even the bible is a vulnerable text

After watching an online video posted on my Facebook feed of a well-known pastor preaching about Heaven and Hell, I thought it appropriate to post a thought or two.

This particular pastor preached from Luke 16:19-31. During the sermon they made numerous references to the fact that they are “telling the truth” and that they are simply repeating the words of Jesus (which are apparently not in need of any form of interpretation, but rather are self-evidently¬†comprehendible, even over the temporal distance of 2000 years).

The issue here of course is that no text, regardless of where or whom they are from (even God) can simply be considered self-evidently comprehendible.

I look to Paul Ricoeur for wisdom at this point. He argues that no text speaks for itself because it is vulnerable, dependent on the interpreter to “restore its voice” (in the words of Ched Myers).

Written discourse cannot be “rescued” by all the processes by which spoken discourse supports itself in order to be understood – intonation, delivery, mimicry, gestures … Henceforth only the meaning “rescues” the meaning, without the contribution of he physical and psychological presence of the author. But to say that the meaning rescues the meaning is to say that only interpretation is the “remedy”. (Ricoeur, “The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as Text,” in Understanding and Social Enquiry,¬†320).

Compare this to a comment by said pastor:

My job is to tell you the truth. You can find people who disagree with me. You can find multi-million dollar, best-selling authors who disagree. You can find scholars and footnotes and debates and arguments.

But I’m telling you the truth.

Is anyone really so daring as to claim they alone hold the absolute truth, despite equally (or more) brilliant individuals disagreeing with them?


Perhaps we need more humility in the way we approach interpreting texts, especially the Bible. This is not to say there is no truth, just that none of us have all of it.


Posted on April 1, 2011, in Biblical Studies, Hermeneutics and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. This passage isn’t even about heaven and hell. In the context of the story – its a rebuke to the religious leaders who value money over people…. it begins with chapter 15 where the religious leaders and the ratbags of society have gathered around Jesus and RL’s start to mutter about the societal scum…

    Jesus builds on the tension by telling a series of stories about a lost sheep, coin, son, repentant manager, and then rebukes the RL’s with a story about divorce – which btw has nothing to do with divorce either…rather slaps them in the face, telling them they have committed adultery against God and married idolatrous money – The RL’s get up tight and Jesus gives them a double wammy telling them they were headed for hell. Finally in chapter 17:1-10 Jesus tells them that the whole context of those stories was one of repentance / forgiveness.

    So within the context of the holistic story – we can trust the whole narrative story within these 2 chapters to give us the whole gist of what these chapters together are saying – and without looking at the whole… we can’t even begin to de-construct what the individual parts / stories mean – for we will miss the Biblical point and get it wrong…. such as is commonly portrayed from these passages.

  2. Just checked out driscoll’s video… I can’t believe how he gets away with that kind of teaching. It’s ridiculously presumptuous with little to know reference of the actual passage he is supposedly quoting let alone the context. It’s the classic conservative mentality of ‘we are the gatekeepers of truth’… He has clearly stopped wrestling with the text and doesn’t seem to offer his view with any kind of humility.

  3. I haven’t listened to the sermon yet, i will get to that on Sunday. But i actually think preachers need to preach with certainty. If a preacher isn’t sure of his opinion, then people aren’t going to listen. If someone tells me in a sermon that something might be true, but something else might be true i’m going to go away thinking that they don’t know what they are talking about.

    Preachers are there to proclaim, teach, inspire, correct, rebuke and challenge. Not to waffle on for 20 minutes (or an hour) without giving a firm opinion on anything.

  4. Andrew, I do agree with you to an extent, but I also believe that a certain level of humility has to be entered into in the task of teaching – saying “this is true and it can’t be questioned, full stop” is entirely different to saying “I’ve done as much research as I can regarding this passage/topic and I believe this to be true – but it’s possible that I’ve missed something”. The best teachers state clearly what they believe given their findings, but don’t try to close the door on the topic. They invite those who listen to walk away challenged, but with questions – they spur people to think for themselves, not to accept everything blindly.

  1. Pingback: q&r: genesis and evolution? « life.remixed

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