Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hermeneutical Philosophies for Interpreting Narrative Literature Part 4 - Author's Intent

Author's Intent

Principle of Repetition

        The suffix that theologians have added during this shift in hermeneutics is that the normative Christian experience can be deciphered if the author intended to do so (Fee 2003, 110), and Luke relates the importance of certain topics with the frequency of their use. The author's intent is an immutable objective fact that cannot change. At one point in history the author meant to communicate something, and even if they later recant of that statement it does not change the initial sacrosanct intent (Stein 1994, 26). While the Biblical authors have long since departed, and their original intent cannot be definitively ascertained, there are tools in the text that can highlight what theology Luke intended to be normative. The first rule we will examine is asking which events are repeated? Do we see a particular event happen more than once? Repeated events give us objective clues into the author's intent. If there were something Luke intended as a regular component of the Christian experience, it would be reasonable that Luke would reference the occurrence in relation to their popularity. A normative process would appear regularly in the first Christian history. The biblical standard for veracity is having at least two witnesses (John 8:17), thus we would not be unjustified in seeking at least two examples of a normal Christian experience.
There are a variety of reasons why we should expect repetition upon normative events: firstly, the events that are normative must be repeated. A singular event cannot be normative by definition. If Luke believed that the events are to be a regular occurrence in the life of the believer then they should make several appearances in the three decades that Acts cover. In reference to Stott's concern on Saul's conversion, which was accompanied by bright lights and an audible celestial voice (Stott 1990, 8), we can see that the events are not repeated. There are many conversions, yet none with such pomp and circumstance. If Luke intended for the reader to imagine this manner of conversion to be normative there would be hints in other accounts, but they are entirely absent. The same could be said of church administration. There is only one instance of deciding a matter by lots (Acts 1:26), hinting Luke may have intended this to be an anomaly. Lots could be deemed a typology, as it is present in Pro 16:33. Yet Luke never mentions lots again, but makes abundant references to dependency and guidance from the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:8) (Horton 1981, 52). Fee mentions some examples that pose problems of translating into the normative from Luke's writings, such as: selling all ones goods and giving to the poor, and ritual snake handling (Fee 2003, 110). Looking for repetition for these events will come up empty. In the case of snake handling there is only one instance of its occurrence. (Acts 28:3-6) These and many other singular events exemplify that Luke was likely not building a case for the normative; as no author would record a single instance of something intended to occur with regularity.
        Luke furnishes his readers with abundant examples of repeated events that can be depended upon to be normative. For example, Luke retells multiple examples of tongues being spoken. Clearly this was not intended to be an anomaly but a persistent character of the Christian life (Warrington 2008, 120). The same is true of miraculous healing. The Lucan narrative is replete with stories of supernatural healing thus showing that Luke intended them to be viewed as normative. The same is also true of preaching the Gospel, and establishing Christian communities. Doubtlessly Pentecost was a unique event, but was unique in that it launched a methodology, as opposed to a singular instance. The act of tongues resurfaces in the book of Acts, causing it to be normative. The activity of the church such as preaching, founding churches, and doing good works form a consistent role in the Acts narrative, and the activity of the Spirit in the form of tongues, prophecy, and healing are just as persistent. By applying the hermeneutical principles of seeking repetition, we can expunge from our normative practices that which prudence should disqualify, and cement the practices Luke intended to be normative.

Principle above Particulars

       There are some incidents in the Lucan narrative that the particulars of the incident are unique and not to be repeated but the 
overarching concepts of the affair are normative. This is best accomplished by reviewing events of a similar nature and noting the commonalities. For example, there are several episodes of healings in the scriptures and most are achieved through a sentient medium. In a break with tradition Luke records three occasions where the vehicle of healing was a soulless conduit (Luke 8:44, Acts 5:15, 19:12). The latter situation has been used to justify the healing virtue of religious relics (Foote 2005, 184), yet there is little in the Old or New Testament to support what became a cult of relics (Nickell 2007, 16). While the incidents are related, there are stark differences; as only in Acts 19:12 are inanimate objects intentionally used for healing. This does not follow the principle of repetition for healing through objects, so one could not willfully recreate the actions. Acts 19:12 were exceptional and not normative (Horton 1981, 322). The overarching principle is that healing does not always occur through a predictable procedure. The principles of unpredictable mediums of healing is given credence to by the principle of repetition.    

God Love You -- Rev. Sheen

Part 5 - Early Readers Perception


Fee, Gordon D., How to Read the Bible for All it's Worth, A Guide to Understanding the Bible, Zonderman, Grand Rapids, MI, 2003.

Stein, Robert H., Playing By the Rules, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994.

Stott, John R. W., The Spirit, The Church, and the World. The Message of Acts, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1990.

Horton, Stanley M., Acts, Logion Press, Springfield, MO, 1981.

Warrington, Keith, Pentecostal Theology, A Theology of Encounter, T & T Clark, New York, NY, 2008.

Foote, G. W., & J. M. Wheeler, Crimes of Christianity, TGS Publishing, Frankston, TX, 2005

Nickell, Joe, Relics of Christ, The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 2007.

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