Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Never Read a Bible Verse- STR

This 4 minute video answers the following 'question. I have had some linking problems with some of Stand to Reason's things. I think this is fixed by clicking the title, as a link. So Click on "Never Read a Bible Verse" above. That should help. Let me know if it doesn't. Here's a link for an article on the same topic.

In “Never Read a Bible Verse” you write that we can’t appropriate verses in the Bible meant for a particular audience in the past for us today. I’m confused about how we know what does apply to us then. Using your logic you provided in this part of your book, couldn't we say that everything that Paul says in the Epistles isn't really directed to us so we should ignore it all? I mean he wrote them to the church in Ephesus, Corinth and Philippi, not to us here today.


Kwame E. said...

Yep: all the hyperlinks work.


Meanwhile, Koukl wrote:

<<First, ignore the verse numbers and try to get the big picture. Then begin to narrow your focus. It's not very hard or time consuming. It takes only a few moments and a little observation of the text.

Begin with the broad context of the book. What type of literature is it history, poetry, proverb? What is the passage about in general? What idea is being developed?>>

Indeed. Imagine how much time would be saved and trouble would be avoided if Christians and non-Christian, errantist skeptics alike would follow this advice.


He also wrote:

<<This works because of a basic rule of all communication: Meaning always flows from the top down, from the larger units to the smaller units, not the other way around. The key to the meaning of any verse comes from the paragraph, not just from the individual words.>>

Ah, this is actually untrue. This is a good rule of thumb and an important rudimentary rule, but it's not true. Pretty simple to see why: if the meaning of a particular sentence can be ascertained only through reading surrounding sentences, then that's just it: the surrounding sentences are equally bound by the same supposed rule for sentences, which is that their individual meanings can be ascertained only through other sentences. You end up with a circular, unsolvable problem where you're begging the question to try to solve any particular sentence. See how that works?

To the contrary, one discovers what the speaker was saying through a more-or-less simultaneous check of the sum of words and the words themselves. Specifically, the meaning is gauged through processes of both induction and what the linguists call abductive reasoning. You're basically taking known rules of grammar, assuming as a starting point that a given speech utterance has a literal or textbook meaning, and then applying known rules of linguistic pragmatics (more or less = stylistic rules) to test the assumption against that.

When this is done properly with regard to biblical exegesis, one will come to believe difficult truths about the Bible, truths such as those pertaining to God's hatred, the punishment of the wicked, the inclusiveness of Christianity, the condemnation of homosexuality, and so on. If you do otherwise, which is precisely and merely to let "context" define individual sentences which belong to that context, results vary and often end up bolstering heterodoxy and liberal Christianity.

It may sound like I'm splitting hairs, but there actually is a difference....

D.B. said...

Are you saying that looking at context will produce heterodoxy? I would generally see it the other way, that understanding context can better aline you to what the authors actually meant in the context, then coming to some idea of whther such things apply to me and, if so, how. You could be right, though.

Kwame E. said...

<<Are you saying that looking at context will produce heterodoxy? I would generally see it the other way, that understanding context can better aline you to what the authors actually meant in the context, then coming to some idea of whther such things apply to me and, if so, how. You could be right, though.>>

Not what I am saying. But let's state the matter in another way.

Let's revisit the idea in question, that Koukl made. Translated, here is that idea: The meaning of a sentence can be ascertained only if one first ascertains the meaning of other sentences belonging to the context of that sentence.

Now let's test Koukl's rudimentary rule to see how well it works.

"No, he ain't said that. We been told him not to do it, and he know we meant it."

Let the first sentence above be A. Let the second sentence be B. According to Koukl, you can't know what B means unless you first gauge the meaning of the context to which B belongs. However, since A is part of the context, you can't gauge the meaning of the context until you gauge the meaning of A. But if you try to gauge the meaning of A, you first have to gauge the meaning of its context and B, since B belongs to the context.

So to define B, you have to define A. Yet, to definte A you have to define B; for they are both sentences belonging to a commmon context. On the rudimentary rule in question, you can never discover what either A or B means. ("It's like looking up the definition of 'hypostatize' in the dictionary only to see 'reify,' and looking up 'reify' in the dictionary only to see the definition 'hypostatize,'" to paraphrase Mr. Sklenar.)

The basic rule does not work: period.

(More on the other side of the word count threshold....)

Kwame E. said...

Of course, this means that one must find other ways to discover what ideas the speaker is communicating by means of various sentences.

What people should be doing in the case of sentences composing the Bible is precisely what they do with sentences which are extrabiblical. And what do they do? They go through a quick and "intuitive" process of inductive reasoning and abductive reasoning and make judgments accordingly. If I walk up to you, after having not seen you in a while, and I say "Hi," you will probably deem this utterance to be a greeting as opposed to a fragmentive statement on the elevation of some particular object. Why? You've observed in the past that "Hi" tends to be a greeting. You also know that it is unlikely that one would say "hi" in such a circumstance to describe something as being high as opposed to low. All things considered, you proceed to respond in kind, saying "Hey, how's it going?" or whatever. You're not conscious of the thought processes involved in all of this; no one is. However, this is what we do.

Now, notice that the assumptions we make in the case example above are grammatical and pragmatic/stylistic assumptions first and foremost. Such are the assumptions in that process which we all do with extrabiblical utterances and should do with all utterances, which include biblical utterances. But this is not what is always done with biblical exegesis, is it?

To the contrary, what are we told by some folks who tell us the Bible does not condemn homosexuality? "Christians don't understand the Bible, a book which is all about love." Or as another example, what someone once said to me after I was talking to him about predestination to salvation in the Bible: "God predestines everyone."

Let's all make up our minds that as a practical matter, people can always extend the concept of a given verse's context to make it as large or as extended as they want to. Linguistic concerns of Ephesians, chapter 1 do not matter, because so-and-so has already made up his mind that John 3:16 trumps any possible Reformed take on Ephesians 1. Or linguistic concerns of Romans 1 do not matter since so-and-so has already made up his mind that John 3:16 trumps any possible conservative take on Romans, chapter 1. AND, truth be told, you can't necessarily fault these folks for acting like context can be this large. Everyone thinks that contexts of a given sentence can be this large, for this is how universalism is rebutted by conservative Christians, how reconcilationism is rebutted, how annihilationism is rebutted, etc.

That is why I say that the means for ascertaining the meaning of a given biblical verse is to examine the verse and the context with its parts more or less simultaneously. Brevity prevents a further refinement of this statement, but suffice it to say for now that the rudimentary rule that Koukl gave is not true.