Where Many Paths Are Crossing: A Reflection on “An Elephant in the Room: Historical-Critical and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible” Part 3

In this post, I will finish my thoughts on the five areas “An Elephant in the Room” would like historical critics and postmodernists to discuss: 3) Ideology and Translation, 4) the Author and Her or His Intentions, and 5) the Semiotics (Signs) of Canon. Next week, I will finish my four part series with an interaction with a recent article in JETS by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, which I believe has some helpful insights for this discussion.

Where Many Paths Are Crossing: A Reflection on “An Elephant in the Room: Historical-Critical and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible” by George Aichele, Peter Miscall, and Richard Walsh in JBL, vol. 128, no. 2

Where Many Paths Are Crossing: A Reflection on “An Elephant in the Room: Historical-Critical and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible” by George Aichele, Peter Miscall, and Richard Walsh in JBL, vol. 128, no. 2

In regard to Ideology and Translation, the authors discuss method of translation (i.e., dynamic equivalence vs. word-for-word, etc.), vehicles of translation, and ideological roles/effects upon translation. The authors view dynamic equivalence in a negative light by suggesting that postmodernists have done much to “awaken modernists from the dogmatic slumbers of ‘dynamic equivalence.'” Perhaps this stems from the postmodern challenge to the romantic idea that we can truly know the author’s original thought or intention. Instead, an implied postmodern approach seems to be interested in the methods that have guided the Church in the history of the translation of the Bible. Next, what has been the impact upon the word of God as the vehicles of translation change from oral to written to printed to digitization? I must admit that I am not well read here; however, the authors mention that much dialogue has taken place regarding these shifts. Do any of you have any knowledge in this area and thoughts concerning how both historical and postmodern critics would benefit from such dialogue? Lastly, the authors close this section with this statement:

Finally, we have only begun to explore the role of the texts (and their translations) in constructing gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and social class.

I’m not entirely sure what is being suggested here. Do they mean we should consider ideologies behind texts and translations and such things may help us construct our understandings of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and social class? For example, do we need to discuss the ideologies behind the KJV and the TNIV, the NET and the LGBT Study NT and their use of texts in their translations? Or are they suggesting that we need to examine more closely the role texts and translations have had in developing certain mindsets and ideologies regarding gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and social class? I think the latter is what is intended. How have translations of the Bible influenced your ideologies on such issues?

Regarding the Author and Her or His Intentions, a stalemate currently exists between historical critics and postmodernists on this issue:

For postmodernists, the historical author is inaccessible and we can at best know only the ‘implied author,’ which is a function of the reader’s interaction with the text. The author is an ‘intention’ of the reader.

For the postmodernist, the intention of the author cannot be known. We cannot step back into time and ask Paul what he intended to mean by 1 Corinthians 3:23; however, the historical critic would counter that we can get pretty dang close. The historical critic places the focus on getting back to the historical intention of the author while the postmodernist believes any proposed authorial intent is rather something that is the result of the reader’s interaction with the text. Is there any reconciliation possible here? One helpful question may be – how has the Church handled authorial intent from the earliest centuries onward (assuming we can know what they intended for us to know about what they thought about authorial intent ;))?

This transitions nicely into our last area of consideration: the Semiotics (Signs) of Canon. I have had some interesting discussion recently with Rob Kashow over at Tolle Lege! about this topic. The authors are clear that the work of biblical theologians and canonical critics is interwoven with this discussion. I am becoming more and more interested in the influence of canonical thinking upon the text, the field of textual criticism and upon our understanding of inerrancy. I have reserved discussion about how canonical criticism may influence matters already mentioned until now. For example, in a previous post, I discussed physical vehicles of the text, and the use of the scroll versus the codex. Movement to the use of the codex allowed the Church to confine its texts into one vehicle. It is also apparent that a particular order was established. Canonical critics would also be able to agree (for the most part) with the postmodern emphasis on both the readers’ relation to intertextual references and to the intention of the author (inaccessibility of the historic author). Some further questions I have deal with TC and inerrancy. What does a canonical approach to TC look like? What is the goal? Can the canon continue to be an evolving canon as textual disruptions enter into the manuscripts if they are received by community(ies)? Or do canonical critics follow a romantic ideology which leads to “the canon” and is more dependent upon historical considerations when it comes to the text? How might a canonical approach assist the text critic in making decisions regarding variants? Related to this, what does a canonical doctrine of inerrancy look like? How can canonical thinking contribute to the needed discussion between historical and postmodern critics?

The authors close this final area of discussion with a warning concerning the toll secularization and pluralism is having on the idea of canon. The influence of canon to this discussion is thus becoming “more important and more problematic.”

As you can see, this “Elephant in the Arena” of historical and postmodern discussion is a place Where Many Paths Are Crossing. This post is entirely too long – but I wanted to finish this part of the series prior to heading off on a mission trip with some of my beloved friends from the Scofield Student Ministry. Feel free to check out our blog at http://ssmissions.wordpress.com if you’re interested in what we’ll be doing. I look forward to hearing from you on some of these issues!

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