Since my last blog post on this site, I have officially started a PhD program at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as a reduced residency student. I am concentrating on the History of Exegesis. I have long desired to further my education, even though I am happily situated in a parish in Iowa. A couple of times I was close to taking that step, but one thing or another prevented me from doing so. After spending a couple of weeks in South Sudan last Fall teaching a seminary class on the Gospel of St. Matthew, I decided that I either needed to do it now or not at all. I applied, was accepted in March, and decided to enroll in the Fall quarter. So I am currently taking two classes, Problems in Hermeneutics with Dr. James Voelz and Studies in the Theology of the Early Church with Dr. Joel Elowsky and Dr. Robert Wilken. In January and June I go to the campus for two week seminars. Additionally, I am taking a German exam preparation course by correspondence.
So far, I am thoroughly enjoying the reading assignments for my classes, as well as studying German again. It has been a real joy to read about the exegetical approaches of Cyril of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and other church fathers. I will share more of my thoughts about these writings in future posts. I have also enjoyed reading a bit on the role of semantics in the task of interpretation (Voelz, What Does This Mean?). Initially, I had thought that I would find this topic to be somewhat boring, but I gained some helpful insights from his book. I appreciate his repudiation of Plato’s idea that the larger whole is the sum of the smallest individual parts. I also found his argument that the meaning of words is determined by the context to be quite helpful.
I have also been reading Terrence Keegan’s Popular Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics. I have discovered, for one thing, that I am not much of a fan of Reader Response criticism–the idea that a text’s meaning is to be discovered in part in the experience of the reader. An analogy that is used is that of sound. There is no sound apart from the reception of the sound waves by the hearer, whose brain then processes these waves and they become “sounds.” So also, argues the Reader Response critic, a text has no meaning apart from its reception by a reader. Certainly we can say that no one benefits from a biblical text if one does not read or hear it. But can we say that a text’s meaning is found in the reader? I think of Luke 24, when Jesus “interpreted for them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” The disciples who heard this teaching were effected by it, so that their hearts “burned with in them.” They certainly experienced a shift in their thinking. Christ opened the Scriptures to them. But the meaning of His words was granted to them. It wasn’t latent in them. It is possible that I am not fully understanding the concept of Reader Response Criticism yet. But at first glance, I’m wary.