Chances are, if you have cable you’ve probably happened upon an eyebrow-raising sermon on Christian T.V. A charismatic speaker was pulling particularly creative meanings out of a biblical text—meanings that you were pretty sure contradicted the contextual import of the passage, contradicted sound theology, or otherwise sounded too baseless and “out there.”
Now let’s say you’re a preacher or a writer or simply a devotee of scripture enjoying the Word at home, and God has been leading you to apparent “buried truths” in some of the stories of the Bible narrative. You’ve seen the T.V. though. You shudder thinking what a minefield it must be to try to steward what I will call “secondary illuminations” of scripture rightly.
You’re not sure if it can or should be done. Forget looking up the meaning of the name of a battle location when it jumps out at you; forget connections you see weaving between disparate parts of the biblical narrative, and forget apparent symbolism when it is not central to the simplest interpretation of a passage as it would have been heard by the original audience. This simplest interpretation is what I will call the “primary illumination” of the passage. Insofar as you can figure it out, it’s the most important and safest interpretation.
But let’s say God is a bit persistent about speaking creatively. Maybe to give you courage He even puts a preacher in your path who uses secondary illuminations of scripture responsibly—with attention to the plainer historical-grammatical meaning and to theology. Maybe this preacher even translated the New Testament for an unreached jungle tribe. You have to give him props for that. Apparently he knows his Word, and he thinks it speaks in stereo. And so do you.
So you pull out your laptop and start expressing the illuminations of scripture that you have found. All the while God confirms these whether with an intercessor unwittingly prophesying that you are called to delve into the very scripture passage you’ve been working on, a chance meeting with a rabbi who happened to be discussing that he felt there was some mystery hidden behind a passage that tied it to a certain theme, a mystery that it turned out you could explain, or simply with the further unfolding of the weave of Scripture.
On the other hand, you keep running across folks like Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart who, in their justly acclaimed book, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, don’t take too kindly to novel interpretations of scripture passages:
“Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to “outclever” the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deeply buried truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias). …The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text.” (p. 18)
Ok, you have the fear of God in you now; you don’t want to start a cult, and you don’t want people to think that you think you know more than they do. Oh, wait, perhaps that is the fear of man. What do you do?
Apparently you start a weekly column on a pastor’s blog in which you explore the viability and benefit (or danger) of secondary illuminations of scripture :).
My name is Deborah. I hope to see you for the next twelve Saturdays so that we can discuss how our predecessors in the Church approached scripture, where today’s conservative evangelical rules for hermeneutics (the interpretation of scripture) arose, and what some helpful guidelines might be if we were to consider welcoming secondary illuminations.