Dual Authorship and the Single Intended Meaning of Scripture -- By: Elliott E. Johnson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 143:571 (Jul 1986)
Article: Dual Authorship and the Single Intended Meaning of Scripture
Author: Elliott E. Johnson

Dual Authorship and the Single Intended Meaning of Scripture

Elliott E. Johnson

[Elliott E. Johnson, Professor of Bible Exposition, Dallas Theological Seminary]

Christian hermeneutics has long wrestled with the perplexing problem of the dual authorship—divine and human—of Scripture. This dual authorship seems to imply that a given passage may have more than one meaning. Yet in order to maintain the determinate nature of interpretation, Protestant hermeneutics has often affirmed the maxim of one meaning and many applications.

In response to the hermeneutical problem of how many meanings a passage may have, two solutions have been proposed in current evangelical discussions. These two will be evaluated briefly and then a third alternative will be proposed.

Single Meaning

Kaiser presents a view held by many evangelicals.1 He writes:

Evangelicals are urged to begin a new “hermeneutical reformation”…it is urged that the following axioms be adopted and implemented….
1) God’s meaning and revelatory-intention in any passage of Scripture may be accurately and confidently ascertained only by studying the verbal meanings of the divinely delegated and inspired writers….
2) That single, original verbal meaning of the human author may be ascertained by heeding the usual literary conventions of history, culture, grammar, syntax, and accumulated theological context.2

This is certainly accurate as far as it goes. The divine meanings are expressed in the human author’s words. But in other writings Kaiser states the issue in this question: “Could God see or

intend a sense in a particular text separate and different from that conceived and intended by his human instrument?”3 The issue turns on the words “separate” and “different.” How is the divine meaning separate and different from the human author’s meaning? Kaiser affirms that there is no difference. In fact he says the human authors of Scripture fully knew and expressed the divine meaning. So he concludes, “God did not exceed the intention of the human author.”4

In discussing 1 Peter 1:10–12, Kaiser rightly argues that the passage does not support “double meaning.” But he also argues that the ignorance of the human authors was an ignorance, not of the subject matter of the Old Testament prophecies, but of ...

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