Where’s the Meaning in a Text?

As follows are a few notes from some classwork of mine.1 And, as is expected, the text I am referring to primarily is the texts of Scripture, though the material may extend to other works. The Scriptures themselves are tricky because of the assertion as well, that they possess dual-authorship, a divine and a human author. But, we’ll get to that part nearer to the end.

First Principles

1. What do we mean when we say God speaks?

2. If we say God speaks to us in the Bible, how do we find it?

3. How do communities of faith appropriate First Testament and New Testament texts?


Now as follows are questions of method. There are five primary categories used here to filter methods.

1. Literal Readings

There are two primary kinds of literal reading.

Grammatical-Historical: Peshat (stripped down). Unadorned rooted in grammar and syntax and historical realities. It is often linked to a sort of reaction against allegory.

Historical-Critical: Looks at the process – how the text was organized together. How was the Pentateuch organized together. It searches for sources, forms, and redaction. How did the present text move from its former form into its current form? The method does not give you your application or appropriation. Essentially, a text can never mean what it never meant.

Both these often say there one interpretation many applications. It leaves us holding the ball. These say if we have the right method, we will get the right meaning.

But, of course, there is still a diversity of opinion as to what the meaning is: for example, just regarding a few issues: the OT/NT divide, how even different texts from the same author (Paul) stand in tension with one another. Not all issues are resolved by use of these methods.

2. More Than Literal Readings

Do we find meaning underneath, behind, or beyond the text?

Allegorism: different from allegory in the amount and degree.

Typologisim: same as above. The ‘ism‘ distinguishes it from simply typology 

Mystical Sense



These emerge because of answers you do not discover strictly from the literal rendering.

3. Text-Based Kind of Reading

The text is treated as an artifact. The text is an artifact quite independent of the origin of its author. These tend to be synchronic.

Structuralism: archetypal structures.2

Rhetorical Criticism: How is it said? (Meaning through shape)

Poetics (A Literary Approach): Where does the film-maker put the camera?3

Deconstructive Methods.

4. Reader-Focused Approaches

Two Branches:

Reader-Response: Ultimately there is not particular meaning without a reader. Meaning emerges out of the interface between readers. Meaning happens when you interact with the text. What does it mean to me? There are as many meanings as readers.

Reading-Community-Agendas: 4

Feminist (Womanist/Feminist Readings)

Liberation Readings

Post-Colonial Readings

LGBT Readings

5. Theological Readings:

Theological Reading: There is a starting point outside the text and it has to conform to the theological convictions of the readers. (Dispensational, Reformed, Roman-Catholic, etc.)

Lecto-Divina: One has to be conscious of one’s own imagination.

The problem of course is, if it doesn’t fit, often people will try to make it fit somehow. Not that these approaches are entirely illicit, but I do wish do describe the dangers.

Divine Intent and Human Authorial Intent

These are also typically six plausible ways to understand the relationship between Human Intent and Divine Intent. 

Position 1: Divine Intent = Human Intent. Human and God intend exactly same thing 5

Position 2: Divine Intent > than Human Intent. God’s intent is greater than, it exceeds, human intent.6

Position 3: Divine Intent < than Human Intent. God’s intent is less than human intent, and did not exactly mean what the human author intends.7

Position 4: Divine intent ? Human Intent. The Divine intent and human intent are vaguely related.8

Position 5: No Divine Intent. The Bible does not represent God’s intent.

Position 6: No Human Intent. All you have is divine intent.9

All this eventually compounds and leads to this next section.

What is the Nature of Inspiration?

What is inspiration and how does it happen?

What about Canon?

How are text added and evaluated? There is no litmus text.

What is the Relationship between Text and Canon?


  1. Image Source
  2. Such as how very many stories go in threes. Priest, Rabbi, Baptist minister in a boat. It’s always the third that is the true.
  3. Such as Robert Altar’s Art of Biblical Narrative.
  4. (Ideological Criticism) Agenda-Driven
  5. Walter Kaiser
  6. Allegory, typology, ‘sensus plenior’, ‘deeper meaning’
  7. Poythress
  8. Excessive allegorism and typologism
  9. Actually more prevalent than you think — dictation theory, possibly similar to Quaranic composition. The Bible dropped out of the sky as God’s direct dictation in this sort of view.
News Reporter
From Madison, Wisconsin. B.A. Biblical Studies: Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. M.Div. Student at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Ontario.

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