Insights From Postmodernism’s Emphasis On Interpretive Communities In The Interpretation Of Romans 7 -- By: Walt Russell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 37:4 (Dec 1994)
Article: Insights From Postmodernism’s Emphasis On Interpretive Communities In The Interpretation Of Romans 7
Author: Walt Russell


Insights From Postmodernism’s Emphasis
On Interpretive Communities
In The Interpretation Of Romans 7

Walt Russell*

In reaction to modernism’s radical individualism and lack of emphasis on group identities, the recent rise of postmodernism has helped to regain an appreciation for both the corporate dimension of the self and the influence of one’s group or interpretive community on the interpretive process.1 This essay is an attempt to glean some of the positive benefits from this postmodern emphasis and to apply these insights to the interpretation of the notorious crux interpretum, Rom 7:7–25.

I. The Conception Of Interpretive Communities

Within the diverse and multidisciplinary reaction to modernism known as postmodernism there are various and sundry expressions of the concept of interpretive communities. Certainly two of the best known and most influential expressions are those set forth by Thomas S. Kuhn in the history of science and Stanley Fish in literary criticism.2 While others have added their voices to this perspective, Kuhn’s and Fish’s have been the most formative.

Kuhn has helped us see the importance of the interpretive paradigm within which scientists work and carry out their scientific research. In other words, Kuhn has asserted that there is a sociology of knowledge that is a

* Walt Russell is associate professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639.

significant interpretive factor in the handling of the data of science. In this sense no data are raw, uninterpreted data. Rather, scientists interpret the data with some sense of a preunderstanding or paradigm that significantly affects their perceptions. This nuancing of the role of scientists regarding their network of relations corrects the mechanistic Enlightenment view of the totally objective scientist/interpreter. It also adds appropriate weight to the role of one’s interpretive community in the scientific enterprise.

In a parallel manner, Fish has made the same point about the perceptions of the interpreters of texts. He thereby dislodges texts from the center of authority in favor of readers within their respective interpretive communities:

The notion of “interpretive communities,” which had surfaced occasionally in my discourse before, now becomes central to it. Indeed, it is interpretive communities, rather than either the text or the reader, that produce meanings and are responsible for t...

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