Relevance as a Mediating Category in the Reading of Biblical Texts: Venturing Beyond the Hermeneutical Circle -- By: Tim Meadowcroft

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 45:4 (Dec 2002)
Article: Relevance as a Mediating Category in the Reading of Biblical Texts: Venturing Beyond the Hermeneutical Circle
Author: Tim Meadowcroft


Relevance as a Mediating Category in the
Reading of Biblical Texts: Venturing
Beyond the Hermeneutical Circle1

Tim Meadowcroft*

* Tim Meadowcroft is dean of Tyndale Graduate School of Theology and lecturer in Biblical Studies, Bible College of New Zealand, Private Bag 93104, Henderson, Waitakere City, New Zealand.

The most efficient way to introduce the problem which this article addresses is by means of a brief autobiographical reflection. In vocational terms I can be described as a teacher of biblical studies. In that capacity I am a reader of the biblical text. I ply my trade in two (occasionally uncomfortably) distinct contexts. I am an ordained Anglican, and I am employed at an interdenominational evangelical Bible college. When it comes to reading the biblical text, those two contexts typify the hermeneutical tension in which I live, the attempted resolution of which moulds a significant part of my working life. In one context, that of the evangelical Bible college, I often read with those concerned with such things as authority, objectivity, and authorial intent. The Bible is God’s word, and the job of the Christian is simply to do what is says. The adjective that best describes my other context, the Anglican one, is pluralist. In that context I often read with those who are more focused on such things as subjectivity, interest, relationship, and ideology. What is most important is the Bible reader’s experience of life, and any engagement with the Bible is subject to that experience and the reader’s cultural context. This is, of course, a caricature of both contexts, and the diversity inherent in each of them. The fact is that the two are not mutually exclusive, and at an intuitive level I find a considerable amount of interplay. My desire is to understand that interplay better at a hermeneutical level, at the level of how I read, interpret, and use texts.

That I have described my activity in each of those contexts as “reading” is a response to the fact that questions about the position of the reader with respect to the text dominate the contemporary hermeneutical landscape. Literary theory, according to Anthony Thiselton, “constitutes one of the three most significant developments for biblical hermeneutics over the last quarter of a century.” The second development Thiselton cites is the impact of post-Gadamerian hermeneutics,” by which I assume he means Gadamer’s rebellion against method and structure, and a turning towards language

and context and particularity when it comes to understanding. Thiselton’s third chosen development is “the emergence of socio-critical theory and related liberation m...

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