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Francis Beckwith gives a quick lesson on hermeneutical discrepancies (in the context of ecumenical dialogue) that I found concise and worth posting. The comment comes from conversation about Ligon Duncan’s interpretation of the Fathers.
Joey Henry asks Bryan: “What makes your interpretation better than Dr. Duncan then?”
What sort of answer do you expect to this question? It really can’t be answered at the high level of abstraction at which you ask it. These sorts of issues–whether or not one is interpreting an author better than another reader–can only be resolved by getting your hands dirty. Pick the author, the relevant texts, and each make his case.
Suppose I were arguing with Mr. X over whether the Bible is discussing tennis when it states in Genesis that Joseph served in Pharoah’s Court. If I say “no” and Mr. X says “yes,” it’s just strange to then ask me, “What makes your interpretation better than Mr. X’s then?” The only thing that “makes” it better is that it explains and accounts for more than Mr. X’s and is consistent with everything else we know about ancient Hebrew and Egyptian practices. Bryan is making such a case contra Dr. Duncan’s case. After he makes the case you don’t ask “What makes your interpretation better than Dr. Duncan then?” since, for Bryan, it’s his case that does it. So, if you think he’s wrong, get your hands dirty. But short of that, asking conversation-stopping non-questions at levels of abstraction not appropriate to the inquiry is a complete waste of time.
I apologize if that sounds snitty, but if I roll my eyes one more time I’m not sure I will be unable to remove them from underneath my forehead. 🙂