can convey content (something about the world humans long lived in and something about a new coming age). However, I believe the Bible is principally something which brings about this cosmic turnover—not a mere exposition of it.
For sensitive and focused readers, all great literature is capable of inaugurating a new manner of existence. The Bible is unique among works of great literature in that the new manner of existence it inaugurates is irrevocable, and readers don’t have to be all that sensitive or focused to be overcome by what it inaugurates.