Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Hirsch, Meaning, and Hermeneutics – Part 3

In two previous posts (part 1 and part 2), I have proposed that the traditional two-fold structure of meaning and significance, be made made a three-fold structure of meaning, implication, and significance.* (Hirsch included implication in meaning as do many, but a new book by Robert H. Stein reviewed here apparently makes this same three-fold distinction that I have offered.)

In a nutshell, meaning is what the human author intended to communicate. Implications are those things which are inherently connected with the author’s intention, but outside of his conscious thought and intention. Significance is the application of meaning and implication to any situation to which it might relate.

So here’s why I think this matters.

In Hirsch’s two-fold division, you end up with human authors “meaning” things that they have no knowledge of, much less intention of. In other words, an author “speaks better than he knows;” he has an unintentional intention. The passage’s meaning is then no longer subject to exegesis based on intent, since the meaning cannot be drawn out from the words the author used to communicate his intended message. If it’s in the words, it is separate from the author’s intent in context, in which case normal exegesis cannot draw it out, and which opens a rather large barn door to a text meaning anything at all (since the author’s intent is no longer controlling; future implications are of the reader’s world, not the author’s). The historical part of literal-grammatical-historical interpretation has reduced significance (no pun intended).

This problem has been answered in a number of ways, primarily some form of sensus plenior, the idea that there is a “deeper meaning, intended by God but not clearly intended by the human author, that is seen to exist in the words of Scripture when they are studied in the light of further revelation or of development in the understanding of revelation.”[1]

While there are a number of problems with sensus plenior, but a major one is that it removes the possibility of exegesis of a text to arrive at the complete meaning, because the meaning is no longer in the words as the author used them to communicate to his readers. The fuller meaning is found in later words by different authors in different historical contexts, which which the original readers would not have had, and could not have known. Typically, this fuller meaning is found in the canonical context, which means the whole text of Scripture.

This is where the category of implication is helpful. It allows for there to be truth in a text that is not part of meaning. These implications are seen in later revelation, but they are not what the author meant his original readers to understand and respond to (which is what meaning must be connected to: what did the original author intend his original readers to understand, believe, or do in their lives at that time as a result of this text, including antecedent revelation).

Simply put, this means that God, the divine author (who knows all implications exhaustively) inspires the human author (who knows much less) to write a particular message to a particular audience. The human author then writes with a particular goal of informing or persuading his readers based on a truth that he is communicating. By intending something, he is not intending other things, and he is intending to not communicate still others things.

The divine author, aware of all the truth inherent in a given message (implications), also knows the full canonical context prior to the writing of the entire canon. He knows how the text lays a foundation for later revelation. In other words he knows what the implications are because he (and he alone) knows how those words will be used in generations to come.

So acknowledging a category of implication—those things which God knows and which the human author is not consciously intending—protects the integrity of the text and the author from “speaking better than he knew.” It also protects the later understanding of the text by showing how something can have truth that is ‘hidden.’ It also means that the human author and divine author can have the same meaning.

With this three-fold distinction, we can actually exegete the passages based on the traditional literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic. This takes into account what the original author intended his original readers to understand, based on the language and syntax he used at the time of writing. We can focus on what it says, rather than what else it might say.

Having done the exegetical work, we can then turn to the canonical context to see what implications this passage might contain that later come to fuller flower. We can also speak of how the truth of the text lays a foundation for later revelation in the canon of Scripture yet to be revealed, or how the text might be typological or analogical. These implications can then be preached as eternal truth because of the canonical context.

Having then done the exegetical and canonical, or biblical-theological work, we can turn to the homiletical work of application, of presenting the “world in front of the text” that the listener should inhabit having listened to the text (cf. Kuruvilla, Text to Praxis, esp. 24ff.)

So we can preach what the text meant in its original context. We can preach how the truth of text lays the foundation for the work of God in subsequent history. And we can apply the the text to the hearers by using both the meaning and the implications as the ground of significance.

[1] Raymond E. Brown, “Hermeneutics,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968), p. 616.



Ken Casillas said...

Your posts on Hirsch are of interest as I’m presently doing some research in this area. What do you think of what Hirsch does on pp. 121-26? Here he illustrates more specifically how he would distinguish b/t legitimate and illegitimate “unconscious implications.” His discussion seems to boil down to two ideas. (1) Some genres are more oriented to “unconscious implications” b/c the author is consciously writing for future generations as well as his own, e.g., legal documents and Scripture. The author wants readers to be thinking not just of the specifics he mentions but also of the underlying “type” or category to which the specifics belong. (2) The interpreter must demonstrate a natural connection b/t an implication and the author’s purpose and “willed type.” In other words, Hirsch closes the “barn door” considerably, rooting implications in exegesis.

Stein follows Hirsch here: “Implications are those inferences in a text of which an author may or may not have been aware but that nevertheless legitimately fall within the principle he willed” (p. 33). I would say at least that often the “willed principle” is itself an implication—the “timeless truth” associated with the “ladder of abstraction” model. Example: When Moses said not to muzzle a threshing ox, did he “unconsciously imply” the general principles of fairness and compassion that Paul extrapolates from Deuteronomy 25:4 and then applies to a different issue? I agree there is tension b/t “unconscious” and “willed.” Maybe those aren’t the best terms. But if we don’t have something like this, then we will have to attribute the timeless principles to the divine Author only. Doesn’t that seem problematic?

Thoughts? BTW, another helpful source on these matters is Jeannine Brown’s Scripture As Communication.

Larry said...

Ken, Pardon the length here. I have been writing this for two days and not sure how to get it concise enough. I am returning to this thought after a paper I wrote in seminary since I am now working on my DMin final project and I have a section on preaching the OT. So I am working through it again.

I don't have Hirsch in front of me so I am going from memory here, but here's my short answer: I think Hirsch's willed types essentially creates categories, a "things like this" kind of situation, but the specifics are not always intended. So if you asked the author, "Did you mean X?", he might say "No. But that would fit." He might also say, "No." It's an "etc." except unstated. What all fits in there? Some is conscious (i.e., intended other stuff but didn't want to write it all out) or un/subconscious (not really sure what all fits/not thinking about it). In the latter case, it can't really be authorial intention, at least from a human side.

But what about when the "etc." isn't intended? The divine author complicates it somewhat, but try this analogy: I can tell my child to tell my wife something, knowing that he won't understand it but she will. Or knowing that he will think it is X when it is actually X+Y. So God can communicate something through a human author that has immediate meaning calling for a response, but he also knows that further generations will understand it more fully. Yet we can't pin that meaning on the human author because he would say, "No. That's not what I meant. I meant X." Were he to live long enough, he would certainly see future implications of which he was unaware.

Hirsch says meaning can be subconscious but still an object of the voluntary will: "will involves not merely choices and goals, but voluntary choices and goals, and again our habits of language remind us of the conscious element of will"(53-54). So how can something be subconscious and voluntary at the same time, much less intentional? I am not sure. I am not sure what that means (no pun intended). I wrote a longer section on this in a paper, which wouldn't fit well here, and I am not sure I would say it all the same today, but the sum of it is that unconscious intentions are problematic in terms of meaning. Separating implication is an answer, at least in part, to the problem.

If Hirsch is right on implication being part of meaning, then it seems to me that we have to equivocate on what it means to intend something. (I think "meaning" gets used pretty loosely anyway.) We are, in effect, intending something we didn't intend. That is why "willed type" works only sometimes.

Continued below ...

Larry said...

Where this is most significant, at least for me at present, is in preaching the OT. We see people finding all kinds of "meanings" in the text which could not have possibly been in the author's mind. Yet they are true. That's where I think implication matters. It is inherently connected yet outside intention. So something can be implied in an OT text that is not meant by the author, but consistent with it, and unveiled later in history. It seems that most are of the opinion that typology, for instance, is not a matter of exegesis, but it is a divine intention, though not human. So typology is not intended by the human author, and in fact, he would have had no sense of it. But it is there revealed later.

The writing for future generations is what Kuruvilla calls "transhistorical intentions," what the text was supposed to do for future generation. Scripture certainly has them, but I would say that the author is not always aware of what they will be. So he is teaching something that can be extended apart from his intent on specifics. That is implication, in my mind. Kuruvilla is pretty good, IMO, talking about the world in front of the text, particularly how genres work to bring about application.

I think Deut 25:4 is a different kind of thing, namely, Kaiser's principlizing. There is a principle behind it, namely just wages, that is being appealed to, and Deut 25:4 is cited because it clearly expresses the principle in familiar and easily understood terms. So Moses didn't imply something; he was working from a prior principle, and Paul invokes the same principle. They were both working from the significance or application of a principle built into creation.

So this is rough, and long. I welcome any interaction and sharpening you might offer.

Ken Casillas said...

Thanks for your careful response, Larry. I know that took some time! And thanks for the tip on Kuruvilla; I’ll be looking into him.

I agree that “willed type” works only in some cases. I also agree that Christological/typological ideas are mostly matters of divine not human intent. On this issue, more and more I’m liking the “Christo-telic” instead of “Christo-centric” category (though I know it has some baggage). I.e., the OT authors weren’t always consciously writing about Christ. But as God moved history along, He brought the OT principles and patterns to their climactic expression in Christ, and this is what GOD had in mind all along. So in a particular OT passage if someone asked me, “Is this about Christ?” I would have to ask, “What do you mean by ‘about’?” In addition, the Christo-telic climax doesn’t remove the original historical point.

What I’m wrestling with is more the matter of ethical implications and re-applications. I guess I’m not insisting that we call these ideas part of the “meaning” or human intent. The point is that it is legitimate and indeed necessary to infer these implications and apply them to other issues today, or else the Bible’s authority becomes almost meaningless. On the other hand, here are a couple questions for you….

1. Did Moses intend to teach the broader principle reflected in Deut. 25:4? Was he consciously thinking of the principle when he wrote?

2. Here’s a quote from Stein (p. 34): “Let us assume that Paul visited the church in Ephesus after sending his letter. Upon discovering drunkenness among its members, he then asked, ‘Did you not read in my letter not to be drunk with wine?’ If one of the members replied, ‘Paul we are not drunk with wine. Ever since you wrote your letter we have switched to beer,’ would Paul have responded, ‘Well that’s all right, so long as it was not wine’? Of course not. He would have said something like, ‘You know that I meant not to be drunk with beer also.’” Thoughts on this? Would you want to nuance Paul’s reply so as to avoid the word “meant”?

BTW, on “things like this”… Paul uses that very language in Gal. 5:21 as he ends the list of the works of the flesh. From this perhaps it is legitimate to infer (!) that other biblical discussions of ethics should be understood representatively not exhaustively.

Thanks again!

Larry said...

With you I prefer Christo-telic to Christo-centric, if we are using that terminology. I find myself somewhere between Kaiser and Chapell on this, seeing a lot of help in both of them. Some of the others like Clowney, Greidanus, Keller, Johnson--I find some significant discomfort.

I agree that the application of these things is legitimate and necessary. I don't know if you saw my post from a few days ago about the three realms of exegete, biblical theologian, and homiletician (http://stuffoutloud.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-pastor-as-generalist.html). Each part has a different task, but all three are necessary for preaching. There, I offered a few dangers of isolating one of these out of the homiletical process. I think we can't preach without application and I often find that the hardest part of the study process.

To your questions,

1. On Deut 25:4, I am not sure. I think a lot of the law is addressing specific situations, and may not be intentionally incorporating other examples, though there are other laws that would. I think if we were to ask Moses, "Did you mean pastors should be paid?" he would say "No, I was talking about oxen, but the principle applies." If we were to ask Moses "Are you implying something about pastors being paid?" he would say, "Yes, that's consistent with it." In some cases, it's a fine line to be sure. And of course my explanation is convenient for my position.

2. On Eph 5, I think Paul would say "Yes, I meant drunk; it doesn't matter what it's with." But there again, our modern loose use of meaning and implication would be pretty close to the same. But what we would say about using this for something like drug addiction, gambling addiction, sex addiction or, if we grant the case, internet addiction (presented in a progressive line away from clear connection). Would we say those are meaning? Implication? Or Application? I would say implication. Paul didn't mean those things. But it's not a significance of it, per se. I think Paul would say, "Any thing that controls you other than the Spirit is implied in that."

I actually had Gal 5:21 in my original post and in trying to shorten it I took it out. What I said was that in Gal 5, the "things like these" is explicit, so Paul's teaching clearly attaches to everything "like these," i.e., other deeds of the flesh. But what about something like passages on spiritual gifts? The NT gift lists are different. So would the teaching about the use of spiritual gifts in one passage (say 1 Cor 12) apply to gifts listed elsewhere (or not listed at all, depending on your view of the lists and the number of gifts)? I would say the teaching of 1 Cor 12 applies to all gifts, even if they aren't mentioned, and even though the text doesn't say "Things like these" (that I recall). So though the "things like these" principle is not stated, I think by implication the teaching would extend to all the gifts.

Helpful interaction here for me. Thanks.

How would you answer your questions on Deut 25:4 and Eph 5?

Ken Casillas said...

I did see your Generalist article and thought it was good. I also agree that what 1 Cor. 12 says about spiritual gifts would apply to other passages on that topic, especially since all the passages are explicitly talking about the same subject and most are written by the same author.

On the other passages, what would you think of the following….

Deut. 25:4
1. Meaning: Don’t muzzle threshing ox.
2. Implication (=timeless principle): Be kind to others; more specifically, provide equitably for those working for you. (In this case, I think I’m inclined to say Moses intended this b/c there are fairly explicit statements of the principle elsewhere in his writings, e.g., Lev. 19:13).
3. Significance/application: Pay the preacher. (Moses would agree, but he didn’t think of this; Paul did.)

Eph. 5:18
1. Meaning: Don’t get drunk with wine.
2. Implication (=willed type): Don’t let anything control you except the Spirit. Therefore, I shouldn’t get addicted to the internet. (Paul didn’t have this specifically in mind, but it’s an outworking of his willed type. It does seem somewhere b/t implication and significance.)
3. Significance/application: I will limit myself to 1 hour of non-work internet use daily.

Thank you for the interaction—it’s been helpful for me to think through these categories.