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Biblical Discussion: Biblical Interpretation

Throughout history, a mystery has rattled centuries of Bible scholars. This mystery is how to interpret the Bible. The Bible has many different genres (prophecy, parables, allegories, narratives, and historic battle sequences) which makes interpretation difficult.  Some Biblical scholars never took the Old Testament literally. Today, it is still a mystery, but a new aspect exists that needs to be resolved. This new aspect is postmodernism. Jeff Myers, the President of Summit Ministries and has a doctorate in philosophy, wrote Understanding the Faith to help students gain a Biblical worldview. He explained, in chapter 7 of Understanding the Faith, that postmodernism is “a skeptical worldview, founded as a reaction to modernism, that is suspicious of metanarratives and teaches that ultimate reality is inaccessible, that knowledge is a social construct, and that truth claims are political power plays” (Myers, 2017).

 In 1970, Jacques Derrida, the father of Deconstructionism, allowed the reader to be the interpreter instead of the allowing the text to be interpreter, and this theory still lives on today. In Basic Biblical Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck, Martin Luther argues against Derrida and proclaims, “Scripture is its own interpreter” (Zuck, pg. 45). Martin Luther is correct we need to allow the author to be interpreter not the reader being the interpreter. However, Derrida changed the playground in 1970 by creating Deconstructionism. Jeff Myers further explained, in chapter 7 of Understanding the Faith, that deconstructionism is “a method of literary analysis that questions the ability of language to represent reality adequately and seeks to discern and expose the purported underlying ideologies of a text” (Myers, 2017). He endorsed and proclaimed that Christians, as Bible readers, could interpret the biblical text from an author-centered viewpoint to a reader-centered viewpoint. This changed the framework by which Christians could understand the text. Due to the work of Jacques Derrida, Christians can interpret the Bible from a reader-centered viewpoint because we do not know what the author’s reality is.

Figure 1. The Influences of Postmodernism on Christians. Reprinted from “Competing Worldviews Influence Today’s Christians,” by The Barna Group, 2017, Retrieved from https://www.barna.com/research/competing-worldviews-influence-todays-christians/.

According to Barna Group Figure, 54% of practicing Christians are resonating with postmodern viewpoints (The Barna Group, 2017). This is a staggering statistic.  Therefore, considering the recent postmodernist viewpoint, deconstructionism, and the staggeringly statistic, Christians should not adopt deconstructionism approaches to biblical interpretation because first, deconstructionism changes the meaning of the text to reader-centered, second, deconstructionism changes the meaning of the words in the text, and third, deconstructionism changes the way Christians live.

First, deconstructionism changes the meaning the text to reader-centered. Reader -centered approach to biblical interpretation is the method by which the reader inserts his/her own meaning into the biblical text instead of understanding the Author’s meaning of the text. Author-centered approach is the method by which the reader understands the text from the Author’s perspective. The right approach to biblical interpretation is the author-centered approach not the reader-centered approach. Robert E. Stein agrees with author-centered approach to Biblical Interpretation.

In September of 2001, Stein wrote, in “The Benefits of an Author-Oriented Approach to Hermeneutics” (pg. 455), that “the greatest argument in favor of understanding the author as the determiner of a text’s meaning is that it is the common-sense approach to all communication” (Stein, 2001). For example, this problem does not only lie in the biblical interpretation but also in the governmental documents. According to Derrida’s philosophy of deconstructionism, the reader could deconstruct the meaning of the 14th amendment and say it allows the souls of the African Americans to be free from the oppressiveness of their inner spirits. Whereas, the literalists, who has the original intent in mind, believe that the founding Fathers originally intended the 14th Amendment to allow the African Americans to be freed from slavery. This is one way that Derrida’s philosophy of deconstructionism hurts the interpretation of governmental documents. This can also be applied to the biblical interpretation.

Figure 2. Americans’ Views of the Bible. Reprinted from “Record Few Americans Believe Is Literal Word of God,” by L. Saad, 2017, Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/210704/record-few-americans-believe-bible-literal-word-god.aspx

According to Figure 2 provided by the Gallup Polls, only a measly 24% believe in the literal meaning of God. This statistic is valuable because another 54% resonates with postmodern viewpoints.

This is reason why Christians should not adopt deconstructionism approach to interpret the biblical text because deconstructionism leans towards a reader-centered view instead of an author-centered meaning.

Second, deconstructionism changes the meaning of the words in the biblical text. For example, John 1:1 (ESV) states, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, the Word was God.” This is referring to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Word of God. However, according to the Derrida’s philosophy of deconstructionism, beginning could mean the end, and the word “God” could mean dog because God spelled backwards is dog. This postmodern viewpoint can create any meaning to a word. For example, Justice in the Constitution could mean The Injustice of Dog Crimes. Since they can change the meaning of the words, The postmodern Christians could add any meaning to a text. In Addition, Steve Golden wrote, in “Deconstruction: The Influences of Postmodernism”, “The primary goal of deconstructionism is to examine binary oppositions (i.e., a relationship between two parts that are opposite in meaning) and contrast their differences” (Golden, 2013). Golden indicates that postmodern Christians are attributing the opposite meaning of a word and contrasting their differences. Therefore, Christians should not adopt deconstructionism approaches to biblical Interpretation because it changes the literal meaning of the word to nonsense.

Third, deconstructionism changes the way Christians live. When Christians interpret the Bible, it directly affects how we live. According to Gavin B. Hendricks, in his paper entitled “Deconstruction The End of Writing: ‘Everything is a Text, There is Nothing Outside Context,” Deconstruction affects the way Christians live because deconstruction views language as a “A play of differences and produces a strategy that enables one to discover the powerful role played by language in our thinking” (Hendricks, 2016). Hendricks indicates that deconstruction attacks the Bible study because it changes how we prepare and approach Bible Studies. The Question in Bible study is not What does this verse mean in eyes of the author? But What does this verse mean to me? Tim Chaffey sums it up great, “In this postmodern age, bizarre interpretations are accepted because people believe they have the right to decide for themselves what a passage mean.” (Chaffey, 2011).

Another reason, Postmodern viewpoints change the way we live is because we deconstruct the Word of God. When we deconstruct Word of God, deconstructionism contradicts, distorts, and mangles the biblical passages in Scriptures. Professor Howard Hendricks supports this position. He wrote Living by the Book for Bible students who are struggling finding the right interpreting Bible. In Chapter 28 of Living by the Book, Hendricks wrote, “Some people approach Scripture assume that the Bible changes meaning over time” (Hendricks, 2011, pg. 210). He furthered wrote, “we must reconstruct the author’s message if we want an accurate understanding” (Hendricks, 2011, pg. 210). However, due to deconstructionism, this is not the case. Therefore, Christians should not adopt deconstructionism approaches to biblical interpretation, because deconstructionism changes the way they view scriptures in Bible studies and distorts the biblical text.

In summary, Christians should not adopt the deconstructionism approaches to Biblical interpretation, because first, deconstructionism changes the meaning of the text to reader-centered meaning, Second, deconstructionism changes the meaning of the word in the text, and third, deconstructionism changes the way Christians live. Therefore, Christians should take the right approach to Biblical interpretation which is author-centered meaning, not reader-centered meaning, and understanding what the verse means in the eyes of the author.

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