Multivalence, Redemption, and Biblical Texts
Nearly every form of Christian interpretation adheres to some form of multivalence in interpreting the biblical text. Some more than others. An example of this would be Jer 29:11, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Many would agree that the original context for this verse is to be understood corporately as speaking to the exiles of Judah in Babylon. However, it is still considered proper in Christian circles to understand this verse individually and as also saying something to its modern listeners, so God can still “speak” through this verse.
Not only does nearly every form of Christianity include some form of multivalence in its interpretation but the variability in the multivalence is flexible. So, for instance, in some interpretive cases the multivalence is basically a “that” is “this” situation. For example, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…”; as then, so now. In others, the original “meaning” has very little to do with the later or modern “meaning”; for example, Hebrew prophecy.
To complicate matters further, every form of Christian interpretation elevates certain books and sections of Scriptures while suppressing others. Leviticus 19 is a famous example of this: “You shall not steal…” OK, “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great,” yep, got it, good stuff God, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Amen, Jesus said that too! And then all of a sudden, “nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.”
Um, yeah… have you seen this shirt God? Just. Too. Sweet. Well, I guess that was just for the ancients; it doesn’t apply anymore. Of course, there are many more examples: when’s the last time you greeted someone with a holy kiss? Drank a little wine for your tummy ache… and on and on.
For the Christian there is theological justification for this interpretive trend. Heb 4:12 states, “the word of God is living and active.” Therefore, in a pneumatic understanding of Scripture the Word of God can speak into new and contemporary situations in fresh ways. However…
There’s always a “however”!
It would seem to me that many Christians, or conservative exegetical approaches, would favor or assume much less multivalence, so the exegetical approach or pastoral assumption is that one can find the original “meaning” and then apply that meaning to the modern audience. This would mean very often then assuming some sort of neutral history reporting on the part of some OT authors, prediction for the prophets, and worship songs (in the modern sense) messianic hymns (about Jesus) for the Psalmist.
But what about texts that scholars would posit, especially using the process of deconstruction, were much more polemical in their original “meaning.” What if some of the early Davidic stories were told in such a fashion that they tried to clean David’s image up? What if Jonah was a didactic story? What if the prophets were not predicting? What if the Zadokites were using writing to secure power?
I’m assuming that many Christians would cognitively need OT texts that were as close in meaning to their own understanding and reading values as much as possible. But theologically is that necessary?
The core of the Christian faith is not the OT. The core of the Christian faith is not the interpretation of the OT. The core of the Christian faith is not the genres of the OT.
The core of the Christian faith is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
This core entails a great reversal. Sinful, powerful elites use their position and authority to murder Jesus; however, in a great reversal what they intend for evil God instead used for good. The Christian position is that God redeemed the worst possible event into salvation for all mankind.
In a similar manner, biblical texts could have been written by men with their own sinful interests at heart; however, what they intended for their purposes and to secure their own good, God instead used for his.
Multivalent redemption of biblical texts.
Once again, like yesterday’s post, there is an irony here. While the above suggestion may of course upset many Christians, what you would have is a consistency between the books of the OT and the redemptive plan of God in the NT. If one is to assert that Jesus is God in the flesh, and he enacts a redemptive plan that turns man’s plans on their own head, should we then be surprised when this is how God acts as author?
With yesterday’s and today’s posts I have begun a conversation between biblical studies and theology. Good, bad, indifferent? Can this be done? Thoughts?