Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Primacy of Text versus Primacy of Utility of Text

Posted by NT Wrong on June 25, 2008

“I personally wouldn’t be happy in the context of a believing community or any group that roughly knows the answers beforehand (we could parallel this sort of theology with forms of Marxism, Freudianism etc, could we not?).”
James Crossley

Anthony Thistelton, relying on Gadamer, writes that readers must avoid “premature assimilation of perspective of text into the horizon of the reader”. The danger of such “premature assimilation” for Thistelton is that the event of interaction between reader and text might appear “uneventful, bland, routine, and entirely unremarkable”.

“Within the Christian community the reading of biblical texts often takes this uneventful and bland form. For the nature of the reading process is governed by horizons of expectation already pre-formed by the community of readers or by the individual. Preachers often draw from texts what they had already decided to say; congregations sometimes look to biblical readings only to affirm the community identity and life-style which they already enjoy.” ( p. 8 )

Thistelton then notes that this particular danger occurs, in much the same way, in radical reader-response theories — in which meaning is “wholly determined by community horizons”, inhibiting the creative dimension of the texts themselves.

Or as the late, great James Barr observed, any approach governed primarily by questions of (theological, marxist, feminist, psychoanalytic, etc) utility “will inevitably corrupt its accuracy in representing the biblical material itself”.

    – Anthony C. Thistelton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992: 8-10.

    – James Barr, “Evaluation, Commitment, and Objectivity in Biblical Theology.” Pages 125-152 in Heikki Räisänen, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, R S Sugirtharajah, Krister Stendahl, James Barr, Reading the Bible in the Global Village: Helsinki. SBL: Atlanta, 2000.

3 Responses to “Primacy of Text versus Primacy of Utility of Text”

  1. James Crossley said

    Wrong and Thiselton singing from the same hymn sheet. Who’d have thought it?

  2. ntwrong said

    It was just to show that I’m not prejudiced against the messenger. Sometimes worthwhile things come from unusual places. Remember, the good Lord once chose to speak His Revelation out of his ass.

  3. steph said

    I never thought of that before:-)

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