As I've worked on the chapter on Leonard Cohen in my forthcoming book, Broken Hallelujah, I've been trying to get at the deep biblical grounding of his work, and his sense of God, in particular. In Hallelujah, he says this: "You say I took the name in vain / I don't even know the name / But if I did, well really, what's it to you? / There's a blaze of light / In every word / It doesn't matter which you heard / The holy or the broken Hallelujah." So I've been looking into the phrase 'the name' which refers to the foundational Jewish and Christian text from Exodus 3:14 where Moses says to God, who shall I tell them sent me, and God tells Moses 'I am who I am' (one translation).
Anyhow, I digress. I got a great recommendation to help me think about this text. In Thinking Biblically: Exegetical and Hermeneutical Studies, Andre LaCocque and Paul Ricoeur engage in reading a set of "First Testament" (as they call it) texts, reading them together through their biblical and philosophical scholarly eyes, respectively. The preface, on how they read Scripture, is incredibly illuminating and speaks in very helpful ways to my struggles to say why I don't buy what my critics on the issue of homosexuality say, namely, that not reading key texts their way means I've abandoned faithfulness to the Scriptures, and perhaps the Christian faith for another faith of my own designs. Here's how I put it in a post a few weeks ago:
So, if these texts don't just mean ONE thing, how to make the case? Well, partly I know that the issue is how one interprets Scripture, but it is not just how one interprets particular texts, but the overall view of what one thinks Scripture is at all. The new teaching resource from the ELCA titled Opening The Book of Faith has a clear and accessible introduction to a Lutheran hermeneutic (things like: the word of God is Jesus and the good news about the meaning of his life, death and resurrection, and the Scriptures bear this word, without being reducible to it. So, Martin Luther would say, the bible holds the good news like the manger and straw held Jesus. The take-away is that every word of Scripture is not equal; we don't worship the bible but Christ whom it shows. So if some ugly passage encourages genocidal fury or stoning your teenager, hold that up against Christ who says, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
I find the Lutheran hermeneutic hugely freeing and smart, and of great help in making sense of Scripture. But I found something fresh in LaCocque and Ricoeur, which is complicated but let me take a shot at it briefly. Most of this is either quotation or direct summary from their book, so don't quote me on it--quote LaCocque and Ricoeur!
The second factor: The formulation and accumulation of different traditional readings of a text within the canon of Scripture, and that form a kind of trajectory of interpretation rooted in the the text but that distances us somewhat further from the author's presumed intention.
The third factor: The living word 'spoken' by the reading of the text in contemporary communities has its own authority not reducible to the written text. The Jewish tradition speaks of a 'written Torah' and an 'orally transmitted Torah' to cope with this distinction. The authors, interestingly, give the 16th century reformers and their principle of sola scriptura tore apart these two, creating the possibility of a text as a cadaver to be historically dissected and dismissed, a la Bart Ehrman 500 years later. The oral texts projected a future, and writing down the text need not consign them to history; the text exists thanks to the community, for the use and to give shape to, the community and its living into God's promised future.
This includes the way the First Testament follows a trajectory beyond the first corpus and inside a second corpus, not abolishing the first, but reinterpreting and, in a sense, fulfilling the first, in the sense that fulfillment presupposes consistency of a tradition. Christian reading is not taken as a substitute for Jewish reading, but as an alternative to the traditional Jewish reading.
The final factor, and the key one for me, but that can't be gotten to without the other three: The hermeneutics that places the principle accent on authorial intention and historical context tends to claim a univocal status for the meaning of the text. What the authors are offering is a hermeneutics that is attentive to the history of reception, respectful of the irreducible plurivocity of the text. The text is not something unilinear, not something given finality instituted by the presumed intention of the author, but multidimensional. Just as a work of art solicits several interpretations whose cumulative effects are meant to do justice to the work and contribute to its subsequent life, the way the interpreting community proposes a historical reading and interpretation contributes to the pluridimentionality of the text.
If this all has any value, and I think it does have, then it at the very least exposes some of our opponents as seeking to create doctrinal-historical straight jackets for some scripture texts that seem very self-serving. I want to wonder with them if their readings are the only ones, and if they are the only possible ones, both in Scripture and in subsequent communities of interpretation. Of course this is not an argument for any reading at all having value or authority within a community, but it does raise the question best epitomized by the parable Peter Rollins loves to tell. Here it is, in his own words:
Soon: God Loves Gay Marriage: On Lutheran Debates, part four, with notes on this idea of a trajectory of Scripture interpretation and its pluridimentionality (what a word!).
Anon and Peace,