The Benefits Of An Author-Oriented Approach To Hermeneutics -- By: Robert H. Stein

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 44:3 (Sep 2001)
Article: The Benefits Of An Author-Oriented Approach To Hermeneutics
Author: Robert H. Stein

The Benefits Of An Author-Oriented
Approach To Hermeneutics

Robert H. Stein*

[* Robert Stein is professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280.]

I. Introduction

In all communication three distinct components must be present. If any one of these components is missing, communication is not possible. These components are: the author, the text, and the reader. Linguists tend to use the terms: the encoder, the code, and the decoder. Still another set of terms that can be used is: the sender, the message, and the receiver. Having been born and raised in New Jersey where we like to use alliteration, we can refer to the three components as: the writer, the writing, and the “weader.”

During the twentieth century we have witnessed amazingly diverse views as to which of these three components is the determiner of meaning. Who or what determines the meaning of a text, code, message, writing? At the beginning of the twentieth century the general assumption was that the author was the determiner of a text’s meaning. The text meant what the author of the text consciously willed to convey by the words he or she had written. Texts were understood as a form of communication, and in communication we seek to understand what the author of that communication seeks to convey. Thus, if in a Bible study we were engaged in a study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and by some miracle the apostle Paul entered the room and explained what he meant by the passage under consideration, this would settle the issue. Our goal was to understand what the author, that is, Paul, meant by this passage, and we now know what he meant. Hopefully, we would proceed to discuss some of the implications of that passage for us today, but the issue of what the text “meant” would be settled. This is the common sense approach to hermeneutics that most people use quite unconsciously. This is why, for example, in trying to understand Romans we seek help from Galatians rather than Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls or Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. The reason for this is that the author of Galatians thinks more like the author of Romans than Hemingway or Mitchell, and we desire to understand what the author of Romans meant.

In the 1930s, however, a movement arose called the New Criticism. This movement became the dominant approach toward literature in the universities until the 1970s. This approach no longer sought meaning in what the

author intended to convey, but in the text itself as an independent entity. Texts were interpreted as independent units in total iso...

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