Sunday, June 29, 2008

Meaning in the Gospels

In my reading of the gospels and musings about what kind of documents they are I have come up with some ideas that might be helpful for interpreting these documents.

Levels of meaning in gospel pericopes:

1) Literary contextual meaning - the meaning of a pericope in its literary context, as an event in that particular author's story, to that author's audience, taking into account what would have been known and assumed at the time of writing. Or, what does this have to do with where the story is headed, and what does this have to do with the original audience?

2) Historical contextual meaning - the meaning of the event related in the pericope in its reconstructed historical context, taking hints from the literary meaning of other gospel accounts as these indicate the historical understanding of other authors. Or, what might Jesus have been up to if he were actually in that situation, performing that action, saying that parable?

3) The theological/moral meaning - this assumes that the gospel concerning Christ's resurrection is true, bringing to bear on us the conviction of the earliest Christians, that in Jesus Christ the creator God has revealed himself supremely.(see John 1, Rom 1, 5, and 15,Col 1, Heb 1, Rev 1-3) So for Christians the gospels reveal to us the historical person, through literary lenses, but in documents still inspired by Holy Spirit to teach the church, of God incarnate. So then this brings to life for us such imperatives as, "be imitators of God," or "be holy as I am holy" in a way that no command ever could.


Helps with reading the gospels in general:

1) I don't know who this idea came from but I will parrot it. The gospels are passion narratives with long intros. So then, read every portion of the gospels asking, "what does this have to do with Jesus going to the cross?"

2) I think this idea, articulated this way, is my own, but my thoughts deceive me, it is probably from a book. Anyhow, when we read the gospels the most important fact about any person, thing, or institution is its relationship to Jesus. This seems important for us in devotional and academic reading. We can ask, "am I like the disciples who make mistakes, don't understand and follow Jesus anyway?" or "am I like the temple, created with a good purpose in mind that I will be destroyed for not upholding?"


Are any of this ideas helpful, I'd wager no, but what say ye?
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1 comment:

djackson said...

Geoff - You might like to check out N. T. Wright's Article in the current "Christian Century" (of all places!). He takes issue with exactly the point you raise about the gospels as crucifixion stories with long introductions, yet does so in order to make (at least it seems to me) the exact same point: that Jesus came to set forth a clear and subversive social agenda but one that makes sense only in light of the cross. He opposes the view you state to the idea that the gospels are biographies with unfortunate endings. Then (how very Anglican of him) argues for a via media that does justice to the social agenda but only by working backward from the cross.