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Constructing Meaning in Biblical Interpretation

The one thing I like about the Rabbi from Galilee was his insistence on situational or contextual teaching.  In the seventh chapter of Mark, the pharisees approach Jesus and ask him why his disciples eat without ritual cleansing (as taught by the elders).  Jesus takes the time to talk specifically about the interplay between self and world (e.g., foods going into our body do not, as the pharisees taught, make a person “unclean.”).  Jesus took an experience happening in the here and now and used it to explore complex sociological relationships within the Jewish culture.

The discourse response is left out.  We do not hear how the pharisees responded to such a claim, but from the reactions of the disciples, it is clear that the people observing Jesus’ words had difficulty understanding the meaning behind his words.  Thus, the disciples ask him further clarifying questions later on in the passage.  And although the book of Mark is relatively old for pulling out educational or didactic theories, I think we have a found a gem that we might use in our own teaching:

Don’t lay out all your chickens for the world to see.

In other words, don’t answer all of your audiences’ questions before they ask them.  Pastors often attempt to give entire sermons without leaving anything open for interpretation, but I think that the small openings they leave for people to question themselves are the vital starting point for the church.  Moreover, we ought to allow time during service or after service as a time for questions to answer some of the tough questions that get raised as a result of biblical interpretation.

Furthermore, what I have said reminds us of the importance of discussion in the midst of our didactic endeavors.  While we may think we need to get from point one to point three for people to get a “clear” picture of whatever it is we are teaching, we may find that there is a point between one and two that people have serious quandaries with.  Skipping over the quandaries may seem more efficient, but, in the long run, people fixate on the quandaries and need quality time to explore these issues within the discourse community.

Building up and constructing comprehension of a text should be a community endeavor.  There are a number of programs nowadays that allow for communities of faith to build these models together based on their comprehension and subsequent discussion of a text.  One that I would suggest is google documents.  Here we have a place for people to come together and write corporate documents with infinite time to add or delete content as needed.  Exploring such technologies could provide innovative and novel was for church to construct meaning from text in the future.

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One thought on “Constructing Meaning in Biblical Interpretation

  1. Great thoughts Danny!!!

    Except for one… “The one thing I like about the Rabbi from Galilee…” Really? There’s just that one thing? Just kidding.

    I think Pastors have a responsibility to share the hermeneutic authority that they’re automatically given when they stand on a stage or behind a pulpit. They need to be god stewards of the power that they have by returning it to the congregation… allow for questions and allow for the best work to be done long after the sermon is over.

    Good stuff… I like Jesus!

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